Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Quaker Communion

I read an article entitled “Quaker Communion” (in the Feb. 2012 Friends Journal) in which the author speaks about Quakers missing out on something and having “thrown the baby out with the bath water” by not participating in the sharing of the bread and the cup as communion.  In my opinion what Friends did was to take the baby out of the bath water and celebrate its growth and participation in all of life. They saw keeping the “baby” in the bath water separates it from full presence in each of life’s activities not just in the sharing of the bread and the cup.

The one “communion” that I have participated in was with a small group of people at a regular meeting of an early morning prayer group. Most of the individuals were from the Mennonite church that my family and I were attending during my time in graduate school. We often shared donuts and brought our own coffee, but one morning Jeptha brought some sweet bread and some juice. He asked that we share in communion with one another as we drank the juice and ate the bread. After we had talked a little about the remembrance of Christ I mentioned that I was thankful that it was orange juice and not grape juice since I would have had some difficulty with the symbolism. Jeptha remarked that he actually had intended to bring grape juice but, when he thought of my beliefs regarding communion, he had brought the orange juice. That provoked a very good discussion on the use of symbols and the true meaning of communion with one another and Christ.

My father remarked at one point that we “paused” at the beginning of every meal, before we would partake in food and drink, not “in remembrance of” a past event nor to ask for the presence of Christ, but to remind ourselves that Christ IS present with us. Quaker Communion was not and should not be a physical representation of a virtual or conceptual reality but rather a reality known “experimentally” through the all day, every day experiences we share with one another and Christ. I believe that it was this form of communion that gave the early Friends much of their energy and excitement that brought such a rapid growth and commitment among those who partook of the reality of the “life blood” and body of believers.

In my opinion this makes Friends a very “difficult” or “peculiar” Religious Society to belong to. It seems easier to compartmentalize and delegate some of the responsibility and authority for our “spiritual lives” to other people or actions. However, we are called to make every thought, word, and deed of our lives not as “if” we were in the presence of God but because the presence of Love, Light, or Christ is with us always and becomes our prime motivation. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

QFF Meeting organization

I have accepted the position of Clerk, at least pro tem, of the “Quarterly Meeting” of Quaker Faith and Fellowship, referred to as QFF. The current proposal is that we will have a Meeting for Business, also known as Meeting for Worship for Attention to Business, on Dec. 11.

It has come to me that maybe we need to ask some questions, some of which were addressed in the agenda to the first Meeting on 29th of 9th month, 2011, regarding our undertaking. We spent essentially all of our first meeting looking at the first question: Who should be considered members of the Meeting? There seemed to be no “sense of the Meeting” reached. (There also is a good deal of material in the past postings of QFF. These are extensive and instructive.)
Among the questions to be asked are: Who? When? Where? What? Why? How?

The following quotes from the QFF site spell out some of the intentions of the founders of this site with regard to some of these.

"Vision and mission require committed members. We call everyone 'member' who registers as user of this website."

"We don't require commitment in any particular form, but we do welcome members taking responsibility. And telling us which responsibility they take and how they think it
contributes to our vision and mission. So we can support each other in bearing the responsibilities chosen voluntarily."

Over the last 3 years there has been much discussion regarding QFF organization and "Future." I trust my additions might be helpful.

The earliest Friends apparently did not have an intention of forming a new sect and there were no requirements for being a “Publisher of Truth” as early Friends were called. Their intention was to form a community based on the experiences of a number of leaders who felt that everyone in the group could be a leader.
It is my sense that in many ways our intentions here are somewhat similar in that we are trying to establish an e-community with “open” membership based on the experience of the “Religious Society of Friends.” Thus the terms used are those from this experience. However, the means of communication, speed of “travel,” and commonality of location are “light speed” separated from the 17th and 18th century.
In my understanding, which certainly is not that extensive and is open to correction, early Friends met once or twice a week at a local “site,” often in the beginning a house, for Meeting for Worship. Then over the years, especially as the local groups grew in size, there began to be a need for a Meeting house which raised several business type questions. It was decided fairly early on that there needed to be Meetings for Business. These were to meet once a month, thus Monthly Meetings, and would consist of those Friends in a local area who could spend a day traveling to and from a location while devoting an extensive time in decision making on matters of business.
In addition, to keep “good Gospel order,” the Monthly Meetings in a given area would send representatives to Quarterly Meetings. These individuals were those who were “released” to be able to travel to a location and spend usually 7th and 1st days sharing Worship and Business. This was before 5 day work weeks. It required overnight arrangements, as well as release from home, farm, and work duties, etc. Then once a year, thus Yearly Meetings, representatives would travel to a central location, e.g. London, for generally a week of Meetings for Worship and keeping “good order” among Friends.

