The last post concluded with how I ended up working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Riley Hospital for Children, Indiana University Medical Center, Indianapolis.
Research: Infant Pulmonary Function
After I’d been working in the NICU for about four years, a research position was created to work in the newly opened Infant Pulmonary Function Laboratory at Riley. I was encouraged to apply for the job, in part because of my NICU experience. I didn’t know exactly what I’d be doing, since it was a new position. I didn’t have much experience in medical research at that time although I did learn about medical engineering when I spent the summer before my Senior year at Scattergood working with Don Laughlin in his medical electronics lab at the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City.
I taught myself the FORTRAN computer language at Scattergood. Studying calculus at Earlham College was also very valuable.
It would be a real financial hardship in that the salary was half of what I was earning in the NICU. That was because the position was paid from research grants. Despite that, and not knowing exactly what the position would involve, the Spirit left no doubt that I should apply for that position. I had finally found my career path. It was part of the plan that I had the prerequisites for the position.
I wrote the computer software and engineered the hardware systems that allowed us to perform lung function measurements in infants. About fifteen years ago we developed a system that would measure lung diffusion in babies. That was a complex system that involved switching a number of valves at various times in the respiratory cycle, and using a mass spectrometer to measure gas concentrations of as little as hundredths of a percent. It took three years to get the system to work correctly. Ours was the only lab in the world able to perform such measurements in infants.
This editorial was about that research done by our lab with the lung diffusion system combined with molecular biology to identify the cells involved with the development of the pulmonary parenchyma in babies.
Earlier I wrote Foundational Stories: Quaker Faith. I said we express our faith by telling stories about our faith-based decisions and actions. To continue telling my foundational stories related to faith, I’m led to share some of my Spirit-led stories.
In the last post I wrote about my first spiritual challenge-how I came to be a draft resister at the time of the Vietnam War. I have become aware that many people today have almost no real conception of war, unless someone they love is in the armed forces. Something that happened fifty years ago is relegated to the history books.
Photography is one of the three pieces of my foundational stories. I’ve taken the photos I share in my blog posts, including these from the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC.
I have so many photos from Washington, DC, because of my years on the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s General Committee, which held annual meetings every November. Agreeing to be on the General Committee was another spirit-led decision. I was concerned about agreeing to do that because of the travel involved. I refused to have a car for environmental reasons (also spirit-led). So I took 22 hour train trips from Indianapolis to Washington for those meetings. Again I had many rich experiences and got to know Friends from all over the country. Today I attend the weekly Zoom worship sharing meeting, FCNL’s Witness Wednesday Silent Reflection. Your are welcome to join every Wednesday at 4:15 Central times. fcnl.org/ww-stream
In the previous post about Quaker Faith I wrote about my struggles at that time that led me to be a draft resister. That was such a huge issue that there were many stories within the stories about the war.
My first experience in organizing occurred at this time, when I helped organize a draft conference at Scattergood. This was held on one of the national days of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.
During another of the National Moratorium days to end the war in Vietnam in 1969, Bob Berquist, our Scattergood government teacher, suggested we go to the nearby town of West Branch and talk with people there about the war. (Scattergood is located on a farm.) He drove three of us into town, stopped at a random house, and stayed in the car while we went up to the door. I still remember how scared I was. But it was a real education to find how unpopular the war was at every house we visited. People seemed to appreciate the chance to share their feelings. Although I was very uncomfortable with the idea, because of my strong spiritual feelings against war, I felt I should do this. And as with every other time I followed those leadings, I benefited in many ways. They were/are always growing experiences.
After Scattergood I attended Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, Indiana. I had gone to the college in 1968, while a student at Scattergood, for a conference of Quakers from across the nation who gathered to write what became the Declaration on the Draft and Conscription: Richmond 1968.
There was a small group of Quaker students, Young Friends, which were an important part of my spiritual life at Earlham. Although I left Earlham after one year, I returned at the time I was preparing to turn in my draft cards. We held the meeting for worship described here.
4:00 pm. Went to Meeting for worship. Jan Cole, Al Ingles, Dav Nagle, Marggie Schutz, Margaret and Lewis Taylor, Becky Gibson, Jim Bay, Ruby, and several others attended.
Al had read my letter to the draft board and my statement on the draft earlier, and asked if I would let him read it during Meeting. I told him that would be alright, so he did.
Al spoke of support and the future and how God spoke through me. I would hope that would be true but felt unworthy.
Margaret Taylor spoke of Iowa Friends who had always spoken against war and done what they felt right. She spoke of her support for me.
Becky Gibson spoke, very movingly, about finding who you are, and how important it is to do what is right.
Then Dav spoke, also very movingly. He is certainly an able minister—one of the people I love and respect very much. He seems always to be close to the center. He said severing ties with Selective Service is a major decision—but ALL decisions are major when they deal with principle and the Spirit. All, each of our decisions must be integral. “Severing ties with Selective Service is not an isolated act in this life of Jeff’s.”
After a good while I felt moved to speak. When confronted with a decision, we are told to do God‘s will. But God’s will is so difficult to discern among many influences—people, law, self (selfishness and pride). Realizing this, Thomas A’ Beckett said, “I am loathsome.” This was how I felt at times. But after he said that, he heard what he believed to be the voice of God saying “Nevertheless, I love.
I felt very uncomfortable having a student deferment from the draft. And as can be seen from this letter to my parents, I continued to work through what I was going to do about the war.
You want me to be practical; not so idealistic. But what you might see as idealistic, I see not only as practical, but necessary in order to be true to my code of life. And if you forsake your principles and all that you believe in, what do you have left?
