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Pentecost Sunday Message, May 19, 2024

Sunday, May 19th, 2024

[NOTE: I delivered this message at Dayspring Church in Germantown, Maryland, USA, on May 19, 2024. You can listen to the recording of the message. The recording only includes the first few bars of each song for copyright reasons. YouTube links for the songs are included in this blog post.]

A reading from the Book of Acts (Acts 2:1-21, The Message).

2 1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were blown away. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!
“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”
13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”
14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above
and signs on the earth below,
Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Day of the Lord arrives,
the Day tremendous and marvelous;
And whoever calls out for help
to me, God, will be saved.”
The Word of the Lord.

Good morning, Church!

This is Pentecost Sunday, and what I have read to you is the key text of Pentecost – or part of it, because Peter’s speech to the people goes on quite a bit more. The Holy Spirit came in power, and everyone was amazed to hear these Galileans in their own languages. Peter stands before the crowd to explain what is happening. This is the simple, uneducated fisherman who got out of his boat to follow Jesus. And now the Spirit gave Peter the power to eloquently share God’s message with people.

Something which one hears or reads in their own heart language may have an impact that it doesn’t in another language, even if you understand that language. I remember a workshop on the Psalms at Baltimore Yearly Meeting sessions. (Baltimore Yearly Meeting is the Quaker regional body for our area.) The leader asked each person to read a favorite psalm. One of those present was a native Japanese. He said he normally read the Bible in Japanese, but he would read the psalm in English so the rest of us could understand. After he did, the leader asked him to read it in Japanese. Her wisdom was shown as we were moved by his reading it in Japanese. We felt it sink deeper into us as its meaning to his spirit came out so much better when he read it in his native language.

When I was thinking about Pentecost and what I could share, several things came to me and I’m trying to coalesce some of them in this message. One theme is the power of the Holy Spirit and how it can move people. The other, which is related, is about it being for all people, illustrated here by everyone hearing the message in their own languages. I will weave between these two emphases.

When I was 5, my parents, who were then living in South Dakota, felt the Spirit telling them to go to the Deep South. They didn’t have any jobs to go to there, and with four young children, that seemed like a crazy thing to do. Friends told them so, and that they should be focused on providing a good education and all the things of life to their children. The late John Lewis used to talk about good trouble, when people stood up to the forces of exploitation and domination in ways the system thought of as trouble. I think there’s also good crazy. They packed up our needed things in an old truck and we headed south, winding up in Southwest Georgia renting a rundown house and putting up a sign saying Brotherhood Acres. This may have been crazy, but I think my parents served us better by being examples of faithfulness rather than providing us with things and good schools.

I think of the different languages in which people heard God’s message on Pentecost as an example of a bigger lesson about God speaking to us all. It is not just about languages per se, but about speaking in different cultural and religious contexts. These include different musical styles. I am going to share during this message a few songs in different musical styles as an illustration of this. Further, I think it goes beyond hearing in these contexts but also to each of us coming to appreciate God speaking in contexts other than our own.

Our family was of northern European heritage and both sides of my family were Methodists. We were from a WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – context. But I grew up listening to recordings of great singers from the African American tradition – Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and William Warfield. Here’s an example of a song sung by Paul Robeson – the Black spiritual There is a Balm in Gilead.

Both my parents came from a Methodist background and my father was a Methodist pastor in my early years. We then became Quakers, initially with a Friends Church in the pastoral tradition but then with meetings who practiced waiting worship rooted in silence. When we lived in Urbana, Illinois, my mother was the Quaker representative to a group opposing urban renewal, which was often called “Negro removal.” The leader of the effort, the President of the local NAACP, was an AME Zion pastor. We started attending Quaker meeting on Sunday mornings and the AME Zion Church’s Sunday evening service – very different styles of worship, but both filled with the Holy Spirit. And I’ll never forget that after my arrest at 16 in a witness against segregated housing, that pastor called it my baptism by fire!

The Holy Spirit can even give us knowledge that we did not receive by ordinary human means. One time I was at a meeting of Christian Quakers visited by the Irish Quaker Simon Lamb. He arrived late so he did not get to meet the attenders before he arrived. When the worship ended, he asked if anyone wanted him to pray for them. The woman I had carpooled with to the meeting made a prayer request. Simon, who had never met the woman, told her the request she made was not her real prayer need, which he described in general generic terms. On our way back, the woman told me he was correct, and she shared with me the difficult experience from her past from which she had not healed that was her real prayer need.

I spent over half of my life as a Quaker. Quakers seek to be led by the Spirit of Christ. As part of my sharing of different musical styles, I want to share a song by Quaker singer/songwriter Aaron Fowler from Wichita. He is joined in singing this song he wrote, Holy Spirit Come, by his wife Laura Dungan.

