7-14-19 - Life is Wild, God is Good

Life is Wild: God is Good

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

July 14, 2019



Psalm 27 (Message)

Light, space, zest—
    that’s God!
So, with him on my side I’m fearless,
    afraid of no one and nothing.

2     When vandal hordes ride down
    ready to eat me alive,
Those bullies and toughs
    fall flat on their faces.

3 When besieged,
    I’m calm as a baby.
When all hell breaks loose,
    I’m collected and cool.

4 I’m asking God for one thing,
    only one thing:
To live with him in his house
    my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
    I’ll study at his feet.

5 That’s the only quiet, secure place
    in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway,
    far from the buzz of traffic.

6 God holds me head and shoulders
    above all who try to pull me down.
I’m headed for his place to offer anthems
    that will raise the roof!
Already I’m singing God-songs;
    I’m making music to God.

7-9 Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs:
    “Be good to me! Answer me!”
When my heart whispered, “Seek God,”
    my whole being replied,
“I’m seeking him!”
    Don’t hide from me now!

9-10 You’ve always been right there for me;
    don’t turn your back on me now.
Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me;
    you’ve always kept the door open.
My father and mother walked out and left me,
    but God took me in.

11-12 Point me down your highway, God;
    direct me along a well-lighted street;
    show my enemies whose side you’re on.
Don’t throw me to the dogs,
    those liars who are out to get me,
    filling the air with their threats.

13-14 I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
    in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
    Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
    Stay with God.



Today, we kick off Vacation Bible School after lunch in our fellowship hall.  I am so excited to interact with nearly 30 children from First Friends and Cross and Crown Lutheran as they travel to an “African” safari setting to ROAR and learn how Life is Wild and God is Good


I love that tag line – Life is Wild: God is Good.  That summarizes it well.  As did those final words from our scriptures for this morning. 


I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
    in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
    Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
    Stay with God.


As I have been pondering all of this, I realized I have not had a safari experience (except maybe at Disney’s Animal Kingdom - but that doesn’t really count). I haven’t really faced lions, giraffes, yaks, rhinoceroses, except in the zoo which usually is pretty safe.  Well, as I was thinking about the phrase Life is Wild: God is Good, I was reminded of an experience I will never forget.  It definitely shows how Life is Wild and God is Good.


My story starts one Christmas Eve in 2002, after the Candle Light Service at the Anglican Church I was pastoring in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Our deacon, also named Bob, noticed a familiar face among our packed church.  It happened to be a social work client of his who was dying from Hepatitis C. As we greeted the worshippers at the back door (just as I do here each Sunday), Deacon Bob introduced me to Jack Coe.  Jack seemed to be a quiet man, but very gracious and glad to have joined us.  I sensed it had been a while since Jack had been in church.  He introduced us to the woman that was with him and her child. I assumed this was Jack’s daughter, but it didn’t seem appropriate to ask at the time. 


Well, Jack continued to attend on occasion and Deacon Bob met with him and checked in with him. Then one day, Deacon Bob was out of town and he asked if I would go check on Jack, pay him a visit, listen to his stories, and he said, “make sure you take him communion.”  So, I called Jack, set up a time to visit, and had my vestry prepare my communion kit.  I visited Jack during the week.  He lived in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of town.  When I arrived the lady that I thought was his daughter was on her way out with her son.  She was kind and said, “You are in for an afternoon of stories.  Jack is in a good mood, today, and is looking forward to your visit.” 


Jack met me at the door in an ornate smoking jacket with no shirt, jeans, and socks and sandals.  His hair was still wet as if he had just taken a shower.  You could tell he was excited to see me.  We went into the dimly lit front room and he asked if I wanted a drink or food.  I declined, so he went straight to storytelling.  He told me about why he showed up on Christmas Eve.  It was the first time he had stepped foot into a church since he was a young orphan living at Starr Commonwealth For Boys - a place similar to Boys Town.  From what he said, he and his brother never really knew their parents and they were sent at young ages to live at the Commonwealth.  Several years after he ran away from the Commonwealth, he and several other young men decided to join a motorcycle gang.  He said he was mad at the world and needed a family.  So, Jack joined one of the roughest motorcycle gangs around – The Outlaws. 


