Experimental Testimonies

In considering Quaker testimonies yesterday, the leader of our session of religious exploration asked us to check inside to see what arose as something we do in relation to what leads us.  Then we each spoke a sentence about it.

I don’t gamble.  I don’t use illegal drugs.  I wear simple clothing.  I speak plainly. This is to keep a simple mind. (I chose the last sentence to share with the group.)

I don’t think I chose these because they are negative testimonies–things I restrain myself from.  I chose them because I’ve been able to experiment with them.  I’ve found an expression of me that works best.

I don’t recall ever putting money down in a casino.  In the 1970’s I started refusing door prize tickets.  For raffles, I often make a straight donation.  This put me in line with some of the Conservative Friends I knew and with my own yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice.  When I’ve been talked into taking a ticket by enthused people at the door, I find I join other attenders in a strange mixture of anticipation, excitement and disappointment each time a number is called.  The disappointment seems heightened when the called number is close to the one in my hand.  All this when I never actually had anything to be excited or disappointed about.  And it’s just stuff I probably don’t even need.

In my youth, I took a few tokes on a couple of joints.  It bothered me.  I felt a bit guilty or confused.  My good friends were stoners.  At least they were in relation to the rather straight college circles we were in.  I skipped out on the marijuana and cocaine use.  I drank alcohol a bit.  I tried tee-totaling for a few years.  I’m not sure why or when I started drinking a bit.  Beer and cider–one or two a week.  Perhaps I’d be happier without it.  Not sure it matters.

For almost a year, I wore overalls only.  Some Quakers I knew wore more traditional plain dress.  The college president told me my best overalls weren’t appropriate for the formal Friday evening lecture.  I asked me to put aside my religious convictions for the occasion.  I didn’t then, but allowed myself some more variety in dress.  Simple has worked for me for decades.  I have fifteen single colored shirts hanging in my closet.  Eight others have stripes or a pattern in the weave.  Three Hawaiian shirts have floral prints.  My tee shirts are folded in a drawer.  Almost all have a single background color with silk screen print advertising some charity run or sports team.  When I pick a shirt, I typically grab the next one from the top of the pile or the right end of the bar.  When plan for the day asks for formality, partisanship or a particular sort of work, I sometimes sort through for a good match.  Not as simple as Barack Obama’s decisions, but it helps keep me focused on what’s important.

It’s easy to speak at too great a length.  I like to hear myself talk, especially if I can sound smart or educated.  I am slowly learning the discipline of short, simple phrasings.  I don’t need to impress people with the vocabulary or complexity of my speech or writing.  If I can say something important simply, it seems better for both speaker and listener.

Some reflections on election

2016 Electoral Map

It’s the morning after a presidential election.  We still have the same country we had last week.  Similar to what we had in summer 2008.  It still has an ineffective system of government that can’t be dictated to by a single leader.  We are still diverse, divided, corrupt, sexist and racist.

Today, there’s a good share of it that now realizes those differences.  Eight years ago, a mostly different segment of the population figured out their nation had shifted underneath them.

I hope 2016 is more like 1968 than 1948.  Continue reading

Inward circumcision

In him you have been circumcised, with a circumcision performed, not by human hand, but by the complete stripping of your natural self. This is circumcision according to Christ.

Source: Colossians – Chapter 2 – Verse 11 – New Jerusalem Bible

Margaret Fell also wrote about the complete stripping of ourselves.

Friends, deal plainly with yourselves, and let the eternal Light search you, and try you, for the good of your souls. For this will deal plainly with you. It will rip you up, and lay you open, and make all manifest which lodges in you…. Therefore all to this come, and by this be searched, and judged, and led and guided.

Margaret Fell, 1656

Continue reading

When my sibling wrongs me…

When I’m frustrated and can’t speak, I either act out or I dream of a solution.

Children tend to act out.  Adults dream of solutions.  Sometimes an action or a solution includes revenge.

This seems to hold true among Quakers of all ages.  The religious education program I coordinate for Quaker children has some acting out.  The atmosphere is more violent than the children, their adult leaders or I want it to be.  It’s more violent than most of the group of Friends who employ me might believe.  I guess it’s about on a par with the playgrounds I supervised for public elementary schools.

The large meetiBonnet&fistsngs for business that I (rarely) attend include many ideas for solutions to many contemporary problems.  Some solutions are focused on the group itself, some on regional or world issues.  Sometimes violence or revenge is spoken of or included in a proposed solution.  To sit through such a meeting does violence to the physiology of many of us.  Some of us avoid that hurt by skipping meetings, perhaps while helping with the children’s program.  Some channel the physiological hurt into smart and sharp repartee or open protest.  The words may be aimed at evil in the world or they may be directed at a Friend across the room. Continue reading

Lessons from Jesus coming to the big city

For inspiration and learning, I read a page or two of devotional literature as I start my morning prayer time.  In early December, I usually read some prophet–Isaiah or Jeremiah.  Close to Christmas, I start a gospel–Matthew or Luke.  I like to finish a gospel book in the Spring.  I don’t belong to a liturgical church, but I’m coming to see some truth in linking the myths and stories with the seasons around us.  So this selection of reaPalm Sunday inkdings is my personal liturgical calendar.  I’ve written about this before.