Some in QFF are proposing that we establish a Meeting that might serve a new and somewhat different function, although maintaining some of the older functions as well, among an e-community of Friends. I have some proposals of varying ideas as to how this might work and will share those in future posts. I will also suggest ways in which we can ask the Who, What, etc. questions, the most important one might be Why.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Light

Having been requested to describe my understanding of the Light, this was a very "quick" and off the "top of my head" response. There is much more that I could write but felt this was a reasonable place to stop.

The Light
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 his 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.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


In the online forum quakerfaithandfellowship (QFF) there is an attempt to start an organized Meeting, tentatively labelled a Quarterly Meeting, of those  related to QFF. The following is what I just posted on that forum. I am planning on posting about our exploring some of what we do as we attempt to establish a unique virtual eMeeting on a global scale. Some of the "leaders" of this forum are Dutch, Irish, British, New Jerseyan, Marylander, etc.

"Having had a number of econversations since my Oct. 4 original "acceptance" of the clerkship of the next Quarterly Meeting of QFF tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11 (I believe that is the current proposed date) I find that I am "again" led to accept the position of Clerk pro tem. My intent over the next couple of months is to provide some of my understanding of the organization of Friends Meetings and the function of a clerk. As with much of my understanding of Friends procedure, we are ALL in this together. I trust that any of you that have questions, comments, suggestions, etc. will share them and I will attempt to respond to the best of my ability and possibly share some of the historical/traditional Friends views on the subject of "organization."

I trust we can go forward with the Light that is given to each of us.

In Peace and Friendship,

Tom Smith

PS. I think it is very important that we all recognize the newness and fairly unique venture of an eMeeting that we are undertaking. Not only in the Virtual world but also in a truly global setting.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I have not posted for quite a while, and have finally decided to share some of my feelings about why. I have been pretty strongly discouragement. I will outline these and POSSIBLY expand on these subsequently.
1) Neuropathy- I feel very little from the waist down. I have "no reflexes." I have pain from time to time when my foot touches other objects and at other random times. I have limited feeling in my hands. All of this is not nearly as discouraging as the fact that I have seen a good neurologist and three specialists from the U of Minnesota. Several MRIs and electromyographies show that my issues are NOT MS, Peripheral Neuropathy, brain related neuropathy, spinal cord neuropathy, etc. Thus it has been labeled idiopathic with no diagnosis and no prognosis. I have difficulty walking and am concerned that my mobility will be further inhibited, but I DON'T KNOW.

2) Quaker blogosphere - It is very disheartening to read that the "Liberal" wing of Friends is "disowning," if not literally at least metaphorically, Christian and "traditionalist" Friends while the Evangelical, or as I tend to think - Fundamentalist-Protestant, wing isgoing further and further from what I consider Friends basics.

3) Friends Meeting - Even though I have attended the current Friends Meeting for over a year on at least a semi-regular basis and have actually risen to share a message on at least half a dozen times, I still am not "approached" by members and on the rare occasion when some one does greet me, I am treated as a complete stranger. I have not been approached by any of the "leaders" of the Meeting to inquire about a rather regular attender.

4) Children and Grandchildren - Because I am not as mobile or energetic as I would like my interaction with my two grandchildren is much less than I would like it to be. We haven't seen our other children or grandchildren since last December, largely because of health and financial issues.

5) Financial issues - We are doing reasonably well right now with being able to meet our obligations such as rent, food, eating out, clothes, etc., but should anything happen to incapacitate either one of us and we would need more care than now, I do not know how we would pay for that. We have about 2 months "reserve" in savings at our current level, but that would probably last only one month at a higher rate. We really don't want to be dependent on our children as my mother was dependent on her children.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hiroshima Remembrance

The Rain

The land was hot,

The air was hot,

The people prayed for rain

To wash away the remnants of death.

