Newletters & Updates
- American Friends Service Committee
- Friends Committee for National Legislation
- The World in Action
- Christian Alliance for Progress
- for veterans of Iraq & Afghanistan
- Annenberg Political Fact Check
- Faith in Public Life
- National Directory of Faith Groups for Justice & the Common Good
- Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice
- Peaceful means to social change
- Help microfinance small businesses
- Coalition of U.S.-based NGOs focused on the world’s poor and vulnerable
- Lambda Legal
- Civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV
- Military Religious Freedom Foundation
- Interview with Michael Weinstein
- National Religious Campaign Against Torture
- Ending U.S.-sponsored torture, & cruel, inhuman & degrading treatment
- Network of Spritual Progressives
- New Sanctuary Movement
- To protect immigrant workers and families from unjust deportation
- Quaker Bolivia Link
- A Quaker Response to Poverty
- Quaker Earthcare Witness - Conscientious protection of our planet
- RSVP Listening Project
- Communication, understanding, and the empowerment of people and communities
- St. Augustine-Baracoa Friendship Association
- Friendship with the people of Baracoa, Cuba
- SEVA Foundation
- Health, cultural survival & sustainable communities
- Sew Much Comfort
- Adaptive clothing for injured service members
- Vision of Humanity
- Global peace index and sustainability
- Women, Faith, and Development Alliance
- Reducing poverty by investing in & empowering women and girls
| From Twelfth Month, 2008:
Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven
Psalm 85: 10-11
From Eleventh Month, 2008:
The last aspect of [Senator Paul Simon's] character—a sense of empathy—is one that I find myself appreciating more and more as I get older.
It is at the heart of my moral code, and it is how I understand the Golden Rule—not simply as a call to sympathy or charity, but as something more demanding, a call to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes....
I believe a stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society. After all, if they are like us, then their struggles are our own. If we fail to help, we diminish ourselves.
The Audacity of Hope:
Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
(New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 206, 66-68)
From Tenth Month, 2008:
I share in a vision of divine order in every life
and in every area of the world.
There is a divine order that supports a world of abundance even though it may not have been evident in the past or is not evident currently. Aligning my thoughts, words, and actions with divine order, however, I contribute to this abundance.
I surrender all thoughts of limited thinking as I make a conscious connection with the wisdom of God. Divine ideas become clear in the right time and in the right way, and I act on these ideas.
There are people the world over who share a vision of divine order with me that is evident in every life, area, and country. The thoughts, words, and expressions of our vision grow and expand as spiritual insight that reveals and upholds a world of order.
"And God is able to provide your with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work." 2 Corinthians 9:8
Daily Word reading for October 3, 2008
From Ninth Month, 2008:
To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living myster. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.
Priest Among Men,
by Emmanuel CÚlestin Cardinal Suhard
From Eighth Month, 2008:
Only such people could face up to the fact of their responsibility who would have mastered the difficult art of acting under conditions lf ambivalence and uncertainty, born of difference and variety.
Morally mature persons are such as grow to need the unknown, to feel incomplete without a certain anarchy in their liveswho learn to love the "otherness" among them. (46-47)
Globalization: The Human Consequences
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, paper 2000)
From Seventh Month, 2008:
Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
The war had turned inward until it resembled
suicide. The only soothing thing was water.
I passed the sentries, followed the surf out of sight.
I would sink into the elements, become simple.
Surf sounds like erasure, over and over.
I lay down and let go, the way you trust an animal.
When I opened my eyes, all down the strand
small crabs, the bright yellow of a crayon,
had come out onto the sand. Their numbers, scattered,
resembled the galactic spill and volume of the stars.
I, who had lain down alone, emptied,
waked at the center of ten thousand prayers.
Who would refuse such attention. I let it sweeten me
back into the universe. I was alive, in the midst
of great loving, which is all I've ever wanted.
The soldiers of both sides probably wanted just this.
quoted by Deborah Oak on her blog,
branches up, roots down
From Sixth Month, 2008:
In his essay "Dune Genesis," science fiction writer Frank Herbert says a key theme of his six-volume Dune series is "that superheroes are disastrous for humankind. Even if we find a real hero..., eventually fallible mortals take over the power structure that always comes into being around such a leader" (more of this essay below).
In the fourth volume, the God Emperor Leto II addresses this theme obliquely with his puzzled chief aide, Moneo:
Religion always leads to rhetorical despotism....
It leads to self-fulfilling prophecy and justifications for all manner of obscenities.... It shields evil behind walls of self-righteousness which are proof against all arguments against the evil.... It feeds on deliberately twisted meanings to discredit opposition....
The Jesuits called that "securing your power base." It leads directly to hypocrisy which is always betrayed by the gap between actions and explanations. They never agree.... Ultimately, it rules by guilt because hypocrisy brings on the witch hunt and the demand for scapegoats....