At this point, I had never heard of the Outlaws.  I had heard of Hell’s Angels and those bike gangs you used to see on the T.V. show, Chips, but that was the extent of my knowledge.  Jack continued on as though I knew what bike gangs were all about.  He told me one wild story after another as though he was trying to see what would actually surprise me.  He explained how he moved up the ranks of the Outlaws, and described his drinking habits, drug addictions, wild living (remember “Life is Wild”), motorcycle accidents (he showed me the scars for proof), gun fights, knife fights (he showed me his knife collection in the beautiful Asian-style case on his wall) and then almost on a dime he sighed…sat down on the couch looking exhausted and said, “…then I was done with all of that. Well kinda, since  the Outlaws never let you out.”


It was then that Jack rolled up the right sleeve of his smoking jacket.  On his arm was a small tattoo close to his wrist.  It was an old tattoo because the green/blue ink had faded and run, and I could not even make out what it said.  Jack said, pointing to the ink blots, this is what will probably kill me.  He then told me that when he was introduced to the Outlaws, they tattoo you as part of their initiation.  He and the young men who had joined together all were tattooed with the same needle.  At this point tears formed in his eyes and he said, “I am the last one alive.”  Each of those boys who fled the Commonwealth and joined the gang had received Hepatitis C from the shared needle (including Jack).  He went into great detail sharing how each friend suffered and died, going into such detail that it was almost unbearable the grief and pain he was experiencing.  All of his friends died before they were 50. 


Then he looked at me and asked, “Why am I still alive?  My life has been all about suffering and pain. I don’t want this life anymore. I tried to give it up, but the Outlaws don’t let you.  Once an Outlaw always an Outlaw.”  Jack paused and then said, “That is why I am helping that young lady and her son who left the house when you arrived.”  See, to make money Jack explained that he was given a strip club to manage by a fellow Outlaw friend.  This gave him steady pay and a sense of normalcy. One night that young lady, who was a stripper in his club, came up to him scared to death.  She was not only a stripper but a prostitute as well and she had just found out that she was pregnant. Jack explained that when pimps find out one of his girls are pregnant they are done and often they get beat or sometimes lose their life.  She was rightly scared. 


Jack said at that moment, something inside him said, “This is your opportunity to do something right.”  At first, he thought it was the booze talking since most days he spent drunk or at least buzzed, but that day he realized it was God speaking to him.  He sensed God was good because he had saved him from the cruel deaths of his friends at much younger ages.  So, at the strip club that night, Jack told God that he would take care of the stripper and her child. 


He sold the strip club, went on disability, moved into the double wide and invited the stripper and her new born son into his home.  In the coming years, with the money he made off the strip club, he helped get her a stable job and a decent car and sent the boy to school.  He treated them like his own kids (thus the reason I thought she was his daughter – also please note I am not using their names because they are still alive). 


Well, by now, Jack was ready for me to speak and asked me to lead us in communion.  I took out my kit and found that there were no small cups for the wine.  Jack, without missing a beat, ran over to his cupboard and retrieved two plastic medicine cups – with a smile he said, “Well, its medicine for the soul.”  We communed, prayed, and Jack was ready for a nap, so I left. 


I went and visited Jack on several other occasions and he attended church a handful more times. Until one evening, I received a phone call from Deacon Bob.  Jack had passed from this life.  The Hepatitis C had finally won.  As I tried to process Jack’s passing, Deacon Bob mentioned something else, “Jack wants us to do his funeral.” I quickly agreed and said we would do whatever. 


Well, a couple of days later, Deacon Bob and I received the details for the funeral.  The funeral would take place at the Outlaw Headquarters of Detroit at 11pm (yes, 11pm in the evening) on a Thursday night.  I remember it was a Thursday night because my day off was Friday and I had a lot to process that day.


The night of the funeral came and Deacon Bob picked me up in his truck to head into uncharted territory.  We both had clerical collars on and pectoral crosses hanging around our necks.  I remember it being very cold that night.  The windchill was 8 below in Detroit.  Bob and I went early to check out where we were going.  I was assuming a nice hall with parking, but as we arrived at the block on which the Outlaw headquarters was on, we saw no building, lights were all broken out, and it looked rather daunting. 


