Thursday, May 26, 2011

A message for Quaker non-Quakers

I have many friends whom I consider to be Quaker non-Quakers. By that I mean they hold the values of Quakers without knowing it.

There’s part of me that would like to whisper, “Pssst. You are a Quaker non-Quaker.”

There’s another part that tells me to let it be.

First what are the values we share? Quakers call them “testimonies” and they are usually listed as Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. They happen to create the acronym “SPICE." Some add Stewardship or Sustainability to the list. Make that “SPICES.”

In these times, each deserves long, deep contemplation and consideration. We need to consider whether we, Quakers and non-Quakers, truly live by these testimonies.

But for me, as a Quaker, there’s more. Quakers add a spiritual dimension to the testimonies. We believe we are “spirit-led” to these values and that the spirit will lead us to incorporate them into our lives.

So while I share the Quaker testimonies with many non-Quaker friends, I also want to explore the spiritual dimension with them as well.

Our secular culture does not invite such exploration. To push into matters of the spirit smacks of unseemly proselytizing. I hear the voice again, “Let it be” (The voice, by the way, sounds suspiciously like John Lennon’s.)

Quaker author Robert Lawrence Smith “speaks my mind” (as Quakers say) when he writes in the introduction to his illuminating and highly accessible book, “A Quaker Book of Wisdom”:

"It is my ever-growing conviction that the compassionate Quaker message badly needs to be heard in today’s complex, materialistic, often unjust, and discriminatory society. Every day brings new public debate over issues Quaker have always addressed: war and peace, social justice, education, health care, poverty, business ethics, public service, the use of world resources. The list goes on....”

Later he says, gently touching on the timeless leadings of the spirit, “To me, Quaker values of simplicity and silent contemplation, truth and conscience, seem more important now than ever before....the basic humanistic Quaker precepts of valuing racial and gender equality, promoting social justice and nonviolence — and, yes sometimes civil disobedience —seem to me to me so modern, so relevant to today’s society, that when I thought about writing this book I was suddenly surprised that no one had written one like it. What particularly struck me is that the Quaker ideals formulated in the Seventeenth Century remain contemporary in every sense, and the basic injunction to ‘let your life speak,’ to live each day in accordance with these beliefs, seems totally untarnished by the passage of time.”

That is exactly the message I want to share with you, Quaker non-Quakers.

For more, much more, on Quakers, go to

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Letter from a Friend: Crime in Portland

My friend Josh von Kuster writes the following for the Red Electric:

I am guilty.

Before I call you out on the carpet for also being guilty, know that I hold each of you dear. I hope to spark thoughts, not to offend.

A teen has been killed in North Portland every month since February.
• Yashannee Vaughn disappeared near Northeast 82nd on March 19. She is presumed dead.
• Shiloh Hampton was killed at Lloyd Center on April 18th.
• Shalamar Edmond was shot and killed in New Columbia around midnight the morning of May 16.

Additional very recent criminal happenings in Portland:

• A Tri-Met bus was struck by gunfire on the corner of North Williams and Fremont on April 21st.
• Two men were arrested for possessing $200k of heroin in North Portland on May 5.
• Debra Ross was shot in the chest on North Lombard on May 10.

This is a woefully incomplete list of the dangers and carnage raging in our city this year.


Portland is a great town; home of Powell's, bicycling, Mercy Corps, food carts and more excellent coffee and beer than I could ever possibly enjoy (although I intend to give a go).

Portland also is home to double-digit unemployment.

And Portland is no longer home to Shiloh Hampton, Yashanee Vaughn or Shalamar Edmond.

Portland is home to even more self-styled do-gooders, including yours truly, than it is to coffee houses and brew pubs combined, by a power of 10. We all want to change the world, be it by ending petlessness, buying only fair trade/organic goods, urban composting, not eating meat, fighting the violence inherent in "the system."

But what about ending the violence plaguing OUR CITY?

How can we possibly hope to make the world a better place when our own backyard is a killing field? Let’s get together to end the homicide, larceny and decay rampant IN OUR OWN CITY! Let’s decide to raise healthy, safe, secure, respectful youth IN OUR OWN CITY! How can we tell the world how to solve all its problems when we can't even keep our children alive long enough to graduate from high school?

Shame on me. Shame on us.

There are other worthy goals, true. But certainly preventing of the killing of own young people must be high on our list.

The first step to reclaiming our city is to pay attention and talk about what's going on.

Next is to take some action.

• Stand on a street corner with a sign asking who Shalamar Edmond is.
• Write a letter to the mayor or the city council.
• Ask the metro desk at The Oregonian how Shiloh Hampton's family is dealing with his death.
• Go to church somewhere in North Portland this week.
• Check out what some people are already doing about the problem here:
• Ask your children if there are gangs at school or if they have ever seen a firearm in their friends' possession.

I wish I had a good idea for what to do, but as I have confessed, I too am guilty.

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