Quakers and white supremacy

One of the reasons I love Quakers is without doing it perfectly, we try to live by Jesus’ example. I was recently reading a “minute” from New England Yearly Meeting, 2016 that I want to share. From, https://neym.org/news/2016-yearly-meeting-minute-white-supremacy:

“This minute is an important instance of speaking Truth to power. This minute represents the hard truth of Friends of color. The largely white Yearly Meeting is the power that needs to receive this Truth.

We want to grow; we want to become whole. We have received this minute and have been exercised. We want to invite others into the same experience. With our hearts broken open we approved the following minute; uniting with it with both joy and pain. This is the truth God has brought us to at this time. We feel the Love in these words.

We are complicit in white supremacy. We at New England Yearly Meeting have been “colonized” by our white supremacist culture and fall short of our full potential as a gathered body of Quaker Meetings because of this colonization.

We commit to engaging in interrupting white supremacy in ourselves:

  • within individuals
  • interpersonally,
  • in our meetings
  • and at all system levels of NEYM

To start this, we ask Permanent Board to explore an external cultural competency audit of New England Yearly Meeting.

We support Friends General Conference, an organization of which we are a part, in its efforts to interrupt white supremacy in its organization.

We commit to support fundraising by the New England Yearly Meeting FGC committee to raise $4,000 from our membership and our monthly meetings by the end of 2016. These funds will be available to FGC towards the cost of an external cultural competency audit if FGC decides to have one conducted. If more than $4,000 is raised, we direct the Permanent Board of NEYM to find use for the additional funds to support the work of interrupting white supremacy.”


held in the Light

Today I touched mind space with no thoughts. Nirvana, god, the Light. Pure peace. I know I was there because swimming floating breathing through thoughts (awareness) into the freedom and back to awareness (thoughts) was effortless. It was a brief but pure connection in the Ultimate.

It was at Meeting for Worship at my spiritual community, my Sangha, Portland Friends Meeting, that I touched this fresh and clear essence; a spaceless space without thoughts. During the same hour, I also felt sadness and loneliness. I knew those feelings have been trying to be heard, but I have been running away. They have felt like too much. I sat, breathing in and breathing out. Practicing being fully present in that moment.

Sometimes at Meeting, I feel moved to speak out loud. Not frequently, which is notable for me (I’m a talker). Today, I knew I wanted the community to carry me, to comfort me, to help me be present with my sadness and my loneliness. I don’t want to run anymore. My eyes filled with tears a few times. I felt scared the sadness, now that I was mindfully present with it, would consume me. I considered speaking. I thought of mentioning I would like to be held in the Light when it came time during Meeting to make such requests.

Then I thought about why I don’t often tell people I’m hurting; the people I know are loving and caring and generous and they would want me to know they care — what a wonderful “problem!” So much love! But, when I feel this tender I need to be mostly alone. I knew Meeting was the perfect place for me just then. I needed the Meeting to carry me while I felt this sadness and loneliness. I knew I didn’t need to ask for anything. We were all there together sharing that spiritual space.

When people did speak, there were powerful messages. I was able to be fully present in myself while witnessing the Light in others.

At some points my mind did wander, of course. I thought about the feeling that the meeting was carrying me and marveled at how different my life is these days. I thought of a post I shared on here some years ago about being carried by a crowd at a concert. A very different kind of carrying. A very different kind of trust — mostly misplaced trust in the case of the music event. My idea of a good time now compared to then couldn’t be anymore different.

Tonight I’m going to get together with a bunch of alcoholics who are in recovery. Similar to Friends Meeting, tonight we will spend time as a group together in meditation. It is another community where if I wanted to say “I am hurting” I could do it and I would receive comfort from people who truly care. Again, comfort in such a direct way isn’t what I need. Meditation with my spiritual communities, listening to what other people say (“getting out of myself” as we in the 12-step communities like to say), and staying connected to the present moment is how I will walk through this sadness. The sadness, the loneliness, and the despair will all grow smaller as I care for them and tend to other aspects of my life that bring me gratitude and comfort and peace.

be still.

We sit. Quiet. Breathing. How loud loud loud my mind. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast fast fast fast fast thoughts. So full and busy and I can’t hear anything because so much is going on in my mind.

People sneeze, cough, shift in their seats. What is it like, at meeting for worship?

meeting room

Portland Friends Meeting

Settling in to a comfortable position. Aware of my posture, my legs, my arms and hands. More aware of my body as the chaos of my mind’s voices chatter away in the background. Noticing new aches and pains, behind my left eye, throughout my jaw, my spine, my lower back. How my jaw clenches tightly over to the side. Becoming aware. Gently reposition my lower jaw so my teeth rest not quite touching, but in line. How awkward the rest of my face feels. How I notice my spine more now. I lift my head lightly as if a string comes from my spine up through the top of my head. Lifting.

New people enter the room, finding seats. Some have loud shoes on the wood floor. So much shuffling and adjusting. The room’s sounds flow in waves. More than the clicks and hums of human sounds, my anxiety comes from thinking of people who might be bothered by those sounds. I notice that about myself. I breathe. I return to my body. Someone’s stomach gurgles. Someone may be snoring. As the sounds mingle I notice. I notice I can find quiet even in the middle of the clutter careful accidental necessary noises of these friends. My mind is slowing. As each of my to-do items flashes in I welcome it and say, not now, and say, goodbye. As a new column or blog post begins forming, I enjoy playing with the words for a while, then notice my distraction away from the moment. Each moment of distraction, when I am not mindfully resting and seeking the space and light I know I will find in the silence, I don’t fight. I don’t fight the distractions, I only notice them.

