In my previous blog post I said that, according to early Quakers, statements about the subservient role of women, slaves etc only apply to those living under the old covenants. Then Jesus came, and he fulfilled the law and embodied the New Covenant, ending the need for written rules and blood sacrifices. Under the new dispensation, humans need no intermediaries between us and God, and God speaks directly into our hearts to tell us what we are supposed to do, and all humans are equal in this ability to hear and obey God. Complete freedom and equality, in other words, for the faithful.

Then I asked what, if anything, we need to do/say/believe in order to take part in the freedoms of the new Covenant, and I wondered what we should make of people who aren’t part of the New Covenant.

Some caveats first: The answers I have arrived at are probably not very original, but this is the first time I have worked my way to them myself. I suspect some of you will not be happy with the answers I have arrived at. I’m actually not very happy with them myself. They fly in the face of some of my previously held beliefs. However, my task is not to find answers that easily fit with previous categories. If they did, I would have to suspect myself of trying to make God fit my world view. My answers, though they don’t make me happy, are more trustworthy to me because they aren’t what I would have expected. They are the result of my attempts to be faithful.  

Many Christians, especially those of the evangelical persuasion, say that it is belief in Jesus Christ that makes us beneficiaries of the new covenant. Those Christians point to texts like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” As I engaged with these texts during the past week, I discovered that most of them are in the book of John. In Acts and Romans it also often says that belief “saves”. I don’t dismiss those texts, but I don’t think they are about the covenant. Rather, they are about the life-giving joy of believing. (Look for another blog post later on what belief does.)

So I took a look to see if “belief” is tied to “covenant” elsewhere in the Bible. By far the greatest number of references to covenant is in the Old Testament, as you would expect. Here’s the main text reference in Jeremiah 31:33: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” The interesting thing is that this way of talking about covenant doesn’t change when we move into the New Testament: In Hebrews 12:2, Jesus is called the “perfecter of faith” and the covenant is compared to a will (a gift).

In all of these passages, God or Jesus are the initiators, the ones with agency, and humans are simply passive recipients. Humans aren’t required to do anything for the covenant to happen. 

When requirements are listed – for the most part separated from covenant – it sounds like this: In Hebrews 10:36, it says “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Hebrews 13:15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” It is also made clear that we are not supposed to insult or mock or make light of the Divine. Again, actions are required, not beliefs.

Then I tried turning it around to see what the Bible says about beliefs or faith. When the concepts are first brought up it is in the Old Testament, of course. It is rarely, if ever, in connection with the Messiah. Later, when Jesus does show up, the belief/faith concepts don’t seem to change meaning from the way they were used in the Old Testament. Even in Hebrews 11:1-2, the main text that describes covenant, faith is defined as follows:  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” The rest of the chapter lays out what these “ancients” did, not what they believed in. When discussing “faith”, it seems like even the new testament mostly means it not in the sense of belief in Jesus, but in the sense of commitment to God and doing good. “Being faithful” actually seems like a much more apt phrase than “belief” does in its modern use. The requirement is to be faithful, then, not to hold a particular set of beliefs about Jesus.

All of this goes a long way towards answering the question of what the New Covenant means for people who don’t believe in Jesus. The way I read it, God initiated the covenant and Jesus perfects it. It makes no difference whether we believe or not. All humans are beneficiaries. Hebrews 10 goes to great lengths, in fact, to persuade us that Jesus’ sacrifice was a one-time event and it has already been accomplished. There is nothing any one of us can do or say at this point that could undo the event, it has been done “once for all.”

And yet there is this notion that Paul dispenses rules to people who live under the Old Covenant. Can there be people into whose hearts and minds God hasn’t (yet?) put the law? People who “just don’t get it” – who won’t persevere, praise, share, encourage others to do their best, be respectful of the holy, etc? Perhaps such people need some instructions spelled out. Without inner guidance from the heart, having written laws may be more helpful and effective. Or perhaps “the people who live under the Law” are all of us – perhaps we are free in some areas but still live “under the Law” in others? Or could it be that some of us, for whatever reason, haven’t claimed the freedoms of the new covenant that have been given? Galatians 5:1 creates the idea that freedom must not just be given, but also claimed: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Queries for prayerful reflection: What does the New Covenant mean to you?