The most difficult part of this decision has been that I would hurt you. But how far should a man go trying to protect those that he loves, at the same time denying the principles that give his life meaning?
Letter to my parents from Earlham College
I previous wrote about the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM) that was related to my Vietnam War decisions and actions. One of the significant consequences of my participation in VSM were the friendships I made with the kids in the neighborhood as I described in that post about VSM.
As I found over and over again as I worked in various community organizing situations, the most important thing is to build friendships. When I was about to leave VSM in Indianapolis and return to Iowa, the neighborhood kids made a meal of spaghetti, baked a chocolate cake, and gave me a record album of Jim Croce they knew I liked.
In Iowa I took classes at the community college, including photography (one area of my foundational stories), But I missed the kids in Indianapolis so much that I decided to return there. The family of several of those kids invited me to live with them while I looked for a job and a place to live. There wasn’t a significant difference in our ages, although at that age a difference of a year or two seemed big. I was about 21 and they were around 14 years old.
When I was first in Indianapolis, I received on-the-job training as a respiratory therapy technician. On my return to Indianapolis I got a job in the respiratory therapy department of Indiana University Medical Center.
At the Medical Center I worked with women on the labor and delivery ward. I was at times present for the miracle of birth.
Many of the women referred to the Medical Center had high risk pregnancies. Respiratory therapists from Riley Hospital for Children, which was part of the Medical Center, would come to help stabilize infants who had various conditions that needed to be taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Riley.
It was definitely spirit-led that when I saw the skills those respiratory therapists had, I wanted to be trained to do that. I was able to transfer to the respiratory therapy department at the Childrens Hospital. After an introduction to respiratory care for general pediatric patients I was eventually trained to work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). At one time I was the respiratory therapy supervisor for the NICU.
I hadn’t decided what I would study at college. The Medical Center had a degree program for Respiratory Therapy. Much as I loved my work, I hadn’t thought of applying to the Respiratory Therapy program. For one thing there were usually about two hundred applicants for each class of fifteen.
But on the day the applicants were being interviewed, the Clinical Instructor of the program came and pulled me off my patient assignments and took me to be interviewed. He was familiar with my work and wanted me to be in the class. I was selected to enter the program. These spirit-led steps resulted in me getting a degree in Respiratory Therapy and this became my career for my entire working life.
This is enough for today. I can tell it is going to take several more blog posts to tell more of my faith-based stories.
Post Script: I feel blessed to have been led to keep a Journal for a few years. I began that during the time I was struggling with the draft decision. This is a link to some of those Journal entries:
Recently a Quaker friend challenged us to consider what our foundational stories are, how they began, how they changed over time, and what they are now. I’ve been writing about my foundational stories, which are related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography.
This challenge comes at a time when I’m considering changes in those three things. Thus far my blog posts have been about how these stories began and have evolved.
I’m at the point of considering what those stories are now. A couple of days ago I wrote about the current state of how I care for Mother Earth.
Now I’ll try to express the current state of my Quaker faith, which will be the most difficult of the three parts of my foundational stories to write.
Part of what I was taught is we should not call attention to ourselves. But I have been led, as part of my faith, to share stories about my experiences and faith. The way we live our lives is how we express our faith. We share our faith by telling stories about these faith-based actions. The main reason photography is such a large part of my foundational stories is because photos can be a way to share my spiritual experiences.
I often think about what Noah Baker Merrill, a Quaker, wrote about this.
“We need to be careful when we talk about humility. The kind of humility this work brings isn’t the kind that would have us reject or repress our gifts. This kind of false humility leads us to oppress each other in the name of preventing pridefulness. This happens far too often.”
Noah Baker Merrill, “Prophets, Midwives, and Thieves: Reclaiming the Ministry of the Whole.”
Or as my friend Ronnie James, another storyteller says, “anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah”.
Religious faith is a matter of beliefs and, sometimes, spiritual experiences. I’ve heard not everyone has had, or at least not recognized, spiritual experience(s). I find it very interesting that those Friends (Quakers) who have said they had spiritual experience(s), have all said something like “and that’s all I’ll say about that”. That’s understandable because we don’t have the language to express this. Which makes it difficult to write about faith. Also, there is something about protecting something that is so intimate and profound in our lives.
My first spiritual experience was when I was about ten years old during meeting for worship at the Bear Creek meetinghouse. “And that’s all I’ll say about that”. Except to say I had no doubt about the presence of the Spirit in the world from that day on. I know I am blessed to have had that, and subsequent spiritual experiences.
Another Friend said his first spiritual experience came when he was about that age. This makes me realize we should pay attention to what young people experience. I love the native concept of children as sacred beings.
The concrete expression of our faith is seen in our actions in this world. This might mean we are led to act in ways contrary to the laws or conventions of the society we live in. Which is often not easy to do. Peer pressure can be a powerful force. There might be significant monetary costs and/or legal penalties. Quakers were once (still?) known as “peculiar people”. When there are conflicts between our spiritual beliefs and the laws of the government, people of faith try to obey the creator. Unfortunately, many times it is apparent that people who identify themselves as religious do not act according to the beliefs they profess. This lack of spiritual integrity results in many people rejecting organized religion.
The first time I was confronted with a situation where my beliefs were contrary to the laws of the land related to registration for the Selective Service System. I attended Scattergood Friends School, a Quaker boarding high school, during the time of the Vietnam War (1960’s). A military draft was being used to conscript young men into the armed forces. Quakers do not believe in war nor in participating in the military. Those with religious objections to serving in the military could apply for Conscientious Objector (CO) status, which if granted, would allow them to do two years of alternative service, such as working in a hospital instead of military service.
