Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Man Born Blind Sent to See

By Lynn Domina

He recalled his mother’s frustration
explaining transparency. You see
through it, she’d said, but he could discover
no pattern—wind though not smoke,
oil but not its lamp, not milk but water,
some demons only.

So here in the pool at Siloam, he stooped
to water cooling his feet, his ankles. He could see
water, its ripples, its eddies, and he could see
objects shining inside the water, stones,
clumps of mud, tawny weeds.
He could see his face,
frightening as magic, floating
inches below the surface. When he bent
to touch his beard, his finger
sank right through.

His hand leapt back into air
where he could see lines
at his knuckles, thin scratches, blue veins
curving to his wrist; yet still he saw
his hand’s image where his hand
was not. This would be his joy

he understood, always seeing
more than was there.

Lynn Domina is an access student in ESR's M.Div. program. She lives in the western Catskill region of New York, where she teaches English at the State University of New York at Delhi. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Corporal Works and Framed in Silence, and the editor of a collection of essays, Poets on the Psalms. Her recent poetry appears in The Southern Review,The New England ReviewChristianity & Literature, and many other periodicals.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sun in the Mountains

By M. Lee Collins

Sun in the mountains,
but the peaks grow cold.
Beneath, the mist tells a story
of the origins of hidden footpaths,
traveled by weary seekers of
enlightenment—all this
for a glimpse—gnarled trees,
valley in shadow.

M. Lee Collins is a graduating senior in the spirituality program at ESR. She has studied under poets as diverse as James Reiss and Lucien Stryk. She received her M.A. in English/Poetry from Miami University in 1995, and has won several academic awards for her work. Since then she has gone on to publish poems in several literary magazines, and published her first book in 2001. Since that time she has worked hard on developing her own unique voice, and will plan on publishing, after ten years of enormous productivity after graduation from ESR, which, she says, “has had profound impact on my writing.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Litany of Thanksgiving for the Word Savory

By Lynn Domina 

For parmesan, for ricotta, for soft mozzarella
            flavored with basil, layered between thick-sliced tomatoes;
for beefsteaks and early girls and ponderosa pinks, for cherry and plum;
for Canadian bacon and Irish bacon, for Irish stew,
chunks of tender lamb, potato, simmering carrot, iridescent celery,
for pearl onions.

For pearl barley thickening soup, for rye, cracked wheat,
            chunks of crusty bread dipped into penitential broth,
for warm biscuits glistening with butter, for butter
            slipping around an ear of sweet corn.
For corn chowder and corn pudding and cornbread, for blue corn tortillas.
For every meal I’ve still to taste.

For chicken roasting through Sunday afternoons, its skin golden,
            crisp, for its drippings. For gravy
            ladled onto chestnut stuffing.
            For sauerbraten, schnitzel, herb-roasted pork.
For beer-battered fish, fresh lake perch, for clam sauce,
            linguini, fettuccini, for stuffed shells, seafood ravioli.
For those locusts and scarabs and weevils I hope never to eat.

For ratatouille, gazpacho, coq au vin,
            for every international flavor, palak paneer,
            vindaloo, tikka masala; for every word
            stuffed as full as samosas, sweet as rasmalai
            held in my mouth, sweetly dissolving.

For the word sweet whose Greek root suggests rejoicing,
            whose Latin ancestor urges us to phrase our advice pleasantly;
for the word savory, which might have entered my language
via many routes. And so I rejoice
in this pleasant advice: savor uncertainty, hold doubt
upon your tongue, a smooth wafer that calls you to wonder
whether it offers the blessing of mint or of honey
or of something altogether new.

Lynn Domina is an access student in ESR's M.Div. program. She lives in the western Catskill region of New York, where she teaches English at the State University of New York at Delhi. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Corporal Works and Framed in Silence, and the editor of a collection of essays, Poets on the Psalms. Her recent poetry appears in The Southern Review, The New England Review, Christianity & Literature, and many other periodicals.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Two Things Have I Heard

By Josh Seligman

My toes, legs, knees were shaking. Although I was standing on warm, solid rock, barefoot, I felt the wind could have lifted my feet and poured me over the edge. Below, the bright blue river was foaming and hungry. Dustin had spotted this cliff when we were still in our kayak. “It’s probably 15, 20 feet high,” he said. “We can definitely do this one. “You mean we’re going to jump?” I asked. “I don’t know, man.” We rested our kayak against three walls of rock, and a few others from our group arrived. After some encouragement, I agreed to jump. I took off my t-shirt, gave my glasses to Becky, the director of the retreat, and shakily followed Dustin up the cliff, heaving myself up a wiry rope.

At the top, I hunched over. The combination of being afraid of falling and not seeing clearly kept me bent. In the distance, red tables and towers of stone stood crooked over the Arizonan desert. Later that day, when I paddled with Becky, I would note how these rock formations have been here thousands of years, shaped by the wind. “So it’s kind of like God is still in the process of making them,” Becky said, “and we don’t see the finished product yet.” The finished product now, though, was my landing safely in the water. I knew the river would catch me—if I could fall without bashing my head on the rocks on the way down. “So do we go head first?” I asked Dustin.

“No, you’ll want to pencil it.” Dustin held out two fingers pushed together pointing down. We counted from three, and jumped together. I remember yelling, partly because I needed to get fear out, but mostly because it seemed fitting to do that in this situation. Like a pencil, I thought. My feet smacked blue and I slipped into the shadows of the Colorado River, the waters surging around me, first cold and then warm. I felt like Jonah must have felt just before being hurled out of the great fish. I pushed my arms down and surfaced, and we made some kind of sound like laughter, and the wind was strong against our wet faces.

This memory came to me when I first began worshiping in silence at ESR. Only now, the river I was looking down into was darkness and silence. When I began entering the silence, I would try to listen for God’s voice. But often my thoughts would distract me, and I would wonder what God’s voice sounded like. I recently read a story which has helped me learn about God’s voice. It’s when the prophet Elijah stood in the Lord’s presence.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains part and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13, NIV)

Once during unprogrammed worship, I thought I heard the Lord. A paraphrase of Psalm 62:11-12 swirled in my mind: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: That you, O Lord, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Is this God? I wondered. Should I stand and speak this? I reasoned that among the three others in the room, probably none of them needed to hear it. After my inner wrestling, someone left, and so did the prompting. I felt a little like Jonah might have felt when he was first swallowed by the great fish.

I’m not sure why, during those first experiences of worship at ESR, I didn’t think so much about the other time I cliff jumped. It was the summer after kayaking down the Colorado River. I was in Kansas celebrating the wedding of two of my friends, and for the bachelor party, about 11 of us drove to Two Buttes, Colorado, where apparently we were going to jump off a certain cliff.

