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On Cooperation

We are bags full of muscle and bone. And although we can see the leather of the bags, we can only guess at the contents, the memories and desires that propel any life, including our own.

On Cooperation (September 2022)

On Loss

Many Friends in the West today trace our religious ancestry back to the arrival of Joel and Hannah Bean in California in 1882. The monthly meeting that the Beans enlivened in San Jose eventually became the root stock of three new yearly meetings – Pacific, North Pacific, and Intermountain (to oversimplify). Thirty years earlier, Joel and Hannah had traveled with the pioneer “Bean wagon train” that relocated dozens of Beans from New England to the brand new “free state” of Iowa. The Beans were central in the formation of Iowa Yearly Meeting, and Joel and Hannah clerked its two constituent meetings (men’s and women’s) for about ten years.

On Loss (May 2023)

On Power

Dear Friends: We marvel at incarnation, at the way that Life walks the earth in carne, in these bags of flesh we call bodies. By some mysterious grace we are given the power to live and to think and to act. Then gravity holds us down. Biochemistry drives us. History and community constrain us. Information limits our imagination. A tangle of powers confronts us with a chaos of demands. It’s enough to drive you to drink. It’s enough to drive whole civilizations mad.

On Power (March 2013)

On Balance

In the “capstone talk” of the American Friends Service Committee’s Centennial Summit last month, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias framed his remarks with reference to an episode described by Henry Cadbury in his Nobel Lecture of 1947. In that lecture, Cadbury recounts, “In 1665, some English Quaker carpenters were building wooden ships on the Thames. They thought they were pacifists and had renounced war, and when there was danger of invasion by a Dutch fleet, these carpenters were required to carry arms. Naturally, they refused to do so, but it never occurred to them that what they were building were warships. It comes slowly, this discovery.”

On Balance (May 2017)

On Flesh

Dear Friends: Back to basics.

On Flesh (November 2016)

On Love

Dear Friends: Love, the bumper sticker, is simple and sweet. Love that moves through the real world can knock people down. Affection, friendship, romance, and unconditional loving-kindness – each seeks its place in our lives, and these forces can sometimes rush in and overwhelm us. Opening our hearts to love – both to its uncertainty and to its certainty – can be frightening. And we live in a finite world, in finite time, with finite choices to make.

On Love (September 2013)

On Science

The allegory of the cave, attributed to Socrates by Plato in The Republic (375 BCE), depicts human knowledge as emerging from a struggle between our senses and our reason. In this story, prisoners are chained inside a cave so that they are only able to see one wall. A fire behind them projects shadows onto the wall, and all the prisoners’ knowledge derives from those shadows, known through their senses.

On Science (November 2022)

On Mediation

Love and truth spring forth in all times and all places – even in the hearts of chaos and corruption. We strive to follow the Good Way, but only in vain can we define it. Dust devils of DNA whirl down the generations, rampaging, making things new, making things fit, breaking eggs to make omelettes. To our surprise, we arrive in this life. Then we do our best to do the right thing, never really knowing all the good and all the damage we are causing.

On Mediation (January 2020)

On Countries

In the earliest years of our faith, buoyed up by currents of the Enlightenment, Friends professed Truth as they drew it from individual revelations. Even though they shared a common Christian background and perspective, early Friends’ revelations multiplied wildly, leading to strife and confusion among them. By 1666, many prominent Friends had been executed or imprisoned, and the faith seemed destined to fizzle. What saved Friends’ faith was Friends’ invention of practices of corporate discernment, which allowed them to create some order among themselves, so they could truly function as corporate bodies (articulated), rather than merely as disperseable collectives of individuals (amorphous).

On Countries (January 2016)