My Quaker friend and mentor, Don Laughlin, collected these stories of Quakers who opposed war and conscription.
I turned eighteen years of age while a Senior at Scattergood (1969). Young men were required to register for the Selective Service System at that age. The choices were either to do so, or apply for Conscientious Objector status, or do neither and face imprisonment.
I really struggled with whether I should accept alternative service, or not cooperate with the Selective Service System. I studied and prayed a great deal. I was convinced that alternative service was going along with the system. The question was whether to take the safer path of conscientious objection, or risk prison by resisting the draft.
I recognized this decision would set the course for the rest of my life. Which is why this is part of my foundational stories. If I compromised about this, I would likely do so in similar circumstances for the rest of my life. I would always be aware that I had not acted according to my beliefs.
The following Epistle, and the examples of the men who refused to cooperate with the military, many of whom did serve time in prison, showed me there were those who acted according to their beliefs despite the consequences.
The following is an excerpt from a statement by a group of Quaker young men at that time, including Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Quakers Don Laughlin and Roy Knight.
Those of us who are joining in this epistle believe that cooperating with the draft, even as a recognized conscientious objector, makes one part of the power which forces our brothers into the military and into war. If we Friends believe that we are special beings and alone deserve to be exempted from war, we find that doing civilian service with conscription or keeping deferments as we pursue our professional careers are acceptable courses of action. But if we Friends really believe that war is wrong, that no man should become the executioner or victim of his brothers, then we will find it impossible to collaborate with the Selective Service System. We will risk being put in prison before we help turn men into murderers.
It matters little what men say they believe when their actions are inconsistent with their words. Thus we Friends may say that all war is wrong, but as long as Friends continue to collaborate in a system that forces men into war, our Peace Testimony will fail to speak to mankind.
Let our lives speak for our convictions. Let our lives show that we oppose not only our own participation in war, but any man’s participation in it. In our early history we Friends were known for our courage in living according to our convictions. At times during the 1600’s thousands of Quakers were in jails for refusing to pay any special respect to those in power, for worshiping in their own way, and for following the leadings of conscience.
We may not be able to change our government’s terrifying policy in Vietnam. But we can try to change our own lives. We must be ready to accept the sacrifices involved if we hope to make a real testimony for Peace. We must make Pacifism a way of life in a violent world.
We remain, in love of the Spirit, your Friends and brothers,
An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription
This story would not be complete without including another important part of this decision, which was the tensions with my parents. They were against the war but wanted me to accept Conscientious Objector status. They were very upset when I said I couldn’t do that. I understood they didn’t want me to face prison and life as a felon, but they didn’t understand why I knew I must resist. I felt betrayed by their lack of support. Looking back from this time, it is easier to accept what they were doing out of love.
I mailed the following to the draft board today (2/6/1972), along with my registration certificate and classification (1-0) card:
Dear members and clerk of the draft board:
I have received an order to report for civilian work February 1, 1972.
I want to thank you for your concerned questions at my personal appearance, when we were considering my position as a conscientious objector. I have appreciated Mrs. Landon’s kindness and consideration, even when I returned my draft cards. Thank you for giving me more time to consider this decision. I hadn’t realized what a powerful affect that action would have on some people. The extra time gave them, and me, a chance to come to grips with the decision and its consequences. However, my beliefs have remained basically the same and the time has come to act accordingly.
I am sure none of us really want war. Many are convinced that was is a ‘necessary evil’—the only way to achieve peace. I think I can understand that, and I do respect those who sincerely believe it—their sacrifice has been very great.
But I do not believe war is the way to peace. True peace is a personal, internal, spiritual matter. When we come to know and love ourselves and our God, then and only then do we have peace. From this point, peace and love will flow from us and should engulf those we live and work with. This is the only way to find and promote peace.
In this matter, war has no place.
The enclosed attempts to illustrate my beliefs in relation to the Selective Service System. I hope this will help you to understand why I feel I cannot cooperate with the Selective Service System. I want it to be clearly understood that I am not doing alternative service. It is not my choice. There is nothing else I can do.
Love, Jeff Kisling
Letter to my draft board
I write concerning my relationship with the Selective Service System. There are many alternatives. In fact, someone once said the only alternative not open to a young man facing the draft is that of being left alone. I explored several of these. I applied for and was granted conscientious objector status (1-0). Then I had a student deferment, which made me very uneasy. I am now doing work which should qualify as alternative service, but for reasons I will attempt to explain herein, I find this alternative to be unacceptable.
I find it difficult to understand why one young man must explain his decision to do civilian work for a non-profit organization while another need make no explanation, indeed is encouraged to fight and perhaps kill other human beings. But it is one’s duty to explain one’s actions in order that others might understand, and perhaps follow. Noncooperation is less understood than conscientious objection, so I feel all the more compelled to try to present an explanation. I must try to explain, to spare my family the burden of doing so, for they neither clearly understand nor agree with my decision. (Note: they fully supported alternative service, but didn’t want to see me imprisoned).
This decision grew out of my experience as a member of the Society of Friends. Meetings of the Society of Friends can be a source of strength and guidance as one begins and continues to search for meaning in life. Quakers have always believed that there is that of God in every man, that each of us has the ability to communicate with that of God in us, and the responsibility to respond to that of God in everyone. It is evident that Jesus had communion with God—evident in the actions of his life and in his teachings—culminating in “not as I will, but as thou wilt.” This is the essence of Jesus’ teaching—that God’s will can be discerned and should be obeyed even at the cost of doubt and persecution. Quakers readily accept Jesus as an exceptional person and try to live up to the principles he gave us to live by. But we are even more concerned that we obey that Inner Light to which He was so sensitive, so we and have personal contact with and guidance from God. Thus, Quakers try to minimize distractions from “this (secular) world” in order to discern the will of God in their hearts and His presence in their midst. They gather together in a simple room and settle down together, searching in silence—each contributing to the spirit of the meeting as a whole. There are times when a member feels he has been ‘moved by the spirit’ to share with the group, in which case the meeting considers the message in further silence.