“There's different ledges,” said Erik, the brother of the bride, as he drove a carful of us between corn fields into the sunset. “You can jump it from 30 feet, 40 feet, or even 60 feet. But we'll only jump from 40 feet.” Someone asked about the possibility of rocks.“An underground current connects the lagoon to the sea,” Erik said, “so there isn't a bottom." When we arrived at the campsite, it was night. The campground was sheltered on three sides by tall trees, and at the end was a lagoon. There, shadowed by cliffs, the water shimmered beneath a large moon.

One by one, the guys swam to the other side, where they climbed onto the bank, ascended the cliff, and jumped into the darkness. I couldn’t see them; I could only hear feet scraping dirt, followed by a stretch of silence, and then a splash. Afterwards they gave a yelp of some kind to let us know they made it. Along with a few others, I didn’t jump the cliff that night. (I did the next morning, though.) One guy’s ankle was sprained, making it risky. Another said, “There’s no way I’m jumping off that.” Friend spoke my mind.

When we returned to the campground, we built a fire and dried. We ate s’mores and imitated the bullfrogs croaking around us. Someone mentioned the grime that collects on his toilet. When the flames died down, Erik invited us to climb one of the Two Buttes nearby. "I think I'm gonna kick it back here,” a friend told me. “Are you going?"

"I think I am."

"All right! I was just seeing what you would say."

We all drove a few miles away and parked beside an open field of shrubs and rocks. In the moonlight, we could see the silhouettes of the two pyramids of stone and sand. We hiked like rabbits, ascending the butte in a zig-zag. Flashlights helped us avoid the cacti. Some of the boulders were so big we had to clamber onto them. When we reached the top, there was plenty of room for us on the stones. At first, we hopped around, finding our places. Some guys shouted. The land stretched before us like the ocean, like a thousand railways vanishing into points. We could barely see our cars parked below, beside the wiry road. Beyond them, red lights from steel towers pulsed. Up there, the wind was almost as strong as jumping into water. I stood straight with my arms held out to my sides. If I had tiptoed, the wind would have pushed me back. Then, for a few moments, in silence we sat and stood, facing the moon and the wind.

Josh Seligman is a student at Earlham School of Religion.  He is from San Diego, California, and lives in Richmond, Indiana.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

The War On Terror

By Erin Hougland

communication stations in the
frame of this Nation, and its nations,
chaotically flows into ears and brains
and drains us down the tubes of fear-
bending our minds into times
that are crushing the lines
of justice.

the use of this fearing
is leering into our hearts,
is peering into our souls
and is sneering as we go
quivering into our closed rooms
where we sweep up confusion with brooms
made of definitions and rules-
creating a truth that binds us into a fuss,
until we surrender
and drool out the sad remnants of faith.

handing over and over again, our lives
into those hands that thrive
on our misery, it is their only epitome,
and drive us
off the cliffs into an abyss of list-less-ness...
the depths of submission
because we gave them our permission.

and it Reigns and it rains
down on us
trying to wash the stains away
we forget-
but we stay, and we pray
that they, may have
the solution to the problem.
and we are surprised to find
they don't.

we scream and we cry,
"these solutions are pollutions!"
and they ignore
because they are bored
with our cries,
so they glare
and continue to stare
at our problems that weren't even there
from the start.
but they tell us that they care
and our downfall is,
we believe them.

running and flailing around
we drown
with out any knowledge of how to swim
because we gave it away.

little did we know how grim
when we signed our names
on those lines that sought only to frame
us inside prison walls.

and nothing is gained
from this game parade
of blame and shame.

it's not them that will save you.
it's nothing you couldn't already do;
it's here and it's now.

so throw the radio to the wall
and watch it crumble and fall,
its fallible, don't worry that's not radical,
its real.

pick up the false broom,
crack the handle against the door of your tomb.

run out
into the fields of your old soul,
roll around and unfold your mold
in the memory of what you were from birth:
a miracle.

Erin is finishing up her first year in ESR's M.Div program, with an emphasis in writing. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband where she works as the volunteer coordinator for the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and is an active member of the Episcopal church. Erin believes creativity and imagination in art and writing anchor people in the realities of being in the world. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Slippery Slope

By Anna Woofenden

The core of this piece was written late on a Saturday night in last June, at the Wild Goose Festival (a gathering of emergent and progressive Christians), sitting under the stars at the campsite, reaching to comprehend and process the transformations that were taking place in me and around me by texting a dear friend and colleague. Turned out to be one very long text.

The warning has come in many forms over the years: watch out for the slippery slope. If we dare to question what we’ve been taught, we cannot predict what could follow, what unearthly pit is around the corner. If we dare to question, before we know it we could be... well… something and surely hell and hand-baskets are involved. Don’t raise those questions, don’t voice any doubts, you don’t know where it may lead. I had been warned.

I didn’t listen. I’ve had conversations with people whose views differ from mine. I’ve gone to worship services that have stretched me beyond my comfort zone. I’ve traveled to other cultures. I’ve read those “edgy” theological books. I’ve entered into conversations where I am challenged and uncomfortable. And in January I finally left the church organization I had called home for many years, as a “radical” pursuing ordination as a woman. Since then, I’ve dared to open up the Bible without being preemptively sure of what it might have to say to me. I’ve become friends with fellow seminarians who are seeking to serve God wholeheartedly who also happen to be lesbian, transgendered and gay. I’ve begun to question the cultural assumptions that had defined my theological reality and am finding the Bible to be alive with humanity and contradiction and the gospels to be downright manifestos of radical living. I continue to question the theology and church culture, as I understood it, while boldly stumbling along, pursuing God and spiritual community.

You open any of these doors, and before you know it, you’re led down a road where you're speaking up about the marginalized, selling your possessions to give to the poor, and surrendering your life to something greater than yourself. It's a slippery slope. If you open yourself up to revelation being alive and moving, letting it be more than a moral code or a patriarchal history lesson, then you slide. You slide and find that you're surrounded by revelation. Poems, stories, myths, the writing and lives of Gandhi and Dr. King, Maya Angelou and Rumi, and the mountains, the people, silence, and yes, even the Scriptures are speaking to you. All overflowing with the Breath of the Spirit and infused with Divine Voice. Each offers pathways connecting the human and the Divine, enlivening and disturbing, moving you to action, bathing you in peaceful Love.

