[This is a compilation - with slight editing and correction of some errors, and a few parenthetical updates - of several email messages written to a small, private Friends (Quaker) list in September 1995. Please excuse references that may have been clear to all those on that list but not to non-Friends readers. The compilation was too long for one article, so I've broken it into three parts.]
Four years before I was born, my mother had my oldest sister. After many miscarriages, she was told she wouldn't have any more children. Two years later, my parents took in as foster parents, and later succeeded in adopting, twins born to parents who didn't feel able to care for them. A couple of years later, my mother found herself pregnant. At this point, my parents' income had come down considerably with my father's vocational shift from chemical engineer to Methodist pastor.
While vacuuming one day, my mother felt within her what she knew from much painful experience might be the coming on of a miscarriage. What should she do? Perhaps a miscarriage might be a blessing considering their financial state and having three small ones at home already. The doctors would say she should have complete bed rest to have a chance of getting through the pregnancy. She didn't feel she could do that. Being faced with a dilemma, there was only one thing she could do - pray. So she gave me over to God, pledging that if the pregnancy were to come to term, she would consider the child to be God's, not her own.
My mother's doctors eventually persuaded her to have a Ceasarian to get me out early in the hopes of saving my life. They had living donors available to completely transfuse my bloodstream if needed. The most optimistic prospect for was the survival of a baby who would be severely handicapped, both physically and mentally. However, they didn't need to use heroic measures. I was an extraordinarily healthy baby, with no evident defects. My mother survived, but they said she'd never walk again. She has now been walking for more than a half century since then!
Praise the Lord! Some tidbits about how the Lord has worked in my life the 48 years [as of 1995] since in future messages.
I was raised in a committed Christian home, and thus learned about the Christian way of life from observation. My parents sought to follow God's leadings in their lives, no matter what strange places (and there were many!) that took them. They were pacifists (my father hadn't known any pacifists when he was growing up, but read the Bible and could see what Jesus was saying), believers in racial equality (my father got in trouble very early in his ministry for holding an interracial prayer group), vegetarians, etc. When I was 5, my parents decided they were called to go to the deep south. We were in North Dakota at the time. They bought an old truck and put our belongings in it. We (family of six) headed south, with the first destination Koinonia Farms, Americus, GA. This is a Christian community founded by Southern Baptist missionaries who became convinced of the true gospel while on the mission field and came home to practice it in an interracial community. Just our kind of folks! After a couple of weeks, my parents bought a farm 4 miles outside of the nearby community of Plains. One of our first acts was to post a sign naming it Brotherhood Acres. No one had a problem with that until the local whites found out "they mean everybody!"
With my parents not being employed, we only lasted there a year. Although we were dirt poor, that year is remembered in my family as a highlight of our life. The Klan threatened to burn us out, the neighbors would let their cattle loose to trample our garden, etc. A very interesting year! I went to first grade in Plains; naturally, an all-white school. We would sometimes walk to school rather than risk violence on the school bus. Towards the end of our stay in Georgia, we subsisted mostly on berries (of which there were a lot growing wild on our acreage) and milk (we had a cow and some goats).
Then we moved to Iowa and Dad was employed as a Methodist pastor again. But he and the Church structure didn't see eye to eye and wound up parting ways. My mother became the main breadwinner as a high school teacher in another Iowa community, and my father earned some money cleaning eggs as we lived on an egg farm. The family began exploring different religious groups, ranging from Jehovah's Witnesses to Lutherans. We finally found ourselves most comfortable in a small Friends church. Not too long thereafter, we moved to another community where both my parents got teaching jobs. We didn't feel nearly as at home in the nearest Friends Church in that area, and began exploring unprogrammed Friends - in a small Conservative Meeting and in the urban Des Moines Valley Meeting (then unaffiliated). We were living in a Presbyterian parsonage of a small country church that hadn't had a pastor in a long time, and when they found out my Dad's background they prevailed on him to preach on a week-by-week basis for 2½ years, which interrupted our sojourn into Quakerism. We returned to Friends at the end of that.
