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Inauguration of the Kingdom

Today, the eyes of the country were focused on Washington, as President Barack Obama was re-confirmed in his position as commander-in-chief of the most powerful nation the world has ever seen. After the most expensive political race in history, Obama presides over a deeply divided country – a nation wracked by structural injustice, income inequality, endemic racism and institutional gridlock. A spirit of division hangs over our nation.
In times like these, it is not surprising that we cling ever more desperately to symbol and ritual. With the bonds of national unity so strained, there is comfort and reassurance to be found in observing familiar forms. That is a what today’s inauguration was all about: it reminds us that, despite all of the battles and vitriol, our society still functions.

Given our national circumstances, it is not surprising that President Obama chose to enlist the potent legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., being sworn in on the Bible that King carried on many of his travels during the civil rights era. As America’s first black president, Obama invoked the memory of one of our nation’s greatest African-American prophets.

This choice of symbolism fits with what we know about power. It is the usual move of those in authority to appropriate the charisma and integrity of the martyrs. And today, in a system that is collapsing under the weight of its own violence, greed and oppression, our rulers have all the more need of the mantle of the prophets.
But the prophets continue to speak. I heard one this morning. Cornel West, a distinguished professor and philosopher, explained why “his blood boiled” when he learned that President Obama was to be sworn in on Martin Luther King’s Bible.

Can I get an Amen?
We must not tame the prophetic Spirit with our hand on that Bible. We must not quench the prophetic fire that Martin Luther King, Jr. and all of God’s witnesses have shown us. We must not allow the living gospel of Christ’s Kingdom to be appropriated by even the grandest of human kingdoms.
On this Inauguration Day, I will re-commit myself to the inauguration of the reign of the Way, the Truth and the Life. I pray that I will stay awake to the limits of human power, human government and human authority, looking always to the Prince of Peace as the only true leader of one and all. I look for the day that the Spirit who inspires the prophets will come to live and reign in this and every nation.

GPYM, and visiting Friends in Mexico City

I have shared Great Plains Yearly Meeting’s (GPYM) epistle, below, which communicates the corporate sense of the sessions. For me personally, there was a lot to chew on this year. I gave a number of reports, lead a Bible study/worship service, and I brought my concern to travel among Friends in the Great Plains region in the coming year.

I explained that, this coming year, beginning in February, 2009, it is my intention to return to the Great Plains and intensify the ministry of intervisitation that I began during the past year. I plan to spend time with each monthly meeting in the yearly meeting, coming to deepen my relationship with each congregation and seeking to be of service in building up the Body of Christ in our local meetings and communities. Additionally, I will aim to be of service to our neighbors in Manhattan, Lawrence and Topeka, encouraging them in their journey and seeking increased fellowship and cooperation between these meetings and Great Plains Yearly Meeting. Finally, I plan to look for ways to lend encouragement and support to isolated Friends in Kearney, Nebraska, Great Bend, Kansas, and elsewhere, helping them to find the material, human and spiritual resources they need to thrive. The needs of Friends will vary from place to place, but I hope that some of the fruits of my ministry might be: the strengthening of the existing meetings of GPYM; a greater focus on intervisitation in GPYM; encouragement for the pastoral leadership in our pastoral meetings; increased outreach in local communities; a focus on encouraging youth and a new generation of leadership; encouraging the growth of new meetings where there have not been any before; and outreach to other meetings in the region.

I was grateful that Great Plains Yearly Meeting did unite with me in this concern, providing me with a travel minute, an oversight committee, and some material support. My plan is to return in February of this coming year, to purchase a touring bicycle and a tent, and, once the weather permits, to begin to travel around the region, seeking to be of service to Friends across the Great Plains (Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, principally). I am praying that God will provide me with a traveling companion for this work, who would be willing to consider a long-term commitment (I plan to carry on this work for at least six months). In addition to a long-term traveling companion, I am also hopeful that Friends from Great Plains Yearly Meeting might join with me in traveling to different monthly meetings and worship groups to provide support in whatever way is most helpful to that group of Friends. Even if a Friend were able to drive up for a day or two to join me where I was at, that would be wonderful, and it is precisely in this way that I hope that my ongoing intervisitation might serve to encourage others in the yearly meeting and region to undertake intervisitation themselves, if only for a day or two.

Following Great Plains Yearly Meeting, I made my way yesterday to Mexico City, to link up with my brother who had been studying nearby in a Spanish language school for the past month. For the past few days, he has been staying at the Casa de los Amigos, the Friends house in Mexico City where I was once a volunteer. It was great to see my brother, and David Johns from the Earlham School of Religion, who came to meet me at the airport and accompany me back to the Casa. David is spending several months this summer as the Friend in Residence at the Casa, as well as taking some time to visit Friends in other parts of Latin America (Honduras and Guatemala, as I recall). I am glad that he is here, deepening his relationship with Friends in the Spanish speaking world. It seems clear to me that God has a special call for him as an ambassador, a bridge person between Friends in different parts of the Americas.

