Becoming an Intern Member at Dayspring Church

September 9th, 2018

This is a message given at Dayspring Church, Germantown, Maryland, on September 9, 2018, which you can also listen to. The photo below was taken during the service. I am in the center, surrounded by members of the Retreat Mission Group.

Bill Samuel with Retreat Mission Group at Dayspring Church

Good morning! Today I make the commitment to be an Intern Member at Dayspring. I thought it would be good to share with the community some of the things which underlie this decision.

My apologies to those hoping for an exploration into today’s lectionary readings. You aren’t going to get much of that!

In the spring of 2014, my wife and I moved to Rockville. Initially, I continued to attend the church where I had been a member for 9 years, despite it being twice as far now.

I shared the values of that church, but it was a couple of hundred people which was big to be a real community. There were folks I saw each Sunday whose faces I recognized, but I didn’t know their names let alone anything about them.

That church tried to be participatory, but at its size it was still mostly a relatively small group of leaders talking to a much larger audience. I became increasingly uncomfortable with this de facto division in the congregation.

Then I attended the Fall Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, with which I had been involved for a couple of years. That particular Gathering had a strong charismatic flavor which I loved. In me, this resulted in a feeling that it was time for me to seek a new spiritual home.

Following on the charismatic flavor of that Gathering and all I felt I had learned in my previous time when I had attended a charismatic church for a while, I decided to see if I could find a nearby charismatic or Pentecostal church which seemed to have a theological bent I could live with.

So I began Googling for such churches in the Rockville-Gaithersburg area. None of the charismatic or Pentecostal churches in the area seemed like a place where I was likely to be comfortable.

While I was googling, ads for Journey’s Crossing kept popping up. Journey’s Crossing was then meeting at Seneca Valley High School here in Germantown. I had not looked at Germantown because I was still somewhat ignorant of the geography in the area, and had assumed it was too far. But when I put it in Google maps, it wasn’t nearly as far as I thought.

I didn’t think Journey’s Crossing was likely to be where I would land, but it seemed interesting and I did attend a couple of times. This confirmed that Germantown was within reach.

Then I recalled Dayspring, where I had been at the retreat center a few times. I was aware there was a church at Dayspring.

The Church of the Saviour had long intrigued me, but my experience with it was limited. I had been at the Potter’s House a few times in the 1970’s, visited 2025 one Sunday, been to retreats at Dayspring and Wellspring, and had read Elizabeth O’Connor’s Journey Inward, Journey Outward with a church group.

In November 2014, I began attending Dayspring Church, and have attended regularly ever since. Why have I been so drawn to Dayspring?

When I was thinking about this, a scripture which popped into my mind was Galatians 5:22-23:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (NRSV)

I can’t recall a faith community of which I have been a part where I have seen this fruit so clearly and widely exhibited as at Dayspring. This reflects the CofS tradition which expects each member to be serious about their faith, and provides guidance in ways to grow in it.

So here was a faith community in which I could be challenged to grow in my walk with Christ, being encouraged by what I see in the faith community.

I will speak about just a couple of these attributes of the Spirit.

It seems evident to me that the people of Dayspring genuinely love each other and those that visit. It is also evident that this love extends much more broadly, for example to the refugees being helped by IFND. I see here the living out of the Greatest Commandment and the one that is like unto it.

Dayspring folks exhibit a joy that is not dependent upon circumstances. It is a joy that is not just at the surface level, and one that exists despite awareness of deep evil and pain in the world.

True joy recognizes that despite all these problems, we are truly blessed and there is much to be thankful for and much reason for hope.

In our scripture for today, in Psalm 146, it says, Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

This attitude should not take away our concerns for the world, but rather motivate them. William Penn said, “True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.”

So how does this work? In the CofS tradition, there is an emphasis on a balance and interchange between the inward and the outward life. This is not a unique insight of the CofS, but it is a particularly strong emphasis here.

I have seen that sometimes in faith communities there arises a division between the activists and the “spiritual” folks. This can be very harmful to the unity of the faith community. And if it festers, those on either side of the division become more one-dimensional, less whole.

When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we see someone who clearly transcended this division. Rather, he regularly retreated to a quiet place to take time to pray. This enabled Him to gather the strength needed for his outward ministry of reaching out to others with healing, teaching, etc. He saw these as intrinsically connected.

In many faith communities, there are groups – committees, boards, teams, etc. – which oversee the outward work of the ministries of the church. And there may also be other groups which focus on the inward journey of church members, where the spiritual disciplines may be encouraged.

In the early years of the CofS, Gordon [Editor's Note: Gordon Cosby, founder of The Church of the Saviour] recognized a need to get away from this traditional way of organization. Out of this recognition grew the mission group orientation which has become so central to the CofS tradition. Mission groups are deliberately structured to include both the inward journey and the outward journey.

I hope members never forget how big a treasure the mission group model of the CofS is. It remains rare. I believe it is one of the keys to the small CofS faith communities having done so much good in the world. Church life has been carefully structured to facilitate proper grounding for our ministries.