Their prayers were answered,

Big, dark rain clouds covered the sky.

The welcome rain came down,

Thick, black, tarry raindrops

Fell from the clouds,

They burned holes in whatever they touched,

Flesh, wood, stone, steel.

People screamed and ran indoors,

To find no roofs on the rubble.

The rain continued day and night,

Sleep was impossible,

There were too many screams.

Then after several days

Of Chinese water torture,

The clouds rolled away,

To take their terror somewhere else.

Scott Smith

10th grade poetry assignment, 1982

Friday, July 15, 2011


In going through my father's papers I found this response to a similar question in 1975.

Sometimes we are stimulated to write a statement and lay it aside, then wish that we might share it. About three years ago I was part of a group conversation where pacifism and especially Quakers were being criticized and war was being justified. Someone made a forcible; "I guess the Quakers just want us to love 'em to death."

I made no reply because, although the statement was made for my "benefit," it was not made directly to me. I am glad that I did not get into an argument. However, I remember how that statement stayed with me. A few days ago I came across a written reply, mainly made to myself. This I want to share just as I found it:

"We are not asked to love 'them' (enemies) to death. We are asked to love them to life, but that means a cross and who wants to be crucified? I don't want to be anymore than you do, so I go along with the ways of the uncommitted or partly committed in putting bad guys (thieves) on crosses, creating Calvaries all over the world. But if we look, I think we will see that with them hangs the very Son of God whom we continually crucify with our ways of violence."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hyphenated Friends

I have been in a very "dry" spell recently. Some of that related to health issues but much of it related to a sense of feeling insulated from Friendly dialogue. It is not an "isolated" sense because with the blogosphere, facebook, Meeting, etc. there are several points of contact with Friends. However, in many cases these contacts seem superficial and merely social. In other cases, it appears that I seem to come across as "esoteric," "too intellectual," "combative," out of touch, not aware, etc. I have felt a distinct lack of meaningful dialogue at a level that is not "purely theological," nor at a level that is "purely political." This may well be my own failing in communication, writing "style," etc., but for whatever reason, I have felt "stopped" for doing much writing or sharing from my own initiation.

One of the "stops" for me has been my physical limitations which have prevented our traveling to see friends, family, FGC (which this year is just a very few hours away with a brother leading a workshop), FUM (which this year is very near one of our sons and his family, my wife's entire family including her mother whom we haven't seen for over a year), several good f/Friends), Yearly Meeting, etc.

What prompted this posting was a posting by Micah Bales on the ESR blog regarding Great Plains Yearly Meeting. I was prompted to post the following response:

Thanks for this post Micah. Although I was not directly involved in the Native America "missions" in Oklahoma, my uncle and family were very much involved and I heard much about Hominy while I was growing up.

One of the things that struck me, having grown up in Friends missions in Jamaica and Kenya, at the time both British colonies, is the reference to British linked culture. In both Jamaica and Kenya I observed a real reluctance on the part of some/many American missionaries to identify at all with the local culture. It seemed very evident that the intent was to "Americanize" (not make British) Friends. The African Friends seem to have adopted/adapted the American Evangelical pattern rather than the British Quaker pattern.

Although I fully respect and honor those who adopt Plain clothing as a witness to their "Quakerism" (I understand that it is more of a calling from the Lord for many rather than a "Quaker thing," but am just sharing an observation) I wonder what message this sends to those of other cultures than those with a 19th century American Quaker (Pennsylvanian) awareness.

I also wonder how we can deal with the diversity of Friends in an appropriate manner. I wonder how we can celebrate diversity without losing commonality. This issue is being "fought" in several YMs "as we speak." Just a few "hyphenated" examples:
Native American-Quaker

I do not have answers, but I believe we must openly address some of these issues, such as those you raise, and I am grateful that you initiated some of that with your post.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

This I believe II

My grandfather, Omer Smith, summarized my belief on the "after-life" quite well when he said: "I am not concerned about going to a better place when I die, but rather that I leave this place better for my having been here."