It's a slippery slope, letting go of the lines that divide, seeing people different from yourself as human. Let the walls that make me an "us" and they a "them" crumble, and there is a world of humanity to love. No longer can you ignore the vulnerability, the humanity, the absolute sinner and saint in all of us. No longer can you push others aside or arbitrarily categorize them. Confronted by the humanity around us, we confront the humanity within us and expose our collective brokenness. We come face to face with the things we are capable of, for ill or good. We lose the ability to hide behind our self-righteousness or be cozy in our carefully constructed boxes of absolutism and superiority.

And then we might start caring. We might start exposing ourselves to the people in the world around us. We might start seeing needs. We might start owning and feeling the pain of the human family as our own story, a story that we are drawn into, that we now want to participate in. It’s risky, this slippery slope of seeing humans as human. It’s transformative, God being Divine.

Entertaining the idea that God is untamable, uncontainable and immersed in all we know, might just lead us to respond. To ask what Jesus taught and at least play with the possibility, maybe for the first time, that we're actually called to follow these teachings, is a daring and radical notion. Maybe Jesus had something right when he told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Maybe there's something to this command to take care of the widows and orphans. Maybe Jesus wasn't being metaphorical when he told us to feed, clothe and heal our human family.

Maybe, just maybe, this whole Jesus on earth thing, this spark of Divinity walking among us, is something to pay attention to. Maybe model our lives after. And maybe when we go back to the gospels we might find that most of what Jesus was interested in were the marginalized, the poor, speaking up against the oppressing forces, confronting the hard conversations, going to those that need healing, and approaching the broken parts of each of us. We could find that this radical Messiah came to speak and live out an alternative to ruling over others, to consuming, to living only for ourselves. We may begin to entertain the notion that there's something more to live for. We could start to hear the gentle breeze whispering in our ears that there's a force of Creative Love calling. Calling us to act. Moving us to live in harmony. Drawing us to follow this Radical Christ. And that, that my friend is damned uncomfortable.

Watch out for the slippery slope.

Anna Woofenden is a MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion and the Swedenborgian House of studies. She blogs at http://annawoofenden.wordpress.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Occupy My Heart

By Micah Bales

I remember when I first heard about Occupy Wall Street. I was looking at my Twitter feed and saw mention of a demonstration taking place in New York City. I did not take it very seriously. I had seen lots of demonstrations in my lifetime, most of them with little discernable effect.

That was on Saturday, September 17th. On the following Monday, I was not only still seeing tweets coming in out of New York, but they were increasing in number and frequency. They were still demonstrating! I began to click links. I read a smattering of blogs and independent media sources. I learned about the demonstrations bubbling up on Wall Street; how they had "occupied" Zucotti Park; and the way that the police were corralling the demonstrators, and in some cases brutalizing them.

As I scanned the internet that Monday, a strange feeling came over me. I felt a sense that I needed to be involved. This is important. Ever since shortly after September 11th, I had felt alienated from politics, and even more so from protest culture. After watching world leaders ignore the expressed will of the people time and time again (most brazenly in this country when George W. Bush chose to invade Iraq), I had come to the conclusion that mass public dissent was a useless gesture. I was not a protester. I was not an activist. I was too realistic, and too cynical, for that.

Yet, as I read more reports coming out of New York, and watched a flurry of Youtube videos from Wall Street, I was feeling a nudge. Was God asking me to join this movement? Was I supposed to go to New York? I still had lots of reservations about Occupy Wall Street - some cultural, some political, and others theological. But I had to test the leading. This felt too important to ignore.

So, I put out a feeler. I passed along a blog article on Facebook, and I included a comment: "I'm feeling tempted to head up to New York." Almost immediately, I received a response from one of my wife's friends: "If you do come up, you can stay at our house." With way opening so clearly, I made plans to visit Wall Street myself.

My time in New York allowed me to see first-hand the way a totally grassroots, radically democratic movement had taken shape in lower Manhattan. As I expected, I did not like everything I saw. The park was loud, organization was loose, and there was already a problem with unstable individuals using the Occupation as a platform for spouting conspiracy theories or just being disruptive. Yet, there was something powerful happening there.

When we marched on Wall Street, I saw the intense contrast between the lives of the elite financial executives and those of ordinary Americans. I felt the power of regular people coming together - students, the unemployed, unionists and young professionals - to pursue the dream of a more just and sustainable world. I returned to Washington, DC with my leading confirmed and deepened: I felt called to take part in this movement as it spread beyond New York.

I remained connected to the Occupy movement - both Occupy Wall Street, and the growing numbers across the nation who were preparing to occupy in their own cities. Soon, it became clear that there were others here in DC who were interested in getting an occupation started in our town, and I began to participate in online meetings to discuss how to move forward.

On the evening of Friday, September 30th, seven of us met up at McPherson Square, the park in downtown DC where we had decided to begin occupying the following day. Besides the two couples in the group, none of us had ever met before. We were not the "usual suspects" for this sort of thing. We were not professional organizers or seasoned activists. Just regular people with jobs, lives and families who felt drawn to participate in what seemed to us to be the most important social movement of our generation. Together, we would launch Occupy DC.

In the month and a half since then, Occupy DC has grown enormously, from a small band of inexperienced organizers to an experiment in grassroots democracy that has involved thousands of people from all walks of life.

I still do not agree with everything that happens in the Occupy movement. None of us do. When thousands of people from diverse backgrounds come together in open air meetings to express greivances and seek a better world together, things are bound to get messy. Nevertheless, I am convinced that I would be unfaithful if I allowed my desire for perfection get in the way of the good things that God is doing through this imperfect movement. Rather than maintain a safe distance, avoiding association with some elements of the movement that I find questionable, I have felt compelled to cooperate with God in being a influence for good.

To close, I would like to share a passage of Scripture that has become increasingly resonant in my heart in over the course of my involvement in the Occupy movement. It comes from the book of Luke, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Jesus has just returned from the desert to his home synogogue and delivers a message in their meeting for worship. He reads from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to
the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.(1)

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaims the "year of the Lord's favor," the Jubilee mandated by God in the Hebrew law.(2) This radical re-set of the economy - forgiving debts, releasing slaves and healing infirmities - lies at the heart of Jesus' message and mission; and this Jubilee proclamation is the foundation of my understanding of why I am called to be involved in the Occupy movement.

I do not claim any sort of divine perfection for myself or for the movement as a whole. We are all poor sinners, and we fall short even as we try to do what is right. Nevertheless, I feel convicted that I must stand with those who are raising their voices against systemic injustice, debt slavery, corporate greed and a sold-out government. I do not know to what extent Jesus blesses the Occupy movement as a whole, but I do believe that he is blessing me in my participation in it. It is my sense that this is the call of the Lord on my life at this time.

