Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
In the spring of my second year at William Penn, I found out about a new position at Moorestown Friends School in New Jersey. This was the newly developed Chester Reagan Chair in Faith and Practice. It was a combination of secondary school teaching, curriculum development, and ministry to students and faculty. It was with a good deal of anticipation and happiness that my family returned to the east coast and to a new adventure in Friends Education.
During my first two years at MFS I spent a good deal of time reexamining many of the writings from early Friends and some new ones. However, the more I sought answers from others, the more I recognized that it is in asking the right questions that the right answer finds us. As I wrote in the school’s annual on the theme of mystery
The greatest mystery
Is in seeking Truth and Love
We become the found.
I determined that my spiritual guide needed to be that which had found me. In early Friends language, I had been found by Christ and I was leaving myself there. I marveled at the twists and turns that had occurred which led me to that point and had numerous questions. Is there A path, or is it more like a mansion with many rooms and doors opening among them. Are there answers, or is it that all questions can lead toward the answer. Is it my training in developing hypotheses and then asking questions to formulate a new hypothesis that contributes to my use of the question format in my seeking.
I also became aware of the need for correctives in my questioning. Two of the main ones are the writings of early Friends and the Queries. The use of William Penn’s Fruits of Solitude was helpful in recognizing the discipline of concisely stating mileposts along the way. I believe that too often we may not share what or who we have already found as we continue our search. We recognize that we have not found the final answers but we should share answers that we have found along the way or at least the markings that have guided us thus far. The Queries have been used as guides along the way which may be appropriately asked at very different times and places but which continually point in the direction toward which we should be tending.
Monday, December 6, 2010
In the spring of 1976, I struggled with the challenges brought on by the loss of my father and a sense that full time administration in a large school system with little to no contact with students was not what I was called to do. One evening in early May Judy asked if I had seen the ad in the New York Yearly Meeting Newsletter regarding the campus minister position at William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The ad listed Ed Hinshaw as the contact person for the search committee. Ed had been a colleague of my father’s in Kenya and I considered him a personal friend even though it had been almost fifteen years since we had had any personal contact. Without formal religious training beyond a couple of undergraduate courses with Hugh Barbour and Wilmer Cooper and a somewhat informal “extension” course with T. Canby Jones, I decided to apply. I was invited to visit and interview for the position. In a sense this was still under the guidance of my father and probably included a sense of wishing to follow more in is footsteps than my path had been up until then. This was further validated by one of the persons on the interview committee who stated when the question of my “training” was brought up “If you’ve been with Logan Smith for the number of years which you have, you must have as complete a Quaker education as anyone.”
My decision to accept the position was the stated opportunity to again join a small group of persons who were evidently serious students and proponents of not only education but of Friends. I believed that I would be able to serve as a Friends’ minister without formality in an educational setting with a shared sense of responsibility and the utilization of my gifts. The move involved decreasing our income by half and a major move from New Jersey to rural Iowa. However, it did allow Judy to complete her college degree that had been on hold while I pursued graduate school and subsequent school positions. She had taken major responsibility for the raising of our three children and providing a wonderful support for me through some difficult times.
However, within a year of my appointment, the campus ministry committee was disbanded by the firing of one member and the resignation from the college of another member. The resignation was in response to the removal of some sharing among the leadership group in the college. It again seemed that a consensus sharing was denied in favor of a more traditional authoritarian structure. I found myself turning to different sources for spiritual guidance. The writings of Rufus Jones, Howard Brinton and William Penn occupied a great deal of reading time. Keith Kirk, the pastor at College Avenue Friends, became a person to whom I turned to share in my search.
The struggles on an emotional and spiritual level continued to the point where I was diagnosed as “depressed” by the family physician. He said that it was almost a “given” with the changes in my life within a year: loss of father, major physical move, major career change, etc. During that period I also experienced a “mystical” event. One night in bed I felt a real sense of physical pressure on my body forcing me into a fetal position and then a releasing force to a relaxed position while an apparent “external” voice said “Lead them to the power.” I did not change my behavior or attitude as a result of these sensations, but rather felt that I was somehow being led to a change. I was coming to the realization that if I were to be true to the “Christ who has come to teach his people himself” and who “provides power to his people,” I had to continue my spiritual journey guided by a variety of sources which would enlighten my path. I began to expand my reading rather than follow any one person for very long and began to do some writing of my own in which I tried to formulate my own understanding of the spiritual journey. I also recognized the depth of the wisdom of early Friends in writing advices, journals and queries rather than doctrinal statements, “road maps” for others to follow, or creeds. I also began to recognize that I had to follow my own leadings and not try to live up to someone else’s expectations. This seemed to point toward secondary school teaching, especially in Friends schools.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
As we searched for a spiritual home among various Friends Meetings and other denominations in our new location in New Jersey, we quickly recognized a sense of “home” in a small unprogrammed Friends Meeting with an active Sunday School. Here I met someone who became a strong spiritual guide for me, Lewis Benson. I had read Catholic Quakerism in an “extension” course under T. Canby Jones and been impressed by the seriousness with which the early Friends were handled. Lewis did not wish to repeat the early Friends, especially George Fox, but rather to share their message as it speaks to the world today through our experience. In some ways he led me full circle back to my earliest guides of the early Friends, the prophets, and Christ in a way that liberated my reaction against the limiting language and experience of midwestern “Christian” orthodoxy.
