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Brown v. Board of Education and Me

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

This was a message delivered on May 19, 2019, at Dayspring Church in Germantown, Maryland. You can also listen to the audio version (audio version starts a little after the beginning of the message – the first paragraph below is missing). NOTE: Dayspring Church does not have a pastor but uses a shared leadership model in which anyone can sign up to be liturgist, offer a youth message, or preach on any given Sunday. -Bill Samuel

I signed up to speak on this Sunday because it comes closest to the 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, not out of a review of lectionary readings for coming Sundays to see which one stirred something in me. However, when I looked at today’s lectionary readings, I found themes which resonate with what I felt led to share. A bit of holy synchronicity, I think.

The Acts reading is all about the question of whether the fellowship of followers of Jesus was just to be Jews or was to include Gentiles as well. The Jew-Gentile distinction for them I believe has some parallels to the white-black distinction in our American context. And what came to Peter from the Lord was graphic and quite clear. Acts 11:12 says, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”

The reading from the Book of Revelation is about the coming of a new heaven and a new earth. The message from the throne in the NRSV starts with, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.” I wonder if there is significance that the compilers of the NRSV chose the plural “peoples” here. I believe this new heaven and earth, given the evidence throughout the Christian Bible, is one in which the old hierarchical distinctions among different peoples have passed away. We will clearly all be God’s beloved people, regardless of the distinctions among groupings humans have made.

Jesus frequently outraged others by whom he chose to associate with. He repeatedly crossed lines of ethnicity, class, and gender in his ministry. When he tells his disciples in our Gospel reading, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another” the love of which he speaks crosses those human divisions.

My call to speak this week is primarily to share from my own life, and it arose from reflecting on my life in the light of the Brown anniversary and the reality of racism in the USA. This is the story of one white boy growing up in the USA in a family committed to racial equality.

I was born in 1947 in northern New Jersey, the youngest of four children including twin sisters two years older and a sister four years older. My father was a Methodist pastor at the time. The Church Bishop expelled him from the local Conference when I was still a baby due to his unhappiness about my father’s participation in an interracial prayer group. Subsequently, my father pastored a church in North Dakota for a year, and then in South Dakota for a year.

In 1953, my parents felt a call from God to go to the Deep South. Their response was to get an old truck, pack our belongings in it, and head South. They had no jobs lined up but had a contact point – Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, in the southwest part of the state. Koinonia had been founded in 1942 by two couples as an interracial intentional Christian community committed to racial equality, pacifism, and economic sharing. We headed in our family’s truck and car to Koinonia, where we stayed until we had found and moved to a farm outside of Plains, Georgia, where we lived in a primitive house which lacked indoor toilet facilities and other modern amenities.

We settled into our new home. My parents erected a sign that identified our property as “Brotherhood Acres.” We made friendships with local black families. We heard that one local white person said about our sign, “they mean everybody” which was correct, albeit not a common understanding of the term among local whites. This realization resulted in some local whites harassing us, including the Ku Klux Klan threatening to burn us out. On the designated night, Halloween, they rode by and saw that we did not move out due to their threats and just rode on.

Bill, Pat, Connie & Barbara Samuel in Plains, GA

We four children went to Plains Elementary School, the white elementary school for the area. I was in first grade. We found it a somewhat dangerous environment, as we were known as “n*****-lovers” and “damn Yankees” which resulted in considerable hostility towards us, including sometimes being beaten up. A few times we walked the four miles to school, as that seemed safer than braving the school bus ride. Nationally, the most significant thing which happened that school year was on May 17, 1954, when a unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregated schools were “inherently unequal.” I saw that when our family visited a local black school in the Plains area. It had very primitive facilities, and an inadequate number of very old textbooks in extremely poor condition for the students.

The Brown decision was a great shock to the local whites, who mostly believed strongly in segregation of the races. In the period after the decision, our friends at Koinonia Farm faced greatly increased hostility from the local white community, which had never been very friendly to them. The KKK and other local whites tried -unsuccessfully – to force Koinonia Farm out through bullets, a bomb, and a boycott. Koinonia had some very tough years but survived and is still going strong today.

During the year we were in Plains, my parents were largely unemployed. On rare occasions, my father was able to get day labor. He also preached a couple of times at local churches when the regular pastor was away. One of those churches was the first black church at which I ever worshipped. These rare gigs produced very little income. However, facing adversity together for something we believed in brought us closer together as a family. Because of my parents’ inability to earn a living in that environment, we moved out after a year.