I often see at Dayspring both a willingness to live out and articulate the spiritual insights folks have learned, and a recognition that they need to continue to grow which includes an eagerness to truly listen to the insights of others. Mature Christians do not think they have it all together, but recognize both the gifts they have received and their need to continue to grow in Christ.

Jesus’ strongest opponents were the legalist religious leaders of his day. Yet today many of those who claim to be the strongest followers of Jesus have a legalist, doctrinaire approach. I appreciate that Dayspring doesn’t insist on a rigid theological perspective or overly restrictive standard of behavior.

It seems to me one of the strengths of the CofS way is that it emphasizes following Jesus Christ while welcoming the exploration and questioning of what exactly that means in our lives. There is a spirit of listening even to understandings that may not initially appeal to us with openness and a willingness to learn.

Another strength is in asserting that all members are ministers of the gospel, rejecting the unbiblical idea of a laity in the faith community. I especially appreciate Dayspring’s decision not to have a single pastor to play the key role in worship, but to spread leadership among the gathered community. I appreciate hearing the insights and experiencing the gifts of multiple people in our community in weekly worship as well as in other aspects of community life.

And remember that I set out on the search for a new faith home that ended at Dayspring by looking for a community that was charismatic? Dayspring isn’t normally described as a charismatic church, but to me what I seek as charismatic is an openness to how the spirit may move in the moment. I have seen some of that in worship at Dayspring, and I really appreciate the freedom for people to respond in worship beyond what is in the printed bulletin.

Now let me move from the Church in general, and to my specific call to the Retreat Mission Group.

I have an activist temperament. Back in my 20’s, I tried to be involved in every good thing. The result was that I collapsed in exhaustion.

That experience taught me that I needed to stop frantically trying to do all the “right” things and instead seek to discern God’s call for my own life and trust God to call others to do the needed things to which I was not called.

This led me to look more to the inward journey, and to become involved in things like organizing spiritual retreats and going through the Spiritual Nurture Program of the School of the Spirit. I sometimes called myself a spiritual renewal activist.

There is much which needs doing in the world to bring about the reconciliation of all creation with Christ. I get discouraged when I see a lot of activism that is full of fury and even hatred. This won’t get us where we need to go.

I believe there is a deep need in these times in our society for those who want to heal this world to “be still and know that I am God” so they can be centered for the work needed and discern their role given their own God-given gifts. This highlights the importance of the work of the Silent Retreat Center.

I began talking with Catherine in 2015 about the possibility of joining the Mission Group. I came to realize I needed to be released from some of the things to which I was then committed in order to free myself for this call.

In 2017, much of that release came to fruition. I started sitting with the Retreat Mission Group in February 2018.

Since I started meeting with the Mission Group, I have felt at home there. I feel blessed to meet weekly with these special folks and to play some role in this important ministry.

I am sorry that this message has been a little choppy, but I hope it has given you a feel for my call to Dayspring Church and the Retreat Mission Group.

If there are some things you would like to clarify, I think there is time for a couple of brief questions.

Note: The questions and answers can be heard in the audio version.

Intern Member’s Commitment, Church of the Saviour

I commit myself to the covenant of my mission group. By this I declare my willingness to be held accountable for the disciplines that the members have made explicit. I recognize that in making this pledge I am committing myself to involvement with people who are not like me - whose opinions and ways may be in opposition to my own. I thus declare my willingness to be stretched in uncomfortable ways, and to live in the tension and pain of unresolved relationships until differences shall be transcended and hurt transmuted.

I acknowledge that the cornerstone of this community is Jesus Christ, Servant and Liberator - the One who said, “Love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). In committing myself to the covenant of the mission I confess my willingness to take upon myself the lifestyle of servant. I will endeavor to grow in my availability to each person in the group and I will join in the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed.

I will seek not only to receive, but to give, not only to be loved, but to love. I will give myself to discovering what it means to be a free person in community and what it means to be a community of free persons.

I recognize that though I am bound by the covenant of my mission group, I am ever free to break with it - never by default, but by open decision arrived at through meditation and in conversation with members of my group.

I celebrate this day because I believe that in binding myself in this covenant, I will be given new possibilities for a life of growth, freedom, and devotion.

[From Handbook for Churches and Mission Groups: Disciplines and structures of a church and a mission group developed during fifty years at The Church of the Saviour, by Dorothy Devers and N. Gordon Cosby.]

-Bill Samuel, September 9, 2018

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Peace and Justice Candle - Nuclear Weapons

July 8th, 2018

At Dayspring Church, we have a peace and justice candle brought to us from South Africa. Each week, someone shares a reflection around a peace and justice theme and lights the candle. The barbed wire around the candle represents some barrier people have created between themselves and the light of Christ, which is represented by the candle. We believe the light of Christ ultimately prevails, and we are called to be witnesses to that light.

Peace and Justice Candle at Dayspring Church

Today (July 8, 2018), I shared about nuclear weapons. You can listen to the audio of the reflection. The text is below.