I'm describing a tool of the religious power base.... Power bases are very dangerous because they attract people who are truly insane, people who seek power only for the sake of power....
In the shadow of every religion lurks a Torquemada.
God Emperor of Dune
(New York: Ace Books, 1987, pp. 117-18)
More from Frank Herbert's essay,"Dune Genesis":
Personal observation has convinced me that in the power area of politics/economics and in their logical consequence, war, people tend to give over every decision-making capacity to any leader who can wrap himself in the myth fabric of the society. Hitler did it. Churchill did it. Franklin Roosevelt did it. Stalin did it. Mussolini did it.
My favorite examples are John F. Kennedy and George Patton. Both fitted themselves into the flamboyant Camelot pattern, consciously assuming bigger-than-life appearance. But the most casual observation reveals that neither was bigger than life. Each had our common human ailment-clay feet.
This, then, was one of my themes for Dune: Don't give over all of your critical faculties to people in power, no matter how admirable those people may appear to be. Beneath the hero's facade you will find a human being who makes human mistakes. Enormous problems arise when human mistakes are made on the grand scale available to a superhero. And sometimes you run into another problem.
It is demonstrable that power structures tend to attract people who want power for the sake of power and that a significant proportion of such people are imbalanced-in a word, insane.
That was the beginning. Heroes are painful, superheroes are a catastrophe. The mistakes of superheroes involve too many of us in disaster.
From Fifth Month, 2008:
Tragic drama was...a treasured institution in Athens. Every year at the City Dionysia, the polis put itself on the stage.
The playwrights often chose subjects that reflected recent events, but usually presented them in a mythical setting that distanced them from the contemporary scene and enabled the audience to analyze and reflect upon the issues. The festival was a communal meditation, during which the audience worked through their problems and predicament....
In tragedy there was neither a simple answer nor a single viewpoint.... The audience had to weigh one insight against another.... Tragedy taught the Athenians to project themselves toward the "other," and to include within their sympathies those whose assumptions differed markedly from their own....
The Greeks firmly believed that the sharing of grief and tears created a valuable bond between people. Enemies discovered their common humanity thus, as Achilles and Priam had done at the end of the Illiad: their tears had been a katharsis that cleansed their grief of poisonous hatred... Catharsis was achieved by the experience of sympathy and compassion, because the ability to feel with the other was crucial to the tragic experience.
This was especially clear in Aeschylus's The Persians, which was present at the City Dionysia in 472 [B.C.E.]....
Aeschylus was taking a risk. But his play achieved the necessary distance by making the Athenians see the battle of Salamis [in 480] from the Persians' point of view... Only a few years earlier, the Persians had smashed their city to pieces and descecrated their holy places, yet now they were able to weep for the Persian dead...
There was no triumphant righteousness; no gloating. Aeschylus did not depict the Persians as enemies, but as a people in mourning... The Persians was an outstanding example of a sympathy that reached out to the erstwhile enemy at a time when memories of desperate conflict were still raw.
The Great Transformation:
The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
(New York: Anchor Books, 2006, pp.268-70)
From Fourth Month, 2008:
My live flows on in endless song
Above earth's lamentation
I hear the real, though far off hymn
That hails the new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul,
How can I keep from singing?
What though my joys and comforts die?
My Savior still is living.
What though the shadows gather 'round?
A new song Christ is giving.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that Rock I'm clinging;
Since Love commands both heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
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?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am Christ's—
How can I keep from singing?
Note: The editors of Worship in Song (WIS) say in their "Historical Notes" that
This hymn is not an old Quaker hymn from North Carolina, as some have speculated. The tune is ancient, pentatonic..., putting it back into the time when Quakers were perfectly well able to keep from singing, and did so rather firmly.... Verses 1, 2, and 4 are traditional and can be found, with a different tune, in Ira Sankey's Gospel Hymns, nos. 1 to 6, #244, 1895....
WIS says verses 1, 2, and 4 are anonymous, yet other hymnals credit American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry with writing those three verses (with slightly different words) in 1860.
The version in WIS is the one Pete Seeger learned from Doris Plenn, who had it from her North Carolina family. As the WIS note explains,
The third verse was written by Doris Plenn in the 1950s, during the era of McCarthyism, when Quakers and others who refused to sign loyalty oaths often lost their jobs. (380)
Seeger's own version, popularized during the folk revival of the 1960s, omits much of the Christian wording of the original, and this is the version most folk singers use.
Doris Plenn's version
of the 1860 hymn by Robert Wordsworth Lowery
(Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal,
Philadelphia, PA: Friends General Conference, 1996, #245)
From Third Month, 2008:
Hosea was demanding greater awareness. Religious practices must no longer be taken for granted and performed by rote; people must become more conscious of what they were doing.