What is the word of the Lord to you today? How are you called to cooperate with Jesus' ministry of loosing the bonds of the oppressed; forgiving the debts of a burdened world; and restoring fullness of health to those who are suffering? How are you being called to live out Jesus' witness of love and compassion, and his courageous call for justice?


1. Luke 4:18-19
2. See Leviticus 25

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is a member of Capitol Hill Friends and of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Peace Testimony in an African context

By Valerie Hurwitz

Silas Wanjala, an ESR Master of Arts student, spoke about his thesis work during Peace Forum on Thursday, November 17th. He is writing his MA thesis in the area of Peace and Justice Studies, focusing particularly on the gospel of peace in Kenya. Since Kenya’s independence in 1963, all three of its presidents have faced high unemployment and economic stagnation. All three have allowed corruption and nepotism, favoring their own tribes over the others in politics. A one-party system asserted central control of the government until 1992, obscuring the democratic form of government laid out in the constitution. Kenya has 42 tribes (plus a fair number of Caucasians and Asians; Indians brought by the British to build the railroads), and tribal identity often takes precedence over national identity.

Silas is from Western Kenya, as are most Kenyan Quakers. The lands around Kitale, Kakamega, and Kaimosi (which are familiar names to Friends who have donated to FUM projects there) are a rich agricultural region. As such, many tribes have moved into this area, trying to take advantage of the land for farming or raising animals. When I visited this region in June, Kenyans mentioned that the decreasing availability of land and the diversity of tribes as both an advantage (leading to a familiarity between tribes) and a source of tension (as competition for resources grows).

The end of the single-party system in 1992 saw the start of a pattern of election violence that continued in 1997 and 2002. Given the tribal nepotism of the central government and high unemployment, tribes hoped that “their” candidate would be elected, bringing economic and political opportunities. The 2007 elections were contested, with international election observers saying that the elections were below standards and challenger Raila Odinga calling for a recount. In the ensuing violence, over 1,000 people were killed and over a half a million were displaced. Western Kenya, with its already diverse populations and strained natural resources, was hard-hit by the violence.

So why focus on a Christian gospel of peace? Silas has seen first-hand the effects of election violence and moreover has seen the ways that the Bible can be used to incite violence. There needs to be a biblical and theological underpinning for peace movements to be successful in this 80% Christian nation. Kenyan Quakers, already having a reputation for integrity and building on the post-election work that the Friends Church Peace Teams and the Alternatives to Violence Project did, can have a particular impact on this issue in Kenya. Silas sees his academic work as creating a theological and biblical grounding for peace work in Kenya that can support the current work of FCPT and AVP, while also transforming preaching and pastoral care to be more non-violent.

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Living the Kingdom of God, Now

By Valerie Hurwitz

Pat and Kathy Floerke, from the Central for Development in Central America in Nicaragua, visited ESR and spoke at Common Meal on Tuesday, November 8th, 2011. They brought with them crafts and clothing from Nicaragua to sell. I had the chance to speak with Kathy a bit at lunch, and she explained that she and her sister moved down to Nicaragua 17 years ago to work on economic development, but return to the US about two months a year to travel to churches, colleges, and peace groups. They share news of the CDCA, ask for donations, and sell crafts made by the Nicaraguans. The main point of Pat’s presentation was that we need to ask ourselves “when will God’s kingdom be here?” Pat and Kathy ask us what we are doing to bring about God’s realm here and now.

Nicaragua is a country of 5.6 million people. Like the US, it has been hit hard by the economic recession in recent years, but the situation there is much more dire. 80% of adults are unemployed or underemployed, and families survive on an average of $2.00 a day and more than a third of children are chronically malnourished. This is a good reminder to keep things in perspective. In the US, average household wealth has fallen (largely as a result of home prices falling) and unemployment remains stubbornly high, but the reality is that the side-effects of the global economic crisis have fallen even harder on countries where people already struggle to feed and house their families. This perspective should not keep us from seeking out the policies, societal customs, and regulations that led to the this recession and changing them, but rather remind us that we still have plenty to give to others.

The CDCA is based in Ciudad Sandino, which is a 1960s refugee camp that grew into a permanent settlement. Their work focuses on sustainable agriculture, appropriate use of technology, sustainable economic development, health care, and education. Their projects grow out of listening to communities and asking what their needs are, and letting communities take initiative. Right now the CDCA is working on getting the Genesis Co-operative, a spinning plant, up and running. Their farmer’s co-op, El Porvenir, has grown to 2,000 members and the CDCA provides loans to grow organic coffee and organic sesame seeds. El Porvenir, with the help of the CDCA, gets better than fair trade prices for their crops. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch swept through Honduras and Nicaragua, leaving more than 2 million people homeless. Many of the homeless in Nicaragua were settled in a camp called Nueva Vida near Ciudad Sandino. The refugees only exacerbated the already high local unemployment rate. The CDCA established a permanent health clinic in Nueva Vida in 2001. After the Nicaragua government started to provide free health in 2006 the CDCA has focused on dentistry, pediatric care, and preventative health education.

For Nicaraguans, the question of when God’s realm will be here is an immediate one. Pat told us that the people there have so much hope, despite living through US-supported dictators and poverty. Their question about God’s realm is not an eschatological one, but rather related to the here-and-now. “When will I be able to earn a living wage for my work?” “When will health care be available?” “When will it be possible to get a fair price for my crops?” Nicaraguans want to work towards God’s kingdom in their own cities, and our prayers, donations, and willingness to pay a little extra for their food and crafts can go a long ways towards helping that happen.

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Getting Naked(er)

By Diane Reynolds

I had the Jon Watts experience twice while he was at Earlham School of Religion, once when he was performing at the Peace forum and once when he did a program called “Clothe Yourself in Righteousness” with his friend Maggie Harrison.

Jon Watts is that rarity, a young friend, and he has created a buzz with YouTube videos. In one, a group of Quakers in a meeting at Pendle Hill get up and start dancing. In another, at Guilford College, a group of Quakers purportedly “get naked” at the end of a meeting for worship … except they don’t actually get naked (at least not in the video I saw). They get underweared.

At the Peace forum, Jon talked and performed music. He had been at Guilford College and he then went to Portugal, but didn’t like living in a city there. He would walk the streets, wondering why humans paved over nature and killed animals and created this terrible thing—the city. Then one day, as he was walking and thinking, he met someone’s eyes—and realized he was communicating hate to that person. Not good. He realized that destruction comes from the pain and brokenness we feel as a culture. How to heal ourselves?

Jon sang a song called “We Are Lovers of Our Lost Earth.”

On Tuesday evening, for “Clothe Yourself in Righteousness,” held in the Quigg worship space, Maggie took center stage, talking about early Friends who had stripped naked and run through the streets as a witness to the need of people to clothe themselves not with outward apparel but with inward righteousness.