When I thought about what I might share during this time today, I decided to look at what happened on this date in history. That gave me a couple of ideas. The one that I chose was that in 1957, on this date, the First Pugwash Conference on nuclear disarmament was held. Pugwash is a peace effort initiated by scientists. 2 years prior to that conference, Bertrand Russell initiated a manifesto signed by 11 scientists and intellectuals warning of the dangers of nuclear war. One of the signers was Albert Einstein, who died only a few days after signing.

The issuance of this manifesto received a lot of attention, more than Russell had anticipated. The industrialist and philanthropist Cyrus Eaton responded by offering to sponsor a conference at his birthplace - Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Since 1957, each year there has been a Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs. The organizers state the official purpose this way: “Pugwash seeks a world free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

As we all know, the USA is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons in war. We don’t have an exact death count from the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but Wikipedia states that at least 129,000 human beings were killed, mostly civilians. In terms of discrete events happening in a single moment, these two attacks surely rank #1 and #2 on the list of acts of terrorism and war with the greatest number of fatalities.

Hiroshima after atom bombing

The nuclear arms race has continued since that time. 4 other events I found in the July 8 listing were nuclear tests. The Federation of American Scientists finds that about 9300 nuclear weapons are currently in military stockpiles. About 90% of these are held by the USA and Russia. The USA is currently engaged in a process of modernizing our nuclear weapons arsenal costing we taxpayers about $1.2 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In response, Russia is also modernizing its nuclear arsenal.

There have been many efforts to deal with this problem. A year ago yesterday, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved by 122 nations. These 122 included South Africa and Kazakhstan, the 2 nations formerly possessing nuclear weapons which gave them up voluntarily. Unfortunately, the current nuclear weapons states were not receptive to this effort. North Korea was the only nuclear weapons state which voted in the General Assembly for holding the conference which negotiated the treaty, and no nuclear weapons state participated in the negotiations and none have signed the treaty.

Today the barbed wire represents the danger posed to humanity and all of creation by nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Inside the barbed wire, the candle flame represents the light of Christ calling on us to recognize our common humanity and to live in peace with one another.

[light the candle]

Let us pray. Lord, forgive us for our complicity in programs developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction. Guide us in living lives demonstrating respect for the dignity of each human life. We pray that our national leaders, and those of other nuclear weapons states, will be moved to work for a world free of weapons of mass destruction. In the name of the Prince of Peace, we pray. Amen.

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Message, Dayspring Church, Pentecost, May 20, 2018

May 20th, 2018

Audio of message, including the sharing of others after I spoke.

Bill Samuel speaking at Dayspring Church, May 20, 2018

Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember what happened after the Resurrection on the day of Pentecost. As we read in Acts, the Holy Spirit came on them with power and they were enabled to speak other languages so that everyone in the diverse crowd heard them speaking about God’s deeds of power in their own language. None of them had ever witnessed something like that before.

In the Hebrew scriptures, there were a very few people, such as the prophets, who heard directly from God, and everyone else heard it second hand from those select people. The scriptures record that the prophet Joel asserted it would not always be that way, but there would be a time when God’s Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh. All flesh – that’s each and every one of us. Peter explained to the crowd gathered at Pentecost that this was being fulfilled on that day.

Since the day of Pentecost, we don’t need intermediaries to hear the word of God. Through the Holy Spirit, each of us receives the Word directly if only we will listen. That may manifest itself in many ways. The Spirit may speak to an individual and it may speak to a group.

From my life, I will give a couple of examples of the Holy Spirit at work.

A little background on the first example. I had a friend named Bruce Baechler. I got to know him through a Vigil for Peace against the Vietnam War in front of the White House which went on 24/7 for almost 3 years. That itself is an example of the Holy Spirit at work since a regional body of Quakers called New York Yearly Meeting had directed it continue as long as the Spirit leads, not imagining this would be more than a week or so. Bruce was a high school student who dropped out of school to participate in the vigil.

When Bruce turned 18, he refused to register for the draft and sent in a letter explaining why. This was after inductions under the draft had stopped, but the requirement to register continued (and still continues to this day). Bruce was arrested and prosecuted for refusing to register and spent 2 years in Morgantown Federal Prison. I visited him regularly.

One Wednesday evening while Bruce was in prison, I got a call from Marge Baechler, Bruce’s mother. She told me that on the coming Sunday Bill Moyer’s Journal was coming to tape a special meeting for worship at Hartford Friends Meeting as part of a future program on Bruce’s case. She said I was welcome to come.

Hartford was a long drive away, and I didn’t know what I would have to contribute at this event. I also had a lot on my plate that I had hoped to do in these days. So it didn’t seem to make much sense to go, but I was feeling a nudge that I should.

I decided to take this leading to midweek meeting for worship on Thursday evening. During that time, the leading became stronger. I still didn’t understand why I should go, but I have learned that often with leadings one does not understand in advance. One needs to take it on faith, and the reason may emerge after one has been faithful – or sometimes I never understand but feel that I have been faithful.