There is a spirit which comes from the silence which gives direction to life. The spirit is often difficult to discern because of our ties to ‘this world.’ We are afraid or too proud to give up our desire to ‘reason through’ decisions. Thus we develop a system of beliefs and guidelines composed of traditional beliefs, our own reasoning, and as much guidance from the Inner Light as we are willing to seek and accept. Thus our decisions, being not entirely grounded upon our faith, may not always be ‘right’. But we can do no more, nor should we do less, than follow our conscience as occasions arise—always seeking to become more attuned to the spirit.
Adolescence is that period when one begins to seriously consider ‘who he is’ and his purpose in the world. It is a time when one has so many question and so few answers. The extent to which a young person searches for, and finds answers to these questions is dependent upon guidance given by parents, peers, school and church; the degree to which this guidance corresponds to his own experience and needs; and his own self-discipline and desire to continue the search. Too often the leadership and resources are not available; he is ‘turned off’ by inconsistencies or shallowness or insincerity on the part of those he looks to for guidance and example; or materialistic demands distract from the search.
The draft requires fundamental moral decisions at this time in life. This may not be bad in itself, but tremendous pressure is brought to bear to influence the decision—tradition, parental and peer pressure, the law, etc. The Selective Service System tries to attract men to the armed forces by relying on these pressures and by not making alternatives widely known. The pressures in this case are for action which is contrary to the experience and desires of most young men—frustrating, anguishing when one is searching for truth, honesty and integrity. This type of experience stifles personal growth and leads to the loss of a spirit of idealism and faith in the goodness of men. Can there be a graver crime than that of destroying the spirit and dreams of the young? Only that of destroying life itself, and the Selective Service System is directly implicated in both.
Most of us agree that conscription and war are unjust-evil. The question is, how do we deal with evil? ‘Resist not evil’—a phrase widely known but little understood and less obeyed. ‘Do not set yourself against one who wrongs you’ (NEB) is a better way to put it, I think. In setting ourselves against those who harm us, we look, to some extent, for some way to hurt, or at least hinder them. We look for the worst in others and play upon their weaknesses rather than looking for the best and trying to fortify it. Out task is to overcome evil by doing good.
The time we spend ‘resisting evil’ could be better spent in trying to find out where we can do better ourselves. You do not change others by opposing them—rather, by respecting and trying to understand and learn from them, you can both benefit and move nearer the truth. A life of example—showing the possibilities and fruits of a life lived in love and concern for others, is the only way to overcome evil.
I do not want my example to be alliance with evil. Thus, I cannot serve with the Selective Service System. However, I will not set myself against it. I will break my ties with Selective Service, and concentrate on the difficult task of working for peace in whatever way I can.
The conclusion to my draft story is that I was drafted at a time when men were not being drafted for the armed forces. A Supreme Court case declared this to be illegal, so my order to report for civilian service was invalidated and I wasn’t prosecuted. I did finish my two years with Friends Volunteer Service Mission in Indianapolis.
Letters to and from Bear Creek Monthly Meeting
Homer Moffitt, Clerk Bear Creek Monthly Meeting
I am thankful for your kind letters and encouragement concerning my work in Indianapolis. I am learning much about love, and as I respond to the love of others, and they to mine, we are all amazed at how it grows.
I am enclosing a statement I have written concerning conscription, and my decision not to cooperate with the Selective Service System any more. I sent a copy of that statement, along with my draft cards, to my draft board.
Again, I tried very hard to follow the leading of the inner light. If I alone were making the decision, this would probably not be my choice. Thomas a’ Beckett, torn between his obligations to the Church and those to the State, was searching for guidance. When he realized all the forces that influence him—selfish desires for power and personal gain, fear of punishment or displeasing people, etc., he said. “I am loathsome.” But then he heard what he believed to be the voice of God saying, “Nevertheless, I love.”
I, too, feel shamed when I realize the factors that often influence my decisions and actions. On this matter, I have tried very hard to be sensitive to the will of God, and hope to do so in the times to come. Still somewhat uncertain that my choice is right, I am comforted in knowing that He still loves.
Love, Jeff Kisling
We have found your statement explaining your relationship to the Selective Service System very moving. Several of us are aware that your decision on this has been a difficult and lonely one. We want to assure you of our love and support as you meet the events which result from your courageous stand.
On behalf of the Peace Committee of Bear Creek Monthly Meeting
As I continue to write about my foundational stories, I was reminded of this document that describes the two years I spent in Indianapolis in the early 1970’s at the Friends Volunteer Service Mission.
“Alternative Service During the Vietnam War’ may be confusing to those who know I was a draft resister. At the time I joined the Indianapolis VSM Unit, I was struggling to discern whether I could accept doing alternative service. Joining VSM was a backup plan if I decided to do that
In the end I was led to turn in my draft cards, to resist the draft. And expected to be arrested as a result. But I was finding VSM so rewarding, I remained there for the two-year period.
During this time, the US Supreme Court case of another draft resister affected my situation, so I was not arrested.
Re-reading this fifty years later, the style and thinking seem a bit awkward, but I guess that is part of the story, as well.
I’ve been looking forward to describing the current state of my foundational story. The article below about Cai Quirk is remarkably similar to parts of my story now.