I’ve been studying Margaret Fell’s Women’s Speaking Justified with other Seattle Friends in Bible study in recent months. In it, Margaret takes on the New Testament texts that appear to say that women shouldn’t preach or be in leadership positions in the church, esp. 1 Corinthians 14:35 which says “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says,” and 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Margaret’s main idea is that a closer look at those texts reveals that the writer is clearly addressing only those women who live “under the Law”, under the Old Covenant with God. Women who have entered into the New Covenant with God, says Margaret, are not bound by those old rules but are free to prophesy and teach.

Let’s spend a moment reviewing the covenant idea. The Hebrew Scriptures describe a series of covenants between God and representatives of humanity: Adam, Abraham, Moses etc. In these covenants, God promises good life and abundance in return for human commitment and worship. There are a number of laws governing human behavior (e.g “Don’t eat fruit from that tree”, the Ten Commandments) and the covenants are typically sealed with a blood sacrifice (e.g. Isaac, “Pass Over” before fleeing Egypt in Exodus). Humans break every single covenant and suffer because of their disobedience (e.g. Adam and Eve are banished from Eden, God floods the earth and only Noah and his closest family and some animals survive). God forgives and starts anew with a new person and a new covenant. Repeat cycle until the birth of Jesus.

With the life and death of Jesus, the early Quakers believed that something entirely new happened. The New Covenant is sealed with the blood of Jesus, and this covers all sins in perpetuity and abolishes forever the need for any more blood sacrifices. All the old laws are done away with, such as pork being prohibited and women and men having different roles. With the New Covenant, Jesus restores humanity to the state that we were in before Adam and Eve fell. Christ ushers in “the last days” in which God says (Acts 2:17-18): “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

The idea of the New Covenant is central to the early Quakers’ theology. The New Covenant is the justification they used to adopt the radical ideas of approaching God without intermediary, sacraments, and creeds. The New Covenant is the premise for all humans being of equal worth, it releases humans from swearing oaths, guarantees God’s forgiveness, etc. The established church was outraged at the religious liberties those early Quakers (and many other religious groups at the time) took.

Mainline Christians are still quite focused on the covenant idea, though they may have different theologies and practices regarding how a Christian enters into the covenant. Most Christians believe the covenant is established at baptism (some reaffirm or claim it more fully at confirmation). Communion, for most Christians, is a time when they symbolically re-enter the new covenant, repeating the words in Luke 22, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

And now a multitude of questions break forth:

If we don’t practice outward communion or say those covenant-establishing words, how do we think covenant is established? By conviction/convincement? With what do we as modern-day Quakers seal the covenant, if not with water and/or wine?

Can we claim to have entered into a covenant if we’ve never thought much about the concept? Can we claim the freedoms of the new covenant if we don’t enter it in some outward or inward fashion? 

Why do some modern Friends attach the New Covenant to belief in Jesus – the idea of the New Covenant is introduced in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. Jeremiah 31:31) and is done without attaching it to the Messiah. Many Jews believe that they have already entered into the new Covenant. 

If Quakers believe we have entered into the New Covenant with its freedoms, what do we believe about people who haven’t entered the New Covenant – are their behaviors bound by the Old Covenant laws, so that women should be silent in church?

And if, as I imagine some might be inclined to do, one wants to ditch the New Covenant idea, how would you construct a Quaker theological foundation for equality, unmediated revelation, etc?

Friends tend to say that although we don’t practice the sacraments outwardly, we do practice them inwardly or spiritually. Hence we can talk about communion as an experience of unity with God or with other worshipers. Spiritually, we might call it baptism every time we dedicate our lives to God or when we are called to speak in Meeting and are filled with the Holy Spirit speaking through us.

