Remarks at an interfaith service

"Greetings and Prayer from the Quakers"
Remarks prepared for the 65th Anniversary Service
of the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, NH
The Cathedral of the Pines, located in the town where I live and work, is a sort of outdoor chapel, founded as a memorial to a young man killed in World War II, and as a place for all faiths to gather to remember the service of veterans and to promote peace. That's a complex mission, and over the years it has sometimes honored war more than promoted peace. So this service was meant to emphasize the interfaith and peace elements. There were speakers from as many religious traditions as they could recruit, including Christian (a UCC minister), Jewish, Muslim (Sufi), Buddhist (Nipponzan Myohoji), Wiccan, Dagara (West African), Native American (Abenaki), ...and a Hindu song... each for five minutes. I was placed last in the line, so I tried to emphasize an inclusive, reconciling approach toward all. It was a moving service, impressive to see all those prayers expressing the same hope in their own ways. I will say, there was a lot to listen to, and I got many thanks afterwards for the moment of silence!

Greetings and Congratulations to the Cathedral of the Pines on your 65th anniversary -- from the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers, in New England! I'm Frederick Martin, a member of the local Monadnock Quaker Meeting in Jaffrey and a history teacher at the Meeting School in Rindge.

Quakers are well known for our pacifism, and so we were very pleased to hear of the Cathedral's renewed emphasis on promoting peace. We're helping sponsor the upcoming talk here next week on Gandhi's life and message -- especially his movement for satyagraha, or nonviolent soul-force.

But it's a little-known historical fact about Quakerism that many of the first Quakers fought in the English Civil War, in the 1650's, alongside the Puritans. They were soldiers and officers. And they were fighting for a vision of a better world. We Quakers came together as a faith when we discovered, as they wrote in 1660, that the Spirit of God, the Seed of good in our hearts, "which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world." They began to follow Christ's call, to love our enemies.

Yet we too still work and struggle for a vision of a better world. And as we stand here today, surrounded with these monuments honoring the sacrifices of these war dead, who also were fighting for a vision of a better world, I pray that we will honor and compassionately remember all those who have worked and fought for that better world, in their own way -- since all have that Spirit, that seed of goodness within them. All of us -- from all faiths, and all nations, all walks of life, all have that spirit of goodness.

Quakers are also known for worshiping in silence; so I invite you to join me in a moment of silent reflection and prayer, with this query: When the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, was offered a commission in the army, he records in his Journal that "I told them that I lived in the virtue of that Life and Power, which takes away the occasion of all wars." ..... What does that mean for you? For us? In the silence, I invite you to hold in prayer how we all might come to live in the virtue of that Life that takes away the occasion of all wars.

---held silence for about two minutes --

Thank you.


Summer Reading

Free Schools by Jonathan Kozol (1972) A period piece by an important critic of the American education system; from his position as a well-educated white person working in solidarity with African-Americans and Hispanics in low-income areas, he offered some fascinating critiques of the middle-class phenomenon of "free schools" (which seems to have been more extensive in the 1970's than contemporary education debates would like to remember...). Working as I do in a small independent school out in the countryside, I found some good perspective in the book on what we need to offer our students to keep them politically conscious.

Are We Rome? The fall of an empire and the fate of America by Cullen Murphy (2007) It's fun to read about ancient times, and fun to have some of my views validated about the imperial nature, and the imperial overreach, of the United States. He points out ways we should down-size; he also thinks our political system is more flexible than Rome's. But Rome lasted for longer than we have so far... It's sad that three years later, we're still in Afghanistan.

The Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward (Penguin Classics) Among the seekers I hang out with, folks often excitedly point to quirky sayings collected from mystics and monastics of various faith traditions, such as Zen Buddhists, Rumi, Taoist masters (I love Lao Tzu myself). Well, Christianity can play that game too, I discover. They're full of hyperbole, paradox, sincerity, indirection, and wisdom. (Thanks to Han for leaving this one lying around in Bliss House, where I found it, when he left for summer vacation, and thanks to Landis for lending it to Han in the first place. Ah, community.)

Stay tuned for updates on the books I finish next...