My foundational story is related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. This combination has remained a powerful, yet evolving, influence throughout my life. My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography. These three things came into play in many ways throughout my life.
I continue to rely on my Quaker faith to guide these decisions. Sometimes the guidance is clear. Other times either I’m not discerning what the Spirit is telling me, or there isn’t anything new to hear. It’s all too easy to stay on a path we are comfortable with, to the extent we might not hear, or might ignore leadings that say we need to change direction, to do something we are uncomfortable with. One thing I was blessed to realize early in my life was the times I took risks resulted in significant growth. Which led me to search for ways to take risks.
The reason I invested in the idea of the evolution of my foundational stories is because I’m feeling I might need to change how I think about and put into practice faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. I don’t have a way to know how many people read my blog posts but have a better indication of how people see my photography. My impression is that more people see my photographs. I’m sensing I should “focus” more on photography to express my spirituality and encourage more people to work to protect Mother Earth. Although the main reason I write so much is to try to organize and clarify what I discern about my spiritual life, and what that means, how to put these leadings into practice, how to practice hope.
People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.
Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.
“One of the pieces of Quaker witness I have been carrying in the world for many years now is around gender diversity and using art and storytelling as a way to explore that. This is some of the ministry that I carry.”
Cai Quirk (they/them or ey/em pronouns) shared this reflection with FCNL staff in a late-June Zoom lunch, along with the ways Spirit has been leading them to explore gender, faith, and nature through art.
Cai is a life-long Quaker. After years of spiritual deepening through writing poetry and creating self-portraits, Cai will soon release their first book. “Transcendence: Queer Restoryation” includes words and images that offer an expansive understanding of faith.
In speaking to FCNL staff, Cai showed many of their self-portraits, focusing especially on those exploring gender in the natural world. “I was finding new ways to create new stories that are empowering,” they told us. “Through these self-portraits, I found how far I can go in following Spirit. A lot of these photos were very freeing and empowering and have given me more connection to Spirit.” Cai explained that nature itself holds some inherent queerness; “Even when society tries to erase queer stories, they are still there in the landscape.”
Growing up Quaker, Cai learned the history of the social disruption inherent in Quaker faith. Yet today, Cai has noticed that only certain kinds of social disruption and ministry are accepted within some circles of Friends. “My art is an invitation to see how Spirit invites us all in different ways,” they said. While not all Quaker communities can feel welcome to those who rock the boat, social disruption and rage can be sacred as well. Changemaking occurs in many ways for many different people, and Cai is working to create more spaces where this kind of expansion and ministry are accepted, where more people can exist as their true selves.
“If I change myself to match society’s conventions, then I am not being authentic, I am not being faithful to Spirit,” Cai told us. Can we as the Religious Society of Friends expand our ideas of faith and community to invite everyone in? What would it take to seek and live into that welcoming Quakerism moving forward?
This morning my spirit was restless. I wasn’t led to what to write. Those who know me know I have a pretty rigid practice of trying to write first thing in the morning. If I don’t, I can rarely write later in the day. I get distracted by the busy-ness of life. And it doesn’t work to try to force myself to write if I’m not clear about what the subject might be.
It was a little foggy out this morning and I loved to try to capture photos of that. Even though, or perhaps because, such images are a challenge to capture. So, I took the photography/nature path instead of trying to write. Some of today’s photos are at the end of this.
My Spirit was happy as we traveled together.
I had taken the phrase “the road not taken” literally. Often as I hike and walk, I’m presented with a choice of which way to go.
But of course, that can apply to many other choices. The two roads at the beginning of this day were writing or walking.
I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
There have been many times taking the road less traveled by made “all the difference” in my life. Deciding to resist the draft, joining Friends Volunteer Service, choosing to work in neonatal intensive care, and then doing research in the Infant Pulmonary Function Lab. Learning computer programming. Being on the General Committee of FCNL. Connecting with the Kheprw Institute. Joining communities to protect the water including the Keystone Pledge of Resistance and Dakota Access pipeline. Getting in a van of fifteen people I didn’t know to go the Minneapolis on a snowy day to cut off the head of the black snake. Walking and camping ninety four miles with native and nonnative people. Learning to be clerk of peace and social concerns, and more recently Bear Creek Friends meeting. Joining Des Moines Mutual Aid. Many of those were difficult choices for a variety of reasons at the time. But every time they made all the difference.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference
The year was 1972. June was begun and Eldon’s classes at the University of South Dakota that spring had concluded. The Moreys and their two small children were en route on Highway 385 from north of Hot Springs, South Dakota headed to Rapid City. It was a long overdue vacation following two years of intense graduate study by Eldon and night-work at the Vermilion Hospital by Karen as an Emergency Room Nurse. Money was in short supply, so the trip was a tenting excursion with reservations and a documented travel plan which had been formulated over several months. The Rapid City Public Campground was free. Midway between Hot Springs and Deadwood they planned to turn on Highway 16 which goes to Rapid City. Deadwood farther to the northwest was scheduled to be visited after a short stay in Rapid City.
As they approached the turn to Highway 16, it suddenly occurred to Eldon they might change their travel plan and continue on Number 385 directly to Deadwood. So he immediately blurted-out, “Would anyone rather go directly to Deadwood and we can see Rapid City during our return trip to southeastern South Dakota?” Karen was amazed such a sudden thought had entered Eldon’s thinking. Such a change would nullify the dates of their camping reservations and confuse their friends who had been given a schedule of their plans should they need to be contacted. Karen, therefore, remained silent. The children were too small to have opinions. By then Eldon had made the turn to Highway 16. But, lacking family response he immediately turned the car around and re-entered Highway 385 going north. They were headed to Deadwood!
