Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Institutions trying to Usurp a Movement

It has been interesting to watch the doings on at the various occupations around the country. In particular, watching some groups and organizations that grew out of movements of the past are now trying to latch on to the "Occupy Movement" to try and stake a claim in it has been most interesting. HIV/AIDS organizations and activists, Jim Wallis' Sojourners, environmental groups, healthcare groups, and organizations such as AFSC are all looking for ways to somehow get their message on the radar. Some seem to be trying to remain viable; others (Sojourners most blatantly) are using the movement as a fund-raising opportunity. Let me just say, I'm normally a big fan of Jim Wallis, but I was really turned off to get the most recent fund-appeal e-mail from Sojourners titled "we've been doing this for 40 years" and then asking people to join their "sustainers circle" (even going so far as offering a "free" gift if you donate which, to me, isn't free but bartering). It is exactly this kind of exploitation and manipulation done by the "establishment" that, it seems to me, many of the occupation movements are rejecting.

My take is that this occupation movement is a culmination of a whole bunch of things, and it is also unlike anything we've seen before. It's the result of not just leaders but entire communities punting on big issues and always deferring on making serious changes and difficult choices for a later day, and that day is now. As NYTimes columnist David Brooks observed last May, we now have young adults who played by the rules their whole lives (structured childhoods of playdates, sports, and academics driven not by learning but by test-scores and grades) with the promise that compliance would be rewarded, but instead are faced with high-rates of un- and under-employment and burdened with loans. There is anger for sure, but there is also the recognition that the previous generations failed to prepare for the future. This is a non-partisan issue; it was under the Clinton years that there was an explosion of McMansion's, big cars and unprecedented debt (to that point) - very much an "if it feels good, do it" time. It's not that this was Clinton's fault or responsibility; it was just part of the era we have been living since the 1950's of American capitalism.

It is easy to see that all the various social, environmental and health issues are related to this movement. In fact, there is a strong element of chaos related to this movement as it attracts the passionate, the disgruntled, the angry, as well as the dropouts looking for company and a chance to get high. A look at the various signs that pop up at these places can speak to this, as the "issues" are clearly present. But it is also fair, I think, to understand the rejection of the organizations that have been established to address these issues or, at the least, be very skeptical of their intrusion into the movement. Taking HIV/AIDS just as an example: at what point do we look around and say that the outcomes (in terms of the continuing spread of HIV and the growing wait-lists for treatment) are not just the result of bad politics or inadequate funding? It is also the result of an entrenched industry that played "spend it or lose it" that wasted millions of dollars in needs assessments and studies. It is not a movement but a business that holds expensive conferences in glamorous places, patting itself on the back but slow to adapt to new realities and technologies. Too often it is driven not by mission completion but by protection of turf, and now wants more money. There have also been organizations that have slashed programs and staff, but maintained salaries and pensions. It is the lack of balance to sacrifices that this generation is experiencing. Consider, as another example, in the wake of the Gulf oil spill last year, not one of the countless e-mails from environmental groups that I saw that called for protests or for more funding also called on people to reduce consumption. You can replicate this process with almost all the issues of our times. For many of these organizations and institutions, the goal is to keep their issue alive in people's faces, but they don't want to really be questioned about their corporate presence and how it influences our lives, which is the very thing I see much of what this movement is about.

It will be interesting to see where this movement goes. I fully support the idea of a major community transformation that connects us closer to the ideals we espouse (see another David Brooks column for more about this). For me, it's not just about taxing the rich, nor is it about healthcare for all. It's also not mine to say what it is about. I do think that a part of the movement that is healthy is that we all need to be fully engaged and responsible. If we are educated and informed while being engaged, we will absolutely be a better society. It will also spell doom to all those organizations that want to make this their cause and exploit it for their own institutional survival. I can't say that mine is to go and Occupy anything, but to do what I can to nurture the transformations for a better, more just world.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Israel, Palestinians, and Quakers

As clerk of the BYM Peace and Social Concerns Committee, I have recently found that to give this work due diligence, it is becoming increasingly important that I have a better knowledge base on the complex issue of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Most recently, the call for Palestinian statehood – which had long seemed a no-brainer to me – has heated up. Within the Yearly Meeting, there are those who are passionate that we should be vocal in supporting Palestinian statehood and boycotting all things Israel. Widening the circle I have seen and heard from some folks that not supporting statehood makes no sense and Obama is once again not showing fortitude. Among some of this group I have been taken aback by what I would call a somewhat toxic response laced with nasty comments bordering on hatred. And, in mid-September, three Quaker organizations (AFSC, FCNL, and QUNO) released a statement endorsing the Palestinian request at the UN for statehood - an act that the Obama administration asked them not to do, but to instead try to negotiate a peace first. In the Quaker statement, it is noted that the Palestinian request at the UN is a peaceful act, and should be endorsed. What seems to be missing is a deeper understanding of some of the history, such as that Mr. Abbas, despite recent actions, seems to struggle with making decisions (see this editorial for more) and this could be problematic in establishing a peaceful statehood.

And yet, as I sat and watched things unfold, I saw this issue evolve (or devolve?) into another partisan issue, where the political left generally endorsed statehood and the right did not, and Obama’s acts were perceived as politically motivated to appease the right. Personally, I am suspect of any issue that becomes partisan in this country, and wonder what the middle-ground is that people do not want us to see. So, I started to reach out. First, I contacted a friend of mine from high school who is Jewish, very liberal, and very connected with Israel. After high school, she did a year-long kibbutz, and this year her twin children are doing two separate kibbutzes in Israel. I forwarded to her some materials that I was receiving from Friends for her input. She connected me with a Jewish scholar who works at the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore. From both of them, I have started to gain a deeper understanding of these issues. For example, among Jewish Americans, there is little support for Israeli occupation of territories, but there is also a strong concern about the security of Israel. And yet, in the various materials I have shared with them, they felt that the security of Israel was not a consideration. If Palestinians are granted statehood, does that mean that they could assume that Jerusalem is included as part of this deal? If that’s the case, we probably could expect to see a sharp rise in violence in that city. So I was starting to see that, in fact, Obama is right to say that peace needs to lead to statehood, and not the other way. Statehood first, I now think, will most likely lead to more violence, not less.