Quakers tend to keep our discussion to the two Protestant sacraments, but there are of course five additional sacraments practised by Roman Catholics: confirmation, confession, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. Most Christians agree that the sacraments, whether 2, 4, 5 or 7 in number, are things that Jesus told his followers to do, outwardly or inwardly, whether or not we agree what exactly the spiritual reality is intended to be.

So… what about foot washing?

Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet is described in John 13:1-17. The disciple Simon Peter initially doesn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, but Jesus replies, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me”. After washing everyone’s feet (including Judas’) Jesus says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” The words that he uses after washing his disciples’ feet are very similar to the words Jesus used after sharing a cup of wine and breaking some bread with his disciples.

When theologians try to explain why foot washing shouldn’t be a sacrament, they variously claim that Jesus uses “as” in this passage, not “like”, or that this passage doesn’t contain words that are evocative of covenant but that the wine/bread and baptism passages do. However, linguistic analyses aren’t terribly persuasive to this Quaker. My method of Biblical interpretation involves asking the ultimate source of authority, “the spirit that gave forth the scriptures” in George Fox’s words, and then asking my Friends to help with my discernment.

I was fortunate to spend some time in 1993 in community with people from the Church of the Brethren, where they practice foot washing at Easter every year. Brethren and Mennonites not only practice foot washing before sharing communion (they call it Love Feast), but also require their members to be reconciled with God and with their community members before participating in foot washing. The theology is of servanthood and humility: all Christians are expected to serve others and be willing to humble themselves.

I’m not sure how reconciliation came to be a condition for participating in foot washing. Perhaps because reconciliation may require us to be willing to humble ourselves, either by asking forgiveness or by letting go of “righteous anger”? Or maybe it’s because Matthew 5:23-24 says, “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there… First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Maybe this is the one time of year when Brethren and Mennonites decide to ritualize the event?

Experientially, reconciling before foot washing makes sense to me. Before I participated in foot washing, I tried to imagine what it would be like to kneel at the feet of someone with whom I was in conflict, and wash their feet. It was hard to envisage it because the symbolism of kneeling is so strong. It was harder still, though, to imagine that same person kneeling down before me and washing my feet. Foot washing is such an intimate act that I don’t think I could give my feet over to someone whom I don’t trust. It is hard to imagine how pride could survive a foot washing ceremony.

In fact, this image has become one of my spiritual tests whenever I am ill at ease with someone or feel tension or possible conflict. In worship, I create a little guided imagery for myself and see if I can live into a scenario where I wash their feet and they wash mine. If the imagery makes me too uncomfortable, one way or the other, I know I have to take steps to address the situation or improve the relationship.

Foot washing seems to me to be an outward expression of an inner state of humility, willing vulnerability, and reconciliation. These spiritual states seem crucial to God’s vision for the human condition. And therefore I do believe that foot washing should be as important, spiritually, as baptism and communion. 

Queries for prayerful consideration:

Have you participated in a foot washing ceremony? What was the inward experience that accompanied the outward event?

When my husband Doug read my previous blog post, he displayed all the signs I’m used to seeing when he wants to say something but is concerned he may hurt my feelings. He read my blog post as an expression of “Liberal White Guilt”. Yes, I was experiencing Liberal White Guilt, but that’s not something I’m ashamed of. Instead, I think Liberal White Guilt is a good thing and is closely related to Early Quakers’ Peace Testimony.

Doug reminded me that during the Civil Rights struggle, many Blacks* were skeptical of Whites* who wanted to get involved with the cause. The skeptics wanted only people who were working for their own liberation to participate in the struggle. They didn’t want Whites, whom they suspected might be joining the struggle out of pity or guilt or some other self-centered emotional need. The skeptics feared that White participation would perpetuate the pattern of putting Whites’ needs, priorities, and thoughts at the center of the movement. They wanted the agenda to be set by Blacks and the movement to be run by Blacks. These are all very valid and important points.