In the Quaker tradition, one normally does not go alone when traveling under a leading. One has a traveling companion who serves as your elder. The Spirit put on my heart who my traveling companion should be, another person who had been a part of the Vigil named Mark. The last I knew Mark didn’t have a fixed place to stay, and this was long before the era of email and cell phones, so contacting him was an issue.

I knew that Mark frequented a café which catered to the alternative crowd and which had a big bulletin board on which one could post messages. So I posted a message there asking him to call me. On Friday morning, Mark called, and I told him about my leading and the role he could play. He readily agreed to be my traveling companion and elder, and we arranged for me to pick him up on Saturday morning for the trip.

Mark and I drove to Hartford on Saturday, where we had arranged with the Baechlers to meet with them and some others at the Meetinghouse. The plan had been for us to stay overnight at the Baechlers. However, although we had not discussed this beforehand, both Mark and I at that time felt called to spend the night in the Meetinghouse as part of spiritual preparation for the next day. Those who had met us were surprised at this but agreed to it and figured out how to set things up for our stay.

Mark and I stayed up talking. I was very anxious, and it proved very helpful to have him as a companion to calm me down. I remained anxious in the morning, even thinking of not going to the special meeting out of concern it would be a spectacle rather than a true meeting for worship.

First the regular meeting for worship was held. Then, after a brief period in which the crew set up their equipment, the special meeting was held. It felt like a continuation of the worship more than something totally separate. The folks who rose to speak in the meeting about Bruce had mostly seen very little of Bruce for a number of years. Their remarks tended to run along the lines of: “Bruce was such a nice young man. It’s too bad he wound up in prison.” It sounded pretty sad.

I was the only person in the room who really knew how things were with Bruce. Visiting him regularly, I didn’t see so sad a situation. I knew that Bruce was not at all defeated. Rather I saw that the state could not defeat conscience through imprisonment. The real story was that conscience was not touched by the effort to suppress it. So I was able to speak this truth. Now I knew why I had needed to come. I had a message of hope for those gathered. This was valuable, even though it did not go further since the show was never aired.

I felt great on the way home. It almost felt like I was floating the whole way! And remember that I had a lot on my plate? Well, everything I needed to do got done in a timely manner.

What are some of the aspects of the Holy Spirit at work this story illustrates?

  • When the Spirit is leading, you may not understand why you are being led to do something. Just be faithful, and don’t insist on knowing why you are led to do it.
  • Things sometimes fall in place in amazing ways to allow the Spirit to work.
  • What faithfulness requires will continue to unfold as you follow the leading.
  • You may be anxious and uncertain, but the Spirit can still use you.
  • When you have been faithful, you may have a great feeling of satisfaction and peace.

My second example is of a group being led by the Holy Spirit.

I was a Quaker for 4 decades and, like the first example, this occurred in a Quaker context. A little background. Waiting or unprogrammed worship is rooted in silence. The gathered meeting starts in silence, but as anyone feels led they may stand and offer vocal ministry which could be a message, a prayer or a song. The end of the worship period is marked by a designated person – historically someone formally recognized as an elder - shaking hands with a neighbor, after which all participants shake hands with those around them. This is the Quaker version of passing the peace. Historically worship lasted as long as the Spirit leads – sometimes several hours, and so it required someone of spiritual maturity and discernment to have the responsibility of sensing when meeting was to rise. Today, usually meeting is broken close to a fixed schedule, most commonly one hour. Rarely does it last much longer than that, unless it’s been announced as an extended meeting for worship.

This occasion was at a Triennial session of Friends United Meeting, the largest association of Quakers. There were several hundred present from various parts of the world. It was in an auditorium, with the elders for the evening on the stage. The schedule included a meeting for waiting worship, followed by a meeting for business, so it was a very full evening program.

The worship was spirited and lively, with messages, prayers and songs offered in various languages. It was so Spirit-filled that the elders allowed it to run over the hour scheduled a few minutes, but then shook hands. Something astonishing happened that I had never seen before. No one else shook hands after the elders did, and the worship continued as if no one had tried to break it.

The elders settled back down and waited for some time before shaking hands again. It was the same as the first attempt. The worship simply continued. Finally, after the worship had gone on about two-and-a-half hours, the elders shook hands, and all responded by greeting their neighbors. It seemed that the Spirit had led the gathering in an extended period of worship, which apparently was what the gathered body needed more than getting to business as scheduled.

I have kept my message fairly brief so that more could be heard from. I hope that all of you have felt the Holy Spirit at work in your lives and recognized that numerous times. So I invite anyone who feels moved to share from your experiences with the Spirit to do so at this time. You may come to this mike, or a mike will be brought to you. And if the Spirit leads you to speak about something else, you should also feel free to do that. May the Spirit be heard!

-Bill Samuel

NOTES: After I spoke, 6 others shared.
Before I spoke, we played Holy Spirit Come by Aaron Fowler.

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Elections and Short-Range vs. Long-Range Thinking

July 27th, 2016

We have an election here in the United States in which both major parties have now nominated very unpopular Presidential candidates. A Data Targeting poll in May showed that 65% would be “at least somewhat, pretty or very willing to support a candidate for President who is not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.” A Gallup Poll last September found that 60% thought a third party was needed. Dissatisfaction with the present two-party system is at an all-time high.