It was a blessing to have a called meeting for worship with a few Friends this morning. We came together in the beautiful space where the Friends of Mexico City Monthly Meeting meet, on the third floor of the Casa, in what used to be the art studio of the famous Mexican muralist, José Clemente Orozco. It was lovely to share communion with Friends here in that tall-ceilinged, beautifully-lit meeting room. We had a very peaceful time of worship.

I felt particularly blessed to have the chance to catch up a little bit with Nico and Jill, who are serving as house managers here at the Casa. We were able to talk for a while, while Nico and Jill played with their beautiful infant daughter. It seemed to me from our conversation that there is energy here for involvement in the Young Adult Friends movement. I wondered aloud with them whether that might be true in other meetings here in Mexico, for example in Ciudad Victoria, Monterrey, and perhaps in Evangelical churches here in the Valley of Mexico and in other parts of the country. I hope that Young Adult Friends in Mexico are able to come together, and I look forward to being supportive of that movement in any way that I can, knowing that it is ultimately up to Mexican Friends to decide whether they want to make this movement their own.

I am worried about my brother, who is quite sick at the moment. It seems it was something he ate or drank. We were planning on heading out to Cuernavaca tomorrow, but it looks like we’ll stay another night at the Casa. Andrew’s in no condition to travel. I would appreciate prayers for his health and for safe travels for us as we explore Central Mexico and the Yucatan together.

Epistle from Great Plains Yearly Meeting, 2008

8th, Sixth Month, 2008

Epistle from Great Plains Yearly Meeting (formerly Nebraska Yearly Meeting)

To all Friends everywhere,

We send greetings to Friends in all parts of the world from Central City, Nebraska, which to some of us feels like holy ground. In the shadow of the stately Old Main, which was the center of Nebraska Central College, a small Quaker educational institution of a century ago, we gathered together as a yearly meeting. This beautiful campus is now the site of Nebraska Christian School, which has grown out of the heritage of Quakerism into a thriving institution where young people still learn and grow.

The theme of our time together was, “Looking to the future while sharing in the joy.” We were privileged to have Paul Lacey of Earlham College and the American Friends Service Committee among us, who shared with the gathered body his own reflections on the meaning of joy. We as a yearly meeting considered what joy means to us as a small, sometimes weary fellowship of Friends on the prairie. We were asked to consider the passage from 2 John:12, “…but I hope to see you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” We reflected together on ways that we can be more connected as a community, striving to be with one another and see each other face to face on a more regular basis. We were blessed to have among us Mary Ellen McNish and Sonia Tumna of AFSC, Joe Volk of FCNL, Margaret Fraser of FWCC, Sylvia Graves of FUM, Michael Wajda of FGC, Margaret Stoltzfus of Iowa Yearly Meeting, Richard Sours of William Penn University, Rod Zwerner of Quaker Earthcare Witness and Maria Bradley and Linda Coates of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.

As we explored the history of our yearly meeting in this our one hundredth year, there was a mixture of nostalgia and gratitude for those Friends who worked so diligently and faithfully in the past to keep our hopes and dreams and searchings alive and well. We have been grateful for the labor of Ron Mattson of Central City Monthly Meeting in reminding us of our unique history and hertiage as a yearly meeting, as well as our deep roots in the Quaker and Christian tradition. How awesome to consider this glorious past! And how important to consider our own place in this present day, in the midst of a still beautiful world, but a world beset by challenges the likes of which it has never seen before. We considered our unique historical circumstance in a spirit of joy and grateful fellowship.

During our time together, we had ever in front of us the challenge of the present moment, and what God is calling us to in this new century for Friends on the Great Plains. We feel a sense of urgency, a sense of God’s call to reach out to a world in pain. At the same time, we are aware of our own inability to do anything under our own power, dependent as we are on the power of the Holy Spirit not only to show us way forward, but to prepare and empower us as individuals and as fellowships to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. This year, Friends at Great Plains Yearly Meeting have felt moved to deepen our commitment to participation in the wider Religious Society of Friends. At the same time, we seek to be more intentional in tending our own fragile fellowship, reaching out to one another and building each other up. We desire to be with one another, to see each other face to face as we seek to live the Kingdom here on the Great Plains.

We pray that Friends will experience the loving presence of the One who is above all names.

In friendship,

Friends assembled at Great Plains Yearly Meeting’s centennial celebration