The community of this meeting helped our family through a very difficult time when the small group of educators I had joined at Holmdel, NJ, was disbanded and a traditional authoritarian school structure was imposed. As I searched for a new position, emotional and spiritual support from the Meeting upheld our family. When I accepted a full time administrative position in a school district over an hour away from our home, it was with regret that we had to leave South Jersey. The position I applied for was Science Department Chair with some teaching, but when the State of New Jersey refused to accept the credentials of the older, both in terms of age and service, Department Chair who had been promoted to “Supervisor” with full time administrative duties, he had to return as Department Chair and I was appointed as Supervisor of Science and Math, as well as Physical Education. With my PhD courses and experience I held a “Supervisor” certificate from NJ while he did not have the certificate. I was fortunate that the previous Department Head was very gracious in the change and we quickly formed a friendship. However, it was unfortunate that within a few months he died of a sudden massive heart attack that some say was brought on by disappointment and “heartbreak” by the “demotion.”
Even with the physical move, it was several years before we slowly felt the distance from the Meeting grow in a spiritual sense. It was a year after we had moved that Lewis Benson and I were placed before the New York Yearly Meeting as recorded Ministers of Manasquan Monthly Meeting. The ties to this Meeting were so strong that in our new location we began to attend a Methodist Church and quickly became involved in the life of the Denville, NJ, church. One of the attractive features of the church was the statement on the cover of the weekly bulletin which stated “Ministers: Every member of the congregation.” The pastor chose not to use his authority but shared his spiritual guidance and challenged others to use their gifts. He persuaded us to accept “Associate Membership” in the church and in the welcoming ceremony spoke of our having been “baptized in the Spirit” and participating in spiritual communion. He accepted the “non-physical” aspects of these sacraments as equivalent with other members’ participation in the physical rites. Again I recognized the diversity of helpful and authentic guidance.
On various occasions I had talked with my father about the impact of Friends’ witness with other groups and within the Religious Society of Friends itself. He had come to the conclusion that the pastoral system had brought the beginning of the end of Friends as a unique witness, and as a pastor he was contributing to the demise of the Religious Society. However, he continued to provide tremendous guidance to many individuals, including myself, and remained faithful to the members of the Meeting that he was serving, to early Friends, and most of all to Christ and the message of Love.
Within a year of our leaving Manasquan, my father died at the age of 58. Characteristically, he had put off seeing the doctor with respect to the pains he was feeling in his chest on Friday until he had carried out his duties over the weekend. Even after admission to the hospital on Monday, he carried on his duties as chair of the town’s ministerium having some of the group meet in his hospital room on the regularly scheduled day. However, when the ministers returned from their lunch break, they discovered that Logan Smith’s heart had been stopped by a massive coronary attack. I was faced with the loss of my most consistent and reliable spiritual guide but also was forced to examine my own spiritual leadership and sharing with others.
As a result of the death of the Science Department Chair and my father within the span of a few months and some concerns that I was having internally with my job, Judy and I had a difficult struggle with emotional, intellectual and spiritual questions. Although I was receiving excellent evaluations and accomplishing what seemed a great deal at the school, there was a lack of enthusiasm and sense of “real” involvement. I missed the interaction with students and the sense of learning and searching which characterized my previous experiences both in an intellectual and spiritual sense.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
In the spring of 1970, I was offered a teaching associate position leading to the PhD at Ohio State U. We decided to end our work at Jamestown Friends and in the fall began a search for new connections. We became involved with a Mennonite church and for the first time I was deliberately choosing to look at guides within a non-Quaker framework. I joined a small group of seekers from the church who met for breakfast one morning a week. One of the most meaningful aspects of this group was that we were all serious students of other disciplines, as well as serious students of the spiritual pathways and intent on understanding our spiritual life as individuals and as a group.
It was at one of these small meetings that I participated in “communion” for the first time. One of the group had brought some juice and rolls and suggested that we have communion together. As we shared together I made the comment that it was good that it was orange juice since if it had been grape juice I was not sure I would have participated. The person who brought the juice said that he had thought about it and knowing my feelings about “communion ritual” decided to bring orange juice since it really didn’t make much difference in the meaning of communing together. That sharing did not seem to me to be a rite or symbol but a time of community with one another and Christ. We shared no formal words but rather a personal feeling of sharing in a life that was a real presence among us. The more I shared of myself and grew in the group, the more meaningful Friends became to me.
In the spring of 1971 when there was much unrest on college campuses, I experienced one of the most intense tests of my beliefs in my life. I have described this experience elsewhere and will state that it was because of this experience I changed from being a pacifist because I didn’t think I could kill some one to being a pacifist because I knew I might be able to kill someone.