Vote buttonThis is causing much dialogue about whether to vote for a third party or whether you need to vote for the major party candidate you least dislike because of the threat of election of the other major party candidate on the theory that third party votes hurt your second choice candidate. My contention is that your view on this may be very different depending on whether you are looking at it from a short-range perspective - generally one based only on this election - or a long-range perspective.

Why do we have a two-party system? Well the crux of it is what has been called Duverger’s Law. Duverger’s law is a principle which states that plurality-rule elections structured within single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system. The reason is that voting for a relatively weak party creates the possibility that a major party will win without a majority of the vote, and it is likely to be the party most disliked by the voters for that relatively weak party. Based on this logic, many voters will engage in “lesser evil” voting in which they will not vote for the candidate they most agree with if s/he is a third-party candidate but instead for whichever one of the major party candidates they find less distasteful. The result is an enormous barrier to the rise of new parties.

The U.S. Constitution did not establish a two-party system or a party system at all, nor did it establish plurality voting. It mostly leaves elections up to the states. Most states (but not all) have a system in which the candidate with the most votes, no matter how small a percentage of the total vote that is, wins. This has greatly favored our present two-party system.

The President is chosen by an indirect means called the Electoral College. The details of how it works are not specified in the Constitution, but are a matter of federal statute. Unlike the case in most American elections, a majority vote is required in the Electoral College. So if there were multiple candidates with electoral votes and none had an initial majority, the electors would need to negotiate among themselves to come to a majority agreement on whom to elect, and the President and Vice President elected would not have to be from the same party. This is somewhat similar to parliamentary systems in many countries, where multiple parties negotiate to select a government. If the Electoral College deadlocks, the House (voting by state delegation) chooses the President and the Senate the Vice President. So it is not federal requirements which produce the two-party system.

In our country, politics is generally looked at from a short-range perspective - the impact of the current election. When looked at from this perspective, the lesser-evil approach seems reasonable. [Even here, the thinking is often myopic and subject to debate. Many of my friends on the left maintain that a vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party amounts to a vote for Donald Trump. But they are generally not considering that there are three third parties which will be on most state ballots, and the other two - Libertarian and Constitution - appeal more to people who would otherwise vote Republican. The effect of voting for alternative candidates is very uncertain.]

Most of these people agree a change in the system is needed. However, they say first we need to deal with this election. This happens every election. Mañana never comes with this short-range thinking. In theory, we can work for changes in election processes while continuing to operate under the two-party system but the likelihood of success is very small. In the first place, you can’t get the momentum needed for such a major change. Secondly, the change is not in the interests of the two parties favored by the current system so why should they allow a change?

Meaningful social change usually is a process which takes some time. It needs long-range thinking in order to succeed. And it absolutely requires the taking of risks. There is no risk-free social change process. And it normally involves efforts to actually implement what change you can without official governmental action. It also acknowledges that making the negative effects of the current system more obvious to the masses is usually key to getting large-scale popular support for change.

So how would we approach the election from a long-term social change oriented point of view? In the first place, we would be more willing to accept short-term risk. For example, would voting for Jill Stein make the election of Donald Trump more likely than if we voted for Hillary Clinton? We don’t really know, but we have to accept the risk that this might be the case if we want change in the long-term. Otherwise, the system won’t change. But if it was seen that the current system created a mess when there were four or five parties getting significant numbers of votes, there would be a great impetus to change the system to better accommodate multiple parties.

From a long-term social change oriented point of view, we vote for a candidate who for the most part expresses our beliefs without being too concerned about the overall results of this particular election. The more votes there are for third parties the more the possibility of a multi-party system becomes evident and the more the problems of the current system become evident. There arises greater awareness of the possibility of using a different system, and greater awareness of the flaws in the current system.

Ballot boxIf the number of votes for third parties (not just for the Presidency - the Green and Libertarian Parties are running many candidates for Congress as well as state and local offices) rises substantially over what has historically been the norm (and the level of current dissatisfaction with the major parties makes that a realistic possibility), we begin to enter a new situation. If candidates who are clearly opposed by the majority of voters are being elected, dissatisfaction will rise and momentum will be created for a more democratic system such as instant runoff or some other system requiring eventual majority consent. In our system, the changes will probably come state by state over a long period of time. A Constitutional change (which is not required to get away from a two-party system, but might have some merit), if it comes at all, would not come until that process was well under way. But long-term change would become much more possible, and we could get rid of the “lesser evil” dilemma.

Most countries find that it is the third parties which become the engine for meaningful social change. Even in this country, that has happened with the election of third party candidate Abraham Lincoln. Once we move to a multi-party system, like most democratic republics have, there will be greater opportunities for all sorts of social change to move forward in our political system.

So how can you exhibit long-range, social change oriented, thinking in this year’s elections? Vote for the candidates which best represent your values. Don’t vote out of fear of possible unintended consequences of your conscience-based votes. Vote your hopes, not your fears. Don’t despair of the possibility of change, but recognize that it won’t occur overnight.

