Thursday, January 26, 2006

The [non-offensive] 23d Psalm

I enjoyed reading the Brooklyn Quaker's talk on Quakerism for a Catholic audience. I encourage you to read it as well.

I was struck, though, at the long disclaimer Rich felt compelled to make before he was able to launch into the meat of his talk -- to make clear that he wasn't speaking for all Friends, that Friends worship in different modes, etc. I understand completely why he did it -- I've done it myself on this blog and elsewhere-- and fortunately the wait for Rich's real message was worthwhile.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking about our habit of qualifying (nearly) everything we say about Quakerism, Truth, God, or anything else important, the following emerged. (You may want a mop if sarcasm comes dripping off your screen):

Friends, I'm moved to share with you this morning Psalm 23, one of my favorites that has always meant a lot to me. A lot of you probably know it by heart.

The Lord -- which I understand is a political term that some may consider sexist as well as outdated and feudal, and if you do, substitute your own image of a loving caregiver -- is my shepherd , if that metaphor makes sense to you. And I hope you don't see this as exclusionary -- the fact that he or she's my shepherd doesn't mean he or she can't be your shepherd, too, or that you can't have a different shepherd, or that you may not feel like a sheep in need of a shepherd at all.

I shall not want. Which isn't to say that it's wrong for oppressed peoples to demand their fair share of the world's wealth, only that I have found a place of enoughness.

He -- or she: again, the metaphorical Shepherd is without gender but I hope we can let the old texts speak in their own tongue without imposing modern values on them -- maketh me to lie down in green pastures (of which there won't be many left if we don't get a new administration).

He leadeth me beside the still waters, not that rivers can't be comforting, too, or that the mighty ocean isn't just as good a way of thinking about what some call "heaven".

He restoreth my soul. Which is not to say that you have to believe that anyone's soul really needs to be restored, or even that there is such a thing as a "soul". Think of this more as a realization that my "soul" [substitute your own concept] has been there all the time but I just forgot about it.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, -- I hope this isn't too negative for some of you -- I will fear no evil, understanding that for a lot of Friends "evil" is not a useful concept. Maybe you can translate it into your own truth such as "un-goodness".

For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (I hope that any of you who were victims of childhood violence understand that the rod and staff can be used to gently guide the sheep, not necessarily to beat them, and that this won't raise unpleasant memories for you.)

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, understanding, of course, that many Friends feel that the very concept of "enemy" may be inconsistent with the Peace Testimony and should be avoided or reconceptualized, perhaps as "in the presence of friends I haven't met yet."

Thou anointest my head with oil (not petroleum, of course); my cup runneth over, which I hope you can accept as a statement more of gratitude than of celebration of excessive material possessions, which would not be consistent with Friends' testimony of simplicity, as I understand it.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, though no one should feel that if goodness and mercy doesn't follow you for the rest of your life that it's your fault.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, even though the concept of an afterlife is not one upon which Friends agree, I hope this is a helpful image.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

One thing leads to another

Who knows what you'll find if you let yourself wander.

I was preparing for the Quakerism 101 class I'm going to co-lead starting next week and was outlining the Gallop through Quaker History that I do in the first session, mainly to set the historical stage for the emergence of Quakerism in the mid-1600s. While gathering my sources, I was spending time on the English Civil War and started following interesting links until I ended up here.

I love living in a world like this.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

From way up here

Google Earth just became available for Macs a few days ago, and WOW! What an amazing trip. If you don't have it, get it.

But what I really want to note is another small incident of syncronicity that I'm always walking into. Earlier tonght, one of Lovely Wife's friends (who made his first forture manufacturing sex toys before going to work for the patent office. . .) who often sends interesting (?) and funny (?!?) e-mails sent this photo taken in 2d Month 2002 by the Columbia on her last mission.

It shows sunset falling over western Europe & Africa; the white dots on the right of the line are cities.

About an hour later, I found and downloaded Google Earth onto the iBook. Of course, I started looking for Home, and then Eldest Daughter's new place (1 Main Street, Brooklyn NY -- what a great address), then Baghdad, then . . . .

All the while I'm flying around the world, I'm listening to my music library on the iBook, on shuffle, which means the computer chooses the songs at random -- Prudence Johnson singing Gershwin followed by a Sousa march followed by Dave Brubeck followed by Anoaur Brahem on the Oud, etc.

And then comes Pete Seeger singing "From way up here the earth looks very small, It's just a little ball of rock and sea and sand, No bigger than my hand. . . ." a song he and Malvina Reynolds wrote in 1962. The perfect song for what I'm doing right now. (As always ahead of their time; the Earth hadn't been photographed from space yet, but they imagined it.)

"They shouldn't fight at all down there, upon that little sphere. . . ."

All as I'm looking at the Earth, from way up there. These little "coincidences" happen to me all the time, but I still get a little thrill from them.

UPDATE: It turns out that the photo wasn't taken by the Columbia astronauts after all. I did wonder about the lack of clouds. . . but it 's still a beautiful image. Here's the truth -- from some other guy on the internet who said it is being circulated as part of a chain letter (the letter to me was not a chain):

The image above is not a "photograph" in the literal sense. According to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day web site, it is a computer construct drawn from a variety of sources.

No single spacecraft or astronaut took this picture. It is a digital composite of archived images taken by several Earth-orbiting satellites and ocean-faring ships... Specifically, the daytime land images were taken by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Terra satellite, while the nighttime images were taken by the DMSP satellites. This image is different from what an astronaut would see for reasons including a complete lack of clouds and an unrealistic exaggeration of lights and contrasts.