Two major tests of our marriage and family were experienced in my last year at OSU. In working on my PhD dissertation I placed a great deal of stress on the family as Judy was typing the dissertation and retyping the corrections which often required the retyping of several pages due to even a minor correction on an earlier page. In retrospect I soon realized that in many ways the dissertation had become a “mistress” which took time and energy from wife and family. The other stress was that we had taken a foster child, Terri, in the fall with the intention of adopting her. Terri was almost two years old and we were told that she had been treated much like our own children had been. That is, that she had been taken everywhere with the family, was used to social settings and had been eating from the table for a while. However, much of what we attempted was met with apparent stubbornness and “tantrums” when we tried different foods, took her almost anywhere and in many other situations. Our social worker took a leave of absence soon after we got the child and returned after about six months. Upon the social worker visiting our home for the first time after her leave, she expressed real concern with what she saw and heard about our family. She began to ask questions at work and of us. What she learned was shocking to us at to her. She learned that Terri, a biracial child, had been with a “white” foster family that did not take Terri anywhere, not even to the homes of extended family where she would not have been accepted. In addition she had been completely bottle fed up until the day she came to us. She had never eaten solid food nor sat at the table, something we had expected her to do. After some serious discussions our social worker recommended that Terri be placed with another family. We reluctantly agreed with the proviso that Terri not be returned to the family she had come from. We later learned that she had been placed with a loving family that adopted her. One of the other positive outcomes from our experience was that Social Services decided to change their policy. Their policy had been that the social worker and family of the “old” placement could NOT share information with the social worker and family in the “new” placement. This was changed, largely due to our experience, so that information was required to be shared between the social workers and the families.
Upon graduation in 1972 I was offered a position by two different schools. Due to the fact that I had the PhD and was determined to work and teach in public secondary schools where I felt my talents and calling lay, my job search had been limited to schools in the “East” where they were willing to hire a teacher-supervisor. My choice was between a well established school that was looking to develop newer programs and a brand new high school that was literally building a new school from the ground up, including facilities and program. The deciding factor for me was that in the latter school, Holmdel, NJ, the intent was to develop a small group of leaders in secondary schools from various disciplines who would operate on a cooperative basis approaching a consensus model.
Thus we moved to New Jersey from Ohio. Judy had never lived more than about an hour’s drive from her hometown of Tipp City, Ohio. It was then that she saw the ocean for the first time. The fall of 1972 marked the beginning of several experiences that influenced the rest of our lives in a major way.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
After moving to Tipp City schools, my satisfaction with teaching grew while working with Bill Bechtol and colleagues interested in developing a system designed to meet the needs of each student. I also found satisfaction and rewards in working with students in and out of class. With my studies at Miami U in the summers, I was preparing for a long-term commitment to teaching science at the high school.
With the “laying down” of Ludlow Falls Friends Meeting and West Branch Quarterly Meeting, my commitment to Friends seemed to be waning. However, in the spring of 1968 I was invited to become the regular “preacher,” only on Sundays, at a very small Friends Meeting in Wilmington Yearly Meeting. As a result of that I was subsequently invited to be the “weekend minister” at Jamestown Friends Meeting. The parsonage was empty and we were invited to stay in it whenever we needed to stay overnight. With my father being the pastor at Xenia Friends Meeting just down the road, this seemed to be a chance to work more closely with him. One of the surprising aspects of this was that for the first time I heard my father question whether the pastoral system was truly in the tradition of Friends.
After the first year at Jamestown and the third year at Tipp City, I was presented with a choice that was the first major crossroads of my life. Apparently my work at Jamestown was well received and word had spread in the Yearly Meeting. I also suspect that my father’s reputation as a truly outstanding person and minister was involved. I was “called” to a full time pastorate at a relatively large Meeting in Wilmington Yearly Meeting. At about the same time, as a result of my work at Tipp City and at Miami U., I was invited to attend an NSF Academic Year Institute for Science Supervisors at Ohio State U. In addition, Tipp City schools encouraged me to stay there with “tenure” and work on the curriculum in science and math. Up until then most decisions in my life had been either yes or no with relatively clear directions as to which way to choose.
Judy and her family were opposed to my going to Ohio State. This was partly due to the fact that for the previous three summers I had been attending Miami U while Judy had been pregnant the first summer with a difficult pregnancy as well as being pregnant the third summer while I stayed at Miami during the week to work on my thesis. We now had two sons under the age of 3 and the stipend for the Institute at Ohio State was not very much. However, I chose to accept the invitation to Ohio State, in hindsight this was partly due to my wanting the recognition as a young, 25 years old, person among the leaders in secondary school science education. In addition, I could continue as weekend minister at Jamestown.
During that year I experienced a good deal of satisfaction in the academic life and loved being a seeker of knowledge. At the same time the ministry at Jamestown seemed to be producing spiritual growth in the Meeting and in myself. However, I had growing doubts about the pastoral system in Friends since it seemed that the more I was able to speak to the condition of the members and attenders, the more they relied on me and listened to me rather than to each other or to themselves on a deeper level. In conversations with my father, this seemed to be a major danger with the pastoral system in general. My father felt that one of the major goals for him was to “work himself out of a job,” that is, to assist the members of the Meeting to become leaders and ministers within the Meeting. In my experience at Jamestown, it seemed that the more participation and interaction was evident but this seemed to be more a result of the Meeting being content with a “good” pastor rather than a careful searching of their own personal condition.
Toward the end of the academic year, I was given another choice that would confirm the direction I would undertake.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
My first year out of college I was the science department chair of a small rural high school in Ohio. In fact, I basically was the science department. I taught Biology, Chemistry and Physics while the 9th grade general science course was taught by the Junior High School science teacher. I also began to teach an adult Sunday School class at a small Friends Meeting where I was nominated to be Clerk. I also celebrated my 21st birthday.