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From Death to Life: A Memorial Day Message

May 24th, 2015

     Some time later, I felt the Lord’s power take control of me, and his Spirit carried me to a valley full of bones. The Lord showed me all around, and everywhere I looked I saw bones that were dried out. He said, “Ezekiel, son of man, can these bones come back to life?”
     I replied, “Lord God, only you can answer that.”
     He then told me to say:

         Dry bones, listen to what the Lord is saying to you, “I, the Lord God, will put breath in you, and once again you will live. I will wrap you with muscles and skin and breathe life into you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”


Ezekiel 37:1-6 (CEV*)

This is an amazing passage which continues with the bones actually coming back to life. The scripture seems to be saying that God can bring life out of death, and God uses prophets - those who are especially faithful - in this work.

It seems appropriate that this (alternate) lectionary reading for Pentecost comes this year during Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. We remember those who lost their lives in the human folly of war, and our President issues a Proclamation in which he calls for “a day of prayer for perpetual peace.” If we would actually make it such, it would be about bringing life out of death.

The date for this reading in the church is also one week after the Transform Now Plowshares defendants were released from prison. Their offense was a prophetic action about transforming the machinery of war into life-affirming purposes.

We need more Christians to sound a prophetic voice for turning from the way of death and oppression to the Gospel way of peace and harmony. How is the Spirit of God calling you?

-Bill Samuel. Originally published as the Friends in Christ Weekly Message for May 23, 2015

* Contemporary English Version ©1995 American Bible Society.

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I can’t breathe

December 3rd, 2014

My black brothers and sisters are being killed by police officers with impunity.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Dozens of U.S. cities prohibit people from feeding the homeless where they live.

I CAN’T BREATHE

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and private prison operators make money out of people’s misery and use the imprisoned as slave labor.

I CAN’T BREATHE

We are one of the richest countries in the world, and yet millions of our citizens lack adequate food, housing or medical care.

I CAN’T BREATHE

We are one of only three countries in the world without paid maternity leave, and millions of poor women have their unborn babies killed because they can’t see how they can support them.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Representatives of big corporate interests are put in charge of agencies that are supposed to regulate them, resulting in serious harm to our people, our land and our environment.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Palestinians are denied basic human rights, and my country gives billions of dollars to the oppressors.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Egypt sentences hundreds of peaceful protestors to death, and my Secretary of State praises the country ’s “democracy” and we give billions of dollars to the Egyptian forces of oppression.

I CAN’T BREATHE

SOA/WHINSEC trains those from Latin America who oppress those struggling for freedom, and kill with impunity.

I CAN’T BREATHE

U.S. drones attack foreign countries, and only 1 in 28 of those killed are official targets, and many more are children and women.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Billions of our innocent fellow creatures are held in inhumane conditions, tortured and slaughtered for our palates, causing considerable human health problems and contributing greatly to global climate change.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Unfortunately, I could go on and on.

Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:23-24 (NRSV)

How long, O Lord, how long?

-Bill Samuel, December 3, 2014

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Participatory Worship

November 10th, 2014

        So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (1 Corinthians 14:26, The Message)        

This is a subject in which I have had great interest for decades, but my thoughts have been stirred recently by an event and some things I’ve read.

A number of years ago I attended an independent charismatic church. At that time, they had a Friday evening service which was not programmed in advance. There was a pastor of the church who, in Quaker terms, clerked the service, helping it to flow as the Spirit led. At the beginning, you would see people talking to him, relaying what the Lord had said to them about what needed to happen that evening. The character of the service varied enormously week from week, as the Lord led. But most of what was vocalized was from the floor of the church. The only standard thing which happened is that, sometime during the about 2.5 hour service, bread and juice would be put out giving the attenders opportunity to take communion. That period would usually be pretty quiet. People often took some time to pray before consuming the elements, frequently kneeling on the steps which are used in place of an altar in that church. I really appreciated this service. Unfortunately, the church stopped doing it.

Charismatic and pentecostal churches often allow people from the congregation to offer a Word from the Lord, but at least at Sunday morning services that’s usually within the context of a service in which the usual Protestant prepared sermon from a pastor is the central focus, to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps some of them offer another time when it is all from the body, but I couldn’t find any in my area which do. (And I have theological issues with most charismatic and pentecostal churches.)

The Quaker tradition is to have worship in which there is not a program set in advance, but the Lord may speak through anyone gathered. However today most Quaker groups which are still non-pastoral have moved away from a center in Jesus Christ, and generally the range of expression which is acceptable is limited by a somewhat repressive WASP middle class cultural environment. I have been at a couple of Quaker gatherings where a session broke free from those restraints, and a vibrant, charismatic session resulted. However, that is rare.

I suspect a major reason why the kind of participatory worship Paul recommended to the church in Corinth is so rare is fear. What might happen if the Spirit was allowed to work in the congregation free from control by one or more leaders and from cultural constraints? It seems so much safer to keep things under human control.

So I have this concern for finding and nurturing spiritually alive participatory worship. I would appreciate reflections on this subject and any pointing towards where I might find such worship or how I might facilitate it.

