09 July 2020

The most important question

"What would it mean for me to put God at the center of my life?"

It was 1977. In a meeting room at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat and conference center in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, Jennifer Haines stood before us and suggested we ask ourselves this question. She stood before a board, marker in hand, ready to record our responses.

Jennifer's superb book on prison and prayer.
I knew Jennifer Haines. A year earlier, I had attended the Friends World Committee for Consultation triennial sessions in Hamilton, Ontario, and Jennifer had been there to speak about her own FWCC work, the Right Sharing of World Resources program. Hearing her at that occasion, and then again in 1977 at Pendle Hill, I didn't for one moment suspect that, less than a decade later, I would be doing the same work for Right Sharing that she was doing then.

By the end of that session at Pendle Hill, Jennifer had filled the board with ideas and commitments from the participants. I don't now remember whether I contributed anything specific, but ever since then, her question has repeatedly come back to search me.

In the long term, answering that question has led me to invest my life in the Quaker movement. (This is no guarantee that my day-to-day participation has been flawless!) Our little corner of the Christian world has sometimes seemed to me to be too shy, at other times too full of itself, but for me personally Friends faith and practice have been a way of life based, directly and simply, on trust in God. We trust God to lead us in our personal lives and in our lives as communities, and we are skeptical about falling back on leaders and ceremonies that could mask our lack of trust.

I had to call on that trust many times in 1977. I left Canada with my bachelor's degree in Russian, returning to the USA with absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my future, but with the hope that it would involve Quaker service. The visit to Pendle Hill took place during those months of uncertainty, and it could not have been better timed. I decided that putting God at the center meant meeting uncertainty with trust.

This aspect of putting God at the center of my life -- meeting uncertainty with trust -- has taken on new importance for me at this moment of history. I can't remember another time when national and international stresses have converged so intensely on us. I won't list the interrelated political, economic, spiritual, ecological, racial, and public health crises that have reached a crescendo; you can count them off just as well as I can.

My friends react in a variety of ways, including several who have decided to stop following the news; others have sworn off social media; a number of them are affected by anxiety and depression. The list of those who have lost jobs, even after decades of service to their employers, is growing. In the background, waves of malevolence, fake outrage, cynicism, false witness -- some of it from sources purported to be Christian -- sweep over our public life.

I do not dare prescribe Jennifer's question, or any particular answer to her question, as unsolicited advice for anyone else. But I need that question for myself, as I try to be a faithful friend and Friend in this time of confusion. I need to confirm my commitment to trust in God. When anxieties for myself and others threaten to sweep me off my center, that's exactly when I need to ask myself Jennifer's question again.

Synopsis, trailer, screening information, and donation channels at sweethomemonteverde.com.
Yesterday about fifteen of us at Camas Friends Church met by videoconference to discuss the film Sweet Home Monteverde, which I reviewed recently on this blog. We had two special guests, Robin Truesdale, the film's director and editor, and Bill Adler, the film's producer and reporter. The film originated during Bill's period of living in Monteverde, Costa Rica, as he became concerned to record some of the memories of the few remaining original settlers.

Our discussion yesterday confirmed the power of the film to illustrate the causes and consequences of living by Friends values. It was those original settlers' way of answering Jennifer Haines' most important question.

Speaking of Camas Friends, I highly recommend this parable about becoming free, "one that I'm pretty sure you've never heard...."

When I worked for Right Sharing of World Resources, it was a program of Friends World Committee for Consultation, where I also served as Midwest field staff from 1983 to 1993. Now it is an independent Quaker organization. This year, Camas Friends Church decided to sponsor a project.

The Internet Monk recommends this conversation between Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci concerning the novel coronavirus and the state of efforts to detect, treat, and prevent COVID-19, including special attention to populations who are suffering disproportionately.

Anastasia Edel: Putin's constitutional tsarism and the role of Russian constitutions.

Big Daddy Wilson. I've presented this video before, but it seemed especially pertinent again this week.

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