I undertook a serious study of the Bible with particular help from several resources such as the Interpreter’s Bible and Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series. I also read more early Friends, especially studying Barclay’s “Apology,” and “discovered” Rufus Jones’ writings that “spoke to my condition.” My father’s personal library was very extensive, especially of Friends works, but also of other writings. I began to read other theologians such as Barth, Tillich and Bultmann.
I was nominated to be the Clerk of a Quarterly Meeting at the time that Indiana Yearly Meeting was transitioning to “less Quakerly” regional meetings. At the last official West Branch Quarterly Meeting I read a statement I entitled “The Myth of Midwestern Quakerism,” later published in Quaker Life. I also was presiding clerk when Ludlow Falls Friends Meeting was laid down. I began to have serious doubts with regard to the place of the pastoral system and several other aspects of the ways Quakerism was interpreted in Indiana Yearly Meeting. This included the peace witness of Friends. At Yearly Meeting there had been an attempt to publicly denounce “A Quaker Action Group” which was planning to send medical supplies to North Vietnam. The proposed minute would have disavowed the use of Quaker by the group. Due to the statements by several Friends the minute was not approved at the regular sessions but a special “called Meeting” was to be held to review the matter. A number of Friends in Indiana YM sent up a series of weekend meetings throughout the YM on the Friends witness to peace and medical assistance to even our “enemies.” Much of this work was based on Friends history but also the Biblical basis of “Love your neighbor/enemy” as well. I participated in some of these and was impressed by several Friends including Virgil Peacock and Sam Levering. The “called Meeting” decided, I believe at least partially through these efforts, no action would be taken on the proposed minute.
Toward the end of my first year of teaching I was invited to become science department head at Tipp City, OH, high school. This was the school that my wife, Judy, and her family had attended and where her family still lived. At the time the invitation came Judy had just gone through the fist trimester of pregnancy with heavy bleeding and the probability of a miscarriage. It seemed from a professional and personal point of view that it would be best to move closer to Judy’s family and to become involved in a larger science department. Tipp City, through the efforts of Bill Bechtol, Assistant Superintendent, who had been Judy’s teacher and then Principal when she taught for one year before we were married, was exploring ways to individualize instruction to best reach each student. I became involved in science curriculum development and instructional improvement for the entire K-12 range. This was quite exciting and energizing to be involved in “cutting edge” education.
However, the birth of our first son Scott was one of the most memorable times of my life. This came after a very trying last 6 months of the pregnancy during which Judy spent a great deal of time on the couch at her parents’ home where her grandmother also lived. Being young, “foolish,” and full of seemingly boundless energy I had also started a master’s program at Miami U. that summer. Thus in September of 1966, I was the husband of a wonderful person, father of a beautiful child, and a science educator with a bright future.
The following three years were very full. Among the experiences were: Judy and I had a second son, Geoff; I received an MAT in Chemistry; I loved teaching and working with teachers on curriculum and instruction; and I served as “weekend pastor” at Jamestown, OH, Friends Meeting.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
I entered Earlham College shortly after my 17th birthday and planned to be a math teacher. The following four years were full of challenges, opportunities and wonderful events.
The summer after my first year I went to work at Quaker Haven Camp in Indiana. There I met Judy Rogers. Our relationship began as a joke when she would say to me quite loudly in the dining room, “No. For the last time, I will not marry you.” However, about a month after summer started we came to realize that we wanted to spend more time together. Within another month, I asked her to be my wife. Fortunately for me, she said yes. We were married at the end of my Junior year after she had been teaching elementary school for a year. For financial reasons she had completed the requirements for a “Cadet Teacher” certificate to teach in Ohio public schools at the end of 3 years of college.
At the beginning of my Sophomore year I was fortunate to have an opportunity to play goal keeper for the alumni soccer team in the annual alumni-varsity game during pre-season practice. I was 5’ 4” and most people didn’t think I could make a good enough keeper to pay for the varsity. The keeper from the previous year had broken his arm and was going to play in the field so a “new” keeper was needed. Apparently I did well enough in that game and in pre-season that I was selected as the starting keeper for the season. We had a good year and the following year, my Junior year, the soccer team was National co-champs of the small college division of soccer. My senior year I was elected Captain and MVP of the team. I was very fortunate to be part of a team that respected each other, worked at our individual skills and positions, and played as a team. The coach, Charlie Matlack, always stressed that we needed to develop individual skills but that even more important was that we be willing to work with the team. He exemplified the concept that, although winning was great, our integrity as individuals and as a team were more important. Competition with others was less critical to our development as competition with ourselves to improve our skills and teamwork.
I had been an excellent math student in high school and intended to be a math teacher. However, my second course in Calculus was with a professor who stressed, at least in my perception, memorization and rote repetition of the voluminous notes from the chalkboard that were written during class. I did not do well. At the same time I took a Chemistry class from Ted Benfey and discovered that the subject was not just memorization and rote repetition of the Periodic Chart and other “facts.” Science was taught as a search for a sense of what the natural world was like at its basics. I decided to be a Chemistry major and a teacher of science as a result of that course. Several members of the Chemistry faculty at Earlham at that time were Friends, T. Benfey, L. Strong, W. Stratton. Their approach to chemistry and science seemed models of the way to approach both the natural and spiritual worlds.