-Bill Samuel, November 10, 2014

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Prayer for Peace

September 7th, 2013
       

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4, NIV)

He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Micah 4:3, NIV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44, NIV)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

       

I thank God for the divine love and compassion for each and every human being, which is a model for us.

I thank Jesus Christ for modeling a life of care and sacrifice, and showing us another way than the world’s way of exercising power over one another. I thank Jesus for telling us to love our enemies and put away the sword.

I thank Pope Francis for calling for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. I thank all those religious leaders of various faiths who have joined in this call, and all the faithful who are setting aside time for prayer for peace.

I pray for the people of Syria that there be an end to weapons taking their lives, injuring them and forcing them into refugee status.

I pray for Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, others in the Syrian government, and the leaders of all the non-state armed elements in Syria that their hearts be transformed and that they put away all weapons of war, and seek a solution which will provide a democratic government which will focus on the needs and rights of all the people of Syria.

I pray for Syrian Christians that they might find hope and strength in the peace and power of Jesus Christ, that they may be free of repression, and that they may find ways to build peace and restore the nation.

I pray for those in Syria who seek to uphold nonviolent action as a way forward that they will not give up hope, and that they may see their efforts increasingly appreciated and supported.

I pray that the leaders of key countries involved, and of the United Nations, will cease providing weapons to all forces in Syria, and will join together to support a Syria where all of its people can live in peace and freedom, with the rights of all respected.

I pray for President Obama, Administration foreign and military policy officials, officials of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and the United States Congress that they might search for peaceful ways forward and not inflict yet more violence on war-torn Syria. I pray they will seek a more humble and cooperative role for our country in the world. I pray they will open their hearts to provide generously for humanitarian aid to Syrian refuges and victims, and welcome Syrian refugees to our great country.

I pray for those serving in the armed forces of our country that they will turn from the ways of violence, and seek ways to use their commitment, courage and desire to serve to foster a world of peace, where all may have the food, water, shelter and medical care they need.

I pray for the leaders of companies which produce weapons of war and support the military infrastructure of our country that they might seek ways to transform their businesses to ones which produce products and services to meet human needs. I pray that all employed by such companies may search their hearts for ways to earn a living which foster peace, care for creation and provide for human needs.

Lord, I pray that the seeds of war in my own heart be transformed through your love, and that I may be an instrument of your peace.

-Bill Samuel, September 7, 2013

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Analysis of Presidential Proposal to Stage Armed Attack Against Syria

September 2nd, 2013

I prepared this analysis to outline to my Senators and Representative the reasons why it is imperative that they oppose the President’s request for authorization to stage armed attacks in the country of Syria. I urged Senator Barbara Mikulski, Senator Ben Cardin and Representative Chris Van Hollen to insist on full public hearings on the proposal before any Congressional vote, and to actively oppose any military action in Syria not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council.

The following analysis is of points which are relevant to the President’s proposal. The first two points alone demonstrate that any Member of Congress voting for the action is violating his or her oath to support the Constitution of the United States. The others are not essential therefore to making a decision, but are additional factors.

  1. The government of Syria has not attacked the United States. While the Administration has made no claim of such an attack, this point remains critical because it is the only basis provided in the United Nations Charter, which as a treaty ratified by the U.S. is part of the supreme law of the land, for a nation (or group of nations) to take military action against another nation except as part of an action authorized by the United National Security Council. The relevant language is in Article 51 of the Charter: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
  2. The proposed action would constitute international vigilante action. The only body authorized to respond militarily to violation of “international norms” is the United Nations Security Council. This is clear in Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. If I am enraged by a crime committed by one person against another, and fear the justice system will not appropriately respond to the crime and therefore take it upon myself (alone or with others) to violently assault the perpetrator to hold him “accountable” for his crime, such action is considered illegal vigilante action and I (and anyone else who joined with me) may be held criminally liable for the assault. That the person assaulted may indeed be guilty of the crime is not a valid defense to the criminal charges against me. What President Obama proposes is exactly the same thing on an international scale. It would be a vigilante action by those not legally authorized to punish the offender. The idea of flagrantly violating international norms ostensibly to enforce international norms should be viewed as obviously flawed.
  3. The proposed action would justify a Syrian attack against the U.S. Should the U.S. attack Syria apart from a UN Security Council action, the government of Syria would be entitled under Article 51 of the UN Charter to take military action against the U.S. in response. Do we really want this?
  4. We do not have clean hands. The U.S. engaged in chemical warfare in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, causing extensive harm to civilians both immediately and in the years since. A recent study, Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009, by Doctors Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi concludes that this caused a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects. See news story on the study. Using the Administration’s rationale, another country would be justified in staging a military attack against the U.S. to hold us “accountable” for that violation of “international norms.” Do we really want to open that can of worms?
  5. The action would almost certainly cause casualties of innocent civilians. Cruise missiles are not precise weapons which can discriminate between combatants and civilians. Civilian casualties are almost certain. Their blood would be on our hands.
  6. Military action would inflame an already tragic situation. Foreign military action would inject yet a new source of violence in a country plagued by violence from various armed groups. Direct outside military intervention could result in other countries and non-state armed groups responding by taking military action in Syria, against U.S. ally Israel and against other nations. Some observers fear it could escalate into World War III. We can not know in advance how severe these consequences would be, but we should be aware that we would be stirring up a hornet’s nest.
  7. The underlying facts are in question. There are conflicting reports on the cause of the chemical weapons incident. The Administration has not publicly released the evidence supporting its case. Reporters on the ground have found evidence of a very different scenario. See the analysis by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting of these two very different accounts of the incident. We need to be wary of self-serving explanations by the Administration, particularly in view of the history of an almost completely false story being told prior to the U.S. attack against Iraq. Among the questionable elements in the Administration’s story is the use of the propaganda technique of inserting irrelevant facts to try to cover up the lack of key evidence. The Administration points to a rocket attack by Syrian forces 90 minutes before the incident, but doesn’t show its relevance to its argument. Since this attack did not occur at the time of the incident, presumably it involved conventional explosives. It appears to be a smokescreen to try to hide the lack of evidence of a Syrian attack at the tie of the incident. If U.S. intelligence allows us to pinpoint Syrian attacks, why can’t the Administration confirm an attack at the time of the chemical weapons incident?