Maggie—and Jon when he performed—connected the physical nakedness of (some) 17th century Quakers with a metaphoric stripping down of our defenses, our false selves. If the word weren’t so overused into meaninglessness, we might say the two made a plea for living authentically. Today, as in the seventeenth century, the term “nakedness” is more powerful than authenticity---blunt, unguarded, provocative, vulnerable.

I found the session Tuesday night oddly comforting. Maggie’s unvarnished presentation modeled authenticity/nakedness. I found appealing the argument that it’s OK just to be yourself. It was soothing to attend an event that didn’t really have a point except to be about being. Just being. Not even being naked, really, because that, of course is a “statement.”. You were there in Quigg, and it was OK. You didn’t have to do anything. You didn’t have to be worried about factory exploitation in Indonesia or violence in the Gaza strip. You could just sort of chill. It was therapeutic. Young people came. There were a lot of big wrinkled cottony scarves, some bare feet, many boots. If the Quigg could ever be said to have a clubby, coffee house feel, it did that evening. I kept waiting for Allen Ginsberg to stand up and start reciting “America.” Well, OK, no…

Not to change the subject, but while I like their attempts to stir the pot, it nags at me that Jon and Maggie and their friends didn’t get naked in their get naked video. It seems a tease. If you’re going to say you’re getting naked, then get naked. The integrity testimony comes into play, in terms of “possessing what you profess.” Stripping down to your underwear is … faux daring. Safe daring. (What happened to streaking?) So that bothers me. Jon talked about getting to peace through shaking things up—“coming up through the flaming sword,” as the early Quakers called it. Stripping to your modest underwear on a video is not exactly the flaming sword. Going fully naked—yes, maybe.

On the other hand, Jon and Maggie evoked a mood and created a “space” for thinking about how we live. And beyond that, I didn’t really want Jon and Maggie to get naked. I was actually relieved that they didn’t, because I didn’t know how I would react to “too much information.” And that gets back to a thought about nakedness — Tell the truth but tell it slant. Get naked, but have the light and shade beams shining through the meeting house windows so that the most private parts stays private.

So I value the message Jon and Maggie are communicating. But I wish they would tweak it a little. We may need to strip down, but how about — like Jon and Maggie -- only to our underwear? How about getting naked-er? Or at least that’s my thought—and perhaps it says more about me and Jon and Maggie holding  back from really shaking things up than anything else. Maybe, in the end, Jon and Maggie are just upholding the status quo, not really making us uncomfortable? What do you think?

Diane Reynolds is a student in Earlham School of Religion’s Master of Divinity program. She maintains a personal blog, Emerging Quaker.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hospitality African Style: Can we receive it? Can we offer it?

By Diane Reynolds

ESR professor Stephanie Crumley-Effinger spoke at the Thursday Peace Forum lunch held at ESR about the warm and caring hospitality the faculty and staff of ESR received during their summer trip to Kenya and Rwanda.

The enthusiasm of the welcome was overwhelming and much appreciated, she said, and included dancing, singing, speeches of greeting, and feasting.

For Stephanie and other Quakers in the United States, our characteristic location vis-à-vis our African brothers and sister is often that of giver. For her and others, it was strange to be in the dependent position.

The disparity in material wealth—and hence power-- was always present in interactions with East Africans, she said, if not always acknowledged. Added to that was a cultural difference: Kenyans and Rwandans attach no stigma to asking for money. For middle-class Americans, this is a cultural taboo and such requests can be unsettling. However, for East Africans, receiving a gift—or giving one—is a form of bonding.

For Stephanie, accepting hospitality freely and gratefully became an act of mutuality that started to dismantle the hierarchy of giver and receiver. If we can learn to both give and receive, and not to do one to the exclusion of the other, we have learned hospitality. Such hospitality is at the core of building relationships and making us all more human.

As I ponder giving and receiving, I think about how uneven hospitality can be in the United States, a function, I believe, of our wealth. Hospitality often seems optional: We tend to assume that people can afford their own food and lodging, and that such food and lodging is readily available. Sometimes, for bigger parties or events, hosts will send lists of hotel or inns where guests can stay. The assumption is that people will understand that the hosts can’t accommodate 25, 50 or 75 people and that the guests can easily afford to pay for a hotel. People may not attend, however, because they are embarrassed at not being able to afford lodging and this becomes part of the invisibility want can cause. On the other hand, we often feel more comfortable as hotel guests than houseguests, because the obligation of staying in a hotel ends with paying the bill.

As the downturn in the economy continues, people are turning more to each other for hospitality. I know I am personally more conscious of needing to be frugal these days and am grateful to be offered hospitality.

Hospitality enacts the Christian—and more broadly, spiritual—witness of a free and joyful offering of abundant life. It requires risk-taking in which we put ourselves into the vulnerable position of reliance on the other—and risk-taking too on the part of the host. Yet when offered, as it often is, with great generosity, it can help build what Walter Brueggermann calls the shalom community, a place in which we want to share because others have shared with us. It is a start toward building the Kingdom of God on earth.

While Stephanie was speaking of the wealth disparities between Americans and East Africans, I thought too about the disparities in our own country. These, of course, are in the news as people protest the 1% having so much of the pie we have all worked to bake. Do the top 1% feel awkward around the rest of us? Could we offer them radical hospitality, inviting them into our homes and lives and treating them with warmth and joy?

I am grateful to brothers and sisters in Kenya and Rwanda, who know want, and thus know the value of abundant hospitality, and can model for us how to offer this gift.

Diane Reynolds is a student in Earlham School of Religion’s Master of Divinity program. She maintains a personal blog, Emerging Quaker.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learning about Quakers in Bolivia

By Valerie Hurwitz

It is lovely to have visitors speak during Common Meal, worship, Peace Forum, and other venues, but sometimes it’s nice to hear from someone in our own community, as we did this week.  Emma Condori Mamani, MDiv/MMin student from Bolivia, spoke to us on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 about Quakers in Bolivia and her own spiritual journey.

Bolivia in central in the South America continent and the majority of the country is over 10,000 feet in altitude.  Additionally, 65% of the population is indigenous and has been cut off for centuries from the educational and political opportunities had by European colonists.  Emma herself is Aymara and English is her third language, after Aymara and Spanish.

Bolivia is the site of Lake Titicaca, which is a sacred site for Incan creation myths, as well as Tiwanaku, a city that was the religious and political center for an Andean pre-Incan empire.  Historical lesson aside, Emma makes the point that traditional religious beliefs and rituals are still very much present among the people.  Quaker missionaries came to Bolivia in 1919 to start a Quaker meeting, and Bolivia now has the third-largest population of Quakers in the world and five yearly meetings.  (According to FWCC, Kenya and the United States have the first and second largest populations, with Bolivia coming in third at 33,000.)

