Follow me in Kenya at the 6th World Conference of Friends!

I leave tomorrow for Nairobi, Kenya and the 6th World Conference of Friends! I'll be at Kabarak University in Nakuru, Kenya from the 17th to the 25th. I'm giving a workshop presenting what I've been learning about the eschatological views of early Friends and ways to recover a transforming vision of a new world for today --drawing from Douglas Gwyn, Walter Wink, and a dab of my research on Howgill. I'll also be helping with the transcription and web-publishing of conference events, and searching out delegates from obscure Yearly Meetings to ask them for their demographic statistics -- no small task among 1000 attendees!

You can follow the conference events on the FWCC Salt & Light website, here:

After the conference, I'll be travelling with Eden Grace (Beacon Hill MM and Field Staff in the African office of FUM) to visit Friends in the Turkana region of northwestern Kenya (west of Lake Turkana, once called Lake Rudolph). Eden has visited there many times and says that she loves their joyful spirit! http://www.fum.org/worldmissions/turkana.html
On a more serious note, we will also be visiting the Kakuma Refugee Camp operated by the UN; apparently there's a Friends church within the camp. http://kakuma.wordpress.com/about-kakuma-refugee-camp/

I have been very nervous about this trip for months, but a few days ago I began to look forward to flying. And I think that Spirit has been granting me providential bits of synergy in this past week -- it turns out I'll be on the same flights with Betsy Cazden (Quaker historian and Providence MM!) all the way from Rhode Island to Nairobi, so we'll get to geek out together about Quaker history -- and she's heavily involved in FWCC, as well! Then, Jane Ramu (Nairobi MM, attending Beacon Hill MM while a grad student at Boston College) was kind enough to introduce me to her family in Nairobi so I'll have some "tour guides" while I'm there for two days before the conference. Jane is studying special education methods for deaf-blind children and helps run these schools in Kenya: http://www.senseinternational.org.uk/pages/sense-international-east-africa.html (Jane's in the video!)

My studies at Andover-Newton Theological School are only part of a longer-term leading to help Friends of all kinds understand each other, and this World Gathering is truly a great opportunity for that. I'm thankful that even when my inexperience at international travel is making things look dark, the Light is helping way open for me to walk forward faithfully to its leadings.


Simplicity and Mystery

Is the Quaker way simple? When you've got three committees in one week, it can get to feeling pretty complicated. And when you try to see the goodness in all the branches of Friends, the chorus of voices can be cacophonous and confusing. Where's the simplicity?

When I first came to Friends, I was impressed with their simplicity, their openness, and the modesty of their claims. I was a seeker in college; I checked out the Unitarians, the Presbyterians, the Buddhists, some evangelical Christians, some Wiccans, and Rudolph Steiner's Anthroposophy by way of the local Waldorf school. Some of these were open but vague; some of them promised paths to enlightenment, but required leaps of faith or commitments to initiation. I wanted substance -- but I was wary. The Quakers clearly had something to teach, deep resources in tradition; and yet they didn't hide anything, didn't reserve anything, didn't demand anything. They simply invited you to settle down and listen in the silence, and see what you found.

That was the way for me. And you know what? It turns out there's more to it than the silence; more to it even than the Light. Now I see that the religions that do require initiation have good reason, because there are depths that aren't apparent at first. But as my experiences lead me in a spiral of deepening understanding and growing trust, meeting for worship stays pretty simple.

Sit down, stand still, listen in the Light, stay close to the root. The simplicity is at the root. As that Seed in us grows and flowers, we may find it's a lush plant with many branches and much fruit. Abundance to harvest!

We had a CSA share from the Meeting School this fall, and preserving their abundant harvest took a lot of learning and effort. But there was no doubt in our minds that it was simpler living than buying from the supermarket. A simple meal of sourdough bread, steamed greens, baked squash, and eggs, all from scratch, and all from a place we love; it was simple; it was satisfying; it was home.


Miami Meeting - Waynesville, Ohio

Two old meetinghouses --elegant, plain, lifting your heart as you approach the top of the hill. One Hicksite, one Orthodox... built side by side. Still friendly neighbors? The shared graveyard, next to the Orthodox meeting; one school, across the graveyard from the Orthodox meeting; a Friends boarding home, for elderly Friends and young singles (women school-teachers), next door to the Hicksite meeting. Below the hill, a hundred yards away, the stores, shops, and traffic of the business district of Waynesville, Ohio. In New England, we have our village greens, with church, school, library, and town hall arrayed around the sides of the common. Here I suppose the library and town hall were in the business district. Yet the vision of community seemed the same -- even, stronger.

Imagine a time when most residents of Waynesville were Friends. They must have been friends, too. I caught a glimpse of the community that we yearn for in a fragmented postmodern age. Did they visit each other's church yard sales? Did they have afternoon committee meetings at one meetinghouse or the other, then walk across the yard to the school to pick up their children? At the Friends Boarding Home, our guide said that businessmen came to lunch at the boarding home daily, walking the two blocks from their offices.

I live in intentional communities -- co-ops, boarding schools, maybe co-housing someday. I think our broken American society needs more local community. But visiting this small Ohio town, I saw how from the 1810's to the 1910's they could have had that real community support and fellowship that I love, using simply the monthly meeting structure. As a historian, I know that local historians must know the real stories behind Waynesville. Evidence is surely preserved in journals, newspapers, diaries, meeting minutes. I'm sure it wasn't all rosy. But after all, the place is on the National Register for being well-preserved and representative; and their hilltop is spacious and green; and I could see the rhythms of a whole community of shared lives of caring, lived out there between White Brick and Red Brick meetinghouses. I hope it's really true.