Then Deacon Bob exclaimed, “There it is.” A fifteen-foot wall appeared with a large Outlaw logo (the skull and pistons as they call it) reading “Outlaws” in big red and black letters.  At the top of the wall was razor wire and we could see the roof of a building.  The only light was coming from what looked like a giant fire within the wall.  Then Deacon Bob and I noticed two men with large shot guns on top of the roof.  Folks, this looked like a war zone we were entering.  We passed what we now called “the fortress” and retreated several blocks back to a Tim Horton’s to rethink what we were doing.


We both pondered whether we would ever see our families again over a donut and coffee.  But in the end, Deacon Bob and I realized we had to do this for Jack. (Life is Wild sometimes but God is good.)  


After gathering up our courage, we returned to the truck, made a phone call to our Outlaw host, and found him waiting for us at the back of the wall of the fortress where there was a large sliding door.  We pulled up. The man said, “You must be the preacher men, I will take care of your truck for you. It is rather cold out here.” So far so good.  We hopped out and he opened the large sliding door and told us to follow along the inside of the wall to the side door.  There we would knock and wait for someone to invite us in. As we made our way around the inner wall, we found ourselves amidst cages with ravenous fighting dogs, walls covered in weaponry of all sorts – looking like a scene from medieval times, and a large bonfire, which we became concerned would become the crematorium for Jack’s remains. 


We approached the door, knocked, (and just as on T.V.) a little sliding door opened, and we saw two eyes peering through asking us if we were the “preacher men.” We said yes, and the door slowly opened and before us was an interesting sight.  The room was about half the size of our fellowship hall.  Down the middle was a huge table – maybe three 8 foot tables long and two or three wide completely covered with foods – like a giant pitch in (not what I expected from a bunch of biker guys).  My eyes followed the table to the front where Jack was laid out in his open casket.


His casket sat against the wall between two large round restaurant booths filled with the Outlaw leaders.  Above his casket, hung a large sign with the Outlaw logo with lists of the names of the gang members with check marks behind their name, what we would come to find represented people they had killed.  We were escorted to the casket by a younger Outlaw who was asked to host us.  Jack’s casket was open.  He had a 5th of Jack Daniels gripped in his hand (something he gave up about 15 years ago), quarters over his eyes, and business cards filled the entire casket from Outlaw leaders from all over the world. These were new traditions that Deacon Bob and I had never seen.


After we visited Jack’s casket, we were escorted over to another table filled with stacks of photo albums.  The young Outlaw was so excited to show us photos of Jack and his Outlaw life.  Jack seemed almost a hero to this young man.  As we looked, I noticed a photo of Jack with some country music stars.  This is when I put it together -- Jack always talked about his brother David (his only real family).  As I looked at the photos, I realized Jack’s brother was the singer David Allen Coe of “Take This Job and Shove It” fame.


While I was taking a look at the photos, another younger Outlaw came up and asked to see my pectoral cross.  He said, “Man, I love your cross.” He then proceeded to pull one at least twice the size from the shirt underneath his leather vest.  He told me that his Irish grandma gave it to him and it protects him (literally) from gun shots.  He then told us his family story through his various tattoos. 


As we were taking a look at the tattoos, a grumpier older Outlaw came up and gave us some directions for the service.


1.     No scripture readings.

2.     No talking about Jesus.

3.     Just tell us about Jack.


Deacon Bob’s entire job that night was to share several scripture passages that Jack loved.  He leaned over and asked, “What should I do?” I told him he will know.  I was thinking about what I was going to say as well.  I had written out my thoughts, but nothing seemed right for the current setting.  Plus, I will be honest, I was a bit uncomfortable saying anything with about 150 rough looking men and some women looking at me – knowing they all had weapons on them. How did I know? Well, most as them introduced themselves by flashing their piece or showing us the handle of their knife, and then shaking our hands.  We had several men tell us we should never have come – I think it was all to build their ego and our fear. 


Well about 11:45pm, the Outlaws gathered, and the leader pointed at us to start.  Deacon Bob began by telling a story of how he met Jack through being his social worker. He then proceeded to say how much Jack loved to read. And before I knew it, Deacon Bob had shared Jack’s favorite scriptures without saying where they came from – no one but he and I knew. 