In 1997, my wife Young and I took a trip to Scandinavia. We added an extension to St. Petersburg, Russia. The bus driver from Helsinki to St. Petersburg was a Russian very familiar with the area. He took us on back roads and gave a running narrative. We came on a small Russian Orthodox Church that he told us had stayed open during the Soviet era with the faithful attending regularly. Passengers asked if we could stop. He said we could but could only stay five minutes. We went inside the church and found worship going on. I don’t think any of us tourists had been in a worship experience like this before. It was not much like Western Christian worship services we knew. There was no seating. Worshippers were going around praying before icons and expressing their faith in various ways. Angelic a capella music was being sung from the choir loft. We all were transfixed and wound up there a lot longer than five minutes. We didn’t really understand what was going on but recognized it as genuine and powerful.

Some of you have heard me offer a song – You Know My Name – at some small gatherings here at Dayspring by the Grammy winning contemporary black gospel singer Tasha Cobbs Leonard I first heard at the Brunswick 15 celebration I participated in last September. I have picked a song of hers appropriate to Pentecost to end my sharing this morning. This song is Your Spirit.

May we all feel the breath of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and may we respond to it as we are called. Thank you.

Dan Berrigan’s 100th Birthday/Mother’s Day

Sunday, May 9th, 2021

This was a message delivered on May 9, 2021, at Dayspring Church in Germantown, Maryland. You can also listen to the audio version. 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

In thinking about possibly speaking this morning, I first looked at the lectionary readings for today. I saw material I could work with. But I didn’t make my decision until after I got an email letting me know that today would have been the 100th birthday of Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, who died less than two weeks before his 95th birthday. And I’m also aware that this is Mother’s Day, which I’ll explain does tie into work for peace.

I’m going to focus a lot on quotes and the life of Dan Berrigan. I think it is helpful to look at the lives of those who, in the words of our Members’ Commitment, “unreservedly and with abandon” commit their lives and destiny to Christ.

I didn’t know Dan Berrigan personally. However, I was at the wedding of his brother Phil, which took place while Dan was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. FBI agents lined the back wall of the church, hoping that Dan would show up for his brother’s wedding so they could arrest him. However, he didn’t. Dan did serve on the Advisory Board of the Consistent Life Network, on whose Board I have long served and which I served as President for 12 years.

Dan came to public attention as a member of the Catonsville Nine, nine Catholic activists who went to the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland on May 17, 1968, where they burned draft files. His famous quote after participating in that action was:

Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children. How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, maddened? When, at what point, will you say no to this war?

While Berrigan went underground, he was captured by the FBI in 1970 and served time in federal prison until 1972. Later he was part of initiating the Plowshares Movement, which has involved more than 100 prophetic actions against nuclear weapons and the imprisonment of many participants, some of them multiple times. He was always a man of conviction.

Dan’s actions stemmed from his deep Christian commitment. He said, “The God of life summons us to life; more, to be lifegivers, especially toward those who lie under the heel of the powers.” Our Gospel reading this morning has Jesus saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Dan understood all to be his friends and sought to live out God’s call on his life.

Dan is famous for saying, “If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.” He understood the risks of living a prophetic life.

Like Jesus, Dan was particularly drawn to the marginalized. He said:

Sometime in your life, hope that you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope that you might have baked it or bought or even kneaded it yourself. For that look on his face, for your meeting his eyes across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot, or suffer a lot, or die a little, even.

He was willing to associate with those who were unpopular, and those others called immoral. He served as faculty adviser at his campus to one of the first organized gay student groups, an unusual position for a Catholic priest. My friend Carol Crossed, a long-time consistent life activist, tells of visiting his New York City apartment unannounced in 1988. He wasn’t home and she waited several hours for his return. He said he had been visiting AIDS patients at a hospital. Her visit was to ask him to lead a Faith and Resistance pilgrimage in Rochester, New York protesting a military center and an abortion center the same day. He readily agreed. At the sites visited, Dan spoke about the spirituality of geography and the need to be present where killing was occurring to absorb the evil.

He didn’t believe that those who have and abuse power and money would have the last word. And he saw as a whole the work against all forms of violence and oppression. He said,

For my part, I believe that the vain, glorious and the violent will not inherit the earth…. In pursuance of that faith my friends and I take the hands of the dying in our hands. And some of us travel to the Pentagon, and others live in the Bowery and serve there, and others speak unpopularly and plainly of the fate of the unborn and of convicted criminals. It is all one.

And he understood this involved the whole created world. The 2nd of his Ten Commandments was, “Don’t be afraid to be afraid or appalled to be appalled. How do you think the trees feel these days, or the whales, or, for that matter, most humans?”

His first commandment was “Call on Jesus when all else fails. Call on Him when all else succeeds (except that never happens).” And what did he say shows one’s faith?” Faith is rarely where your head is at. Nor is it where your heart is at. Faith is where your ass is at!”

This reminds me of one of the favorite sayings of my mother, “The life I live is the prayer I pray.” Faith must be lived out in our lives.

I love that the Dayspring Members’ Commitment calls on us to live “in a manner which will end all war and violence, personal and public.” The commitment to nonviolence was central to Dan. He said that “One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible.” He also said, “No principle is worth the sacrifice of a single human being.”