My senior year was full of changes and opportunities. Judy and I lived in married student housing and she taught in a rural Ohio school. I did my student teaching in the high school associated with the school where Judy taught. The spring of that year I was offered a part time teaching position in Hagerstown, IN, where my uncle was on the school board and my cousin was in a physics class. The physics teacher spent most of the time talking about his hobby of raising bees and rarely brought up much physics. I was asked if I would teach the class. It was my first professional teaching position and the start of 42 years of teaching in many ways and in many places.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
A Guided Search: Kenya
At the end of my sophomore year in high school my father, mother and I went to Kenya where I was enrolled in Rift Valley Academy. Since I planned on attending college in the States upon graduation and British schools were reluctant to give full entering credit to American students, it was felt I should go to RVA, a school run by missionaries for mission children. The school was in Kijabe a 12 hour train ride away from Kisumu which was the nearest large town near the center of Friends Africa Mission in Kaimosi. I arrived at school with the sudden realization that not only was I the first Friend to ever attend RVA but that Quakerism was a relatively unknown faith that was assumed to be like the rest of “orthodox Christianity,” i.e. Evangelical Protestant. Although many of the aspects of the religion practiced at RVA were relatively well known to me and in fact seemed quite similar to some of that preached by some Friends pastors I knew, I still felt that somehow there was something different in what I had been taught at home.
I began to read, for the first time really, the writings of Friends, Faith and Practice, and the Bible. I had been led to these sources earlier and had splashed around the surface but had not delved into them. I read the Bible straight through twice in the first year, plus scriptural readings assigned in class, and studied George Fox’s Journal, Barclay’s Apology, and some history of Friends. I came to appreciate early Friends and the Bible, especially John’s Gospel and the prophets, as trustworthy guides that were not to be followed “lock step,” but rather as companions along the way.
One of the distinctive characteristics of my Friends practice was in the area of communion. The worship service at RVA observed communion once a month. I decided early on that I would participate in “silent communion” while the others went forward to receive the cup and bread. I did not make a big deal out of this, but it was obvious and several questions came up among the faculty and students. My participation in “silent communion” seemed to satisfy most people and I generally felt accepted. I didn’t realize how different this was until very late one Sunday night during my senior year when I was awakened by a younger student who came from a strong Lutheran background. As I had learned in class and discussions, communion was very central to some students and they missed celebrating the eucharist every week. The young man who woke me was one of these. In addition, communion had been celebrated that morning and would not be celebrated for another month. He explained to me that he had felt “unworthy” that morning and chose not to participate according to his belief that one needed to be “worthy” to partake in the communion. Now, in the middle of the night after wrestling with his beliefs for quite a while, he felt he needed to have communion, but realized that it would be another month before he could take communion in his tradition. He asked me to explain how I “took communion.” I tried to explain the belief that Christ needed no intermediary and then direct access was available if we would listen and open ourselves to commune with Christ. I don’t know how much this changed his views, if at all, but it did seem to give him some peace that night and he was able to get to sleep.
At the conclusion of my two years at RVA, I had what I consider one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. The seniors traditionally took a “senior trip” and we chose to go to Amboseli National Park for a camping trip of several nights. Just previous to leaving on the trip I had been told that my father, mother and several month old sister would be leaving for the US immediately and that I needed to stay in Kenya until graduation in August, more than a month away. The reason for their departure was the serious nature of my father’s health condition. I also had discovered that my sister and mother were “lucky to be alive. During delivery of my sister, whose conception had been deemed improbable if not impossible, my mother had been very near death and a very quick Caeserean section was performed. My sister had not breathed on her own for nearly forty five minutes and it was only through the skill, commitment and dedication of the mission doctors and the “grace of God” that my mother and sister were alive. On the last night of the trip the seniors “gathered sticks, kindled a fire and left it burning” as we shared some of our feelings, especially about our time at RVA. At that time I felt a strong sense of immanent loss with the knowledge that not only was I “alone” in Kenya, but that I might have been within moments of losing my father, mother and sister. However, as I experienced this possible loss a very clear sense of presence somehow communicated to me that I was not alone and that regardless of my aloneness, Someone would be with me.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Guided Search: Jamaica
My earliest memories are as a preacher’s kid in Amboy, IN. However, the first lessons that I truly remember were on the island of Jamaica. My father had been called to serve Jamaica Yearly Meeting as Superintendent and doing ministry at the large “church” in Hector’s River. There I learned that I was not special or different from others because of the color of my skin, my father’s occupation, or my position.
My brother and I were sent to the local elementary school where we were the only “white” children in attendance. This was obvious, but became an item for discussion in the family when the other children called us “white feet.” We were asked by our parents why we were being called that. We explained that when we started attending the school we had been sent to school wearing shoes, but realizing that no other children were wearing shoes we had decided to take off our shoes. Being fairly respectful of our parents’ wishes, we dutifully put on our shoes in the morning, but took them off on the way to school and went barefoot at school. Since our schoolmates saw “white” people go barefoot only on the beach, our bare feet became an identifying attribute. Of course when my parents heard this, they said then don’t bother to put shoes on in the first place. This seemed to be contrary to what other “whites” expected but seemed quite natural to our family. Other missionary children were not “allowed” to go to the local school. I am not quite sure why, but it obviously was not due to lack of “education.” In Jamaica I started in “second” grade and when we returned to the States 4 years later, I was placed in 7th grade. This placement was agreed to reluctantly by the principal at the school I entered in Ohio, but I had already been introduced to the basics of algebra and was reading at a high school level.