Now it was my turn.  Just as I was about to speak, an Outlaw said in a gruff tone, “Make sure to keep it short preacher man.” He was sitting on top of the illegal gambling machines that were covered up and lined the wall. I started by telling them about my long talks with Jack.  How I learned about his difficult life and upbringing, and how he always took care of people (I got some nods of agreement from the Outlaws), I also told them how I saw God in his actions and life. They all gasped when I said I met him for the first time at church. And they laughed out loud when I told them the story of Jack running to get the medicine cups to use for communion and how he said it was “medicine for the soul.” Finally, after I finished, several of the Outlaws shared their remembrances of Jack (almost in waiting worship manner).  


By the time I was done, Deacon Bob and I sensed the presence of God in that wild place.  The stripper, her son, and her parents were all there and came up to thank us and ask us what we thought of having the funeral at this place.  Her parents then told us that earlier, Jack’s casket was put on a trailer and pulled behind one of the Outlaw’s choppers through the streets of Detroit.  It was a tradition that they would have a huge procession and the rival gangs would take shots at the casket when they drove by at 80-90 mph. (Remember the wind chill that day was 8 below.)


Well, after we said our goodbyes, the Outlaws escorted us past the large bar at the end of the room where the bartender made a remark that we should not be let out – we laughed and continued through the side door and back into the walled area outside the meeting space.  My heart was pounding. There we were again greeted by the man who parked Deacon Bob’s truck.  He opened the huge wall entrance and there was the truck started, warmed up and ready to go. 


We said very little on the way home. At one point, we tried to take an inventory of what all we had seen, but it was simply overwhelming. It still is.  But today, I recognize that even when life seems pretty wild – God is always good.  I believe God gave Deacon Bob and I the right words and attitudes in that wild place, but even more God had given us the eyes to see that of God in our brother Jack. 





Where is my life a little wild, currently?  How am I seeing God as good in the midst? Who do I have a hard time seeing that of God within?   




7-7-19 - Not Just Novelties

Not Just Novelties

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

July 7, 2019


Galatians 5:13-15 (NRSV)

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

[Please note much of this sermon recounts history we learned while on our Quaker Affirmation Trip to Philadelphia. Some of it was also backed-up and quoted in an article, Why Quakers did not celebrate the Fourth of July on the LA Quaker blog and the book The Missing Peace: The Search for Nonviolent Alternatives in United States History by James Juhnke and Carol Hunter.]


It is good to be back with all of you after a wonderful Affirmation trip to Philadelphia with our youth and chaperones. I bring greetings from Race Street Friends Meeting which meets at the Friends Center in Philadelphia where American Friends Service Committee and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is housed.  We worshipped last Sunday with them and had a completely silent Meeting for Worship. We were told it was the first all-silent meeting they have had in quite some time. (I guess you could say that our presence made them speechless.) We stayed to meet and greet during their fellowship hour and it was a wonderful time of greeting new Friends.   


The timing of our trip to Philadelphia was quite interesting, being that it was the week leading up to the Fourth of July in the very town that our independence was formed and secured. I also find it interesting that over the years, the Fourth of July holiday has continued to grow to a week (or two) of celebrating.  Actually, as we crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge from our dinner in New Jersey back into Philadelphia last Saturday night, we were able to see two or three different fireworks celebrations taking place around Philadelphia (days before the actual celebration). It was a beautiful and unique site from the bridge.


Since our trip was both filled with Quaker history and American history, we found ourselves spending a great deal of time processing all that we were learning, including some things that many of us never knew, or had learned in a slightly different way. Often, we said, “That isn’t what I was taught.”


As we stood in the actual room where the Declaration of Independence was signed, we were told by the park ranger that we celebrate Independence Day on the wrong day. (Did you know that?) It was actually July 2, 1776, when Congress, after succumbing to the demand by South Carolinian delegates to cut an anti-slavery passage out of the drafted Declaration of Independence, that they unanimously voted on Virginian Richard Lee’s resolution that,


“These united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”


Over the next two days they did final revisions and edits and when it went to the printing press, the printer simply put that day’s date at the top, as was custom.  So, the printing declared it to be on July 4, but that was simply the date of printing – our Independence Day was really July 2.