During the next nine years, we lived in a few different communities, either on a farm or in a small town, in the rural Midwest. My father and the Church parted ways, and both of my parents became high school teachers. My family visited around at different churches, and settled down with the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. None of the counties in which we lived had any African American residents, so all the schools were 100% white. Many of the people in those counties had never seen an African American in person.

This was the era of “sundown towns” – towns with a policy of forbidding African Americans and sometimes other minorities from being inside the town limits after sundown, coupled with other racial restrictions. The communities in which we lived in or near were not formal sundown towns with signs at the town limits, but informally some of these restrictions were imposed by residents and sometimes authorities. We found this in the community of Winterset, Iowa, where my parents taught in the local high school for five years. Ironically, one of Winterset’s claims to fame is that the great African American agricultural scientist George Washington Carver lived and worked there for two years. At the time we were there, not much was said about that, but today Winterset has a park named after Carver and publicizes his connection to the town.

One evening when my parents were coming back from a school meeting in town to our home 12 miles outside town, they came across an African American couple with their baby walking along the side of the road. They stopped to talk to them. The man of the couple was in the Air Force and returning to base in Omaha after being on leave. Their car had broken down on the other side of town. They walked into town and inquired whether the bus stopped there. Although Greyhound stopped in town, they were told it didn’t stop there. They were told to go to the next town, which they were told was 5 miles away although in reality it was 25 miles. My parents took them home to spend the night, and then took them to the bus in the morning.

Water Tower, Winterst, Iowa

My oldest sister Pat worked for a time as a waitress in a restaurant on the town square in Winterset.One time, a friend from college came to visit with her boyfriend, who was African American. They stopped at the restaurant to eat lunch, and my sister served them. The owner came over and kicked the couple out and fired my sister. At that time, almost all restaurants in the Midwest had signs saying, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” This incident brought home the meaning of that sign. Pat went to work for another restaurant, where the owner welcomed the business of anyone. One day, a bus full of migrant farm workers came through town and stopped at the restaurant for lunch. The owner was happy for the business, but the Sheriff came and ordered them all out of town.

After the nine years in all-white communities, we went to Urbana, Illinois where my father studied at the University of Illinois. We were active in the local Friends Meeting, and at some point during the year began also to attend the Sunday evening service at an AME Zion Church pastored by the President of the local NAACP with whom my mother worked in a campaign against “urban renewal,” known among civil rights activists as “Negro removal.” I went to the only high school in town, which did include African Americans. This was my first year in an integrated school.

That year I became active in the civil rights movement, and I was arrested at an open housing protest in Urbana’s twin city of Champaign, said by some to have the most segregated housing in the country – African Americans literally lived across the tracks. I was 16, and under Illinois law being arrested meant I had to be investigated to determine if I was a juvenile delinquent. The case worker assigned to my case cleared me on the grounds that someone who participated in a civil rights demonstration was obviously not a juvenile delinquent. At a service at the AME Zion Church, the pastor singled out me and his own 16-year-old son who had also been arrested at the protest as having been baptized by fire.

This was the 1963-64 school year, so segregation in public facilities was still common. African Americans had trouble finding hotels or motels that would accept them when traveling, so they resorted to informal networks. Some friends of my parents asked them whether an African American family whom they knew could stay with us while traveling through. Of course, we said yes. They had a boy about my age and asked if I could take him to get a haircut. We walked to the nearest barber shop, but they said they didn’t know how to cut his hair. The next barber shop said the same thing. The third barber shop we found did agree to cut his hair, although the barber did a poor job. This was in a liberal university town.

The next year my father got a job teaching at a black college, now defunct, in Lawrenceville, Virginia, in the southern tier of the state. Virginia responded to the Brown decision with an official campaign of massive resistance. While the courts rather quickly overturned these laws, it took a long time for many Virginia schools to begin desegregation. For this school district, 10 years after the Brown decision, it was the first year of token desegregation – the “freedom of choice” system in which students could be registered in the school of their choice. Most African American families were afraid to register their children in formerly all-white schools because of the likelihood of losing their jobs. However, a dozen registered for the formerly white high school where I registered, and a few more registered for lower grades in formerly all-white schools. An all-white private academy was formed for white families. Such academies were generally known as segregation academies, or “seg academies” for short. However, a lot of white students stayed in the public schools.