What does this have to do with Mothers’ Day? In the United States, the origins of the official Mothers’ Day holiday go back to 1870, when abolitionist Julia Ward Howe worked to establish a Mother’s Peace Day. Howe dedicated the celebration to the eradication of war, and organized festivities in Boston for years. This was her original proclamation:

Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

Let us witness to that love to which today’s Gospel lesson calls us. God may call us to witness in any of a number of ways. We may be called to witness directly against the violence and oppression of the principalities and powers. We may be called to feed the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless, care for refugees, visit the ill and imprisoned, or to spend precious time with the lonely. May we be faithful to whatever call we hear.

And let us not fall into despair at the extent of evil in our world. Dan said, “The gift we can offer others is so simple a thing as hope.” Hope energizes our calls to witness against evil.

Following my words, Kip will play a music video of the song “Prayer of the Mothers” which was born as a result of an alliance made between singer-songwriter Yael Deckelbaum, and a group of courageous women leading the movement of “Women Wage Peace.” The movement arose in the summer of 2014 during the escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, and the military operation “Tzuk Eitan.”

On October 4, 2016, Jewish and Arab women began with the joint “March of Hope” project. Thousands of women marched from the north of Israel to Jerusalem in a call for peace. This call reached its peak on October 19th in a march of at least 4,000 women, half of them Palestinian, and half Israeli, in Qasr el Yahud (on the northern Dead Sea), in a joint prayer for peace.

The very same evening 15,000 women protested in front of the prime minister’s house in Jerusalem. The marches were joined by Nobel Prize for Peace winner Leymah Gbowee, who organized women in Liberia in a movement which brought the end of the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

Nagasaki Day Reflections

Sunday, August 9th, 2020

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 August 9, 2020.

75 years ago today, 3 days after the first use of the atomic bomb in war at Hiroshima, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the city of Nagasaki, Japan, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. Let me show you a few photos about that day.

A group of clouds in the sky

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This is a photo of the mushroom cloud created by the atomic bomb explosion.

A close up of a map

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These are before and after pictures of the city, showing the extent of the devastation.

A vintage photo of an old building

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This is a photo of the Urakami Tenshudo Catholic cathedral. Nagasaki was the center of Christianity in Japan.

A group of people sitting on a rock

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Battered religious figures stand watch on a hill above a tattered valley. Nagasaki, Japan. September 24, 1945. Cpl. Lynn P. Walker, Jr. (Marine Corps) NARA FILE #: 127-N-136176 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1241

This shows the destruction of a temple in the city.

A picture containing outdoor, animal, rock, grass

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This is the photo of a victim of the attack, a child severely burned.

In his book, The Fall of Japan, William Craig described the situation in Nagasaki after the bomb was dropped:

Much of the city was in flames. Lines of refugees streamed out of the inferno. Many were walking dead, soon to collapse to the ground and expire. Not only had heat charred and destroyed their skin, but the invisible gamma radiation from the split atoms had invaded their bloodstreams and marked them for a sure death. They croaked continually for water.

Almost one half of the medical personnel in Nagasaki had died in the first minutes, and, as a result, casualties received little or no relief from their wounds. The burned continued to scream, the torn bled to death, and those dosed with radiation never received the transfusions which might have saved them. Over everyone hung a wall of crackling fire which rained down sparks and consumed the slow of foot…

Some of the doctors and nurses were so shocked by the enormity of the catastrophe that they turned their backs on the helpless survivors and scurried away to the safety of the high ground. By the time their consciences functioned, it was too late.

In the years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, the United States built up a tremendous nuclear arsenal, enough to destroy all of human civilization several times over. The Soviets quickly rushed to catch up. Other countries developed smaller nuclear arsenals. Today 9 countries have an estimated total of 13,400 nuclear warheads in their arsenals, more than 90% of these held by the United States and Russia.

From 1963 to 2010, several treaties were signed designed to limit nuclear weapons, and there was some hope the world would move away from these weapons of mass destruction. But in recent years, the 2 major nuclear powers have started spending massive amounts to modernize and expand the kinds of nuclear weapons in their arsenals.

The UN held nuclear weapons treaty talks in 2016 and 2017 with most of the world’s countries participating. However, North Korea was the only nuclear power who voted to support holding the talks. In 2017, 122 nations approved the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to the prohibited activities. However no nuclear power has signed it or indicated support for it. The treaty goes into effect when 50 nations have ratified it. So far, 43 have.

Gordon Cosby wrote (Seized by the Power of a Great Affection, p. 10):

In Christ, I am one who seeks reconciliation with every person. I am a peacemaker. My nature is not to extract vengeance – not even “equal” retaliation, an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth.

In Christ, I cannot kill, either personally or through the state. In Christ I learn to love my enemies – personal, national and global. …

I cannot support any plan to build nuclear weapons designed to incinerate millions of God’s children and mar forever the beauty of God’s creation.

Today, the barbed wire represents the impulse to kill other human beings, especially with weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons. The flame represents the spirit of Christ calling us to a different way of life in which we love our enemies and would not harm any of them.

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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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