Then this morning there was this op-ed piece in the Washington Post questioning why Human Rights groups are ignoring Palestinian war of words (written by one of the founding members of Human Rights Watch). Essentially, for me, this best clarifies the issue, which is that, while I think Palestinians should have statehood, if it is established through the UN and not through a peace settlement with Israel, the anti-Israeli element of the Palestinian government and society could very-quickly take up arms. As the writer points out, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament called for the killing of the Jewish people “down to the last one of them” in 2007. I am reminded of the comments I heard from a speaker at the National Cathedral – a man from Darfur who was from the side that was being persecuted and executed (another issue I am shamefully thin on understanding). He said that with all the “Save Darfur” signs he was seeing, he was clear that the last thing we wanted to do was arm those who were being persecuted because the vengeance would be more brutal. Can we take comfort that this will not happen to Israel?

This is a very complex issue, and one that is going to take an immense amount of bridge-building. As I have delved into this, I am more convinced that this Friend (me) will not be actively involved in the public policy statements and minutes that take the side of the Palestinians in such a blanket way. There are factions within the Palestinian community that absolutely want to do violence to Israel. Peace, for some, is not the goal; eradication of Israel is. At the same time, within our own communities, when we ignore this reality, we are also not being kind to neighbors who do not support Israeli policy but are passionate that Israel must be protected. So, while I think we need to stand down from the partisan policy statements, I do think we should step up our role as bridge-builders – the ultimate peace makers. It is when we can widen our own circle of understanding that we can perhaps see new ways forward.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Peace is a dance, not a stance

This was the talk/presentation I gave at BYM Annual Meeting for Business as clerk of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee:

“Peace” is a dance, not a stance. We can easily dance among ourselves, but when we also learn to dance joyfully with people we may not know, and with whom we may not agree, we are bringing greater peace. To joyfully seek that of God in all things is to see all people and things as dance partners.

We also recognize that the greatest marks left by Friends in the world – from influencing the ideals of our country, to the abolition movement, to voting rights for women – have often been the work, passions and leadings of individuals, not committees. What these individuals shared was a fire and a passion that could not be extinguished. Knowing that their objectives would not be achieved in their lifetime, they remained undeterred in working towards how they envisioned the world should be. Quakerism was often the source and inspiration of their work, and what emboldened them to take leaps of faith, to speak their truths, and as a result, the world is better.

As the 21st century unfolds, however, we face new challenges – within ourselves as well as in the world. Within this Yearly Meeting, we know that there are a great many good things happening in the name of peace. Support for and active involvement in the works of African Great Lakes Initiative, the Zarembkas and Ann Riggs in east Africa; Bolivian Quakers; the work of the Intervisitation Committee and involvement with FUM are but a few of the things worth mentioning. There are also the leadings of individuals within our Yearly Meeting, and some Monthly Meetings that are doing wonderful works in their community, too many to mention here. At the same time, we recognize that some PSC Committees struggle and may even be inactive. Just this week we heard, for example, that the Ad Hoc committee on gender and sexual diversity is laying itself down, and yet even in Friendly circles we hear people and things being called “gay” in a world where this kind of benign intent can do harm. So while a committee’s work may be done, there is still work to be done. While it is easy for us to look outside of ourselves and see fault, we must also seek to be ever-vigilant and increasingly conscious of our own blind spots. As Moliere said, “it is not what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.”

For this committee, we find it both important and challenging to harness our efforts so that we are greater than the sum of our parts and the world continues to be positively influenced by our presence. We recognize that all things are connected. Torture, hunger, and the fuel and energy we have all consumed to be here this week are connected. We cannot shy away from this fact, but should instead be willing to embrace it. A challenge for all of us is to take the learning, wisdom and passions we share to not only support the issues, causes and programs we care about and deem worthy, but to apply them in our daily lives so that in the communities where we live, eat, sleep and work, we can know that the world is ever so incrementally better for having had this day. It is important to daily challenge ourselves to move in the direction of the world we seek. Supporting programs and building relations in remote places – whether they be in prisons, in South America, on a Reservation, or in Africa – is necessary, but if we do not also expand our circle of dance partners in our own backyard joyfully seeking that of God in all, we are missing something. Issues help bring unity among like-minded people, but are also used to divide and conquer. It is relationships – honest, genuine relationships that we live out every day – that bring unity to our global community.

As the Peace Testimony marks its 350th year, this committee will be looking for more opportunities to create more dancers and partners, seeking to nurture the leadings of some while creating opportunities for others to explore the world in new ways, with new lenses, learning new ways to engage or to simply re-contextualize the issues. Some examples of our work include:
• Prison Ministry. We have members and attenders on the committee who do prison mediation, AVP and teach non-violent communication in the prisons. There is also a pen-pal program. These are not only opportunities to connect to prisons, but also to deepen these practices in oneself. There are opportunities for people to be trained in mediation, as well as to simply be a pen-pal.
• Gleaning. Every year, in all of our communities, thousands of tons nutritious food is wasted simply because it is not transported. In an era when hunger and malnutrition is on the rise, this is unacceptable. We will be embarking on an effort to organize a few days this year to have Friends go to an identified farm, pick crops and get them to our local foodbanks. As an added bonus, because most gleaning programs are currently populated by Christian churches, this is an opportunity to build relationships among our neighbors whom we may not know and even hold judgment against without having known yet.
• Torture. We have a member who is actively involved in programs and activities that educate and inform people about the practice of torture and a call to end the practice. There will be a variety of opportunities throughout the year to engage and learn more.
• Workcamps. We will be looking to develop a Workcamp somewhere in the region over the next year that will be an opportunity for people to perhaps see things anew, or with new energy or sense of empowerment. These are also wonderful ways to bring community together across age, religion, culture and economic divides. Once one has learned to build and cross a bridge, it is not where the bridge has landed but that one knows how to build a bridge that matters.
• HIV/AIDS. As we continue to support the works in East Africa where AIDS is devastating, we must also recognize that the trends in the US are not good. However, a “game-changer” is in the works: self-testing for HIV. When the FDA approves this (perhaps as early as spring 2012) we will be approaching Friends Meetings to embrace this as an opportunity to “lead by example” by nurturing this option. There are those who say testing without education and support is dangerous. Possibly, but even if so, support and education doesn’t have to happen in an office; it can happen in safe places where people know they are loved and informed.
• National and International legislation. We will strive to have more effective pipelines with FCNL, AFSC and QUNO to provide guidance on issues, so we can get in a flow of discerning how to best use our voices while also becoming better educated and informed so we can reach into our own communities effectively.