However, apart from the social and educational advantages of being in Jamaica, The most important lesson I learned was that love was to be the basis for action and that those who love most, served most. My father and mother, rather than wanting others to become like “Americans,” strove to assist others in learning to lead and tried to work themselves “out of a job.” I learned that missionaries should see themselves as temporarily filling in where colonial powers had failed to develop leadership, and that “we” had much to learn from each other.
In the subsequent years as a pastor in Ohio, my father would more explicitly state that he saw his role as not “working” on Sunday but rather sharing in worship. He continued to believe as a Friends’ pastor that his “job” was to work himself out of a “job” by developing leadership and ministers within the congregation. This seemed a different interpretation of ministry than most other Christians and Quakers that I knew. I saw my father and mother as very caring persons who tended to preach what they lived and to live what they preached. This was different than most preachers I knew who told others to practice what they preached but seemed to live as if preaching was what counted and not practice, especially not their practice.
Up to this point I had followed the path that my parents set before me. I did not see much need to “strike out on my own,” although we were encouraged to read, study, and question what we were being taught. I accepted much of what was taught in Sunday School, but was also taught at home that I needed to think for myself. This included looking at the Bible as a source of spiritual truth and not as a science or history text. As I was soon to discover this was quite different from the view of many others.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
30 years ago while at Earlham School of Religion for 2 summer courses I wrote a paper for one of them which attempted to trace some of my spiritual development up to that point. As I "settle" into "retirement" I am revisiting that "paper" with major editing and planning to extend the "search" over the last 30 years. I will be taking this process at a measured pace. I may intersperse the continuations with other more responsive posts, but I plan to work more carefully at the "Guided Search" thread.
In examining my life’s journey I find that there were a number of guides along the way. Some of these were individuals that I knew who had a strong influence on the direction of my journey. Others, from ancient to modern times, I knew through written descriptions of their experiences and advice. These guides were ones to whom I could look consistently and confidently, as well as being able to refer others to them. It was important to me that I found some relationship with these guides similar to that described in the following:
Do not walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Do not walk behind me, I may not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend. (Anon?)
A critical aspect of my journey that has varied over many twists and turns has been that of finding or rather, in a more complete sense, being found by, a spiritual guide that has walked with me my entire life. I learned that the people I most trusted and who served as the truest guides followed the recommendation of early Friends in their advice to those who would be guides: “Take them to Christ and leave them there.” These true friends did not ask that I follow in their footsteps nor that I take the lead but rather they walked with me for a while as I found the trail markings they helped me to learn and bore witness to the one guide to whom I could listen and walk with regardless of how rough the terrain or obscure the path seemed to be.
My earliest guides were my father, Logan Smith, and my mother, Opal Perry Smith.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Great Spirit, Light, Nirvana, Brahman, Truth, YHWH, I AM THAT I AM)
Α - Ω
GOD IS LOVE
GOD IS LOVING NEIGHBOR
GOD IS LOVING NEIGHOR, SELF
GOD IS LOVING NEIGHBOR, SELF, EVERYONE
GOD IS LOVING NEIGHBOR, SELF, EVERYONE, EARTH
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
A Friends School as a Whole Community
If we love God, we will be satisfied with nothing less than a fellowship which hears and obeys the call of Christ to righteousness within the community. The life of this fellowship will be grounded in the corporate experience of obedience and suffering for the sake of obedience. This does not happen when we are with those who tell us only what we want to hear of our own accomplishments and glory, nor does it happen in a community whose intent is to glorify or build up specific individuals. An obedient fellowship is clearly evident only in a primary community, one in which the first claim on our corporate loyalty is the community that has become the social force that has the greatest influence in our lives. As faculty in a Friends school this means viewing our position not as a job to finance what we really want to do nor one to trade-in for a “better” position, but rather as an experience in forming and belonging to a whole community. As students it is not putting up with the situation until graduation, but it is considering the school as our community now. This is not to say that faculty and others may not be led to other opportunities or that students should not prepare for further study or “life after school,” but that these occurrences are outcomes of the experience rather than immediate goals. It also does not mean that all of the members must agree with everything that the school stands for or in reality does. However, it does mean exerting our present efforts toward achieving a primary community in which each one is a whole person. This is not making the school what we want or what a select group of persons want, but rather what God wants and we need.
Now for some tough questions. How do we know what is needed? How do we know how to meet these needs? How do we know God’s will for our school? Friends have insisted that it is in corporate meeting that we can find the truth, in coming together, all of us, seeking unity not uniformity, as a community sharing our concerns, our successes and our problems. The source of Power for early Friends was discovered and experienced in Meeting one another and God at a depth beyond words. Discovered in meeting across all disciplines, ages and positions within the community.
The prophetic tradition placed the direct experience of God as the most critical point in the relationship of persons with God and with each other. From this experience comes personal righteousness and active involvement in meeting and sharing with others. The major barrier to a right relationship with God and one another has been proclaimed as our resistance and down right rebellion against the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth. We have, just as institutional churches past and present, substituted intermediaries, symbols, rituals and forms for a direct relationship within our community. We expect certain individuals or groups to perform special acts while others are mere spectators. We have set aside time for the form of meeting without incorporating Meeting into the classroom or business of running the school. Friends found that it was in Meeting with everyone as active participants in a direct immediate relationship that Power came for personal and corporate righteousness through the sense of unity and power essential to a whole community.