Quaker missionaries started schools for the local people and modernly this mission has continued through the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund.  Emma spoke about the Internado, a Quaker house near a high school where children whose families lived far away from the local school could stay during the week in order to attend.  Emma told us that some children live 2, 4, or even 8 hours walk from the nearest high school.  The Internado is full and cannot accept all the applications they receive, and BQEF hopes to expand.  The Bolivian Quaker Education Fund also provides scholarships, classes, and facilitates programs such as the Alternatives to Violence Project in prisons and hospitals.  Another Quaker nonprofit, the Quaker Bolivia Link provides money for development projects such as greenhouses to crow vegetables in and livestock.

We asked Emma about current history in Bolivia.  Between 1990 and 2003 there was unrest, culminating the “Dark October” of 2003, where there were civilian casualties in clashes between the police and protestors.  The issue seems to have been (if a little internet research is true) of presidents cracking down on coca leaf production, public sector corruption, and the privatizing of natural resource extraction with most of the profits going to foreign companies.  Then-President Sanchez de Lozada fled to Miami, Florida in 2003 and the US has refused to extradite him back to Bolivia to face charges.  Current president Evo Morales began his first term in 2006 and in Emma’s opinion the way Morales lives out his socialist principles relates to the Quaker values of Equality, Simplicity, Integrity, and Community.

We asked Emma how her particular yearly meeting was different than American Quakerism and she named the Holiness influence as different from most of FUM and FGC.  “It’s not about being saints”, she told us, but rather the belief in sanctification, that God can live within us and make us more holy.  Emma explained that Quakers in Bolivia are known for their honesty and integrity in government and she believes they have an important role to play in the government and public life.

As the presentation went on, I found myself thinking about visiting Kenya this summer.  Kenyan Quakers are trying to exemplify the Quaker values of Integrity and Peace as a counter to the corruption and 2007 election violence in Kenya.  It seemed at certain moments as though they were looking at US Quakers, expecting Americans to guide them on living out these values.  While at St. Paul’s University in Limuru (not a Quaker setting, but Episcopalian), for example, some of their faculty were speaking to us about Christian-Muslim dialogue and made a comment that implied that we in the US have this figured out . . . they were somewhat taken back by our sarcastic fits of laughter.  This, as with everything, is not the whole story; there are certainly many Kenyan Quakers with a particularly Kenyan vision of how these principles should play out.  This also isn’t to imply that US Quakers can’t offer anything to Kenyan and Bolivian Friends, but rather there is a mutual learning possible here that would greatly enrich both sides.

Back to Bolivia though.  Emma encouraged us to visit Bolivia and said there are mission trips that come from the US, typically in June of each year.  She also allowed me to share a few of her pictures of Bolivia.  Emma encouraged us to learn more these Quaker nonprofits working in Bolivia and to keep Bolivian Quakers in our prayers.

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning about Leadings

By Madeline Schaefer

I have never quite identified with the idea of a "leading" in Quakerism--perhaps because it is a term that the Society has chosen to define as such, and in a specifically spiritual way.  But I have always experienced "leadings" as a direct result of being alive, being human.  Spirituality is woven into every bit of our lives, of course; but I was always deeply concerned growing-up that these Quaker leadings were something that only the most pure in our religion could understand.  I have since come to understand that leadings, even the deep ones, are not truths to be magically uncovered, but teased out through the process of questioning and of living.

Our lives are filled with leadings--every moment is pushing us towards an existence that is satisfying, joyful, true.  It is often not difficult to understand our passions, desires and callings on a day to day basis.  But which passions to follow, what voices to hear, what paths to take? Sometimes the role of a leading is simply to provide a base from which to understand the falsity of a current decisions.  But leadings, even if they are not followed, or followed foolishly, are always present in our lives.  It is our responsibility to have faith and follow, follow, follow.

Often life can feel like a swing from periods of total confidence and assurance, to periods of change and chaos.  Having faith that our leadings will sort themselves out if we only listen to the answers provided, is crucial for entering into those periods of stability.  But many leadings may once again fill our lives; and our experience of faithfulness in the past, and reflecting on what we learned to be true, will help guide us through those periods of turmoil again and again.

Which brings me to my own "leadings," particularly those of my recent past.  In many respects I had to learn how to "take hold" of my leadings after graduating college; no one was going to force me into any particular institution or situation; I was in charge now.  Of course my life had been full of decisions up until that point--where to go to college was a major one of those--but for the most part I never had to ask myself where God was taking me.

After graduating college I realized that I had a role to play in this "leading" business--I had to understand that God is not just a force outside of us, but provides the power within us to make bold decisions and move forward in our lives.

When I decided to go to New Zealand after college, it was not because I felt "led" in any kind of long-term, this is who I am and this is what I'm going, kind of way; but rather I felt everything line up accordingly.  If I hadn't received a scholarship, or engaged in a friendly correspondence--if I hadn't had faith--I would have never made it over there.  I made a decision, started working towards it, and followed the good energy.

Does that approach sound frightfully "un-spiritual"?  I would argue that it is deeply so.  For spirituality is not something to be attained, but something to be used in this messy stomp through life.  We stomp as gracefully as we can, while enjoying the mud along the way.

Madeline Schaefer lives in Philadelphia. She is the founder and host of the Quaker podcast series, Friend Speaks My Mind.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Working with Mexican Theologians

I recently participated in an ecumenical conference in Mexico City at the invitation of the Centro de Estudios Ecuménicos (CEE). It was inspiring to work with so many thoughtful people who are deeply involved in social justice and its integration with theological reflection. Of course, connecting reflection to responsible engagement has been important to me for a long time and it is always good to connect with others who share similar commitments. However, the conference was as challenging as it was inspiring because, almost to a person, the participants’ theological reflection was born out of direct and first-hand experience of walking side by side with the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized. This is good…excellent, even. However, it was a departure from many of the conferences I frequent where folks are either thinking but rarely act or where they act but rarely think.

The conference, Esperanza de Liberación y Teología (the hope of liberation and theology), was attended by about three hundred Mexican theologians, philosophers, and activists from across the country, from those teaching in one of Mexico’s many theological institutes, to those working with indigenous populations in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, to those working for peace in Ciudad Juarez, the epicenter of the narco wars where over one thousand people have been killed this year alone.