I do not believe that a future threat of punishment or promise of reward is what the "kingdom of God" is all about. I believe that the kingdom of God is here and now as we do the will of God. The will of God has to do with Mercy, Justice, and most of all Love. If we do not express love through our actions toward ALL, we are not living in the Kingdom. I believe that the "kingdom" is when we express our love for each other by sharing our "coats" if we have more while others have none, by sharing our food when we have more while others have none, by sharing our "freedom" when we have more while others have less, etc.

to be continued

Saturday, March 19, 2011

This I believe

With much discussion occurring about heresy, convergence, tradition, emergence, etc. and a strong sense that I don't seem to have much of a place in RSOF nor its "discussions/disagreements/advances/etc." anymore, I have been sorely tempted for some time now to withdraw into a "Quietist" period. However, some things/ideas/leadings seemed to "click" tonight and I am planning to try and just share some fairly simple straightforward statements as to what I believe that compels me to stay involved in the RSOF. Some will include analogies/metaphors which will try to give some clarity.

I) I believe that all people have an innate ability to relate to God and regardless of the terminology, culture, religion, etc. this may lead them to God. (It is as if we all had a compass which anywhere on the earth would point in a given direction. If we follow that direction we will arrive at God. There are many local deviations and false magnets which must be avoided, but these are secondary to the over all, what I call, field of love and light.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I wrote this for an online course in "Liberation Theology" and thought I would share it, even though some is not new. The "assignment" was to tell one's own story regarding oppression/liberation.

"I will start with two stories from "childhood" that speak to somewhat subtle oppression which was not seen as oppression by those doing the oppression.

As a child in Jamaica we had a cook that was treated as a member of the family. This was not unusual to me since my grandmother's sister, "Aunt Ruth", stayed with my grandparents and did much of the housework since my grandmother was diabetic and had severe arthritis that limited her physical abilities. We thought of "Vicki" in much the same way and her son was like a cousin. However, when another "missionary" family came, it was obvious they could not understand how we could treat people "like them" (They were quite "black" being descendants of the African slaves that were brought to Jamaica) as close friends, let alone relatives. The way in which this family treated someone who they supposedly "loved and came to help" was obviously demeaning and "oppressive." It clearly hurt Vicki and her son. My parents didn't say much to me, I was 8-9 yrs old, except that we needed to continue feeling the way we did about Vicki regardless what others said or did. The theology that I saw lived was that we fed the poor, clothed the naked, treated everyone as our friend, etc. No distinction was made due to color of skin, etc.

The second incident was in Kenya where my father was named interim "head" of Friends Africa Mission in Kaimosi. We moved in to the "big" house. It was soon evident that Africans didn't come to the front door. When asked why this was, the answer was that Africans who were known in the mission came in the side door, but that any African who was not known and especially those that worked in the household as cook, "yard worker," etc. were allowed to only come to the back door. It was very quickly made known that anyone was welcome to come through the front door of the house. I also knew missionaries who spoke of the Africans as basically less than human but worthy of help especially to "save their souls," but unless they accepted the practices of whites they were not to be accepted in any "social setting."

It was very difficult for me to understand why Christians didn't take the words of the Gospels as "instructions on how to deal with people. Was this was even true of those who seemed to be dedicating their lives to helping people understand "Christ."

I have had a number of other interactions that seem to make as little sense as those situations did since then, but have tended to be less obvious. One thing I learned from a graduate school friend who was a Black (his term in 1969-72 although he was relatively light skinned) from Atlanta, GA. We were students at OSU in Ohio and he insisted he would return to the South where it was clear where people stood with their attitude to Blacks. In the North people had the same attitudes but tried to hide their feelings or refused to deal with their feelings. I will try to mention some of those soon."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Queries for education