After reading the nativity story, I switched gospels this year.  Mark is spare, episodic and full of Jesus advocating for social change and a fair shake for peasants.  A couple of weeks ago, I paused in my reading of Mark to leave Jesus’s terminal week in Jerusalem until the week before Passover on my calendar.  Instead, I found Tom Head’s pamphlet, Envisioning a Moral Economy and the books of Ruth and Esther helpful for focusing.

Yesterday, I started reading these passages.  Jesus doesn’t speak much on the first couple of days.  His actions do provide a powerful message.  This time through, I’m noticing a different message each day.

I’m drawing a lot from a three year old post on the blog of my friend Paul C.  Read it!  It’s powerful. Continue reading

Of late winter observances and evil

It seems that late winter, illness, Lenten fasting, Purim and some Psalms are all of them about evil, which must be faced and seen for a mature spirituality and human functionality to be born in me.

I may even need to stand under evil–or have it as an understanding.  I don’t yet know why it’s around or how to treat it.  I do know it’s there in me and in the world.

The book of Ruth has no villain.  People die, but aren’t killed by others.  One of Naomi’s surviving daughters-in-law chooses to stay with her own people, but that’s not deplored.  Ruth and Boaz are heroes.  Their kinsmen who don’t make heroic choices of sacrifice and alliance with strangers aren’t vilified.  They just didn’t get stories about them into the history books.

Esther’s book has villains–or at least one.  It’s grisly and violent.  This is the story that gets celebrated–in the late winter.

Ruth’s book just gets quoted for engagements.

Let’s face that gristle and gore together: even sometimes in sundae school.  Then stomp our feet on top of it, clean out our pockets, dream of being as beautiful, or at least as preened, as Esther.  After that, we can eat poppy seed pastries and smile.

A Decade Later: 10 Reflections from the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005 — Rachel Guaraldi

Advices for past, present and future thought:

  • Humbly seek out that of God in the way others live, and find what’s deeply right in it.
  • Talk about your spiritual journey explicitly.
  • Find words for that which is hard or strange.
  • Evangelize.  Spread the good news.
  • Never be absolutely sure that you are right.
  • Abandon your forms when they do not fulfill God’s will.
  • Find in your faith things to live humbly by and to die for.
  • Do your work.  Call others to do theirs.
  • With your sins and the sins of your parents: admit them, repent them, heal the wounds.
  • Read the Bible.
  • Have joyful worship.  Do not always be somber.
  • Face your fears and your powerlessness.
  • Have faith.
  • Know who you are spiritually, and trust God to know where you are going.
  • Deny the distractions. Follow only God.
  • Love boldly.  Share deeply.
  • Forgive and forgive and forgive.

Source: A Decade Later: 10 Reflections from the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005 — Rachel Guaraldi

On love, knowledge and prophecy

And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge….–if I am without love, I am nothing.

In the 1970’s, I was in my teens and twenties.  I sought knowledge (along with the sex most of us also seek at that age).  I studied the great classic works of philosophy, poetry, physiTower at St. John's Collegecs and biology.  I learned much of the radical faith of the early Quaker’s.  I started into a particular discipline and studied that, preparing to teach it to children.

In reflection, I don’t think those were the important lessons of that period of my life.

In the 1980’s, I sought to be prophetic.  Perhaps there’s an issue of our day with which we can make a difference in our society or my community.  Can we showcase the Central American refugee to make all see that making war there is wrong?  Can we find dozens, scores or hundreds of nuclear free zones in this community?

In reflection, those efforts don’t seem to have borne lasting fruit.

Knowledge and prophecy haven’t made as much difference to me or to the people around me as love has.

Continue reading

Toward living water, worship, Spirit & Truth

My devotional reading today was from John’s gospel.  Chapter four starts with Jesus meeting a woman at a well in a town in Samaria.  I actually read the notes in my study Bible this time.  They led me to this history of how the Jews came to disrespect Samaritans:
….every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made …. They also worshiped the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed

© 2014 Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

© 2014 Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

for them in the shrines of the high places.  So they worshiped the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.  To this day they continue to practice their former customs.  [1 Kings 17:24-41 NRSV]

So the woman at the well was a pantheist.  Jesus is a Jew, Continue reading

That all may look forward, abide in the simplicity of Truth

More than the well-known postscript of the letter from Quaker elders gathered at Balby, I can use the following these days:

Let us all, in the simplicity of Truth…. abide and dwell, and in the liberty [wherewith] Christ Jesus has made us free, stand fast; that we be not again led back into the errors of those who went before us, who left the power and got into the form, who brought in that darkness which has so long covered the face of the earth, that no footsteps may be left for those who shall come aLook forwardfter, or to walk by example. That all they may be directed [by] and left to the Truth, in it to live and walk, and by it to be guided. That none may look back at us, nor have an eye behind them; but that all may look forward, waiting in the Spirit for the revelation of those glorious things, which are to be made manifest to them.


THIS letter was presented and read at the General Meeting at Skipton, the 5th-day of the eighth month, 1659; and was by all Friends owned and approved, and agreed to be observed; and copies thereof to be sent to all Monthly Meetings.