Inside me, like the quiet sounds of the other humans around me, there are waves of noise and quiet. Again, a flowing.

As more space opens in me I notice I’m feeling sleepy. Oh, how tired I am. I begin worrying this will be one of those meetings where the struggle to fight sleep is so miserable, I consider leaving (I did leave once). Instead, I adjust my legs and my arms. I bend my head to one side and then the other. I imagine my blood flowing from my heart through my body, especially along my spine, and back into my heart. I catch myself in a deep and possibly loud exhale. It’s okay. We are all here to find the light. The space. The peace.


Jesus existed

A brief follow-up to my “Jesus never existed” post.

I believe Jesus of Nazareth existed. I believe he was a great and gifted teacher and healer. I also believe Jesus as Christ only happened when his followers placed that on him.

As for “no first-hand accounts,” I wrote my “Jesus never existed” essay to acknowledge this truth. The accounts we have of Jesus of NazarethJesus are, so far, not first-hand accounts. And, to that, I say, “so what?” Going back that far in history it’s not very common to have first-hand accounts of anything. And, as a wise theologian wrote to me, “Proof cannot be an operative word here, since we’re dealing with the past. The only question that counts is historical probability.”

Moving on to discussions of the resurrection I’ll happily explain that on every third or fourth day I’m perfectly content with that as reality. The other days I’m more comfortable with it as metaphor. What makes me a sort of wacky christian is that I don’t care. Both work for me. If I’m celebrating poetry or a miracle can change from moment to moment.

Let’s love our neighbors, care for the least of those among us, look beyond ourselves for strength (some of us will go to god for that strength, others go elsewhere), and work for social justice every day. If some of us call that christianity, why argue?

Jesus never existed

What if there was no historical figure named Jesus? Set aside the question of the resurrection and just look at the rest of what we christians assume to be true. For example, I’ve always thought there was a firm consensus among scholars that there was a man name Jesus, from Nazareth, who was a great teacher and healer. While in a discussion with some hard core atheists, there was an insistence that there was no credible first-hand accounts of this man called Jesus.

My own christianity doesn’t center around the idea of Jesus as God. I’m perfectly content with the idea, even, that the resurrection may be just another metaphor for everlasting life through self-sacrifice and faith in god. Growing up I learned Jesus’ message was to love our neighbors, care for the poor, and center our lives around god. This message speaks to the core of my being and it’s why I consider myself christian rather than, say, Buddhist or Unitarian. My religion also centers entirely around the notion that the stories the Bible tells (which are metaphors as far as I’m concerned, not literal history) can help us be kind to each other and make the world a more peaceful place.

What then if there really was no Jesus as I’ve always assumed there was? Can I have faith in a myth? Can the idea of the story sustain me even if there was no human being who was so spiritually connected with God that he believed love and peace were the purpose of life? I’m not sure.

I set out to see if these arrogant know-it-all atheists from the newsgroup discussions were right. And it turns out they were. Even among the most Christian of historians, there are no solid claims of first-hand accounts of this man Jesus of Nazareth. Even the Romans who were serious record keepers probably only listed Jesus’ crucifixion as just another executed poor carpenter. A handy resource for my few weeks of research was the Frontline series, “From Jesus to Christ.” On this site there’s a good article from TIKKUN Magazine by Claudia Setzer that summarizes the closest any historian I’ve found will come to claiming there was, without a doubt, this man name Jesus. In this article, Setzer writes:

“His followers, and even a non-believer like the Jewish historian Josephus, recall Jesus as a healer, exorcist, and miracle worker.”

But going a bit deeper into the Josephus records I learned that even these are a bit sketchy. I wasn’t able to find any historian (besides a few Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians) who would claim there was first-hand evidence that Jesus existed.

Personally, I don’t find this troubling. I also don’t find it anything close to proof that the man didn’t exist. However, it does cause me to question what matters to me in my faith.

When I consider if Jesus was a real man who taught such important lessons, who washed the feet of the prostitutes and dined with lepers and tax collectors, I realize it really is that message that drives me. In fact, the earliest Christians seem most in tune with how I view christianity. While they did celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus (Christ) as their reason for being, their communities also centered around equality in societies where hierarchical social structures were the norm.

In my Dad’s most recent book, Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis, he writes about the earliest Christians bringing together the bread and the wine. He writes:

“This was part of ‘the work of the people.’ But the very poor among those members typically could not afford to bring wine. So they brought water (which, according to cultural mores, was perfectly appropriate). That water they poured into the large, common chalice, mingling it with the wine from the others, so that, in the end, there was then only one offering. All social, political, and cultural distinctions were thereby countermanded and transfigured…Thus, for what Christians today is often merely a routine act of traditional symbolism–biblically rooted, to be sure, but not of major ritual importance–was for those early Christians a profound and revolutionary public acknowledgment of a new kind of egalitarian society and a new kind of hope for the whole world.”

There are countless examples like this of the earliest Christians authentically living by Christ’s example. Christianity got off track, in my relatively uninformed and humble opinion, when it moved beyond the countercultural activism through spiritual connection and adopted hierarchical power structures.

I’ll admit my world was a bit rattled when I confirmed the argumentative atheists were right about the absence of first-hand historical proof of Jesus’ existence. I’ve questioned all sorts of aspects of Christianity, but always assumed there was no doubt that the man lived, taught, and healed. I don’t feel any closer to knowing if he was an amalgamation of lots of good ideas or if he was truly a living human being. After these searches, however, I do feel closer to my commitment to the message. Love your neighbor. Help the needy. Care for the Earth. Commune with god. Strive for peace. These messages are why I still consider myself a christian person.