Queries for Education

Quaker Queries (education)
*****Originally a set of queries adapted or developed for Moorestown Friends School.
I. Friends Testimonies and Concerns:
A. Are there common Quaker values or principles that Friends wish to foster in a VFS?
B. Is there a common affirmation of our Quaker faith and experience that is represented by a corporate commitment?
C. How do we strive to convey the importance of individual truth through that of God in each of us while maintaining the corporate nature of Friends convictions and commitments?
D. How does this commitment to Friends faith and practice apply to institutions that consist largely of non-Friends?
E. How can Friends resist being all things to all persons without becoming any thing to anybody and thus nothing that can be identified as unique or committed to anything?
II. Within a Friends School;
A. How can we develop a truly supportive relationships between the meetings and churches and a VFS?
B. How can administrators, faculty/staff become united toward creating an intentional caring
community with Meeting for worship as the center?
C. How can we meet the needs of Non-Quaker and Quaker students alike in becoming more accepting without compulsion or indoctrination?
D. How can Quaker principles be brought to bear on each aspect of a VFS?
E. How can Non-Quaker and Quaker administrators and faculty/staff be oriented to Quaker practice?
F. How is our commitment to Friends testimonies and concerns diminished by competitive recruiting practices, financial problems, pressures to conform to society, and pressure to give up corporate traditions and principles for immediate concerns?
III. Personal:
A. What am I willing to do personally to help create a more concerned community of teaching and learning at a VFS?
B. Am I careful to avoid the busy-ness of the institution to care for individuals?
C. What do I do to make the teaching of the school an experiential development of truth?
D. How do I demonstrate that I have learned to maintain my own personal quietness and commitments to family and personal growth?
E. Is personal growth a way of life for me that is evident to those around me, especially the students, or is it just something I say is important?
F. Do I encourage every member of the community, especially students, to develop those talents and gifts that have been given to the individual regardless of the level or extent of those gifts in order to reach the potential of each person?
G. How does my personality and actions reflect the Quaker values of integrity, compassion, simplicity, equality, commitment and courage?
*****Meeting for Learning Queries; (from "Meeting for Learning" by Parker Palmer.)
Do I come to learning prepared for a genuine meeting between myself, other persons, ideas and texts?
Do I try, in teaching and learning, to stay close to what I know experientially, and do I take care to ask the same of others? Am I willing to devote the energy necessary to engage my whole self in the learning process, and especially to cultivate those aspects of myself which are underdeveloped? Do I take full advantage of the community of learning by sharing my insights with others, and by willingness to test myself against their experiences? Do I help foster the learning community in this way? Do I appreciate that the consequences of learning will be different for different people, and am I open to unexpected consequences for myself? Do I accept the possibility that meeting for learning may change not only my mind but my life?

Friday, January 28, 2011

To Whom do we Listen

To Whom Do We Listen?

by Tom Smith

Quaker Life, March 1979, p.19

You have heard that it has been said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you that you resist not evil, but whosoever shall build up their nuclear weapons, take down all your defensive weapons. And if any man will sue you at the law to obtain open housing, offer your help in buying him a house in your neighborhood. And whosoever shall compel you to work eight hours a day, work for him conscientiously even if it takes nine hours to finish the job. Give to him that asks for welfare and from him who needs your help to live a full life, turn not away. You have heard that it has been said, America, Love It or Leave It and Hate the Com­munists. But I say unto you: Love the Cubans and Russians, and pray for those people who seem bent on the destruction of your world. That you may be the children of your heavenly Father."Paraphrased interpretation of Matthew 5:38-44.

You have heard it said that we need to put ourselves first, to be number one, "I deserve the best, after all I'm worth it." "I've worked hard for my money, I deserve credit for that." "We need to get used to the finer things of life here on earth, we will have them in heaven." But the Spirit of Christ says, "Be servants one to another." "The first shall be last." We should be more concerned that this world is better when we leave it than that we will be going to a better world. It is not that Friends are against heaven but that the Kingdom of God is here and now and Christ is King.

You have heard it said "They run the church." "I didn't get a thing out of the service today.""They changed the order of service and I didn't like it." "I don't like it when they pick new hymns, I have to concentrate on the words too much." But the Spirit of Christ says to come to meeting prepared to participate, not spectate. Unless we participate we are like those of whom the prophets spoke, "The Lord despises your worship services and songs." Friends were not against sermons, there was a lot of preaching during "silent" meeting. Nor were they against music, but they were for listening to Christ, meeting Christ as the head of their fellowship, thinking of the words that were shared and the meaning of these words. The church of today must be the strong clear voice of Christ and not only a weak echo of society.