The same discussion also took place in South Africa within the different branches of the anti-apartheid movement. Could/should the liberation movement include Whites? The answer to this question was one of the distinctions between the ANC (African National Congress) and the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) – ANC included Whites in their movement, PAC did not. 

Those who read my previous post will have seen that I suffered from guilt and shame as a White child in Southern Africa during the apartheid years. I didn’t suffer material deprivation compared to those around me, although our standard of living would be considered well under US or Norwegian poverty lines. My suffering was spiritual: I watched Blacks suffer from the effects of poverty, knowing that the authors of that suffering were White, like me. It was painful to me that my skin color associated me with apartheid. 

I say these things not in a bid for your pity and certainly not to claim that I suffered terribly. My point is theological:  I’m going to suggest that Liberal White Guilt is just a modern psychological expression of the same phenomenon that the early Quakers were addressing in the variety of peace testimonies (e.g. Peace Testimony, 1660).

The Peace Testimony of 1660 is a claim by Early Friends that they were “harmless and innocent”. They had political motives (didn’t want to be associated with the 5th Monarchymen Movement), but also wanted to be seen as morally pure, worthy of being followers of Jesus. The original texts actually don’t address the impact of physical violence on its victims. Instead, the writers say they are willing to accept physical suffering if that is the consequence of refusing to engage in violent actions that would make them morally guilty. Many of them did endure physical significant suffering for their beliefs.

As Paul points out in Galatians 5, those who live by the Spirit will experience the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But those who follow the “sinful nature” will do/experience all manner of unpleasant things, among them hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, envy and they “will not inherit the Kingdom”. In my mind, “Liberal White Guilt” is the natural spiritual consequence of being White and privileged in a society with structural and physical violence. I experienced guilt, shame, and identity issues as a child in apartheid-era Botswana. My Liberal White Guilt flared up again in September this year when a pastor in Florida wanted to burn the Qu’ran and people protested the building of an Islamic Social Center near “Ground Zero” in New York.

This is as it should be from the White perspective: if I and/or the group I am associated with are engaging in “acts of the sinful nature”, I am glad I do feel awful and that feeling awful spurs me into action. In this way, my own White salvation is tied in with Black liberation. It is in my own self interest to pursue a society where all humans, regardless of skin color, wealth, geographic location etc, can be respected as a beloved child of God.

Query for prayerful consideration: What is your experience of the cost to perpetrators of violence and injustice? Why do you think the Peace Testimony doesn’t mention victims of violence? How do you feel about that? 

* I use the terms “Black” and “White” both because that is the terminology I am familiar with from Southern Africa and because I believe the larger issue in terms of race and ethnicity is, in fact, about skin color, not geography. E.g. I am half African and live in the USA, yet I don’t experience racial discrimination because I look White. Ethiopians are technically Aryan or “White”, but they aren’t exempt from racial discrimination because they look Black.

As a child growing up in Botswana in the early 70s, I knew that White people like myself were bad. Not that anyone ever said such a thing, but living in the shadow of apartheid South Africa as we did, it didn’t need to be said. For two of my school years, I was one of two White children in a school of 500. I was painfully aware of my unnatural skin color, and the hardest part was the assumptions I thought people were making about Whites like me: rich, superior, lacking concern for those less well off. I wished I could wear a sign that said “I’m not like that!”

With God’s help, I was eventually able to embrace myself as a White person. Painful as my identity issues were, I came to be grateful for them. That’s where my passion for justice was born. My search for a place where I belonged led me into the arms of a Loving God.

Yesterday I startled myself by telling my husband that I’m considering converting to Islam. Really, I am? 