They arrived at Deadwood in time to participate in the final public tour of the “Gold Mine” at Lead, the adjoining city. They then searched for the campground where they had reservations for the next evening. There was plenty of room at the campground and they soon had their tent set and an evening meal cooking. All was well. The children were tired so all four of them took to their sleeping bags as darkness settled.
Soon thereafter it began to rain. Oh my, how it rained. It rained so hard the inside of the tent was coated with moisture from the condensation in the air. Never-the-less, they slept soundly. The rain stopped when breakfast time arrived. So they opened the tent vents, hung the opened sleeping bags on the clothesline to dry and made breakfast. Everything was dry and packed to resume car travel by 10 o’clock.
As they were entering the car, a fellow camper happened to walk past them. “Oh,” he said, “I see you are leaving the campground!” “Yes,” Eldon said, “We’re going back to Deadwood for a “look around,” and then we’ll head to Rapid City. “Rapid City?,” the man questioned. “You can’t go to Rapid City!” “Why not?” Eldon replied. “You don’t know, do you?” the man responded.
“Rapid City during the night of June 9-10, 1972 experienced one of the worst floods in the history of South Dakota. Fifteen inches of extreme rainfall over six hours sent Rapid Creek and other waterways overflowing… The Canyon Lake Dam became clogged with debris and failed, resulting in 238 deaths and 3,057 injuries… There were over 1,335 homes and 5,000 automobiles destroyed” (Wikipedia). They later were told a 12 foot high wall of water rushed down Rapid Creek through the center of Rapid City where the campground was located. Everyone in the campground was drowned”
Four or five years ago Karen and Eldon visited Rapid City for the first time since the flood more than 38 years earlier. In the Campground Park was a brass plated obelisk with the names of those people who perished the night of the flood while camping there. There were more than thirty names on that monument. It was a very sobering moment because the Morey’s knew their family’s four names would have been there had they not been re-directed.
A couple of years ago while en-route to Yearly Meeting, they stopped in Oelwein to visit Eldon’s aunt and his cousins. Don Avenson, one of his cousins, and he were talking about Quakerism. Don is a former Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives and a past Candidate for Governor. Eldon told him the story of the Rapid City Flood and explained that many “Traditional Quakers” are strongly “convinced” that the Divine Spirit sometimes provides “Leadings” which guide people. Don’s comment was, “If I had been redirected to avoid Rapid City during the night of June 9, 1972, I would be a Quaker too!” (Check Google for detailed information and photographs of the “Rapid City Flood of 1972”.)
One of the primary reasons I embarked upon this journey about the evolution of my foundational stories was to encourage people who hadn’t been much involved in justice work to change that.
Injustices abound. The victims should be supported while working to address the root causes of the injustice.
We should search our own lives to see if and how we are contributing to injustice.
Spiritual guidance often leads to justice work.
If others observe our Spirit guided work, they may join our Quaker communities.
It is discouraging to see attendance of our Quaker meeting diminish as Friends die or move away, and few new people join. Many Friends do justice work, but that is often unseen by people in the community. This is a time of great spiritual poverty, and Quaker meetings for worship could be what some seekers are looking for. For seekers to find us, we need to be seen in our communities. And doing justice work is a way for that to happen.
There is a web of interrelationships among Native and non-native peoples in the Midwest that presents opportunities to work together to learn and publish the truth about Indian Boardings Schools. There are parts of this that are only appropriate for each community to work on separately. But hopefully these Congressional visits will be the beginning of further work together.
This began with an appeal from Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) for us to ask our Senators to support that legislation (S. 2907). And specifically, to do this during their current recess when they would be in Iowa.
I know my friend Sikowis Nobiss is interested in supporting legislation related to Native Americans, so I contacted her about this. She put me in touch with Jessica Engelking, who is also part of the Great Plains Action Society. Fortunately, I met Jessica when we were attending the Buffalo Rebellion conference recently. Some of the networking that occurred there. Others at that conference included my friends Peter Clay, Sikowis, Mahmud Fitil, Ronnie James, Miriam Kashia and Jake Grobe.
When Jessica asked what Quakers have been doing related to our role in some of the residential schools, I shared FCNL’s decades of advocacy for Native Americans. We began to work together to arrange visits to our Senators about the truth and healing commission act, and included Jessica Bahena, FCNL’s National Organizer, who is FCNL’s contact related to this legislation in our planning.
Over the past several years there have been changes in how I do justice work. What hasn’t changed is the I’ve tried to be obedient to what the Spirit is telling me to do.
Most of my life I did justice work within the framework of Quaker meetings, communities, and organizations, such as FCNL. For about 8 years I was clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee. At our annual sessions a month ago, someone else took over that responsibility.
The Quaker involvement in the Indian Boarding Schools has long been a concern of mine. When I learned about this appeal from FCNL, I wanted to work on that. But no longer being on the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, I wasn’t thinking about working in the context of that committee, although I did contact the clerk of the committee in case they wanted to become involved.
For the past two years I’ve been working in the Des Moines Mutual Aid community. This has answered a deep need in my life to find accomplices who are doing justice work in a way that focuses on root causes of injustice and builds community. (See: Mutual Aid PDF)
I’d like to explore the possibility of Native Americans and White people working together on these traumatic problems. At first, I thought the Mutual Aid part would just be an interesting possibility to frame this work, but the more I think about it, the more important I think it could be, for making our work together avoid the problems of hierarchy, who’s in charge.
It is common to feel vulnerable when we meet new people, in new organizations and communities. But we need to venture out of our meetinghouses more often. I’ve been blessed to have found numerous communities to work with over the years. What follows are guidelines I’ve discovered that can help you as you begin to work with other communities or cultures.
