Western Friend logo

Beloved Community (abridged)

Marlene Coach-Eisenstein, Keith Runyan, Peni Hall
On Cooperation (September 2022)
Annual Sessions
Beloved Community: Excerpts from the keynote panel presentation to Pacific Yearly Meeting; June 23, 2022; Mount Madonna, Watsonville, California


Marlene Coach-Eisenstein

Good morning, Friends. I’m Marlene Coach-Eisenstein. I was born in Michigan and lived there until 1986. I went on active duty and was sent to Hawaii in 1989. I got off of active duty and remained in Hawaii for ten years. During those ten years, a friend introduced me to the Honolulu Friends Meeting. I became a regular attender until I moved to California.

Spirit led me to do all the things that I’ve done. I don’t really feel like I made choices on my own. I feel like the doors were opened, and Spirit led me through them.

When I first decided to attend a Quaker meeting, I didn’t even know what Quakers were. I went, and everybody was friendly, warm, and receptive. But no one asked me if I was new to Quaker meetings. No one took me under their wing and said, “Marlene, let me explain Quakerism to you.” Once I started going to meetings on a regular basis, I started to learn on my own.

I have received some harmful comments from Friends in my meeting and in other Quaker spaces. At the first annual session that I went to in person, I felt like I was a person that was there, but not there. No one spoke to me.

At this point, I need to talk about beloved community. My guess is that we may not all be thinking the same things about what a beloved community is.  Some of us are very much in our heads. Some of us are more in our hearts and have more compassion than others.

I love being a Quaker. I love being part of this community. But I also feel like this community needs some changes. We need to be more inclusive. If you open up your hearts with compassion and love, I truly, truly believe that we can come together as a beloved community and change to be more inclusive. If we don’t, we’re going to find that our beloved community will dwindle down, because it will not meet the needs of everybody.

Marlene Coach-Eisenstein had a carreer in the fields of social work and human services. She is a member of Honolulu Friends Meeting.


Keith Runyan

It was a gorgeous spring day. I was sitting outside. I had started meditating a few months earlier. I drifted off, and when I came to, a great peace washed through me. The world was washed with color and light. My heart sang to it.

I think there’s a reflection between my story and the story of humanity on our planet thus far. The excesses of our military, our popular culture, our technologies, and our markets, are destined to the same fate as all things that move too quickly.

In 2017, I was finally able to receive the gift of being humbled. I was doing an unpaid internship, which was not what I had expected. I was really hoping that I would be leading some sort of grand thing, and instead, I was just working this job. And I lost that job because, at that time, I was so disoriented, I couldn’t be a good employee, and so I got fired from an unpaid position.

My ego, which at this time was still trying to hold onto the last vestiges that I was somehow “different,” finally accepted that I was no better or worse than anyone else.

So, there was a way in which that turn within me also made me feel more real with the role that we are playing on the planet. I think that in this time of extinction, we’re called towards what we can give.

And, I feel called to speak just a little bit about the Religious Society of Friends. A lot of Friends who I know quite well personally feel like giving up, feel like our Religious Society of Friends is not going in the right direction, that it’s too petty, that it’s not worth it.

And I want to turn us back to the very flawed James Nayler. We need to turn towards that spirit that does not seek to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things. It’s that sort of spirit that might help us navigate these times.

Keith Runyan is working to build a satyagraha community with a focus on ecological justice. He attends Santa Cruz Friends Meeting.


Peni Hall

Good morning, Friends. I am Peni Hall. I am a woman with a disability.

Those of you who’ve seen me at yearly meeting have seen me zooming around in an electric wheelchair. I also have invisible disabilities. I have a number of chronic illnesses, and I spend a great deal of my life in this bed, as you see. That’s less known, and that’s not visible.

We all have bodies. Our worldview is shaped by what has happened and what happens to our bodies. You can be born with disabilities or you can acquire them. I was completely non-disabled, planning to make a career of teaching technical theater. I wasn’t planning on becoming disabled. Most people don’t write that into their life script ahead of time.

But at the bottom of disability, of oppression, the root of it is fear – the fear of disability. People think disability is the worst thing that could happen, because within the medical model of disability, who gets disabled has to do with privilege and race and all those things. People think, “I’d rather die.”

They make movies about people who are heroic in that they choose to die rather than live the life of someone with a disability. Our lives are not seen as meaningful, nor that we contribute much.

Disability is very isolating. And isolation is what keeps us powerless. Besides getting in the door, we need a seat at the table. People have good hearts; they think they’re doing the right thing. But don’t assume; ask us. Talk with us; listen to our needs. This is what accessibility looks like.

I appreciate our self-examination around racism and environmental activism. What would it be like if we explored ableism in the same way? There’s a great deal of creativity in this group. Amazing things are possible if we are determined to do it.

I want us to look at each other and ask, “What does that person need, to feel connected, to be connected?

So, I guess, welcome to us all. Welcome the gifts that we bring and the learning opportunities we provide. We can all put it together and make the beloved community still.

Peni Hall is an artist, a disability rights activist, and active in her tenants’ union. She attends Strawberry Creek Friends Meeting.


This article is an assemblage of excerpts from a complete transcript of this keynote panel, which is published online at: https://westernfriend.org/media/beloved-community-unabridged


inclusivity Racial Justice Disability rights

Return to "On Cooperation" issue