Not surprisingly, I always had a sense of being different from most others, in which our Christian faith was central. Absorbing things from my family life, I just did things differently. When we moved to Iowa, the 2nd grade class I was in started each day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. I don't remember ever hearing any discussion about this at home, but this seemed quite a pagan custom to me and as a Christian I knew my allegiance must be to God not to a country or a symbol of a country. So I simply couldn't participate - it didn't feel like a choice to me; it was simply something I couldn't do. I also remember each year when I was at a new school filling out an information form and always writing in "The Great Physician" where the form asked for the name of our family doctor. Again, my parents didn't tell me to do this; it just seemed to be the correct response.
As a child, I also began a life of activism related to the testimonies of Friends. At about age 10, I went with my parents (I had worked hard to persuade them to do this) to Cheyenne, WY for a couple of weeks in the summer to protest against the building of missile bases in that area. A couple of years later, I went with friends of the family (but not my parents) to a 24-hour Hiroshima Day vigil outside a missile base several hours from our home.
I don't want to sound too together as a child. In fact, I often had difficulty separating reality from fantasy. But my parents always had faith that I was in God's hands, and God would deal with my psychological difficulties. Of course, they were right! I had my first dramatic spiritual experience in the fall of my freshman year of high school. It's very hard to describe or even to remember, but this tremendous feeling of peace came over me. From then on, I no longer had to retreat into a fantasy world in order to deal with my hostile (partly actually hostile, partly my imagination) surroundings. I was on an even keel, able to deal quite successfully with whatever I was faced with (among other things, my grades improved considerably).
In my freshman year in high school, we were in North Manchester, IN, within easy walking distance of three Brethren churches, of which we attended one, where I was in a choir. Back to Friends for my junior year in Urbana, IL. Here I became very active in the civil rights movement, and had my first bust in an open housing sit-in. Sunday evenings, we went to the AME Zion Church which was full of energy! The pastor was head of the local NAACP. I remember lots of good singing in that church, which I really enjoyed. Also enjoyed the silence at Friends. From there we moved to southern Virginia, where I had the interesting experience of being one of the first "Negroes" to attend a formerly all-white high school, despite the fact I have no know African ancestry (at least in recent centuries - according to some anthropologists, all of us have African ancestors). Buses were still segregrated, and we got to school late each morning and left early each afternoon, as the bus had to serve the black high school, too. My father taught at St. Paul's College, an Episcopal institution serving African-Americans. Got to meeting in Richmond about once a month, and attended a nearby Methodist Church the rest of the time, where we were not terribly welcome. We really didn't have the same faith.
Now, off to college. I went to Wilmington College in Ohio, a Quaker school. I was so used to most whites being hostile by now that I was bothered at first to find I had a white roommate (he turned out to be great)! There, I attended meeting regularly, was active in Young Friends, and spent most of my spare time in peace activism. I was always organizing for marches on Washington, but didn't always get to them myself as I often worked 7 days a week earning my way through college. Decided to join Friends during my freshman year. At home on break, I told my parents and they asked if I would mind if they joined at the same time. I didn't, and they did! Joined Richmond Meeting of Baltimore YM (Orthodox) (since then, the 2 BYMs consolidated, and Richmond has become a united meeting). After graduating from college in 1968, I was unemployed at home for a few months (in Baltimore, then, where my parents had moved after my freshman year in college, and we all transferred our memberships to Homewood Meeting - then an Orthodox Meeting). Some FUM reps. had to pull out at the last minute of a Historic Peace Churches conference in New Windsor, MD, and FUM called Homewood to find last minute substitutes. I was almost totally ignorant of FUM, but wound up an FUM delegate. There, I quickly bonded with the youth of all three traditions and we formed something of a youth caucus to spur the old folks along. After a few months in Baltimore, I went off to the short-lived Martin Luther King Jr. School of Social Change, connected to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA. Only lasted there one term - all of us on a School committee concerned with school governance were kicked out after that. Interned at Friends Peace Committee in Philadelphia, working on draft counseling.