Over the past three years I have visited the CEE in Mexico City a number of times and have twice taken ESR students with me as part of the Theology in Context course. Thus, when I received the director’s invitation not only to attend, but to participate as well and to present some of my own work on the conference’s theme, I was honored and accepted immediately. I was one of a handful of non-Mexicans who gathered at the Comunidad Teológica Mexicana to work on topics at the intersection of theology and social engagement. We were assigned specific groups where we focused most of our energy: human rights, economics, environment, Church practice, and citizen participation. Based upon some of my recent work, I was assigned to a mesa de diálogo focused on theology and/of migration.

Working in this group make me aware of how different the US experience is from the Mexican. This was evident simply in the language we used. If we had been meeting in the United States we probably would have used “immigration” rather than “migration.” It’s another angle on the same phenomenon and a reminder why neither the US nor Mexico can address the issue satisfactorily without substantial cooperation from the other.
The reality in Mexico is of citizen movement to the US or to one of the country’s major urban centers, particularly Mexico City. Additionally, Mexico sees the movement of persons across its southern border as they make their way north. However, before reaching the boarder many are subjected to rape, robbery, human trafficking, hunger, or death. As one participant explained: many escape violence in their own country only to encounter it in the US and in the journey through Mexico. She recounted a saying: antes de llegar a sueño americano tienes que pasar por la pesadilla mexicana (before you arrive at the American dream you have to go through the Mexican nightmare).

In July 2008 I spent time with a couple from Honduras who were traveling to the United States without documents. They were spending a few days in Mexico City where she was waiting to have an abortion. She had been raped by a coyote who had beaten her husband into unconsciousness and stole the money and belongings they carried with them.

Difficult social realities such as these were front and center at the conference. One participant described our work with the Spanish verb aterrizar (to land) which we generally use when speaking about airplanes and runways. Tenemos que aterrizar nuestra teología—we have to land our theology, she said, bring it out of the clouds. We tried to do teología contextualizada. To this end, our work was divided between first seeing the issue (descriptive), and then thinking about the issue (analytical), and finally, formulating proposals for acting (application).  

In addition to the working groups, we began each day with worship and had plenty of time for fellowship. I stayed on campus with the Centro de Estudios Ecuménicos staff and roomed with a priest from Oaxaca. We cooked together and had enough late-night conversations to keep me thinking for quite a while. Several plenary sessions helped direct our attention as well. We heard from Doris Garcia Mayor, Padre Alejandro Solalinde, Maria Pilar Aquino, and also from Enrique Dussel, who in the last year and a half has become an intellectual hero of mine.

Dussel’s critique of post-modernity and neoliberalism was pointed. He drew upon Gustavo Gutiérrez and the Puebla Conference of 1979 where theologians began articulating justice in terms of “God’s preferential option for the poor” (which Paul Farmer has more recently modified: “disease makes a preferential option for the poor”). Dussel noted that neoliberalism exploits time and the earth as much as it exploits people. There is no rest in globalization and its march toward totalization; there is no sabbath—not for humans, not for the earth. Yet, salvation is not for humans alone; it is for the entire cosmos. El reino de Dios no cede la tierra (the kingdom of God does not give up the earth). A sufficient economy needs to take into account local communities as well as broader publics—el consenso del pueblo (consensus of the people), and families, and the health of human beings and the entire planet. This is the cost of a well-ordered life—economy (a concept that has been hijacked by those incapable of thinking beyond money and “free” markets).

Without a doubt there was tremendous energy among participants at the conference for exploring the social implications of being Church and it seemed no one hesitated to name concretely the challenges we face in our present context. Although we were surrounded constantly by an awareness of the crushing poverty and suffering of the human family, an underlying hope was present as well and it was repeated by many throughout the week—otro mundo es posible (another world is possible).

As I was saying my goodbyes, both to a city I dearly love and to people who are becoming very good friends, I said to one of the coordinators: “It’s been great to be here with all of you.” She responded: “Here there is no ‘all of you’ (ustedes); there is only ‘us’ (nosotros). This spirit of welcome extended also when I was accepted into the Mexican Ecumenical Theological Association. I’m not sure how many other non-Mexicans are members of this group, but there is no doubt that with these folks I feel right at home.

David Johns
David Johns is Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. He is an Associate Editor of Quaker Religious Thought, a member of First Friends Meeting, Richmond, and now a proud member of the Associación Teológica Ecuménica Mexicana.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Quakers and the limits of pacifism

Bonhoeffer, a German theologian executed by the Nazis, poses a challenge to Quakers. Although a pacifist, Bonhoeffer supported assassinating Hitler. Meanwhile, German Quakers made a strategic decision to fight in World War II in order to survive as a group. The alternative to military service was execution as a traitor (ie, the Nazis didn’t recognize CO status). Bonhoeffer and the German Quakers raise a question: In extreme situations, how far can the peace testimony bend? Can personal purity or holiness become immoral? Were pacifist Germans wrong to participate in violence?

Learn more at Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Sneak Preview, a review by Diane Reynolds.

Diane Reynolds is a student in Earlham School of Religion’s Master of Divinity program. She maintains a personal blog, Emerging Quaker.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Report on the Division of Indiana Yearly Meeting

By Chris Sitler

On October 1, 2011, the Indiana Yearly Meeting Representative Council met in a called session at Friends Memorial Church in Muncie Indiana to consider the report of a Task Force that had been appointed to consider possible ways the yearly meeting could respond to tensions between West Richmond Friends and the Ministry and Oversight of IYM regarding a welcoming statement that West Richmond had adopted. Among other provisions, the statement declared that West Richmond would be a welcoming and affirming congregation to homosexuals.

Members of the Yearly Meeting Ministry and Oversight began deliberations with West Richmond over the conflict between the statement and the yearly meeting’s minuted statements regarding same-sex relationships.

At the July yearly meeting sessions the Task Force had recommended a separation, known as Model #4. After discussions on the floor of the yearly meeting, the task force reconvened at a later date to  define their recommendation which became known as Model #5, a collaborative realignment in which various parties would be represented in the process of establishing a new alignment of Indiana Yearly Friends into two bodies.

When I was still quite new to Quakerism, I was fortunate in that historian Tom Hamm was a member of the meeting I attended, First Friends, New Castle, Indiana. Having Tom teach the membership class session on Quaker history was a real joy. He did an excellent job distilling the 300+ years of Friends history into a one hour class.

Of course, the class included to-the-point descriptions of the splits that have occurred in North American Quakerism. That day the terms Hicksites, Gurneyites and Wilburites were introduced to me in a way that made historical sense. I also learned about the holiness Friends of Central Yearly Meeting, Anti-Slavery Friends, Waterites and others. I learned about Friends United Meeting, Friends General Conference, and, what was then the Evangelical Friends Association as well as Conservative Friends. To his credit, Tom made all of this clear to me. Having majored in history as an undergraduate, I was in my element listening to him lecture. While the overarching themes that Tom presented in clear, precise terms were enough for a foundational understanding of the separations, further study would bring out nuances that were not immediately evident.