To bring about the world we seek, many things are necessary, and none are sufficient. It is our strong hope that Friends can find their piece of the puzzle – their gift, their voice, their leading – and to invite this committee to be a part of nurturing it and being nurtured by it. Ultimately we are seeking to move towards the day when there are no destructive barriers of “us” and “them”. In this world, there is only “us” – all of us. Despite best intents, many of our movements of the past have become institutions of the present and do little to promote unity. It is the artist, the creative spirit, the mystic and the visionary who can envision the world as it should be as well as the person who recognizes the problems of the world as it is that are a part of this dance. We welcome people to attend our meetings with their ideas. We encourage folks to join us on September 10 for our annual Networking Day, as well as at William Penn House for our Sunday, 9/11 potluck when we will be talking about what we can learn from this past decade that we can take into our future with meaning and purpose, rather than lamentaion. We also ask that active PSC committees share with us their works. Our desire is to add value as well as support innovative and new works.

- Brad Ogilvie

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Of Sundances and Yearly Meetings

Last week I was on Pine Ridge, SD as part of a Workcamp. Our work focused on preparing grounds on a point overlooking the Badlands for a Sundance Ceremony. Sundance Ceremonies are the most sacred of ceremonies – four days of praying, fasting, singing, dancing, sweating and piercing by Sundancers (all of whom have native/indigenous ancestry) surrounded by an extended adopted family that spiritually supports the dancers while also supporting each other through community. For those of us who were there as part of the Workcamp - 7 teens and 3 adults - it was an incredible honor to be entrusted with helping to prepare for this sacred ceremony. We helped rebuild the dance arbor, build new sweat lodges, clean the grounds, and dug a pit for an outhouse that had fallen over.
We were invited to participate in sweat lodges, another sacred tradition. One of the adults with us also participated in a traditional buffalo killing/butchering. It was a week that deeply touched and challenged us to stay open to doing what we were asked to do and had opportunities to do. Soaking rains and hot temperatures could fray the nerves, but we stayed with it. We also got to know some of the dancers who are spending this current week in even more trying conditions, making incredible sacrifices in the belief that this is what helps to keep the cycles of the year. (It should be noted that both Sundance ceremonies and sweat lodges are sacred ceremonies; news that they are harmful are often connected to people who have adapted them to events for profit and, with so many things, money and profit often corrupt the goodness and original purpose of things – sometimes at great harm).

I left the group on Sunday (kicking and screaming, I must say) to join Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s Annual Sessions. I had been asked to lead a retreat for Friends, and had developed a theme of “Simplicity, Truth and truths.” For me, the motivation for this was my belief that has been validated by experiences that when we truly engage in the world in the spirit of deep appreciative listening and staying open despite discomfort, some incredible things can happen. For me, this is what it means to be a Friend - to joyfully seek that of God in all. To do this to any large degree takes discipline and commitment – the ability to hold true to one’s convictions, not be intimidated by others, and at the same time truly honor others as sacred beings (“seeking that of God”). During the retreat, I know I stepped on some toes and sacred cows as I questioned how well we Friends are at doing this, and going so far as challenging us that we are stuck holding on to social and political ideologies more than our core truth. As an example, I noted that Friends cannot easily say what Quakers believe, but in Quaker circles people often and easily state what “others” believe (including Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Tea Partiers and Republicans). In my pushing some of these issues, there was at times a tension that rose in the room as people were uncomfortable with being challenged, avoiding conflict and pain.

This has had me thinking about annual rites and traditions, and their purpose. The Sundance Ceremony – one full of sacrifice, pain, spirit – is done selflessly and completely on faith. The people who participate give greatly of themselves, and are challenged every day to make it happen. Even among the Workcampers, we were sleeping in the elements, using the outhouses, working outside in hot conditions, and being challenged both physically and emotionally, intentionally as well as inadvertently, as we were called to look out for each other and take leaps of faith that our works matter. We became a community and became a part of a larger community. Deep and meaningful conversations took place at the most unexpected times about humanity (ours as well as others), about compassion and judgment in our lives and the world, and how we can support each other simply by letting the experience of deepening relationships unfold. These were conversations that could not be planned for, but are deeply meaningful and transformative. To me, it is Quakerism in action – letting our lives speak. The irony is that all the teens attend a Friends school, but could say little about what going to a Quaker school means other than that the Testimonies are on the wall. However, as our week together progressed, through our work and talk, I think there was a deepening of the sense of Quakerism through our words and actions.

But among Friends, I sometimes observe that our gatherings ask little of us. All our meals are prepared; we mostly stay in rooms (but for a smattering of tents) and can easily get out of the elements. No doubt there is great information, networking and sharing that happens at these gatherings, but I wonder if we are not missing out on opportunities for even deeper spiritual growth and outward connections by avoiding challenging ourselves on our faith, our beliefs, and how we interact with one another. The message of my Workshop was that kindness – the authentic kindness that I experienced when I did the AIDSRides in the late 1990’s when thousands of us took to the road for long, painful bike rides while intentionally supporting and cheering each other rather than focusing on our own pain, the authentic kindness that truly welcomes the stranger - can really transform and revolutionize relationships, and it is the simplicity of intellect and emotion that opens us to truly and joyfully seeking that of God in all. I question whether we as Friends are very good at this these days as we have developed great attachments to issues over the past few decades. In challenging us, maybe we can support each other in being better at it. But if we are afraid to challenge each other at our gatherings on what we believe and in the ways we do and do not live in accordance of those beliefs, can we really be any good at (and do we even have a leg to stand on) in challenging others on these very same things?

The Sundance ceremony taught me about how faith, prayer, challenge and sacrifice prepares and propels the participants (and the world) for another cycle around the sun. Can we likewise learn to be uncomfortable at our annual gatherings as Friends? The fellowship and sharing of information is important, but if we are to also challenge ourselves to a deeper radical connection to our core truths – the kind that revolutionizes and transforms, we have to be willing to be made uncomfortable. I’m not suggesting we adapt any traditions or practices, but am suggesting that we be more willing to feel a bit more heat around our faiths and practices so that we can more deeply embrace the things that really matter. The heat and fatigue in South Dakota wore away our facades as we got to know more deeply the spirit in and around us; can our Annual Gatherings help to do this as well? If we remain solely in our physical and emotional comfort zones, I suspect this may be harder than it needs to be.