This period of time was a key one for me. For one, I realized my inner peace had been bought at a price - a calm that avoided big ups and downs - and close relationships. Well, I decided to get close to people, and had my first real romantic relationship - with a fellow student, a welfare mom with 2 kids. A turning point not just in relationships with people, but with God as well - I learned to feel the joy and the pain, the vulnerabililty that is necessary to any true relationship. I was very active in peace stuff, and increasingly concerned about my draft status. I always knew that registering for the draft was wrong, but I was scared! I went through student deferment, applying for CO (turned down all the way to the Presidential appeal board), a ministerial deferment gotten via a mail-order ordination which I later rejected, and finally a physical deferment because of my eyesight (I'm just short of being legally blind). But gaming the system did not produce inner peace, and it began gnawing on me more and more. It took a couple of incidents to get me on track. One was a conversation with the 5-year old daughter of my girlfriend. She asked me if they were killing children over in Vietnam, and when I told her yes, she replied, "That means they can come over here, and kill children like me, doesn't it?" That began to make the peace testimony more than just something to believe. My draft card felt awful heavy at that moment, but I still couldn't quite bring myself to resistance. Then I participated in an all-night reading of the names of the war dead outside the Media post office. As the night wore on, the names became real to me - I finally felt them as actual humans. I could no longer sleep while retaining a draft card. I wrote a letter to Pres. Nixon, returning my draft cards. I held on to it until Sunday, when I took it to meeting with me. In meeting, I was clear that I was called to mail that letter. I mailed it on my way back to the dorm. Upon doing that, I felt a tremendous sense of relief, of freedom. The fear was gone.
Home from school for the summer, my oldest sister came to visit. She was Director of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Legislative Office, and had been given permission to hire a secretary just for the summer initially. Hadn't been able to find anyone, and talked me into coming to D.C. with her and filling that position (I hope y'all don't have strong convictions against nepotism!). I've lived in the D.C. area ever since. The job became permanent. I started attending Friends Meeting of Washington, and transferred my membership there, although I never really felt at home there.
Still very much the peace activist, I happened upon another important period of my life - peace vigiling in front of the White House. Some New York Yearly Meeting Friends got busted in a vigil at the White House, and came back on their trial date (charges were dropped) to vigil as long as the Spirit led. I joined them. The Spirit surprised them, and just kept on leading. At their YM sessions about two months later, it was decided it was time to turn the vigil over to local people. Some of us formed the White House Daily Meeting of Friends, and the vigil was turned over to us. It went on 24 hours a day for about three years. Some people lived there. I was the relatively respectable one of the lot, with a job and all, just coming there evenings and weekends. This was an extremely important community for me. We held meetings for worship as led - basically, we would just find ourselves in worship. The community that formed, developed and evolved was quite interesting. It was made up mostly of the rejects of society - drop-outs, people with psychological problems, people with criminal records, etc. Kinda like the people Jesus felt closest to, I think. The community was not interested in following anyone's party line, but with connecting to people and their needs. We began feeding the homeless, mostly with restaurant leftovers we got at the end of the day. We developed a relationship with a group of families of POW/MIAs. Some of our people once found themselves walking by the Papal legation when there was a pro-abortion group picketing. They found some cardboard, made some signs, and became a counter-picket. I had never really thought about the abortion issue, and the deep religious convictions of these friends whose spiritual discernment I respected made me consider it, and become actively pro-life. Our leaflets began to cover opposition to the Vietnam War, support for families of POW/MIAs and opposition to abortion - not exactly a model of the politically correct liberal/radical crowd. The vigil relied upon God for its needs. When folks were hungry, somebody usually came by with food. If someone needed a place to crash, a place would be offered. If someone was alone at the vigil and needed to go to the bathroom, someone would show up and agree to carry on the vigil (a Park Policeman, in at least one case). Feeling God's love, we shared it with others - giving food to the homeless, companionship to the mentally ill, etc. This whole experience was a critical juncture in my spiritual development.