And it was because of an almost prophetic letter John Adams sent to his wife, Abigail, back home in Massachusetts on July 3 that we celebrate our independence each year the way we do.  He wrote to her,


“It (our independence) ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”


Actually, the first official Fourth of July celebration did not happen until 1781, but history notes that there was a celebration on July 4th, 1776 in Philadelphia.  And in 1777 there were even more than the first year – it was already growing into something much bigger one year out.  


But what you may not have heard was that on that July 4th in 1777 there was great violence happening to Quakers in the midst of the celebration.  Many Quaker homes were vandalized or burned, and many Quakers themselves were being shunned because they were not patriotic enough.


Now, history notes the early American Quakers did not celebrate holidays – all days were considered equal and sacred.  But even as Fourth of July became more and more standard practice in our country, Quakers (early on) refused to celebrate the Fourth of July because of their religious beliefs. You see, the Quakers made it clear that they would not celebrate holidays, especially if they commemorated military victories.  


Later when the National Anthem was introduced many Quakers would not stand or sing it because of the line, “the bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” As well, many refused to stand or recite the Pledge of Allegiance to a symbol the flag.  


Before Colin Kaepernick took a knee in our era, our Quaker ancestors “took a knee” at the founding, development, and celebration of our own country.  They too were told they were unpatriotic, un-American, they were harassed, threatened, jailed, thrown out, even killed for their beliefs.     


Folks, I think we need to recognize that our history still includes the Quakers because of their radical and non-conformist nature (that was clear in every presentation we encountered while in Philadelphia.)  Because the Quakers took a stand, because they did not conform to society, because they refused to participate in war or it’s celebration, they are remembered today. 


On our trip, we learned that the Philadelphia Quakers sent emissaries to try and negotiate with the British to prevent a war. They also refused to accept tea that had been taxed, and instead of throwing it into the Delaware River and making a huge scene like in Boston, they quietly paid the British merchants to take the tea back to England. The Quakers worked diligently to avoid war and violence at all costs. 


What our youth, our leaders, and I, myself, continued to process on the trip was, “What has happened to the Quakers?” What has happened to our ideals and distinctives and our bold testimony of taking a stand for peace? Where has our radical-ness gone? Where are the Quaker’s coming together to make their voices heard, today? 


We had to ask, why were so many of our guides and the park ranger at Independence Hall so surprised that we were Quakers, that we had youth, that we were proud of our heritage?  As we wrestled with this after we returned, Beth said to me in the office on Wednesday, it was almost like we were treated as if Quakers were a novelty. Is that what we have become?  Is that why everyone is surprised that we still exist?  We have become a novelty instead of voice and force for change? 


Novelties are easily forgotten, even laid down.      


After returning from our trip, I have been kind of haunted by all of this.  I have been running some “What if” scenarios through my mind.  In an article titled, “Why Quakers did not celebrate the Fourth of July” the author quotes the Quaker historian and theologian Howard Brinton, who wrote an article called, “What if,” imagining what might have happened if the Quaker emissaries had been successful and the Americans hadn’t fought the British. He says,


“We cannot know for sure how history might have unfolded absent “the shot heard round the world,” but Brinton imagines the world might have been more peaceful if the Americans and British had stayed on more congenial terms.  Perhaps slavery could have been abolished without a Civil War. And perhaps the Germans would not have launched the Great War if the English and Americans were more closely allied. One thing I know for certain:  Francis Scott Key would never have written a national anthem about “bombs bursting in air.”


What if?  What if Quakers again spoke up, took a stand, stopped celebrating war and violence? 


What if, we worked to negotiate on congenial terms?

What if, we worked at reconciliation and teaching non-violence or respect and speaking truth?

What if, instead of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of our own happiness – it was Life, Liberty, Justice and the pursuit of a mutual happiness together – caring for our neighbors and the world around us – instead of conquering and controlling through wars and power?  


Don’t get me wrong, I know there are some great people out there who consider themselves Quaker who are doing just that…but what if more of us really believed that we could make a change? 


I don’t think we would be laying down meetings in our Yearly Meeting or throughout this country and world…

I don’t think people would think that Quakers are a novelty or a thing of the past…

I don’t think we would buy into the fear mongering and the American church machine that is married to patriotism and celebrating war…


Just maybe that would look a little bit like Job in the Bible…who said,


I rescued the poor who cried out for help

And the fatherless who had none to assist him;

The man who was dying blessed me;

I made the widows heart to sing.