The school district didn’t decide until the last day how to handle transportation. They informed students of their bus assignments by phone. Because the local phone company office refused us service on the grounds we were “n*****-lovers,” they could not notify us. We lived on campus, so I went with a neighbor boy who was one of the school’s first African American students. The district decided on segregated buses, so the driver was surprised to see me but let me on. Our bus ran its main run for the black high school first, so we always got to school late. We also left early, so the bus would be available when the black school let out.

When we got to school the first day, they were having an opening assembly. They read a list of names of students to go to a separate assembly. I was the only one on my bus who was not sent there. In the main assembly they stated, “Normally it is our policy to welcome new students. This year, it is our policy to ostracize new students.” They didn’t use racial terminology, but I think everyone got their drift. At lunch time, I sat down with others from my bus, and that I think is when the school decided to classify me as a “Negro” student.

There was only one white student in the school who would talk to me other than to insult me. One time my science class was in the lab, and the girl who was President of Youth for Goldwater said in a loud voice to someone, “If there’s anything I hate worse than a n*****, it’s a n*****-lover.” I was scared because the teacher was not in the room, but I was not physically attacked.

In that year, I learned to gauge my safety by the color of those around me. When walking down the street in town, I viewed each white person as a potential threat, and each black person as a friend. Because it was such a small community, I expected that most people would know who I was. This was just a tiny taste of what African Americans have experienced year after year, and it followed them wherever they went while I fully benefited from white privilege whenever I was outside of the community.

The county was about 60% black at the time, and blacks had used their economic power to get most white-owned businesses to serve them without overt distinction based on race. However, some white-owned businesses would not serve whites connected with the college, so we sometimes had to go to a business outside the county when we needed something for which there was no local black-owned provider. One Sunday after church, my parents decided they would like to buy a Sunday newspaper. Most businesses were closed on Sunday, but the white-owned drug store was open. My father already knew from his service on the NAACP committee which negotiated with white businesses that the owners of the drug store were among the most hard-core racists in town. When Dad walked in, those working in the store went into the back and would not come out until my Dad left.

Bill Samuel on high school graduation day

After graduating from that high school, I went to Wilmington College, a Quaker college in Wilmington, Ohio. I thought I was going to the North but found out that Southwest Ohio had some attributes of the South. A black friend of mine at college who was from a nearby town had missed a year of school because the black school had burned down. Wilmington was integrated from its opening in 1871, and when I was there had one of the highest percentages of African American students among majority white colleges and universities in the country. In the 1920’s, the KKK opened an office near the college, and harassed it for some years. This was part of the Wilmington story I learned as a student.

When I came, I was scared that I would be housed in a dorm with a white roommate, which I thought might be dangerous. I was indeed assigned a white roommate, but I liked him very much and we quickly became friends. I began to un-learn my habit of viewing any other white person as a potential threat.

On May 10, scholars from four universities issued a report titled “Harming our Common Future: America’s Segregated Schools 65 Years after Brown“. It found that “intense levels of segregation…are on the rise once again.” Maryland is one of four states in which the majority of African American students attend what the report classifies as intensely segregated schools, schools at least 90% non-white. A major factor is housing segregation. Today we don’t have the legally enforced school segregation by race much of the country had before Brown, but neither do most students attend very diverse schools and, in many areas, different ethnic groups largely attend different schools.

I decided to find out a little bit of what happened where I graduated from high school. In my most optimistic dreams, I imagined the county public schools fully integrated, and the seg academy having closed. In my most pessimistic dreams, I imagined a totally – or almost totally – resegregated situation in which blacks all were in the public schools and whites were all or mostly in the seg academy. The truth turned out to be somewhere in-between. The county is now 55% black, but the public schools are about 80% black. There is only one public high school and one public middle school in the county. The seg academy is still there, but only about a third of the county’s white students attend it. A large majority of white families send their children to what are now predominantly black schools.

Dayspring is in the 3rd most diverse city in the U.S., next door to the 2nd, Gaithersburg. Montgomery County has 4 of the Top 10 most diverse cities in the country. Our County has the most diverse school system in the state and the 103rd most diverse in the country. Yet diversity in our schools varies widely, and several Montgomery County schools are considered segregated by the definitions in the report on the situation at the 65th anniversary of Brown. Both the closest public middle school and the closest public elementary school to Dayspring would be considered by the report as intensely segregated, as they are both 94% minority.