This is the continuation of a series of posts about the evolution of my foundational stories, which are related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. Up to this point the stories have been from my life in Indianapolis, and about protecting the water and Mother Earth from the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and all the implications of that.
My reason for doing this is because our world has changed dramatically, in many ways, in my lifetime. And I want to see if I’m doing the best I can today to prepare for increasingly dystopian times. Although it’s taking longer than I planned to get there, it is an important part of the process for me to reflect on the ways my foundational stories have evolved.
At the end of June 2017, I retired from my career doing research in the Infant Pulmonary Function Lab at Riley Hospital for Children and returned to Iowa, where I had grown up, and where my parents still lived.
It was difficult to move away from the many friends and communities I had developed relationships with over my five decades in Indianapolis. And it was difficult to leave a career I loved. Every day brought significant challenges to the scientific software development and medical engineering I was doing. In a lab where most of us had worked together for thirty years.
It was a Spirit-led decision to retire.
Another thing that made this move difficult was knowing I would be living in a small community that didn’t have a public transit system. Living without a car was part of my foundational story, impacting my life in so many ways. And I’d been agitating others to give up their cars. I walked whenever possible in Indianola. But the justice work I eventually found often meant borrowing my parents’ car to drive to Des Moines.
My friends in Indianapolis heard about my plans to use a bicycle as much as possible when they asked about my plans for retirement. I was very touched when a large number of people contributed to help me buy a good bicycle for this purpose, including my co-workers at Riley Hospital for Children, and friends from North Meadow Circle of Friends, and my friends at the Kheprw Institute (KI). In addition, Dr. Robert Tepper, a lifelong friend and the Director of the Infant Pulmonary Function Lab where I spent most of my career, gave me a great backpack designed to be used with bicycles, which included a sleeve to carry a laptop computer. The backpack is designed to hold the pack away from one’s back, keeping sweat away from the pack itself.
I had hoped to build up the stamina to ride my bicycle to Des Moines, about fifteen miles. And perhaps even the forty miles, one way, to Bear Creek meeting!
The following PDF (which can be downloaded) describes the three-day, forty-mile journey I undertook in September 2017 (two months after moving to Iowa).
My Quaker meeting, Bear Creek Friends, has struggled to figure out how to reduce fossil fuel transportation when so many Friends live in rural areas or towns without public transit. We wrote the following Minute, which was approved by our yearly meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in 2017. And below is a pamphlet from Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC), which had asked meetings to submit their work on sustainability.
Radically reducing fossil fuel use has long been a concern of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). A previously approved Minute urged us to reduce our use of personal automobiles. We have continued to be challenged by the design of our communities that makes this difficult. This is even more challenging in rural areas. But our environmental crisis means we must find ways to address this issue quickly.
Friends are encouraged to challenge themselves and to simplify their lives in ways that can enhance their spiritual environmental integrity. One of our meetings uses the term “ethical transportation,” which is a helpful way to be mindful of this.
Long term, we need to encourage ways to make our communities “walkable”, and to expand public transportation systems. These will require major changes in infrastructure and urban planning.
Carpooling and community shared vehicles would help. We can develop ways to coordinate neighbors needing to travel to shop for food, attend meetings, visit doctors, etc. We could explore using existing school buses or shared vehicles to provide intercity transportation.
One immediately available step would be to promote the use of bicycles as a visible witness for non-fossil fuel transportation. Friends may forget how easy and fun it can be to travel miles on bicycles. Neighbors seeing families riding their bicycles to Quaker meetings would have an impact on community awareness. This is a way for our children to be involved in this shared witness. We should encourage the expansion of bicycle lanes and paths. We can repair and recycle unused bicycles, and make them available to those who have the need.
Minute approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2017
The Keystone pipeline resistance ended with President Obama’s denial of the pipeline’s permit. But then we began to hear about the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In one of the most transparent, egregious examples of environmental racism, the route of the pipeline was changed when people in Bismarck, North Dakota, objected to the original plan for DAPL to cross the Missouri River just upstream from them, fearing contamination of their water. So, the route was changed to cross beneath Lake Oahe (Missouri River), at the edge of the border of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation (orange in the map below).
Dakota Access Pipeline route (Standing Rock Indian Reservation is shown in orange)
That new route stimulated months of prayers and ceremonies by hundreds of Native American tribes and thousands of people.
By late September, (2016) NBC News reported that members of more than 300 federally recognized Native American tribes were residing in the three main camps, alongside an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 additional pipeline resistance demonstrators. Several thousand more gathered at the camps on weekends.
In a recent post (Keystone Pledge of Resistance) I described how Jim Poyser, Ted Wolner, and I were trained to design peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience actions. And how we trained about fifty people in Indianapolis to participate in such actions.
A Spirit-led connection was made when Jim was talking with Joshua Taflinger about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Jim lived near Joshua’s White Plains Wilderness Academy. Joshua wanted to know what he could do locally to bring attention to the Dakota Access pipeline. I say ‘bring attention’ rather than protest, because one of the first things I learned from those opposing DAPL was the difference between protesting and being a water protector.
Water protector was about an integral, Spiritual connection with Mother Earth, and all things human and nonhuman.
Jim told Joshua about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance, and those of us who had been trained to organize public gatherings and actions. And told Joshua we would be glad to support similar efforts to call attention to the dangers of DAPL. We were all excited about helping Joshua and White Plains Wilderness Academy, glad our experience could be useful.
Before getting into what we did related to DAPL, I’d like to express how working with Joshua and his wife Brandi, made me aware of the concept of spiritual warriors.