Now, my natural instinct after growing up in Botswana has always been to be interested in other cultures, religions and beliefs. After September 11, 2001, I decided to educate myself about Islam and the Qu’ran, and I liked what I found. I like the focus on doing one’s duty, submitting to God ritually in prayer, the importance of charity, modest dress, the habit of expressing gratitude, and acknowledging the uncertainty of life. In recent weeks, I’ve delved more deeply into Islam because of an interfaith event I’m planning at the hospital, and yesterday I watched numerous interviews with Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, in which he talked about his conversion to Islam.

And then I found myself saying I want to convert to Islam. Really?

Kinda. But no, not really.

No, I don’t want to convert to Islam. What I want is to wear a “hijab”, a Muslim head covering.

Just like when I was a kid in Botswana and wanted to wear a sign that declared my belief in the equal worth of all human beings and my compassion for those who suffer, I feel the need now to distance myself from those who “accuse” Obama of being a Muslim, not being born in Hawai’i, those who protest against the social center/mosque near “Ground Zero”, plan to burn the Qu’ran, etc. Sadly, many of these shameful utterances are portrayed as natural expressions of Christian faith.

I don’t think it’s wrong to be a Christian, any more than I think it’s wrong to be White, but I feel a strong need to express my Christian love and my belief that all humans are of equal value. What better way to do that than by wearing a hijab?

Query for prayerful consideration:

What does Love require of you when a group with which you identify does things that are abhorrent to you?

After about an 8 month “sabbatical” from my Meeting, I am back worshiping regularly on Sundays. If you had asked me about it ahead of time, I think I would have denied the possibility of being “released” from worshiping with my faith community. Looking back on my time away, though, that is the best description I can come up with.

Before my sabbatical, I had attended Meeting faithfully for 25 years, and perhaps going to Quaker worship had become habitual for me, in danger of becoming just another dead structure? Perhaps this was God’s way of waking me up and asking me to be intentional about communal worship again? My individual devotions did continue during my sabbatical, and I had ample opportunity as a chaplain to pray with others and to have conversations about faith. 

For the first couple of months of my absence, I really wrestled with my strong antipathy to going to worship. I didn’t like being a person who doesn’t go to worship. I’ve always thought that Quakers “ought” to be active in a community and worship together with others. But after a while I realized I felt neither pushed away nor pulled towards, and so I decided to be faithful to the feeling of being released. I was still skeptical of myself, though, and kept checking to be sure that I wasn’t deceiving myself. After about 6 months away, I did begin to feel drawn to going to Meeting again but it took another couple of months before the pull was strong enough to actually compel me to go. Then one day it was time to go back.

I’m back, and not because anything dramatic happened within me or my Meeting. And I must confess that I am still strongly skeptical of the notion of being released from communal worship.

However, I can see that my time away had the effect of giving me the chance to choose Quakerism again. It feels a bit like a “renewal of vows” and commitment to my Meeting. During the last 6 months, I have considered my relationship with God, what participating in a spiritual community means, what being a Quaker means, and I choose to recommit myself to Salmon Bay Friends, and perhaps this time with fewer illusions and romantic ideals about my faith and the Religious Society of Friends.

Queries for further reflection:

Have you ever felt “released” from individual or corporate worship? How?

What does membership in the Religious Society of Friends mean to you?

For the past 25 years or more, I’ve attended Meeting on a Sunday if I could. Even in my twenties, I would get up and go to worship no matter how late I had been up the night before. It’s ironic that now, after raising kids and losing the ability to sleep past 9 am, I wake up every Sunday morning feeling that I can’t go to Meeting for worship. It’s been almost five months since I did feel drawn to go to worship at my meeting.

I carefully avoid thinking about next Sunday and the Sunday after that. I hope that I will be able to go to my meeting as soon as we get past Easter. For Easter, though, I already know I’ll go to North Seattle Friends Church so I can get a joyful celebration.