-Brad Ogilvie

Friday, July 1, 2011

Musings about "what love can do"

“Let us try then what love can do” – William Penn

Among Quakers, this quote if often seen and cited as a guiding principle.

I was thinking about this quote a lot over the weekend, as I have been in the midst of a busy few weeks with Workcamps, while planning for future Workcamps and preparing to lead a retreat at Baltimore Yearly Meeting on Radical Hospitality and Simplicity.

What I was thinking about was this:

Do we as Friends sometimes turn to this statement about love when other tools in our tool box have failed to achieve the desired outcomes? After attempts at trying to get people to see our way either through argument, persuasion, protest or lobbying, do we then think “alright, let me try ‘love’ as the means to get the result I am looking for”?

If this is the case, I suspect we have misinterpreted the great potential, and perhaps also missed the intent of William Penn. I am learning to appreciate that “love”, like a healthy lifestyle, requires a greater consciousness and commitment – a real spiritual practice. It is more about having a presence than a skill. “In what ways am I being ‘loving’ in what I am doing” is the question that seems to be formulating for me. This is different than loving something such as spaghetti or bologna. It has to do with engaging with heart, not with head, but not disconnecting from the head either. It seems to be about letting the heart lead, rather than using the heart to do what the head wants.

At this juncture, all of this is still very rudimentary and almost foreign to me. My comfort zone is to stay in the head, but I also have seen the limitations of believing we can think our way to solutions. This is not an “either/or” process, however. It all does connect to Radical Hospitality and Simplicity; articulating this is still something I am working on. As part of this work, however, what I find I do need to do is step away from reactionary politics and theology, and to always look for what I can do today to be a more loving person by nurturing understanding, compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing, rather than blame and anger. I recognize that this is not about denouncing others for their actions, either, but to simply state where I am coming from and honoring others for theirs.

I also know that, at best, I can hope to achieve this 20% of the time. Tomorrow, maybe I can hit 21%. Such is the challenge of “practice”.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Are Friends "bumper-sticker" social justice? Can we be more?

Earlier this week, when I was in Costa Rica, I went on-line to get information about and to contact Casa Ridgway, a Quaker-run guest house in San Jose, Costa Rica that I was planning to spend the night at. As I was looking more into the information about this place, I read a statement recently written by the adjoining Peace Center (“Amigos Para la Paz”) that stated “we categorically reject military intervention as a solution to problems”. In the afternoon, as I was walking up to the guesthouse, I spotted the seemingly ever-present “War is not the answer” sign in the window. Later that evening, I would spend time at a Lutheran church in San Jose that runs a support group for men with HIV, and then share a meal with three Lutheran pastors and a Catholic nun – all of whom have done some hard work both within their respective churches and within the communities they live (San Jose and Guatemala). The conversations revolved around the hard work of challenging our own faith communities and beliefs in our shared commitments and desires for a better world. We talked about the ethical and moral dilemmas of our work. We shared ideas about how to reach deeper into community and higher into bureaucracy in our eternal pursuit of a better, more just world. It was an evening of enriching, enlightening, energizing and challenging conversation.

All of this has had me thinking more deeply about and seriously questioning the viability of Quakers as a meaningful player in the modern world when it seems like the majority of our actions seem to consist of driving a Prius, self-segregating with like-minding people, writing Minutes condemning some action or some policy, and then wringing our hands, but not really getting out there and getting our hands dirty. I know that there are notable exceptions to this, but when I read the requests and Minutes of committees and business meetings, these are too few and often being undertaken in isolation. We have created so many committees that our social justice work (glbt equality, race, environment, etc) is fragmented and disjointed.
What we are left with are signs. Take “War Is Not the Answer” (to quote Henny Youngman, “please”). You are hard pressed to encounter an unprogrammed Meetinghouse that does not have this somewhere clearly visible. My problem with it is not the sentiment, but the fact that this is a statement, not an invitation to a conversation. And yet, it is in conversations that we find common ground and common humanity, develop deeper understanding, and gain new insights and perhaps new ideas. “War Is Not the Answer” also oversimplifies the world and smacks of a partisan tone that does little to nurture deeper thinking. Consider, for example, one of the other popular signs seen in Quaker circles: “Save Darfur.” Is there an action plan behind this statement? How do we suggest stopping the genocide? Most likely, some kind of military presence is going to be needed or at least strongly considered, but doesn’t this go against the grain of the statement “War Is Not the Answer”?

I am increasingly finding that I am having more enriching, challenging, spiritual and growth-provoking conversations outside the Quaker world when I sit with people who are really questioning how their own faith communities may have to make accommodations in order to serve the world. These are not the kinds of conversations that make us angry and powerless, but actually challenge us to think, act and live differently. When I sit with Friends, what I hear more is either statements about how others are wrong about some act or some policy, or lengthy reflections of what it means to be Quaker. What I see as needed and missing is a combination of these two – a deep passion and commitment that there are things we need to do about injustices in the world, but to stop with the signs and minutes, and instead be a part of conversations and programs with people doing the hard work. I think we need to seriously consider doing away with the simplistic signs and the definitive minute statements (especially to people such as President Obama, knowing full-well it won’t make a bit of difference). We should instead be willing to go out and be challenged as to why we care and what it is that our faith calls us to act on.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Are Quakers Ready for Quaker Youth and are Quaker Youth Ready?

“The Quaker Meeting is a faith community, grounded in the shared experience of God’s guidance and grace felt in our Meetings for Worship, our Business Meetings, and our fellowship. We are a diverse group of individuals who have been drawn together by the Spirit and a longing to find a faith and community that could speak to our condition. This brought us to Quaker Meeting. It is only with God’s Spirit that such a diverse group of individuals can realize and embody the kind of unity, belonging, and community that answers to that of God within us.

The Quaker Meeting is meant to be a Blessed Community – a living testimony to a social order that embodies God’s peace, justice, love, compassion, and joy; an example and invitation to a better way of life. Like our other testimonies, Community can be a prophetic call to the rest of society”.-Southeastern Yearly Meeting

My cousin, Rob Sandford, a Baptist minister in Virginia shared the following:

” Over half of our Baptist churches in VA are plateaued and many are dwindling down to handful of seniors. Thus the emphasis on 'church planting' or church starting with a focus on young families, college & youth.

The passing of the torch is difficult if no one is coming along who wants to pick it up or sees its value. But part of the church problem is that youth were excluded from decision making from day one. They do not see the church as "their" church as a result.”