White supremacy is deeply embedded in our culture in the USA. It will take sustained effort over time involving people from all ethnic groups to uproot it.

What are some of the things we need to do as individuals and a community to bring about the Beloved Community in which we recognize our essential unity with all others?

We need to live conscious faithful lives in which we practice what we preach. We need to listen carefully to God’s call on our lives as individuals and as a community, and be obedient no matter what seems to be the cost. We need to measure our “success” more by the degree to which we have been faithful than by concrete outcomes we can readily measure. We need to trust God to use our faithfulness in combination with the faithfulness of others for good. We need to not get discouraged by the evil in the world but press forward to bring about the reign of God.

When my parents decided to uproot our family and head into an uncertain situation without knowing how we would get the resources to support us, they did not have a list of achievements to mark success. They simply went on faith. They disregarded those who warned them against such a venture and said they would be not doing their duty to us as children by engaging in this possibly dangerous journey of faith, instead of making sure we were in quality schools and had material well-being. The education we received by seeing our parents live out their faith was something the finest schools could not have given us.

Racism in the USA

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019

At my church, Dayspring Church in Germantown (Maryland), a member faith community of Church of the Saviour, we have a Peace and Justice Candle brought to us by a member who was a Methodist pastor in South Africa and active in the struggle against apartheid. The Peace and Justice Candle is a candle surrounded by barbed wire. The barbed wire symbolizes something that is an obstacle to the Beloved Community, and the flame of the candle symbolizes the light of Christ shining in the darkness. Each Sunday, someone offers a reflection and lights the Peace and Justice Candle. This is my reflection offered on February 3, 2019.

Site of Woolworth store in Greensboro, NC, where the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins took place
By dbking from Washington, DC – Greensboro, NC “Sit In” 1960, CC BY 2.0, Link

On February 1, 1960, 4 black students sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and asked for coffee. The store refused to serve them, and the students came back each day, soon with many more joining them, until July 25th, when management started serving blacks at the lunch counter.

This wasn’t the first such sit-in, but this sit-in got national coverage and inspired people in many other cities to engage in such actions. It prompted statements of support from President Eisenhower and other prominent white Americans. And many lunch counters in a number of states were desegregated after sit-ins. 4 years later, the Federal government enacted the Civil Rights Act barring segregation in public accommodations.

The courageous nonviolent witness of many people in a number of places, some of whom endured physical attack, did result in progress in the struggle against the evil of racism.

While the sit-ins and other acts of public witness in that time period resulted in significant progress, deeply embedded structural racism has continued to result in unfair treatment of African-Americans and other minorities in many ways in our country. A few examples of the many ways racism continues to impact African-Americans:

• In 2017, Harvard Business School analyzed 24 field experiments testing hiring discrimination over a period of 15 years. This meta-analysis showed that white applicants on average received 36% more callbacks than black applicants, and 24% more than Latinx applicants with identical resumes. Furthermore, it indicated that the situation had not improved for black applicants over the 15 years reviewed.

• A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households was $171,000, 10 times greater than the $17,100 median wealth of black households.

• African-Americans comprise only 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of the monthly drug users, but are 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offenses and 57% of the people in state prisons for drug offenses.

• An African-American male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of going to jail in his lifetime, while a Latino male has a 17% chance and a white male only has a 6% chance.

If I tried to give all the possible information on how racism impacts African-Americans, we’d probably still be here at kickoff for the Super Bowl. Suffice it to say there’s a lot of work to do, and we each need to prayerfully consider our part in that work.

The barbed wire symbolizes how racism limits the opportunities for African-Americans to show their God-given potential. The flame that I am about to light symbolizes the light of Christ who came to liberate the oppressed and call us to be the Beloved Community.

– Bill Samuel

Becoming an Intern Member at Dayspring Church

Sunday, 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

Peace and Justice Candle – Nuclear Weapons

Sunday, 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.

Elections and Short-Range vs. Long-Range Thinking

Wednesday, 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.

From Death to Life: A Memorial Day Message

Sunday, 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.

I can’t breathe

Wednesday, 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

Participatory Worship

Monday, 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

Prayer for Peace

Saturday, 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

Analysis of Presidential Proposal to Stage Armed Attack Against Syria

Monday, 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