You have heard it said "Let us wear good (or is it fancy?) clothes to church to show our respect for God." But the Spirit of Christ says unto you, "The Lord despises your pretense at pleasing Him by wearing special clothes and having 'Sunday best' when those clothes or that money could be providing clothes to those who have none." Friends are not against colors, lapels, ties, or fancy clothes, but they are conscious of waste at all levels because we are stewards of all God gives us, not just ten per cent or one day a week.

You have heard it said, "Cut back on taxes so we don't have to pay the cheats on welfare, the incompetent bureaucrats, etc." But the Spirit of Christ says unto you if the fellowship of Christians was carrying out the command­ments, the government would not have to have large welfare rolls or a huge bureaucracy which com­plains about the billions of untax-able dollars hoarded by the church for its own security. Friends say stop spending tax money on the ability to destroy human life and concentrate on caring for each other by improving the life of all individuals regardless of color, language, country or belief.

You have heard it said, "Christ is coming again, what a glorious day that will be." "These are the end times." "Christ will change the world soon." But Christ is here. Christ has come to teach His people Himself. Christ brings us the power to change the world now. The greatness of His power to us is according to the working of His mighty power in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. It is not that Friends did not believe in the Second Coming, but they did believe and act on the Real Presence of Christ. The Spirit of Christ says that He does bring power over sins, but you must forgive to be forgiven and make your will be Christ's. Let Christ within you become the central power of life, not as a substitute for you, but as the enabler and guide. Then you will not only be a finder but also a seeker. You will begin to grow and continue to seek God's will. Christ brings a cup. The cup of
Radical Obedience. We must love all persons if we are to love Christ. We must forgive if we are to be forgiven. We must grow and continue to seek if we are to find and to be found.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why my last posting

My Life Review Part 1 was very "personal" and narrowly defined by my current physical state. I was literally somewhat surprised when I realized that. In thinking about the posting two aspects came to mind. The first is the way I often begin Meeting for Worship for me. I tend to get in touch with my physical state. The second is an "old" Friends story about speaking in Meeting.

In sharing with students in Friends schools about Meeting I often talked about Listening. I would speak of listening in three major ways.
The first is listening to self and this often begins by listening to one's body and what it is "saying." This could be in the form of pain, discomfort, tension, numbness or other sensation in a specific area. Once that has been "heard" it tends to be easier to move on to other aspects of what is on your mind. After listening to what is uppermost with your body and mind then, at times, deeper issues can be addressed.
The second way of listening is to others. This might take the form of thinking about the others that are with you in the room, but it can also take the form of remembering good times with family or friends or sad times. I also encourage the Listening to others that may be far away physically, to bring them with you into the Meeting. I often share that I think of my mother and father and what they taught me even though they have died many years ago. In that way I can still listen to them. This can be extended in many ways to what has been read, etc.
The third way of listening is to God/Spirit. In a school setting, I tried to share that traditionally in a Friends Meeting for Worship this was the main focus of Meeting. In a school Meeting where the great majority are not Friends, I invite the students to think about that but indicate that much can be gained by learning to Listen to themselves and to others in a way that opens communication.

The story about speaking in Meeting goes some thing like this. A member of Meeting for several weeks kept having images of other members during Meeting. The images were of what the other members were bringing with them to Meeting. The tanner seemed to always be carrying a load of leather; the tailor had a lap full of sewing; the farmer was loaded down with seeds and a hoe; and so on. Finally it seemed that he was led to speak about the foolishness of bringing the burdens of the week into Meeting. However, as the Friend tried to stand he found he was unable to and on examining why not, he, a cobbler, found that he was weighed down by the bag of shoes on his shoulder. Although the images are "old" the message is very current and ancient. It seems to be a retelling of the remove the "log" from your own eye before trying to remove the speck from an other person's eye. It also brings to mind all of the "baggage" that I carry with me in trying to be open to myself, others, and God.