The missing joy factor is one of the reasons I am finding it hard to go to Salmon Bay, my liberal Quaker Meeting. I’m so hungry for joy these days, and we seem so hung up on the problems of the world, and seem to conceive of God mostly as a personal problemsolver or some sort of life coach who helps us with our attitude. I long to be with people who trust that God is working all things together for good, yes, that God works even after earthquakes and wars and heals people and transforms our hearts! I long to celebrate that even in the deepest, darkest places, God brings hope of better things to come. Perhaps God is precisely in those places of pain and suffering, working to bring new life and strength and joy!

Imagine that…

For a while, I did bring that kind of ministry to Meeting, myself. Working as a hospital chaplain, surrounded by crisis and death, has made me more convinced than ever that God is present. God is healing, mending, easing burdens, and promising laughter, joy and bliss.

 So I spoke about hope, joy and trust in Meeting because my heart and soul were full. Sometimes I spoke in worship about the joy I experienced as I learn to turn things over to God, sometimes in business meeting about my trust in God’s guidance in our discernment. For a few Friends, this talk about trust and joy seemed to be tremendously provocative. Remember the bumpersticker, “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention?” The pushback I got was so vehement and sustained, even if it was just from a few individuals, that I ultimately stopped going to worship at my Meeting.

I don’t feel like a victim. I can ensure that a pushback discussion is respectful, and I feel comfortable describing the experiences from which my joy and trust arise. But I don’t want to. That’s not what Meeting is for. There’s a strong feeling of “Blah” when I imagine myself going to Meeting. So, for now, I’m not going to Meeting. One of these Sundays I will probably wake up feeling that I can go back to Meeting for Worship. Probably not because anything has changed, but because my heart is hungry for sitting in expectant waiting and God will tell me it’s time to go back.

Query for further reflection:

What role does joy play in worship? What does Meeting for Worship mean to you?

My faith has been challenged again this past week. I had dinner with a dear friend of mine last Sunday, whose 15 year old son almost died in August last year when an ice cave collaped on him and a friend. The two boys were buried under the ice for over 4 hours before they were rescued. For most of that time, the rescuers and my friend C didn’t think the boys could have survived. Last Sunday, C told me that there was a point when her son had been under the ice for about three hours when she had a sudden image of God standing over her son with a knife in hand, just like Abraham stood over Isaac, and God asked C: “Are you ready to give your son to me?” C says that, stricken with fear, she nonetheless answered,  “Yes, Lord, if you give me the strength to live without him.”

Just a few minutes later, the rescuers heard a voice under the ice, her son’s voice, and he was rescued. His friend was rescued a little while later.

I have always resisted theologies that portray someone’s illness or death as “God’s will” or part of “God’s plan”. As a chaplain I witness the suffering that people go through when someone they love dies, especially when that someone is their child. I can’t bring myself to believe that God would ever be the cause of that kind of pain.

And yet I could hear in my friend’s story that she found comfort in giving her precious son to God. As painful as it was, it was profoundly meaningful and it helped her face a future without her son. 

I’m not sure I am explaining this very well, but I can’t think of what other words to add. 

In my own life, I know that I am a much better parent when I think of my daughters not as mine, but as beloved children of God, who have been entrusted to my care. When I think of the incredible gift they are in my life, and that I am accountable to God for raising them to be loving, responsible, and independent women – that’s when I make the best decisions on their behalf. I am a much better wife when I think of my husband not as mine, but as a child of God, and when I remember that one of my major responsibilities as a wife is to help him grow closer to God.  

My friend C says that after she turned her son over to God, she was filled with gratitude for the 14 years she had had with him.

I still find it hard to think of “God’s will” when a child dies. What I do know is that I am deeply grateful for the people who have appeared in my life and whom I have been fortunate to love and nurture. I hope that my gratitude will always sustain me, even when it is time to say a last “goodbye” to someone I love and give him or her to God.

Queries for prayerful reflection:

What does it mean to give someone to God? In what ways do I turn the ones I love over to God? In which ways do I not turn them over to God?