Last year as Pendle Hill was reorganizing, a proposal to remove the requirement that the Executive Director be a Quaker was suggested due to the limited number of individuals who are Quaker and who have management experience.

How did Quakers reach the point where our knowledge about the Religious Society of Friends is so limited and that our pool of leaders who are both Quaker and have experience in management requires us to look elsewhere?

This is reflected in the average age of participants in business meetings, in our committee appointees and in the number of our young people who were raised as Quakers and no longer participate.

For many organizations, leadership is shared based on ability not age. By being open to the gifts of others we are enriched and challenged to be more than the sum of our parts. We cannot assume that age, education, or traditions are precursors of wisdom. If our Quaker faith is to grow and survive, our youth must be engaged at all levels. They must be given roles in leadership and in the challenges inherent in a vital faith. We must ask the younger Friends to serve and then give them meaningful work and respect their decisions and approaches. We must recognize that with young people, the past informs but does not dictate. We must accept that we will be challenged. When cost is a factor the funds needed must be provided.

At William Penn House, we have worked to make this a reality,
1) The average age of the staff is 34.
2) The Hospitality coordinator is in her mid 20’s, as was our Workcamps coordinator.
3) 5 of the members of our board of directors are 30 or younger.
4) We release our staff to travel among Friends and allow them to serve our broader community by paying their travel and registration costs.

If our small Quaker organization can do this then the challenge is for each monthly and yearly meeting to recognize the gifts of our younger Friends and to change priorities to fund this service and to nurture the many gifts that these younger Friends bring.

"You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” Book of James

In the 1950’s, the Young Friends of North America was a vital and spirit led organization and during this time there was a very strong group of Young Friends from all over at Earlham College which was our mailing address. They generally had their meetings several times a year at Earlham College and elsewhere. FUM had always been a strong supporter of YFNA, as was Philadelphia YM. But beyond that YFNA did all of their own fund raising and paid their own way to meetings etc. And had very little supervision or support from any Quaker organizations.

Our problems with engaging Young Adult Friends are systemic. From a blog was this clear statement:

The expectation was that young Friends wouldn't want to attend much of the "adult" stuff. And so the program was segregated. Our kids left frustrated and unhappy. We talk a lot about "including youth." We are asked to consider young Friends for our committee work and in other capacities. But if we really expected that that would happen would we have teen programming at the very same time as worship, business meeting and committee meetings?

Our Young Friends are often ill equipped to discuss their faith, because we seldom teach what our faith is about, how it fits into the faith of others and why what we believe is important. When we know why we believe as we do then we can live our faith. If we are to be a big tent of beliefs then we must be open to a broader range of beliefs and be willing to listen to others.

Adults are to pattern behavior, if our kids never attend worship, never attend business meetings, how do they learn to be Quakers. Is it hormonal, one day they wake up and go wow, let’s go to meeting for worship with a concern for business! And we keep it up. We discount their preparedness, their convictions and their responsibilities. Since they function in a parallel universe, we are not exposed to them nor they to us. So when we are seeking engagement from our younger Friends, we do not even know who they are.

So the problem of the older Friends recognizing the gifts of our younger Friends starts with First Day and is codified at Yearly Meeting. And we do not know when to make the change. Do we ever see or hear young Friends at worship, other than to shake their hands and grin as they leave worship after 20 minutes or return to worship at the end. Do we ever see or hear them at business meeting. And at Yearly Meetings they are paraded in for a dog and pony show with the teachers serving as their voice then they disappear and we can continue with adult stuff.

Studies of Young Adults have shown willingness if not a yearning to serve but they like to be asked and to be valued and they know what they can do and they know their abilities and time constraints.

How do we engage our youth if we do not ask them? How do we prepare the next generation to nurture the RSOF if we do not nurture them? How do we grow our faith if we do not share and yield? How do we change if the change agents are not at the table?

Among Friends, are blue collar workers welcome? Are business leaders welcome? Are young people following a different path welcome? Are Republicans and Tea Party followers welcome? Have we become so homogeneous that our sameness excludes others? Among liberal friends, can we talk about Jesus? Among Christ centered Friends, can we talk about Buddha? Can we challenge our elders? As the baby boomers retire from our jobs, will we step aside and let younger folks, who may or may not listen to our muse change Quakers to be relevant to them?

How do we make this change to engage others in the life of our meeting?

But as the saying goes it takes 2 to tango. The older Friends must reach out to the younger Friends but the younger Friends must also step forward. If young Friends do not attend business meetings, how will we know that they are ready to be involved? If young Friends do not participate in committees, how do they learn about the life of the meeting?

“When I was a child I acted as a child, but now that I am an adult I must give up my childish ways”. The young adults, the young friends must step up to the plate and deliver. They must be engaged in the life of the meeting and be willing to serve. The excuse of time is one all of us can use. The excuse of lack of experience is one that will be addressed by doing what it takes to serve. Quakerism is an On the Job Training faith. We can only become Quakers by being Quakers.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Fragmentation of Friends?

I’ve been noticing a trend recently in Quakerism. Consider these:
• Last summer at a Yearly Meeting gathering, I heard a presenter talk about one Friends organization that has reduced programming by 50% while keeping pensions 100% funded
• A high-tuition Friends School and its sponsor Meeting are considering separating over concerns of the tuition not in-line with Quaker values, and concern about what it is that makes the school “Quaker”
• A Yearly Meeting’s budget proposal that would eliminate financial support for Young Adult Friends (YAFs) programming and support. As a result, young Friends and young-oriented Friends are passing around a petition of support, but using words like “organizing” and “standing in solidarity with YAF’s”.

Each one of these issues, in a vacuum, is of concern. In each case, I could easily take sides and say “sure, people who have worked all these years deserve their pensions, and yes, high-tuitions smack of greed and reek of arrogance and privilege, and no doubt we should support YAF’s as they are our future”. But when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what’s going on here, and then look at the larger world, I see a pattern emerging among Friends that is immensely disturbing to me. There seems to be a drawing of lines along wealth and generations that is somewhat convoluted, and all are driven by the current economy. But rather than coming together, we seem to be pulling ourselves apart at a time when we need each other the most. I would love to pose this: We are in a deep economic hole as a result of at least 30 (and more likely 60) years of punting on big issues, and now the chickens have come home to roost. The whole country (as well as other countries) is facing the same thing, and we Friends are no exception. Can Friends be truly prophetic, embracing the community as one entity not segregated or intimidated by generational divides (or any other divides for that matter) in dealing with these big issues? Basically, to use a phrase from a former intern, “Can we all just put on our big-kid panties, hold each other’s truths, while considering what we all need to give up so that our future is bright and our presence is felt”? This would mean that we should perhaps drop all long-standing committees (on race, glbt, Indian, environment) that tend to pull us apart more than bring us together, and reconsider where we see ourselves in the world. We will also need to put our egos aside and accept that, no matter where we fall in the generations, “it’s not about us”.