Monday, January 16, 2006

I wonder as I wander

The bumpersticker says "All who wander are not lost." This is true as I wander about, following links and threads and find gems along the way.

The wandering wasn't far from home in this case. I just clicked on the link of a Friend who commented on my previous post and found the web site for Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon.

And paging through it, I found this lovely piece. It rings a dim bell in the back of my memory and may have been printed elsewhere before, or derived from another source, but I like it and think it adds to the conversation. Thank you, Friend Peggy, for making the connection.

Finding a Spiritual Home

We live in an age of spiritual renegades, refugees and ramblers. Most people have some spiritual beliefs, and consider themselves to be spiritual persons, but many have written off organized religion all together. Yet there is a craving for a true spiritual home.
  • A place where you don’t have to fake to fit in
  • A place where they know your name
  • People who see your ugly bits and like you anyway
  • A place where you can talk honestly about your doubts and beliefs
  • A balance between comfort and challenge
  • A place to give your best stuff for a cause you believe in
  • People who walk their talk, and ask you to do the same
  • A place where God shows up and you can feel it
  • Don’t give up on finding a place like this
  • Your souls needs a home as much as your body does!
"Is it Possible that you might be a Quaker and not know it?"

You might be a Quaker if…
  • You think listening is at least as important as talking.
  • You think justice means more than just locking up criminals.
  • You are more interested in being like Christ than in being like most Christians.
  • You want to read the Bible but you don’t want to be beaten with it.
  • You think the contents of a person’s heart is more important than the contents of their house.
  • You are more worried about the Hell that people live in here and now than any Hell they might occupy after death.
  • You think war makes more problems than it solves.
  • You suspect than nobody was ever saved by a ritual.
  • You think mandatory creeds and dogma fit like a strait-jacket.
  • You think the best ministers are often found sitting in the pews.
  • You think investing great leaders with great power is dangerous.
  • You think equality is not so much a goal to be sought, but a fact that is often ignored.
  • You think honesty is not just the best policy, but that it ought to be the only policy.
  • You think that church business should not look like “business as usual”.
  • You think that good relationships are more important than good arguments

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Joy of Sacred Harp

Thanks to my friend Matt who sent this link. It's the nicest two minute introduction to the Sacred Harp that I've seen or could imagine.

I especially like the first speaker's description of how and why there is no religious test to be a Sacred Harp singer. I think Quakers would do well to understand (and imitate) how the Sacred Harp community deals with diversity of religious beliefs in the context of a strong, vibrant, growing, welcoming community of singers.

The only thing I need to add is to the narrator who says that the Sacred Harp refers to a tunebook and the "there aren't any harps involved." At the first singing school I attended, the thing I remember most vividly is Richard DeLong saying that the Sacred Harp is, in fact, the human voice. I believe it still.

Here's a photo of one of our Minnesota conventions:

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Having a lot to answer for at Christmas

It's been quiet here at the blog, I know. I've been busy, as they say, and I've had other things to do, including preparing to lead another Quakerism 101 course at our meeting (beginning 2-1).

But I haven't ignored the other Quaker blogs that have been busy over the past month with many rich and passionate postings about Christmas and, more recently about . . . well, hell, I can't even say what they're about without getting drawn in when what I think is really needed -- what I need, at least -- is a good long period of silent worship. Maybe I'll have something to add to the discussion once I've taken the time myself to shut up and listen. But not right now.

I am, though, ready to say a word about Christmas.

I am a Friend who keeps Christmas, openly and notoriously. I fully recognize the tension this creates with historic Friends' testimony against days and seasons. I could provide a rational explanation and defense: The Christmas the early Friends refused to observe is not the Christmas we have today, so the testimony is against a phantom. But I'd keep Christmas anyway.

Of the many ways I fail to be an exemplary Quaker, keeping Christmas is the failing I am least interested in reforming. (Well, maybe the testimony against music and vain amusements like card games are equally low on my list of things to change, but I'd give up Sheepshead before I'd give up Christmas.)

For one reason why, here is a ministry I gave at our meeting on Christmas Eve.

Years ago, I saw a public television program about the Tower of London. One part of the film told about the ravens that live at the Tower, and the legend that, if they ever fly away and abandon the Tower, England will fall.

In a typically English way, the government employs a man to tend the ravens. The filmmaker asked him "Do you really believe the legend?"

The old man looked the camera in the eye and said, "I can't say I do believe it and I can't say I don't. But I can say this. If I don't take care of these ravens, and if they do fly away, and if England does fall, I've got an awful lot to answer for, haven't I?"

That's the way I feel about Christmas. I can't say I do or don't believe in the incarnation, that God became human and came to walk among us; or that he was born in a barn; or that the angels announced the birth to his parents and shepherds who came to find him; or any of the rest of it.

But I can say this:

If I don't keep Christmas alive by telling the story , singing the songs, lighting the candles, burning the incense, preparing the food, giving the gifts, setting up the tree and bringing in evergreens, gathering with my family and friends in the dark to wait for the arrival of the Light; and if my failure deprives even one person -- in this generation or a future one -- of the experience of lifting the curtain that surrounds ordinary life or walking through the wardrobe and seeing -- even for a moment -- the reality on the other side with all of its promise and mystery, or of experiencing the birth of the Christ in their own heart, then I'd have an awful lot to answer for, wouldn't I?