It may seem odd for a Quaker to speak about warriors. But what I mean by warriors is what Chief Sitting Bull said.
For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another’s life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves and above all, the children, the future of humanity.
Warriors today are forging different ways to live together, returning to Indigenous ways to live in community. Mutual Aid is an alternative to our broken systems. Members of Mutual Aid communities are working for the abolition of police and prisons. To escape the colonial capitalist system. Feeding the hungry and finding shelter for the houseless. Collecting clothing.
The following from Joshua, is another example of radically rethinking our stories.
I am inspired to share with you all more directly a post I wrote, because I consider you an established and effective nature/spiritual warrior and believe that there is a need for the perspectives shared in the attached post to be more common thought in the minds of the many.
If you feel truth from this writing, and are inspired, I highly encourage you to re-write your own version, in your own words/perspectives, and post to your network.
With the intention of helping us all wake up, with awareness, clarity, and direction.
..spreading and weaving reality back into the world….
What has risen to the surface at Standing Rock is a physical/spiritual movement. Learn how to quiet your mind. To find the silent receptive space to receive guidance. To learn to adapt and follow the pull of synchronicity to guide you to where you will find your greatest support and strength.
What I have found in my time praying in the indigenous earth-based ways, is that it’s not about putting your hands together and talking to God…. It’s about quieting and connecting with the baseline of creation, of nature. Tuning into the frequency and vibration of the natural world, the nature spirits. The beings and entities that have been in existence, for all of existence, the examples and realities of sustainability and harmony.
It’s about becoming receptive to these things. Being open and flowing with them. The spirit guides us, but we have to make ourselves receptive to feel, sense, and respond to this guidance.
Each Warrior of the Light contains within him the spark of God. His destiny is to be with other Warriors, but sometimes he will need to practice the art of the sword alone; this is why, when he is apart from his companions, he behaves like a star. He lights up his allotted part of the Universe and tries to point out galaxies and worlds to all those who gaze up at the sky. The Warrior’s persistence will soon be rewarded. Gradually, other Warriors approach , and they join together to form constellations, each with their own symbols and mysteries.
Coelho, Paulo. Warrior of the Light: A Manual (p. 89). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition
There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Great barbarian powers have arisen.
Although these powers spend their wealth in preparations to annihilate one another, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable destructive power, and technologies that lay waste our world. In this era, when the future of sentient life hangs by the frailest of threads, the Shambhala warriors appear.
The warriors have no home. They move on the terrain of the barbarian powers. Great courage is required, both moral and physical, for they must go into the heart of the barbarian powers to dismantle their weapons, into the places where the weapons are created, into the corridors of power where decisions are made.
The Shambhala warriors are armed only with the weapons of compassion and insight. Both are necessary. Compassion gives them the energy to move forward, not to be afraid of the pain of the world. Fueled by compassion, warriors engage with the world, step forward and act. But by itself compassion burns with too much passion and exhausts us, so the second weapon is needed — insight into the interdependence of all phenomena.
With that wisdom we see that the battle is not between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. And with insight into our profound interrelatedness, we discern right action, knowing that actions undertaken with pure intent have repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what can be measured or discerned.
Together these two weapons sustain the warriors: the recognition and experience of our pain for the world and the recognition and experience of our radical interconnectedness with all life.
Adapted from Dugu Choegyal, as recounted by Joanna Macy
The Spiritual Warrior is a person who challenges the dreams of fear, lies, false beliefs, and judgments that create suffering and unhappiness in his or her life. It is a war that takes place in the heart and mind of a man or woman. The quest of the Spiritual Warrior is the same as spiritual seekers around the world.
I feel awkward when writing stories of my life because I was raised to believe we should not call attention to ourselves. I’m feeling this now as I continue to write my foundational stories.
A friend of mine expresses this awkwardness by saying, “anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah”. But we both tell our stories to pass on lessons we’ve learned that might be helpful to others. And in the spirit of Mutual Aid (that we are both involved in), might lead others to share their stories with us. To build a community library of our stories. My mom has worked to gather such a library of stories, the Quaker Stories project. https://quakerstories.wordpress.com/
I offer you this essay in the hope that you may find something within it that will keep you buoyed in the years ahead. It reflects my own attempt to understand the converging crises in our near future, and to grapple with the question of what I might be able to offer that will be useful in that future.
It was the birth of my first child that catalysed a sense of urgency to take the idea-threads I had been tracing for some years now and to weave them into a relatively coherent whole. As any conscientious parent will testify, there are few things that will sharpen one’s focus on the future than a deeply felt sense of responsibility for a new being.
If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.
So, this is me radically rethinking the stories I tell myself (and you). We are being forced to nurture the emergence of new stories into being because of the catastrophes that are ever worsening because of environmental devastation and social collapse.
It’s not who our ancestors were, or how many committees we serve on, or whether we’ve read John Woolman’s journal that places us in the living stream of Friends. It’s through living our own authentic journey of faithfulness that we can become Children of Light. Without this, we are claiming an inheritance not our own. You can know the motion of thieves is present when you find yourself feeling humble, authentic, and vulnerable. We need to be careful when we talk about humility. The kind of humility this work brings isn’t the kind that would have us reject or repress our gifts. This kind of false humility leads us to oppress each other in the name of preventing pridefulness. This happens far too often. Real, life-giving humility means living up to the light that we have been given without judgment of how bright or dim that light is. False humility is hiding this light under a bushel for fear of jealousy or judgment. The challenge is to be faithful right where we are—no more, no less. This takes courage. To be faithful, we have to make space.
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”