I put on righteousness as my clothing;

Justice was my robe and turban.

I took up the case of the immigrant

I broke the fangs of the oppressor.


That is what being Quaker is about…and if we did that, it would be about celebrating the people of God and the call to Freedom that we have together. Or as the scripture for this morning stated:

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

If there is one take away, I had from our trip to Philadelphia, it was the fact that we need the Quakers to be Quakers, again in our world!  Now is our time.



6-23-19 - Raise Your Hand, Open Your Eyes, and Act!

Raise Your Hand, Open Your Eyes, and Act!

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

June 23, 2019


John 9:1-7, 39-41 (MSG)


1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” 3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.” 6-7 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw….


 39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”



Back in 2015, a movie was released by Disney Studios titled, “Tomorrowland.”  (How many of you saw it?)  It paid homage to Walt Disney’s dream of creating a better tomorrow and a utopian world where every person has the opportunity to dream, discover, and create.  It was similar to Walt’s original vision of “Tomorrowland” in the Disney Parks or what later became Epcot. 


But as you find out early in the movie, many of the people on the Earth have become complainers. People have lost the vision, the dream, the hope of something better. 


Actually, Casey, the main character finds herself in high school class-after-class hearing doom and gloom scenarios, while she simply waits with her hand in the air to ask her question. The movie depicts the situations our world is currently in as being in dire straits. As one person put in their review, they made it seem as though we were all “riding this giant space-bound ball to our doom.”


Yet when Casey finally gets to ask her question, she asks something profound.  She says,

“I get it, things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it.”


Sadly, I think “Tomorrowland” is a bit surreal and hits too close to home at times.  We have become a world of complainers and blamers – and complaining and blaming often stems from our fears.  They are ways to avoid reality or acting on our beliefs, or simply avoiding or ignoring the dire situations we face.


Let’s be honest – we all complain and blame. It takes no special talent or skill and often they roll right off our tongues fairly easy.  Yet, acting on our situations and problems is much different.  Responding…or for that matter...raising our hand like Casey to question our motives may be the first aspect of responding.


The reality for Casey was that she was an optimist and she believed in a better way. And why was that? This is what intrigued me about “Tomorrowland” –


Casey was actually able to see!


In many ways “Tomorrowland” is a metaphor for our scripture text for this morning.  I believe there were two different things happening in our scriptures. 1) Jesus is doing a miracle and healing a blind man – but even more 2) Jesus is teaching about the world’s condition and using his healing of the blind man as a picture of our spiritual or mental blindness that is causing the world to suffer and miss the greatness of what God is accomplishing through us.


Much like Casey in the movie, Jesus starts off trying to clarify things for his disciples.  And in much the same way, Jesus says, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame.” For Casey it was, what are you going to do about it?  And for Jesus it was, do you realize what I am doing about it?


Both “Tomorrowland” and this teaching of Jesus deal with the things that cause our blindness.  Things like…





Pointing fingers

Second guessing



Unwillingness to listen


Which I believe all stem at some point from the big “f” word -  FEAR.


Let’s be honest for a moment. This is what our world, our media, our social networks, sadly even our own religions at times have produced.  We are surrounded by blind people – and sadly many of us are just as blind. 


I sense the time is ripe for us, like Casey, to raise our hand…and begin asking for another way.  Or as she goes on in the movie to work to find another way to proceed and ultimately be able to see. 


Jesus said in our scriptures, “Look instead for what God can do.  We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent [us] here…”


If all we are doing is spending our time on that list (I read earlier: Blaming, Complaining, Judging, Pointing fingers, Second guessing, Unbelief, Unacceptance, Unwillingness to listen) then we will be blind to…


·        What God is doing in our midst and around us.

·        What God wants to do through us.

·        And even what God has already been doing.


We will soon find ourselves caught up or gripped by fear and blind to God’s work and will.


My dream is seeing people of faith – people in this very room – the scholarship recipients, their parents and families, the attenders and members of First Friends, the guests who are with us this morning moved to raise their hands in the midst of trials and tribulations, in the midst of struggles and pain, in the midst of the corrupt institutions and difficult relationships we find ourselves within, in the midst of family struggles, difficult classes, and worrisome news broadcasts, all while stating,


I get it, things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it?