So, to go back to the three bullets above as an example, I propose the following questions:
• How can we use the unexpected drop in income to best serve the communities we have made commitments to (social justice requires a long-term commitment) while honoring our promise to our retirees and honoring the spirit of their work that only lives in the future through the next generation of workers (most-likely to be YAF’s). I would hope that some of the 100% pensioners might be willing to give up some of the pension to invest in the future, which would also be a wonderful Testimony to Simplicity, Integrity and Equality.
• Has anyone asked the students what it means to them to be at a Quaker School, regardless of the tuition? It’s the parents who have the wealth, not the kids, but it is the kids who will inherit the wealth. Shouldn’t we welcome the opportunity to work with these schools to nurture Quakerism – not as a political value or a practice of silent worship, but as a deeply committed lifestyle that promotes peace and justice, including economic equality? I’m not sure we help this effort by arrogantly looking down on the tuition or the ego-driven life to get into the best school and to be a huge success.
• To the YAF’s: How is “A movement of Solidarity” nurturing compassion and understanding? Does the loss of this position mean you can’t carry on? I don’t mean to sound harsh, but you are all adults now. You’re not disenfranchised voters or exploited and abused laborers. Yes, your concerns need to be weighed and considered by the whole body (that includes you), but a “movement of Solidarity” seems a little dramatic to me. I have to say that even embracing “YAF” as a separate category has added to a “separateness”, and the elders have certainly played along (or lead? I’m not sure which came first). At the same time, I do know that the current structure of much of Friends is not particularly welcoming of new ideas or thought.

I think these are extraordinary times. As these events unfold, my hope is that we can put our reactivity aside and see that we are all in this together. Let's recognize the challenges and conflicts, and come together rather than choose sides. We desperately need the vision, creativity and energy of all for whom that is a gift (most often the youthful ones), and we need the wisdom that can bring the learnings of the past to the present but not be constricted by past – and often false – visions of how things were. But we need these to make up one body, not separate bodies.

I am sure that this may very-well offend people who I deeply admire for their passion and work as humans and as Friends, so please know that this in no way is meant to cause any. I am really wondering if we Friends can take to heart that we all need each other to have a future; divisions and exclusions of any kinds, whether it is walking away from tables of people with whom we disagree, or focusing on funding only as the issue that matters seems to be little more than a lost opportunity for us to really practice our faith.

Monday, March 21, 2011

You Are My Sunlight After the Rain

Just as I was preparing to settle into 7:30am silent worship, the doorbell rang. Our guest was a black male in his mid-thirties and holding a clipboard. Assuming he was one of the handful of service men who periodically stop by to fix, spray or check things, I stood firm in the doorway and asked him what he needed so I could direct him quickly. It turned out that the clipboard was for his own purposes and he was hoping to join us for worship. When we talked at the end of that half-hour, I discovered that he was in a divinity program at Howard University and was exploring different approaches to worship, but even if I’d known that information (it being a rare event) I still would have sat through the silence struggling with whether I should feel guilty about equating a clipboard and a black man with a professional visit. Without absolving myself of the responsibility to question such things in the future, I came to a rare (for me) acceptance that the perception was reasonable and I should let it go.

I find myself hyper-vigilant, well beyond issues relating to race, about being morally “good”. It is likely a combination of parenting, growing up in the age of restrictive political correctness and repeatedly planting myself in crowds where social justice and community are strongly valued. So on a social level, I am always self-monitoring for my motives, always secretly chiding myself for not feeling enough empathy for certain groups or persons; and on a personal level, I can become downright self loathing for not doing right (or being perceived as such) by the people I care about.

Recently there was a friendship in which I made poor decisions that caused a lot of pain, many enacted out of temptation or anger, and many with the aim of simply doing what is healthy and right for me. While there were plenty of layers to that relationship about which I could reasonably be sad, the one that ended up plaguing me most was the idea that his verbal condemnations, and my self-imposed ones, were evidence that I am a bad person. Though I hadn’t fully connected with that recognition yet, I left the house this past Saturday night with a strong need to keep my mind on the surface and gain positive attention from others. I would process what was really going on later.

At my second party of the night, held at a bawdy college bar, I wanted to work through some of this in my favorite way: dancing. Eager to start a marathon dance night but noting that most of the party goers weren’t yet lubricated enough, I invited myself along with a YAF who was heading to a dance party a few miles away. When I left the college crowd I was in great spirits and told my new friend I’d meet him shortly (he took his bike, I took the metro).

I carry a journal with me even (perhaps especially) on nights when socializing and alcohol are involved, so I was glad to have it with me on that long subway ride when thoughts of others’ opinions and my moral faltering began to slide in. Even while pining for that friend to tell me that what I did was forgivable and that he still thinks I’m good, I knew that the only person who could genuinely make me believe that was me.

So there I was alone with me, journaling and periodically crying, on a cement bench with a fifteen minute transfer wait. A train arrived in the opposite direction that would take me home. I thought, “This is no state to be dancing in. I should just go back,” but passiveness and a stubborn clinging to my “fun night” idea kept me sitting there. When I arrived at the club, I followed the friend upstairs into a room where humidity levels were five times what they’d been outside. I stripped down to what was essential and moved to the dance floor where I rocked back and forth in a kind of depressive stupor, letting my hair hang over my face to help block out the world. Soon his friends showed up and we all migrated to the center of the floor. While I felt comforted to have dance partners, I mostly kept to myself, each moment wondering how much longer I was going to do this before I decided to go home.

Things weren’t getting any better; I was just moving my body in spite of myself and was inches from leaving…until Kirk Franklin’s “I’ve Been Looking For You” came over the speakers – “To all my people in the struggle, you think God's forgotten about you. Here's some pain medicine….” – and I raised my hands up with the rhythm and lightly wept. Real or not, balm for the masses or not, I was reminded that God thinks I’m worthy. The universe believes I am worthy of being alive, no matter how poorly I live up to my own ideals. I danced until 2:45 in the morning, and I got an invitation from one of my dance partners to hang out at another time.

