Restful Seeking

One of the plenary speakers at Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association’s annual sessions (of Quakers) in 2017 was Tara Doyle, a professor of Bhuddist Studies at Emory University. Paraphrasing from memory, one of the things she said was that when she attended her first Quaker Meeting, as the people settled into open (silent) worship, her mind immediately responded, “I recognize this” from her years of practicing Buddhist meditation. She went on to explain that the main difference she found between the two practices was that Quakers engage in “expectant waiting upon the Lord” while in Buddhist meditation, practitioners just be, with no expectations.

There is a local dharma group. I know two of the people who participate in it, and I have wanted to check it out, but never had followed up on that desire, mainly because it is on Monday evenings and we are not quite finished with counseling here at Quaker House at that time on Mondays. I do not do the counseling, but nonetheless, that is the reason I have never gone. I went this past Monday (three days ago). It was the reverse of Prof. Doyle’s experience. Coming from a practice of Quaker worship, my mind immediately said, “I recognize this,” and I settled into the silence easily.

But, there was a difference. This time, I was not waiting and working to hear the voice of God in my heart and mind. The result was that I was not using mental and emotional energy trying to “be in tune with the Spirit.” I had not realized there was a use of (a minimal amount of) energy before in maintaining my intent to be listening. Yet, I might have been more in tune. (I had no great (or small) revelations.)

My own daily personal worship time is important to me. Over the last few days, although I have still engaged in study from a sacred text before my prayer and silent worship, I have not been so expectant or trying to be “in tune.” It has only been a few days, but I am beginning to think that this might be a graceful way of seeking after God, for me. I do the work before I enter into worship: in my study, in how I try to live the rest of the day all the time, and in opening the time with prayer. But, then, these last few days, I rest (still conscious!).

I will see how it goes. It is always a journey, with many course corrections along the way.

“. . . learn from me . . . and you will find rest for your souls . . . for my burden is Light.”

(Matthew 11:29-30, capitalization of “Light” added by me)


Passivity of Some Christians on Gun Control

People are reacting to yet two more mass shooting events, back to back over two days but less than 24 hours. In those reactions, I am being exposed to lines of Christian thinking that I had no idea existed, at least not to this degree. These Christian themes are being used to justify doing absolutely nothing about gun control. Since these are religious people making religious arguments, I am going respond in kind.

Violence–Always Been There, Always Will Be There

Several times today, I have seen people post something along the lines that there has always been violence and always will be violence (so do nothing).

I do not recall Christ ever saying that because evil exists, just accept it.

I am assuming the idea that there will always be violence comes from the scriptural references to the violence in the end of days, of Armageddon. The mindset that violence is Biblically part of God’s plan for us is disturbingly like the Christians who applaud violence in the Middle East because they think it will hasten the Second Coming. Besides being horrific, there are a few problems with this way of thinking:

1. We are never told to just go with violence. Nowhere does it say, “Behold, the world will end violently, so do not try to bring peace wherever you can.” On the contrary, Christ says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” [Matthew 5:9]

2. The current existence of a set of conditions and a prophesized similar end set of conditions does not mean that the interval conditions are one unbroken continuum of the same. In fact, we have scriptural accounts to the contrary. In the Book of Mormon, there was a long interval of peace after Christ visited the Americas (for somewhere between 110 and 200 years, [4 Nephi 1-22]) before the people descended into violence and wickedness again over the span of the full 400 years to their self-destruction. Who is to say that we cannot achieve periods of time, before the end of the world, of similar peace? Even without total peace, are not relative amounts of decreased violence worth pursuing? For a God whose main attribute is nothing other than love, would this not be a pleasing goal and endeavor? The two great commandments are to love God and to love others as we love ourselves. [Matthew 22:36 – 40] I would assume that a manifestation of that love would include decreasing the likelihood of dying in a mass shooting.

3. I know of no reference for a scripture that says, “You will always have violence among you.” I do know of a scriptural reference that says, “For ye have the poor always with you.” [Matthew 26:11] If we want to draw analogies between the pretend verse about violence and the actual verse about the poor, then we should look at what we are told to do about the poor. True, in this particular verse, it appears that Christ is saying it was okay to focus on him at that particular moment rather than to sell the ointment and give the money to the poor. But, in every other instance, Christ admonishes us that we are not to ignore the poor, become numb to them, or to decide there is nothing we can do to improve their situation. On the contrary, we are told to love them and care for them — to make their situation in life better. Therefore, to complete the comparison, it would seem that we should not ignore gun violence but learn how to address it and decrease it.

Just Change Our Culture

When people say that lack of gun control is not the problem, but our culture, as solutions they mention things like pray, go to church, accept Christ as your Savior, preach to other people, read the Bible. All good things. But, the people who I have seen most often post these things only want to do that. They want to just rely on those things and do not want to change the laws regarding guns. Why?

1. They really like their guns, which is so confusing because we are not talking about the rifle they use for hunting or the handgun they have decided they need to protect their family and possessions. We are talking about automatic high-capacity-magazine assault rifles. There is no reason a civilian needs that. But, people are in love with a feeling of power, and that type of gun gives it to them, gives them a thrill, and they do not want to give up that feeling, that power and illusion of control–even if it means that weapon could get into the wrong hands at the wrong time and be used to kill as many people as possible out of pure hate. One person suggested that civilians do not have good aim so they will need to rain down bullets to hit their target (and the innocent bystanders?) because police officers are spread too thin to protect us.

They talk about changing our culture. I think that love of pure destructive devastating power without regard for unintended harm is the culture that needs to be changed. But, no, they love it too much and they do not want to let it go. Just preach the Bible instead.