-Bill Samuel, September 2, 2013

I hereby authorize any person or group to reproduce or link to this post in whole or in part without further permission from me. I request that those reproducing all or a substantial part of the post appropriately credit the source. -Bill Samuel

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Am I Trayvon Martin?

July 21st, 2013

In the public witness actions regarding the case of George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin, many people have carried signs reading, “I am Trayvon Martin.” This brings me to the question which I use to headline this post.

This case has triggered something deep in much of the African-American population in the United States. I have heard from a number of whites whose response is to analyze the case. This I think is missing the point. In some ways, the case is not ideal as a frame for looking at the larger issues. But Zimmerman’s relationships with African-Americans and the way Martin responded when he felt threatened by Zimmerman should not be the focus of our national discussion. Rather, we should be looking at why this case causes such deep reactions among our African-American brothers and sisters, and how we can address these underlying issues. I think the President’s comments to the nation on July 19 provide a more useful framework.

My personal reaction not surprisingly is closely related to my personal experience. Due to the unique circumstances of my life, my perspective is informed in the way that the perspective of most Americans of European heritage is not.

Martin died when he was a 17-year-old high school student. So I think back to when I was a 17-year-old high school student - which is 48 years ago for me. The year I turned 17 my family moved to a small Southern town where my father taught at an African-American college, and we lived on the campus. This was my senior year of high school. This was the first year of token integration in that rural county.

The school system didn’t decide until the last minute how to handle the buses. They communicated bus information to students by telephone. My family did not have telephone service because the local office of the phone company (this was the days of phone company monopoly) didn’t want to serve “n****r lovers” (the asterisks were filled in in their case), and it took months for the appeal to go through to get our telephone. As a result, they were unable to notify me of what bus to use.

Because I had not been told what bus to use, I went with a kid three doors down on campus who was going to the same school. He was African-American. The bus driver was quite surprised to see me, but I was allowed on the bus. The buses were segregated. Our bus served its dozen students after it dropped off students at the black high school in the morning and before it picked them up in the afternoon. As a result we got to school late each day and left early each day.

Only one white student at the school would talk to me with other than insults. Since I was the only senior on the bus, I was isolated most of the day. I remember being really scared for my safety when one time the science teacher sent the class off to lab and didn’t come with us. During that lab, one student (President of Youth for Goldwater) remarked loudly to another student, “If there’s one thing I hate worse than a n****r, it’s a n****r lover.” Fortunately I was not physically attacked, but I always felt in danger.

The whites in town knew me as “that n****r lover in the high school.” When I walked down the streets of that tiny town, I saw each white person on the street as a potential threat to me, and each African-American as a friend. This perspective was realistic. This was my experience for a year, and only when I was in that town. So this was only a taste of what African-Americans experience every day wherever they are. They are always marked persons in the larger American society.

What white people in this country need to understand is how it feels for a person of color - and most dramatically for a young African-American male - to be a marked person viewed suspiciously by many others when they are in the larger society environment. If whites can achieve some understanding of what that feels like, they can begin to understand the emotional reaction of African-Americans to the case. It isn’t just about one person in Sanford, Florida. It’s about all who have experienced being regarded as suspicious simply for who they are. The “I am Trayvon Martin” signs express a deep truth about them also being treated as suspicious for who they are.

So I am Trayvon Martin, or at least I was Trayvon Martin. And with my African-American brothers and sisters, I yearn for the day when no one is treated as suspicious just because of the color of their skin, and perhaps combined with their age, their gender and what they happen to be wearing. I yearn for a day when each person regards each other person as a brother and sister worthy of dignity and respect across the boundaries of ethnicity, culture, age, gender, class, sexual orientation, mental and physical abilities, and anything else which divides us artificially.

-Bill Samuel

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