If we are to develop a living primary community, we must meet each other under the leadership of the Spirit of Christ. We must meet each other not as students, staff, alumni, administrators, or teachers of one discipline or another. In other words, we must meet as individuals rather than on the basis of position, title or experience. Each one of us is capable of listening to the teaching of Christ and of contributing in a Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Business, and Meeting for Learning. It is in this context that we can become whole persons in a whole community. Some of the results that might be expected from such a school community, with thanks and apologies to Howard Brinton, are: 1) A sense of belonging to a community that implies cooperation rather than competition; 2) A sense of inclusive wholeness rather than exclusive separation or compartmentalization; 3) A renewed sense of dedication and commitment on the part of students, staff and administration; 4) A sense of caring with nonviolent discipline and methods emphasizing persons more than facts or things; 5) An inward sense of rightness in individuals with values meaning more than material value; 6) A sense of equality among academic areas with interdisciplinary inclusion rather than exclusiveness or possessiveness; 7) A sense of simplicity in life styles and corporate direction with emphasis on the needs of individuals rather than corporate or individual prestige; 8) A sense of honesty in achieving creativity rather than conformity in academic standards and interpersonal relationships; and 9) A sense of broadening and strengthening the skills students need for life rather than refining and narrowing limited areas of interest.
In such a community, the goals will not be differentiated from the means by which these goals are attained. The process of education will be the product of the school and students will become part of the process of the community. Meeting will be for Worship, Business, and Learning in a whole community which is made up of whole persons.
Monday, August 23, 2010
I was first introduced to aikido by the author of "Giving in to get your way," a well written book. (He also happened to have written the script for the original "Friday the 13th" movie.) He had come at my invitation to have a "workshop" for the seniors at Moorestown Friends School in 1980. The principles that have been mentioned of aikido seemed appropriate for looking at an alternative way of dealing with violence and possibly of looking at "turning the other cheek" as away of "Giving in to get your way."
I was a "pacifist" in my early years when I thought I couldn't kill someone, until an incident at Ohio State U. with the National Guard "occupation" of campus in the very early 70's when I learned that I had, somewhere inside me, the capacity to "kill" someone who I had "dehumanized" in a brief moment clouded by frustration, teargas, and the "other" masked by a uniform and gas mask. A National Guardsman was coming at me, out of the cloud of tear gas, with lowered bayonet. I was walking across the "commons" heading to class when the Guard was ordered to clear the commons because it seemed like students were flooding the commons (a common occurrence at that time of day when the most classes were changing) and the "military" view was of an "attack." I was carrying a brief case. In the instant when, through tears and fog from the tear gas, I saw the Guardsman, more an apparition than a person, I sensed my hand tense around the handle of my briefcase and I "instinctively?" turned toward the apparition with the apparent intent of attacking it (him?). However, almost as quickly as that reaction, the tears began to flow because I realized that had I had a lethal weapon, I might well have used it to harm or kill what I realized was a person very much like the students I knew. From that time on, I have been a "pacifist" because I know I do have somewhere, hopefully well "covered," the capacity to do bodily harm or possibly kill another person.
I learned that it is "easy" to dehumanize another when they are "camouflaged" to appear different and when they are "foreign" to your way of thinking. It may be hard to follow the commandment of "Love thy Neighbor," but I believe that it did apply "even" to National Guard and does apply to all, even the "enemy." I believe we need to seek ways in which we can turn enemies into neighbors and trust that when the time does come that we can "turn" attackers away without harm to us or our loved ones or to the attacker. An "impossible dream" perhaps, but one I believe we are called to seek.
It is difficult for me to use language other than New Testament and Friends language since this is the language of my father who was my spiritual guide and mentor even though he really never acted or talked in any other way than a father to me. He was a pastor and I spent many Sundays listening to her sermons but they didn’t mean a great deal to me until my adult years when I would visit. Mostly I remember the care that he took everyday, all day to express love, not a noticeable evident love. I don’t remember hugs in our family but I do remember smiles and looks that carried a humble “pride” and inward joy. I especially noticed these when my father looked at his grandchildren. For me these smiles and looks carried love in a very powerful way. I learned that “God is Love” was not just a powerful metaphor but somehow carried some of the most powerful human aspirations and realities.
In addition, my father introduced me to the Bible, writings of early and modern Friends, and Christian thinkers. I came to believe that there was truth in the concept of the “Light that was enlightening everyone,” “Inward Light,” etc. I went through a period in which I found it difficult to talk openly about the Light as “Christian” when I struggled with Friends who stated that anyone who did not believe in the Bible and Jesus Christ as they knew him was condemned to Hell and were somehow unworthy of our love. This very exclusive belief emphasizing guilt and fear seemed very foreign to the Light of Faith, Hope, and Love with the greatest of these Love.