“Jesus you are my sunlight after the rain.” –Kirk Franklin–

Thursday, March 3, 2011

10%, Do You?

We live in a community where many non-profit organizations support and perform activities that are dear to our hearts: FCNL, AFSC, FMW, FGC, ACLU, WPH (William Penn House) and WQW (Washington Quaker Workcamps). Each of these organizations depends on the financial support of those who value their work.

When we are asked to donate, we often respond that we already make donations, but how much? The old rule of thumb is that we give at least 10% of our gross income to charity. Are your combined charitable donations equal to or greater than 10% of your gross income? Have your donations increased at the same rate as your income? Do you have a cost of living factor in your charitable donations?

If the answer is no to these questions, how do you expect the organizations that you support to maintain staff, to maintain their programs, to survive.

Byron Sandford

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Spirituality of Simplicity

"Simplicity" is one of the testimonies that most Friends claim as a fundamental part of our practice. But what does "Simplicity" mean? If you peruse the internet, it seems to be about minimal attachment to material things, and plainness. The Earlham website puts it this way: “The Quaker testimony of Simplicity invites us to recognize what is central in our lives by listening to inward leadings and learning from others. That listening can give us clarity as we make choices about the responsible use of our time and resources. A life guided by the testimony of simplicity can lead us to recognize what makes us genuinely happy and to be good stewards of personal, community, and global resources. It replaces distraction, stress, and excess with clarity, focus, and a sustainable life.”

What is missing from much of this, for me, is Simplicity as a spiritual practice, something that this definition seems to dance around, but not really name. For example, the statement that "a life guided by simplicity can lead us to recognize what makes us genuinely happy" seems to be saying that when we unclutter our lives, we will see what makes us happy. A spiritual practice of Simplicity would be not so much that we recognize what makes us happy as that we can be joyful in all things. Most of us are familiar with the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts”. “Tis a gift to be simple; tis a gift to be free” is how it starts. I am finding that for me, this starts with growing in the ability to find joy in the little things – the snowy day, the winds, the commute to work; to even find joy in the moments when I am failing to find joy. But this has just been the starting point.

I have long been a follower and admirer of St. Francis of Assisi, who has challenged me to sow love where there is hatred, to sow joy where there is sadness, seek to understand rather than be understood, and to love rather than be loved. This has been a guiding prayer of Simplicity for me; if there is “that of God in All”, as we Quakers are so fond of reciting, than it has been the Prayer of St. Francis that has helped me to try and live this better (no doubt failing over and over, but I think I am getting better at it). Francis has been a model for seeing God in all the creatures on earth– the lepers, the poor, the animals.

More recently, as we have deepened our expression of this at William Penn House (in the form of “Radical Hospitality” and then having to explain what we mean), I have started to read more about the person attributed with the term, St. Benedict. As I have delved more into his theology and writing, and more recent writings of people from this monastic tradition, it has brought a deeper level of challenge and awareness to what Simplicity can mean. Benedict challenges us to not only have compassion for the poor, the weak, the elderly, but also for the wicked, the despised (even by us), the powerful, the wealthy, everyone. No wonder Radical Hospitality is challenging. However, there are some writings that have helped me to go deeper in this work. For example, Simplicity means not only letting go of attachments to material goods, but also to beliefs and judgments about others, and of how I think the world should be. One writing talks about “Simplicity of Intellect”, not as a simple-minded thing, but rather devoid of judgment so that a deeper truth can emerge, and a deeper love for our fellow humans which is really an expression of God’s love.

I have seen that when we can embrace Simplicity as an internal spiritual practice and discipline rather than an external expression or focus, I find fellow sojourners for a better world in places I did not expect, mostly because I have seen goodness in people I did not expect to see it in. Ultimately, I think we may also see more simple solutions to some of the worlds bigger problems.

Does this mean that the Simplicity as expressed by plainness and detachment of material things is wrong? Hardly. But I think it is the deeply spiritual, joy-filled Simplicity of Benedict and his monastics (as an ideal) that may be the glue to it all. It is this Simplicity that truly allows us to detach from all the external things so that we can better seek relationships and embrace more people in our daily lives. It is this Simplicity that can help us break through our fears and anger that can ultimately help us to build a stronger community with all of our neighbors - the despised as well as the needy. And out of this community, we can bring great equality and perhaps even more peace to the world.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Inreach, Outreach and Quakerism

I have been both reading about and thinking about Quakerism and outreach. Some of the terminology has been about "revitalizing" Quakerism. Among the writings that I've seen has been talk about looking within our meetings for articulations of our beliefs. For me, however, when I hear about "revitalization", I think it would be helpful for us to also consider what inspires us and excites us about how the world could be that flows from our passions for our beliefs. This means that we not stop at the Meeting community level, but go deep within our own individual selves and reflect on our own passions, beliefs, and vision for the world. In the process, how can we also cleanse our minds and hearts of all the clutter of our biases and judgments about others so we can truly be loving presences for all people.

As an effort to nurture this within the workings of William Penn House, we have started to present to groups the following:

Consider the following reflection questions. Do any catch your attention? As we do our programs together, we invite participants to choose one or two as the ones to bring their attention to as we do our service work.

1. How do we recognize our unique talents and abilities? How can we use them to benefit the greater good and serve others?

2. What role do materialism and consumption play in our daily lives? Particularly when compared to themes of generosity, simplicity or sacrificial living is this division in lifestyle choice something that can be bridged?

3. To think and act on a deeper level, what steps can/should be taken to learn more about a local, national or global area of need?

4. How do you relate with your neighbors— if static, are there tangible ways to reach out to those living near you?

5. Is there a group or individual you find challenging to love or embrace in this world or in your community? What is the importance of reaching out to these people and loving them anyway?

6. What is your impression of “caring for the least of these” and how can we stretch ourselves to do so habitually?

7. How diverse is your network – culturally, religiously, politically, economically and racially? Are there things you can do to expand this?

8. How can we reach out to others— that is to say, are there specific activities we can pursue together or individually to achieve this goal?

9. In which context and how might we express our creativity and exercise our purpose to “make a mark” (either broadly or on a smaller scale) in this world?