Likewise there are nuances to the events of October 1, 2011 at Friends Memorial in Muncie, Indiana that years from now may be glossed over in Quaker history classes, not because of any attempt to cover them up, but because a full understanding would take a semester’s worth of work. My personal impression is that there are three general groups within the yearly meeting. Those that fully agree with the West Richmond welcoming minute, those that disagree with the West Richmond minute and feel it is in the words of one Friend “a deal breaker” and those that disagree with West Richmond but wish to keep in fellowship despite the disagreement.

It was the movement of this last group in particular that seemed to lead the Yearly Meeting (through Representative Council) towards the adoption of a collaborative realignment known as Model #5. A year-long process, the model seeks to bring forth an alignment of two new yearly meetings along certain theological and perhaps cultural lines.

Many who hoped for unity came to realize that the rift in the yearly meeting was deeper than just a question of where one stood on West Richmond’s welcoming statement. Although there were and still are those on all sides who will still point to that issue as THE issue that lead to the split, more and more of the representatives became convinced that the rift over the West Richmond statement was a symptom of even greater social, cultural and theological differences that have been pulling Indiana Yearly Meeting apart for many years.

Some seek a greater unity of theology within the Yearly Meeting that would place Indiana Friends squarely within the wider body of Evangelicalism. Others envision Indiana Friends as being more similar to other mainline Protestant denominations where a wide spectrum of theological points of view are held and the diversity and tension between those viewpoints brings forth new possibilities.

Historically, particularly during the Quietist Period, Friends tried to maintain a hedge, keeping outside cultural forces at bay. But eventually social, cultural and political forces that began beyond the walls of their meetinghouses had a way of forcing some tough decisions that often led to rancorous splits. Forces from the wider culture are at play now and like animals before an earthquake, we sense the ground moving below our feet. The sense of the meeting was that a division is inevitable, but rancor is not. Will we live into something new without some of the extremes that have plagued separation in the past when contending clerks would physically fight over the minute book to claim legitimacy? That depends upon our willingness to approach the year ahead with humility and patience and to be touched by the better angels of our nature.

A 2006 graduate of ESR, Chris Sitler is the pastor of Dublin (IN) Friends Meeting.  His bachelor's degree is from Hanover College (IN) where he was a double major in History and Communication. He is the husband of Penny Rutherford Sitler and the father of Daniel and Mariah Sitler. He is also a competitive Scrabble player and enjoys hiking.

Friday, October 14, 2011

“How Can They Hate Us So Much When We Are So Good?”

By John Fitch

George W Bush asked this question in his 911 address.  It is a question that I pondered much during my retreat in NY with my Franciscan Order and especially during the 911 memorial at ground zero in Manhattan on the 10th anniversary. The theme of this year’s gathering was the story of St. Francis and the Sultan. We looked at the lessons learned from history and St. Francis' take on what Jesus would want us to do instead of waging war on our neighbors. Our main text was the book The Saint and the Sultan by Paul Moses.

The gist of the story is that St. Francis traveled to stop the Fifth Crusade in 1217. The Crusaders' plan was to conquer all of Egypt which would capture the riches of the fertile Nile Valley and strategically defend against the Egyptian Navy by controlling the Nile. This would ultimately lead to safe passage to Jerusalem in the South. Francis first tried to reason with the crusaders camped on the opposite side of the Nile which came to no avail.

Francis tried to convince the Bishop in charge that war is not what  Jesus wants us to do to our neighbor but instead we are to love our neighbor. The Bishop in charge of the army was certain he could win and would hear nothing about peace and reconciliation.  Francis begged for permission to speak to the Sultan and permission was granted only that Francis was acting on his own as a missionary to convert the Sultan and did not have the authority to negotiate peace on behalf of the Church.

Francis then went with one other Friar to the Muslim camp and asked to speak to the Sultan. They were arrested and beaten but not killed because the commanders of the Sultan’s army believed they were sent by the other side to negotiate a peace settlement and hence were taken to the Sultan Malik al Kamil.  Al-Kamil was a learned man who knew of the Coptic Christians and had great respect for holy men. He was interested in finding a peaceful resolution and ready to offer the Christians control of Jerusalem in return for peace. Francis told the Sultan he did not have the authority to negotiate a truce but instead wanted to convert him to Christianity.

Francis was not successful in converting the Sultan, although the Sultan was impressed by Francis and granted him safe passage back to the other side. The battle went on as planned and all the Crusaders were slaughtered ending the 5th Crusade.  It does not seem to me that we have learned much about peace seven hundred and ninety five years later. We are still waging war at the tremendous cost of many lives and economic losses. Jesus' message of peace has not changed and I don’t believe he would say any of the wars have been justified.

On Sunday some of us traveled to Manhattan to attend the 911 Memorial. The mood was somber. I saw a lot of firemen and policemen who looked like they were reliving that tragic day 10 years ago. One fireman looked like he had been crying and he was carrying a photo of Fr. Mychal Judge the Franciscan Friar who was the much loved  Chaplain of the fire department and was killed when the building collapsed because when warned to leave he said, “I can’t leave. I have to stay with my men. "

911 was a tragic event and it came as a shock to most people because always before wars and acts of terrorism have happened somewhere else. Because we are an introverted society we don’t pay attention to wars and conflicts that in many cases we are involved in around the world.  “Why do they hate us so much when we so good” is the question we all need to seek answers to.

Most Americans believe our military interventions are justified and necessary for our defense but I suspect that the people on the receiving end of our bombs don’t see our actions as just and are responding to our violence with continued acts of terror.  We have been responding aggressively for ten years at a tremendous cost in both money and lives lost since 911 and we have not made any real progress toward peaceful resolutions of conflicts.

In his sermon preached at the Episcopal Church on Wall St. on the memorial Sunday the priest called on us “to never forget the power of love”.   Franciscans like Quakers have been especially aware of Jesus' message of loving our enemy. Our ecumenical Franciscan group has decided as our focus of study this year to learn more about Islam and the ongoing conflict to seek understanding so we can help find a peaceful means of solving our differences.

41490_1779412490_5473_nJohn Fitch is the founder of the Renaissance House community and is an alumnus of ESR. He is currently studying in the Doctor of Ministry program at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology and is participating in a one year internship with the monks of New Skete training dogs and learning about traditional monasticism. In his spare time he enjoys photography.