2. Pray always and love everyone is relatively easy. It puts the burden on God to do the work (and the blame for not doing the work — how could God let this happen?). Praying is easy in the sense that God loves us and always wants to hear from us. Politicians, not so much. We have to make appointments to see them in person. We have to look up their phone number if we want to call them or, in reality, their staff. If you write a letter to the editor, first you have to actually write it, then edit it down to the allowable number of words and make it sound the best you can, use words that get your point across, find the email address for the newspaper editor for that section, and then it may or may not be published–publicly, under your name, so your neighbors know what you think on a divisive issue. Love everyone is more doable. Most of us are nice people. At least, we are not murderers, so there is that. We can smile. We can say nice things to each other. We can even help each other move, make dinners in times of crisis, babysit, provide a listening ear. But, changing the mindset of an entire country about gun access? That’s hard work, and it does not have an immediate definable end. Let’s just pray and love people. That is what God really wants from us anyway, right?

Good Ideas Used as Complete Solutions

1. “The most important work you and I will ever do is within the walls of our own homes,” Harold B. Lee. Specifically, I have been hearing echoes of this quote from women. I have heard that they cannot change the government; all they can do is raise their children right and teach their children to love others. Honestly, I do not know that I ever bought into this quote as exclusionary to other important work in the social sphere. In addition, if you truly believe you cannot change the government, then you have decided that we do not live in a democracy. Not caring or doing anything about that is incredibly troubling.

2. “And now, as preaching of the word . . . had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword . . . therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” [Alma 31:5] Great. Preach the word. But, put some stopgap measures in place while hearts and minds are changing. Not everyone changes in the blink of an eye like Paul or Alma. In addition, these scripture stories always sought for righteous kings and judges. The people did not rely only on the ministers of the gospel, but they hoped to be able to rely on just rulers and laws, as well.

I am also witnessing a disturbing focus on evangelism/missionary work or spiritual nurturing and development of individuals to the complete exclusion of or minimal concern for societal and environmental issues. We were created to be stewards of the earth and to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. [Genesis 1, Genesis 4 and Christian Bible, generally] We were given a job to do along with becoming holy. Indeed, I would suggest that these responsibilities are integral to becoming fully holy.

What I Think, From a Scriptural Standpoint

“And others will [the devil] pacify and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” [2 Nephi 28:21] Murderous evil people do not need to be led carefully down to hell. They are racing the devil to see who can get there first. So, who is the scripture talking about? Probably the people who need to be soothed into thinking that all is well with the world as it violently is, that this is all part of God’s plan, and that if they are praying and loving and memorizing scripture they are doing all that God asks of them. Am I saying anyone is going to hell? No. I am saying that we are creating hell on earth with this mindset, though, and I find that incredibly frustrating and bewildering.

“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things . . . Verily I say, men [and women] should be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them and they are agents unto themselves.” [D&C 58: 26-28] Are we waiting for God to say “Thus saith the Lord: You don’t need assault rifles with high-capacity magazines in your homes. I command you to outlaw them.” We were blessed with brains and critical thinking skills. Think. Is this the world you want? Do you want your child to die in a mass shooting? Do you want to be issued advice by the government that when you enter a building you should identify the exits and hiding places? Do you want to consider whether to buy “bullet-resistant backpacks” while doing back-to-school shopping? No? Then, brainstorm, think of solutions, and start working to implement them.

What I Think, From a Political Standpoint

I have to give credit to this article by Edward Burmila in the Washington Post for my thinking here because I did not come up with it on my own. Sadly, it is from early 2018.

Why did you vote for the candidates you did in the last election? Because they were against abortion? Because they thought marriage is only for a man and a woman? If you have decided to have deal-breaker issues, then include one that is literally life and death. Change the conversations you are having and let others, especially candidates, know that not enacting some sort of real gun control is a deal breaker. Or, alternatively, just love your neighbor until they are killed by hateful gun violence, go to their funeral, place flowers at a sidewalk memorial for them, and make a casserole for their family.

Your choice. 


Saturdays and Sundays

I used to dream of having “cottage meetings” in my living room. In my mind, they were unfettered religious discussions.

As I was applying to become the executive director of Quaker House, imagine how wonderful I thought it was that Fayetteville Friends met in the living room. There was even a short pew as part of the furniture!

I still think it is wonderful.

But, as I am settling into new routines, and this morning found myself catching up on dishes, doing laundry so that cloth napkins would be clean (today is potluck Sunday), straightening up, and sweeping floors, the words of a song from my childhood came to mind, “Saturday is a special day, it is the day we get ready for Sunday.”* The words go on to describe all the errands and cleaning that are done. As a child, I did not think cleaning was so special, despite the happy little tune. I still don’t. But, I don’t want to spend my Sunday mornings doing it — in the way that it gets done because people are coming over.

And, I have been doing it every Sunday morning since September 1.

I did all the regular running of errands and grocery shopping yesterday (Saturday), along with everyone else in the world, it seemed. I did some work, because what day of the week does an executive director of a small nonprofit not work at least some part of it? At that point, the last thing I wanted to do was the cleaning and straightening. Saturdays are the one day when other people are not actually scheduled to be in my home — usually. They are kind of special to me in that way. I felt I deserved a little downtime.

And, I don’t disagree with that assessment.

But, I also would rather go into Sunday worship not having had to first do so much housework. I think I will try to fine-tune that part of my new routines and life.

Because, while you still can’t convince me that doing chores in order to prepare for a future day is special, my quiet Sunday mornings are special. I miss them.


*Children’s Songbook, No. 196, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989. Words and lyrics by Rita S. Robinson, arr. by Chester W. Hill.