10. With whom can you share your aspirations and thoughts in order to live out your goals with “missional momentum”?

(These were adapted from Helen Lee, author of “The Missional Mom”; see more at

Monday, January 24, 2011

The trouble with "Anti-"

Today, Monday, January 24, there is the annual "March for Life". Here at William Penn House, we are hosting some groups that are participating in the March and the events surrounding the march. We are glad to have this group for these few days, and hope there is a way the time here affords an opportunity for dialog.

But, as I was riding my bike in this afternoon, I rode past the gathering of folks participating in the march, and the varied signs ("De-fund Planned Parenthood", "Defend Life", "Women regret abortions", "Abortion denies men fatherhood"). What I have been thinking about is this: Where does a movement "for" something end and become an "anti" movement? What happens when we join forces under an 'anti-' movement, without giving a whole lot of thought about what we stand for. In the case of this march, for example, I did not see one sign denouncing the death penalty, unnecessary death caused by war, or legislation that calls for equal rights of all those who are born (such as for education, healthcare and marriage rights).

The lack of these kinds of questions I think is less a reflection of the people participants than the success of "movement" leaders. Often, these leaders succeed by giving people scripts (in the form of banners, slogans, bumper stickers), but not too much that they might actually think. Consider that the keynote speaker for the March for Life Dinner is Rep. Michele Bachmann, hardly a spokesperson of compassion for all of humanity, as she, in general, denounces the majority of her fellow Americans every day, calling on her constituents to take up arms ("metaphorically", she claims, but still without compassion). It really seems to me that this event is more about "anti-abortion" than "for life".

For those of us who generally reside in the "left" of things, I don't think we should sit too smugly, either. Do we reach out to others to have conversations about this? Are we grounded enough in our own beliefs and philosophies that we can have deep conversations with people with whom we disagree on abortion but perhaps do agree on "for life" issues? Just as the "anti-slavery" group in the run-up to the Civil War was made up of a broad coalition ranging from those who viewed blacks as equals to those who denounced slavery but did not believe in equality, our coalition of "anti-war" peers is a broad spectrum of people, not all of whom are also pacifists. In fact, "anti-war" people would actually include many in the military, but because we denounce the military, aren't we also being divisive by staking a claim in "anti-war".

I'm not sure where to go with all of this. I do know that movement leaders do great things by labeling things are "for" or "anti", or sometimes labeling something as "for" when it really is an "anti" (or vice-versa). I don't know that we are all served when we follow as lemmings with our placards, bumper stickers and yard signs rather than holding conversations that allow for deeper thought and introspection.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Are we too comfortable in our concerns?

"Whatever you have that you do not need does not belong to you".

These words cut me like a knife. Yesterday, Byron (E.D. at William Penn House) handed me a pamphlet printed by FWCC called "Standing in Uncomfortable Places". It's written by a woman, Alexie Torres-Fleming, about leaving a successful midtown Manhattan career to return to her Bronx NY community with a calling of love. Towards the end of her essay, she moves on to her lessons of life. The sentence above is lesson one. No explanation needed. Just a whole lot of hurting. It's something that has also been very much on my mind for quite a few years, but with greater clarity in the past few months.

I am becoming rapidly and increasingly convinced that so many of the issues that we Friends spend lots of time and money on are missing the most fundamental things that are more in-line with all that we espouse. Specifically, we as the larger body are completely missing economic equality, and I think we do so at the risk of our own integrity. I am not saying we be held responsible for the world of poverty, but as we raise our voices and live our lives in modern society, I do think we have to be more active in recognizing the role of poverty in the perpetuation of all that we lament. The challenge is that economic equality is not something we can simply look at as a problem of the poor: it is as much a problem of those of us who have more than we need. "Poor people" are not a culture, they are a part of society.

In all the years that I have been doing HIV-work, I have long-felt that the real issue is not HIV, but economic inequality. Bono was the first to raise this to a new level of awareness but his message has always been muted by his own image and lifestyle. It is hard to be critical of him, and I suspect he fully understands the dilemmas, but many of the people who have heard his message do not stop to think that poverty has a flip side - greed. He also painted the face of poverty as non-European. As a result, what we have is a fragmented approach to HIV - poor Africans and Asians, or in this country it is gay men, blacks, or drug users and sex-workers. We don't acknowledge the role of economics in how we break it down in our backyard and, in doing so, we don't recognize that it is American consumerism that feeds global poverty, and that "global" includes our country and those within it, not just beyond our borders.

Outside of HIV, among Friends we talk often about diversity but, when you look at our gatherings we are not a very diverse group. When you scratch beneath diversity, however, there is very little mention of economic equality. We have many Friends schools that are very liberal and progressive in thought, and can be vocal about the need to care for the poor. In most of these schools, you will see service trips, fundraisers and assemblies that talk about the poor and the afflicted, but how many of these challenge the kids to consider the wealth of their families in the equation. Many of the students come from families of great wealth. At what point do we introduce the idea that, as they enter adulthood, if they want to be serious about economic justice, what they do with their resource will matter. (For a more in-depth reading of diversity and equality, I strongly recommend "The Trouble with Diversity: How we learned to love diversity and ignore inequality" by Walter Benn Michaels).

But we don't need to go to the wealthy to be challenged by this concept of need vs. want. In my work at William Penn House, by standards of my peers, I (and all of us) are underpaid. But we have also talked about that being not just ok, but important to our work. I still can meet my needs and have some perks (or at least catch up on past wants). This keeps me still better off than much of the world, although far-below the level of many of my peers. I know that, among Friends, many of us make our career decisions with a heavy dose of ethics and integrity in the equation, but how deeply do we take the challenge that pursuing economic equality presents?

If you look at the FCNL list of issues, we really don't consider this at all. No doubt there are some issues that touch on economic equality, but there is nothing on the list that specifically calls for this in the form of what we need to call it: redistribution of wealth. FCNL takes its marching orders from the community of yearly and monthly Meetings, so it is really up to us to bring this forward. Are we willing? When was the last time we had a true national champion speaking up for the poor? Robert Kennedy? There have been others - Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, to name a few - but in terms of a national campaign that really spoke truth to economic inequality, it's been a long time. Mention it now, and it can easily be called "un-American". But I also think it is too easy for us to sit smugly and "tsk-tsk" the uber-wealthy and the corporate elite. Don't many of us have more than we need as well?

"Whatever you have that you do not need does not belong to you". As I said, this cuts like a knife. I suspect this may become a guiding principle that I will need to somehow consider as life continues to unfold.