Thank you to those of you who held me and my neighborhood in the Light as we met to discuss my city’s plans to build at least 66 units of housing for the formerly homeless here. Your and my Meeting’s support made it so much easier for me to stand up and say to my neighbors that I welcome formerly homeless men and women into housing here, knowing that many of my neighbors will be very, very angry with me.

As I have advocated for homeless men and women in my neighborhood, I have met many people who see the world very differently from what I do. The responses to my op-ed piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and discussions with neighbors who oppose mixed-income housing here have opened my eyes to just how common it is in this society to operate with gradations of people: some people are good and some people are bad. Many of my neighbors seem to see homeless people as unworthy and harmful to their surroundings, and most people in houses as deserving and beneficial to their surroundings (except for housed people like me who welcome homeless people, I guess we are traitors?). I have a brand new appreciation of how unique it is that Quakers insist that EVERYONE is a beloved child of God, that each person is the bearer of “that of God”.

Knowing that I have a whole faith community, both past and present, that stands with me has been a great source of comfort to me as I have faced my neighbors’ wrath. I was flooded with gratitude when I asked for my Meeting’s prayers and my on-line community’s support, and in so doing became aware that I was presuming that my fellow Quakers would be supportive. I would not presume that in any other setting, and I know other homeless advocates do not presume that their faith community will stand with them on this issue.

I am grateful to be a Quaker today. 

Query for prayerful consideration:

What aspects of Quakerism fill me with gratitude?

Dear reader,

I spent a large portion of the day yesterday (Saturday May 31) at a neighborhood meeting where we discussed the plans for some surplus military land that hopefully will be turned over to the city of Seattle. One of the federal requirements is that this land be used in part to serve the needs of the homeless. Many of my well-to-do neighbors in Seattle are not pleased with the prospect of having some 300 new units of housing added, about 30% of them subsidized/affordable, and I have felt called as a Quaker to be a pastoral presence in the discussions. In this hostile environment, I feel called to be 

  • a calm, loving, and non-anxious presence to my neighbors to let them know that we have nothing to fear
  • an affirming and encouraging presence to the facilitators and presenters when they are met with hostility from my neighbors
  • someone who encourages listening, discussion, and persuasion (as opposed to hostility and name-calling)
  • someone who speaks about the beloved-of-God nature of the men, women, and children who are at a financial disadvantage

And I CAN do and be all these things, and I can do it effectively, but I have discovered over the years that it comes at a high personal cost. It’s not so much that I feel hurt by being called names and being yelled at. The part that does damage to me is that I seem to soak in the energy of the room, and my mind gets tangled up in trying to figure out how people so casually can put others down, call them names, twist, and distort their intentions, and actively try to make another person look bad. I don’t sleep well, I become sad and my thoughts about the interactions and the situation race on at uncomfortable speeds. My world as a Quaker, chaplain and spiritual director is lived in environments where most people commit to seeking to hear, acknowledge, affirm, and respect the validity of another’s perspective. I don’t have much exposure to adversarial environments. I know in general that I am not called to participate in those kinds of adversarial political processes – the personal cost to me is too high – but since I bear the Quaker mark, this is my neighborhood, and no-one else from the neighborhood seems to be willing/able to take on this role now, it falls to me to do it.

So I ask for your prayers for my spiritual safety and protection at these meetings, dear reader. 

The next neighborhood meetings are scheduled for

  • Monday June 2, 6.30 pm – 8.30 pm Pacific Daylight time (GMT + 9 hrs)
  • Monday June 16, 6.30 – 8.30 pm
  • Saturday June 21, 9.00 am – 1.00 pm
  • Saturday July 12, 9.00 am – 1.00 pm
  • Saturday July 19, 9.00 am – 1.00 pm

My Meeting is already holding me and my neighbors in prayer, and I ask you to join in and hold us in the Light.

Query for prayerful consideration:

What does prayer mean in this context?