Being able to see like Casey, must translate into doing something?


Even the former blind man in the story says something similar when he says,


“It’s well know that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will.”


Or as John Philip Newell put it in his book, “The Rebirthing of God,”


“We are experiencing a way of seeing that is vital to the healing of the earth. The question is whether we will translate this seeing into action, whether we will apply this awareness to the holy work of transformation…In other words, will we meet this moment or will we miss it?”


Now, each of you, scholarship recipients, are here today because a group of people were willing to say like Casey, “I get it, things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it?”  


Those people were the Quakers specifically from Indianapolis. And they made a rather surprising decision after the Civil War. They decided to aid dependent African American children at a time when such benevolence was generally extended only to those who were white.  This is how they decided to “fix” the issue. 


Before an orphanage or what they called an asylum at that time was ever erected or thought of for white children in Indiana, The Indianapolis Quakers along with our Western Yearly Meeting opened the Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children. This was an effort that lasted from 1870 to 1922. History books note that Quaker interest in African American children developed in a time and place in which few whites believed in equality of the races in any respects. The Quakers were the Casey’s of their time raising their hands and finding ways to make a difference. Many Quakers in Indiana were treated badly for their beliefs, other did not participate out of fear.  


Now, this is our history Friends, Indiana laws in the early nineteenth century barred African Americans from voting, testifying against whites, and serving the military. They were forbidden to marry whites, attend public schools, and access jobs. Thus, African Americans in Indiana struggled desperately to provide for their children.  And much like the news still today, it is the children who would suffer the lasting effects of the racial terror and violence that the early Black Africans in Indiana would endure. 


This Indiana orphanage was known by freed slaves from the south and Black entrepreneurs and was recognized for wanting to give quality care and education to the African American children whose parents could no longer provide for them.  It became so well known in Quaker circles that donations started coming from all over, from other Quaker Meetings in Indiana as well as other states, then businesses, and even from the state government.


But it was a large donation by an unexpected donor that is the reason we are talking about this still today.  John Williams was an African American pioneer from North Carolina who settled in Washington County, Indiana, near a Quaker Community.  Unlike most African American Hoosiers who struggled to make a living, John made a substantial living as a farmer and as a rather famous tanner (shoe maker). But sadly, a successful Black Hoosier was not looked at very highly as the Civil War came to a close, and on December, 1864, John Williams became an innocent victim of racial terror and violence and was murdered on his own land at his own door right here in Indiana. Here is the actual account from Quaker Lillian Trueblood:  


On the December night when the tragedy occurred, there was a light snow on the ground. The perpetrators of the deed came to the home of [John Williams who they called] Black John and aroused him from his slumbers. He ran out into the yard in his night clothes throwing his purse, which contained a small amount of money, behind the wood-box as he passed.  A shot rang out and the victim fell near his own cabin door, the fatal bullet having entered his back. Since the slain man had just sold a number of hogs, a common belief, for a time at least, was that the motive for the crime was robbery. If so, there was disappointment, as Black John had left the larger part of the proceeds of the sale with William Lindley. There were those who believed robbery to be only the ostensible object of the killing, the real cause being race prejudice.


Because of John Williams and his friendship with Quaker William Lindley who he made executor of his estate, there is a Friends Educational Fund for you, our 31 recipients today, and now you know the story behind why we are gathered.  It has been the Indianapolis Quakers and currently First Friends who have protected this estate, grown it, and helped carry on John Williams’ legacy to make a difference in the lives of African American students wanting to pursue college and further their education.


Just like Casey from the movie, the Early Quakers in Indiana, and John Williams, who raised their hands and made a lasting change, this is our moment.  This is the moment you and I have been called to as a meeting and as followers of Christ. Will we raise our hands and seek to see with new eyes, to better the world for those we call our neighbor?  I truly believe you and I have been called by God to not allow ourselves to become blind, to not get caught up in fear mongering, but to respond to make a difference in the lives of those around us.  We must hear the call again today to “mind the light” and to truly see, to stand up, and say,


I get it, things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it?


 Let us pray. 



6-9-19 - Peter's Vision: What Does it Mean for Us Today?