My vision of the Light envisions a concept/idea/reality that is accessible to all persons. The manifestation can be seen/heard/felt/believed by persons who have never heard the story of Jesus nor the name Christ. However, as humans we each tend to become self focused and strive to understand Right/Wrong from our own perspective without openness to others. This is for me one of the meanings of the Genesis stories in which Adam and Eve are described as wanting to have the knowledge of Good and Evil for themselves, prompting the question “Where are you?” Similarly, Cain in striving to have his interpretation of the “best” sacrifice being recognized even to the extreme of killing his brother seen as a rival is asked “Where is your brother?” These two stories demonstrate the building of barriers to the Light that we all are susceptible to. These barriers create “oceans of darkness,” but the darkness cannot put out the light only prevent its experience. As the barriers between each other are broken down we help build down barriers to the Light. As we work at, or probably more accurately, allow the work to occur, breaking the barriers to the Light itself overcomes the ocean of darkness.
For me the Gospels are the heart of my understanding of the Light, but find the illumination in many other writings from different religions and writings, from ancient right up to contemporary writings.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Writing is a form
Of capturing one's ideas
In a frozen trap
"The worship of God is not a form but an acting out of his will in relationship through justice and kindly love with people, our family, our neighbor, and all the people of the world. What Friends speak and believe they must do. The apex of the religious life and worship experience is found in the very Presence of God, felt and known without any intermediary, immanent, and known as Loving Redeemer and Creator sharing not mechanically in social order, but personally. The prophets declared that to know and worship God one is to look within and to look around.
It is not so much that we are against ceremony or rituals but that the real demands of God on humans are moral and spiritual and the proper worship of God is a life obedient to those demands. As beautiful and simple as it may sound, "to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God," is far from a comfortable religion. Every prophetic spirit in every age will testify to the cost and continuous struggle in reaching for justice, mercy, and humility."
Saturday, May 15, 2010
This was written and read in 1969, at the age of 25, when I was Clerk of West Branch Quarterly Meeting in Indiana Yearly Meeting. IYM was reorganizing from Quarterly to Regional Meetings and this was the last Meeting of West Branch QM. Most of my views are remarkably similar 40 years later. This also appeared in Quaker Life.
"As a young person, for I still consider myself young, who has been involved in many ways and at many levels in the phenomenon known as midwestern Quakerism, I would like to give some thoughts as to the past and the future of this organization, denomination, or movement, as the case may be.
It seems to me that with the reorganization we admitted that we are no longer a Society of Friends but rather just another Protestant denomination with almost no uniqueness except we still have the nerve to call ourselves Quakers. I do not fault the reorganization since it may serve Indiana Yearly Meeting faithfully and well, nor do I pretend to say that Quakerism should stagnate and not change. Nevertheless, I feel there are basic fundamentals of Quakerism which have been compromised. Among these is the belief that there can be no reliance on organization or structure to solve our problems or to serve Christ. This and other areas have been well stated in much better fashion by other students of Quakerism, but I will briefly suggest a few relevant examples.
One of the most important and valuable beliefs is in the priesthood of every believer coupled with the seeking of direct communication with God. Our meetings are pastoral meetings where the use of silent or individual worship of God has been said to have no place. The preacher often rushes through the program like clockwork so his sermon will not be disturbed. We do have clergy not just ministers. We rely on these preachers or priests to do most of our thinking and speaking for us rather than ones who are ministers among ministers with various gifts and thoughts. We also seem concerned about our church or chapel more as a place where we worship and show our religion rather than our meetinghouses only as the center where all members share experiences and guidance so they may follow the ONE teacher to go forth and do the works 9f Christ worshiping God in all places at all times.
Among the other fundamentals which we seem to have deserted is the belief in that of God in every man. If we truly believed this then we would treat each all people, the thief on the cross, the North Vietnamese and black power radicals. The peace testimony of Friends grew from this faith in the love of Christ which overcomes evil led him to die for all. We prize our Quaker name but try to refuse its use to those who attempt to follow Christ's command "do good to those who harm you." We treasure our Quaker heritage but know little of John Woolman who led the fight against slavery and discrimination yet our Yearly Meeting is among the most segregated groups anywhere.
We are amused by the old gray uniform of early Quakers, and well we should be, but as I
was so kindly eldered earlier this year we find only a small opposition to credit and borrowing money above our resources to meet demands for luxury. We have lost the concept of simplicity when we see unpaid debts and extras on our cars and in our homes. We have now taken on the uniform of our society and are dangerously close to reversing the command, "be ye not conformed to this world but be ye transformed." Those who insist that this is only spiritual and does not refer to the physical realm seem to neglect that it was the early Christians who were accused of "turning the world upside down" almost literally as well as figuratively. We are freed from commitment to this world by having no fear of what it can do to us but we are not freed to ignore it and live for the world to come, because Christ HAS COME and is here and is working among us now.
In considering these thoughts it would seem there are two choices before us, either continue, which may be the easiest route, but be honest enough to change our name, or accept the poor mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure, peacemaking, reviled and persecuted by men existence of the prophets called for by Christ and George Fox.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
After our move about May 1 and a little settling time, I hope to renew this blog which was stifled by others as part of the "ocean of darkness."
This will be a major change in Friends traditions from "Conservative" to liberal Friends. Though there is much I like about the "conservative" view, there has been a tendency to be exclusive and somewhat closed minded at times. It is my hope that some Friends in the Twin Cities area will provide challenge and opportunity to continue my Search and clarification of what I know experimentally/experientally.