Hosea was not talking about purely notional knowledge; the verb yada ("to know") implied an emotional attachment to Yahweh, and an interior appropriation of the divine.
It was not enough merely to attend a sacrifice or a festival. "I desire loyalty [hesed]," Yahweh complained, "and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God, not holocausts."
Hosea constantly tried to make the Israelites aware of the inner life of God.
The exodus, for example, had not simply been an exercise of power on Yahweh's part. When Yahweh had lived with the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness, he had felt like a parent teaching his children to walk, carrying them in his arms, and leading them like a toddler "with reins of kindness, with leading strings of love." Yahweh had been like one "who lifts an infant against his cheek": he had "stooped down" when he gave the people their food. (Hos 11:3-4)
Hosea was trying to make the people look beneath the surface of the ancient stories and appreciate the pathos of God.
The Great Transformation:
The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
(New York: Anchor Books, 2006, pp.105-06)
From Second Month, 2008:
In his biography of Tom Paine, John Keane referred to a pamphlet that Paine had written near the end of his life and said:
"Paine here touched on a quintessential feature of modern republican democracy: it is superior to all other types of government not because it guarantees consensus or even 'good' decisions, but because it enables citizens to reconsider their judgments about the quality and unintended consequences of those decisions.
"Republican democracies enable citizens to think twice and to say no, even to policies to which they once consented."
"Lowering the Volume" Op-Ed column,
in The New York Times, February 2, 2008
From First Month, 2008:
Let me tell you a joke....
The joke takes place in Rome, in the Middle Ages, when the Catholic community and the Jewish community aren't getting along. The pope calls in the head rabbi and says, "I think it's best if the Jews would just leave Rome." The rabbi considers what the pope is saying and comes up with an idea.... "Let's have a theological debate. If I should win, we get to stay. If I should lose, we'll leave without a fight."
The pope agrees, but immediately there is a problem. Which theological language, Hebrew or Latin, should the debate be in? They argue for a while, and finally come upon a solution. They agree to have the debate nonverbally, using just hand gestures....
First the pope puts up three fingers. Without a moment's hesitation, the rabbi puts up one. The pope nods thoughtfully. He ponders a moment, and then raises his hand and makes a sweeping gesture over his head. Again, without a moment's hesitation, the rabbi points firmly to the ground. Once more, the pope nods thoughtfully. He clearly is impressed. After a few moments of consideration, he turns to a table behind him on which he has placed the communion wafer and wine. He picks them up and holds them in front of the rabbi.
For the first time, the rabbi seems stumped. He ponders for a moment, then shrugs, reaches into his cloak, and pulls out an apple, at which point the pope raises his hands in defeat. "The debate's over," he declares. "The rabbi wins. The Jews can stay in Rome."
Down from the stage [the pope] goes. Immediately, he's mobbed by all the bishops and cardinals who are there. "What was this debate all about?" they ask.
"Oh, it was a fascinating debate," he says. "First I put up three fingers to signify the Trinity. And the rabbi raised one to remind me that we all share one God in common. So I made a gesture over my head to say that God sits in his majesty in the heavens above. And the rabbi pointed to the ground to remind me that God is on earth watching and judging. So I took out the wine and the bread to signify Redemption. And he took out the apple to remind me of the sin of Adam, which we all share in common."
Meanwhile, the same conversation was happening with the rabbi and his followers. "What a weird debate," the rabbi said to his followers. They all nodded in agreement. "First, the pope puts up three fingers, saying that the Jews have to leave Rome in three days. So I put up one to say that not one of us is going to go. That made him mad, so he sweeps his hand over his head saying that the Jews had to leave Rome. I point to the ground, saying we're staying right where we are. Then he signals that he wants to have a break by taking out his lunch!" The rabbi shrugged. "So, naturally, I take out mine."
Long before 9/11 and all the events that have followed, this joke gave me a valuable insight. If we take it seriously for a second, something powerful is being said. When the pope puts up his three fingers, they clearly signify to him a beautiful, central theological idea in Christianity. Yet the rabbi has a completely different interpretation. To him they signify something sinister. And what the rabbi sees as mere food—the apple—the pope sees as the symbol for the fall of mankind from Paradise.
What the joke says is that maybe what we face is more a clash of symbols than a clash of civilizations. We misinterpret what each other's symbols mean—especially sacred symbols. By this, I don't just mean overtly religious symbols like crucifixes or Stars of David, but also sacred values and concepts, including "secular" ones. And if we ever needed any proof of how a mistaken understanding of symbols can cause an actual clash, all we have to do is go back...to the Danish cartoon controversy.
"Whites Hats and Black Hats,"
in Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Autumn 2007, pp. 62-64