Thus for me in trying to examine "where" I am, I somehow felt that I needed to examine my physical state and to look at some of the things that are "weighing" on me right now as I start to look at other issues and at my relationships with others. I am not sure where this will lead, but am determined to start on the journey. That seemed to lead to a first small step of self examination.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life Review Part 1

For various reasons I have been a rather reflective mood recently. It may be the influence of our first Minnesota winter, a record one at that, with large snow piles, some over 10 feet tall, having been present since about Thanksgiving, with fresh layers of snow occurring something like 15 out of the 20 days in the new year. However, I believe it has had more to do with my strong sense of "exhaustion." I use that term in the sense of the exhausting of resources. Referring in somewhat ascending order of importance, to financial, physical, mental, and emotional resources. In some ways these also include spiritual, but I find that seems to have a different "source" and needs to be examined in a very different manner.

The most "easily examined" is my physical health. I just underwent an angiogram, first since 2004, to update the status of my CAD and try to assess the nature of some current discomfort. The result showed that things are about the same as expected. Some slight, but not "significant," increase in arterial "blockage" with no intervention necessary. It was again confirmed that all 3 of the bypasses done in 1998 had failed relatively quickly. One didn't seem to "take" at all, a second failed between 3-13 months after the procedure, and the third was blocked for a year until it was corrected by a stent. The two stents placed in 2004 made a significant difference in my energy and stamina at the time and seem to be holding well. However, as was described at the time, the status does not seem to be "life shortening" but rather "only" limiting as to "activities." I think that just means I can't do as much as I might. let alone what I would like.

Since about the same time, 2004, I have been dealing with peripheral neuropathy. This started as some slight numbness on the soles of my feet. It was significant enough at the time that I underwent a battery of tests, which at first showed signs of MS, but further testing confirmed that it was not MS. The neurologist at the time indicated that he did not know what the cause was and was somewhat "stumped." I did have lesions/"scars" in the brain which had been the cause for the first assumption by the radiologist that it was Multiple Sclerosis (Scarring). Since then the numbness has been spreading up my legs and now includes my hands and lower arms. I visited a neurologist after our move to MN. His preliminary diagnosis was similar to the Oregon neurologist, "idiopathic" (sometimes I think "idiotic") which means "unknown cause." After further tests, including brain function, he indicated that the lesions on my brain possibly were unrelated to the neuropathy and may actually be residual effects of malaria that I had as a child in Jamaica. He referred me to a specialist at the U of MN with the earliest available appointment almost 4 month away. I finally saw the specialist and his first assessment was again "idiopathic," but he was intrigued enough that he asked if I would like to consider undergoing some further testing to possibly narrow down some aspects. The most likely "candidate" for cause may well be a form of auto-immune disorder, but there may not be any real clarification of cause or prognosis even with further tests. The one major "positive" analysis so far is that the neuropathy is almost entirely limited to sensory nerves and has not effected motor neurons. However, I still find it very discomforting that it seems like I have limited sensory function in the hands and arms as well as very limited sensory function essentially from the waist down.

The cardiac and neurological conditions produce physical and financial drains which are evident and of concern but are not the most "exhausting" of what I consider my most "valuable" resources. These conditions seem relatively minor compared to some of the mental and, to a much greater extent, emotional issues that "plague" me now. I will address some of these in my next blog.


This was written 30 years ago, but remains essentially my response. However, as I have stated before, the way in which I might describe this has probably been modified over the last "half" of my life. This seems so long ago in many respects and yet my mind often seems to say that I am still 35 years old while my body says, "Not."

"I consider Christ the one true guide but recognize the need for other guides to assist as we live our lives on a daily basis. For this reason I appreciate the genius of the Query form. The Queries do imply a correct answer or authority but indicate the answers are within the person as Christ is with us in a creative freedom. The questions and helpful guides come from outside while the answers and one true guide are “within.” It is of no small importance to me that the record of just how the Queries were originally formulated is not readily available. The most thorough discussion of this that I am aware of is in a few pages of The Later Periods of Quakerism in which Rufus Jones states that Friends “slowly accumulated … a body of advices and Queries.” It seems that the earliest Queries were those which asked about the difficulties and growth being experienced within the Society.

“As fresh moral issues arose, and as the ‘testimonies’ of the Society grew defined

in relation to the practices of the world, the list of Queries enlarged. They grew

in number and importance until they embodied almost all the essential aspects

of the Quaker moral ideal, and they furnished a kind of silent confessional for each

individual member, as well as a moral measuring rule to guide the Overseers in

their work of looking after the flock.”