Beth Henricks

Sources:  Bread of Angels by Barbara Brown Taylor, Shameless by Nadia Bolz Weber,  Sermon by Shannon Kershner of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, and Theology From Exile Volume I The Year of Luke by Sea Raven

I was reading a book 2 weeks ago and the author referenced this chapter that we just read  about Peter’s vision of the blanket coming down from the sky with all sorts of animals for food that he was forbidden to eat by Jewish law.  I hadn’t thought about this story in a long time and it kept sitting with me these two weeks and reflecting on what was God really try to say to Peter in this story and what is God saying to me in the story.  As I continued to think about it and read more about it from various authors, I realized that Acts  and this story in particular is one of the most important ones in the New Testament.


The four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John highlight the birth, the life, the death and resurrection of Jesus.  But what was going to happen to this movement that Jesus had started once he was gone?  When we really examine the 12 disciples, they didn’t hold up well under pressure.  They were pretty weak when tested while Jesus was alive and after his death.  But then the Day of Pentecost comes, and the Holy Spirit comes and fills the believers with power to preach, do miracles and heal.  These weak men are transformed into men of character, vision and strength all from responding to the spirit of God within them.  These disciples along with mostly Jewish followers start to spread this good news of the gospel and set up faith communities in various towns.


For many years I didn’t understand that Christianity in its infancy was all about the Jewish religion.  It was mostly Jews that were joining in these Christian faith communities and these converts believed that Christianity was fulfilling the teachings of the Jewish faith, the promises given by God and reforming  the faith.   The Jews had been God’s chosen people and Christianity would continue that storyline.   The resurrection of Jesus was the arrival of the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for.  The conflicts within the earliest churches were between Jews that kept very strict traditions and Jews that had adopted more customs from their Hellenistic surroundings.  But it was without question that  to be part of that early Christian community, one had to at least continue to follow the strict traditions of circumsion and dietary laws. 


But a problem began to emerge as the Holy Spirit was coming to all kinds of people including Samaritans and Gentiles.   Was this going to mean that the Jews and Gentiles were on the same footing before God?  Was it possible within the gospel that Jews would have no reason to exclude Gentiles and Gentiles would have no reason to look down on Jews?   Would they really have respect and tolerance for diverse points of view?  How could the Jews allow Gentiles and Samaritans to become members of the Christian church when they weren’t circumcised and ate forbidden foods? How could they be in a faith community together?


There were many in the early church deeply struggling with these issues and Peter was definitely one of them.  He had been a devout Jew his whole life, kept all the strict dietary laws even as he became a disciple of Jesus.  We remember a few stories about Peter; walking on the water to meet Jesus but then sinking when he stopped believing, cutting off the ear of the soldier when they confronted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and denying Jesus 3 times when asked if he was a disciple of Jesus.  However, Peter’s faith was deep and God’s spirit transformed him and he became a leader in the early church and was preaching and healing and showing folks a new way to live in Christ.  But he  struggled with Gentiles becoming Christians unless they were willing to adhere to the Jewish traditions.  In Acts 10:28 Peter says, “You do understand how it is forbidden for a Jew to associate with or to visit a person of another race.” Jews were not even allowed to have a non-Jew in their home or visit the home of a non-Jew. 


All this changed when Peter received his “leading” from God.  In that moment of spiritual awakening and understanding, Peter has a visual image of a blanket coming down from above with all kinds of restricted animals.  He hears a voice telling him to kill the animals in the blanket and eat them.  Peter’s response was a strong no way would he violate his Jewish covenant.  The voice commands him 3 times to kill the animals and eat and finally makes one of the most astounding claims in all of the new Testament.  What God has created is not unclean.   This vision changes everything for Peter and also it changes forever the purpose and life of Christianity.   Peter was told that one of the most important elements of his faith no longer held true and that he must discard it. 


The non-Jew but God-fearing man of Cornelius shows up at his door after the vision.  Peter realizes in that moment that he must step into his spiritual awakening and welcome the man into his home and then travels to Cornelius home.  He declares to Cornelius in Acts 10:34-35 that he  truly understands that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.


This is radical stuff to the community.  How could centuries of tradition be tossed aside?  Peter knew how much this would change everything in their religious and social culture and that their foundation and identity would be split wide open.  Barbara Brown Taylor writes about this story in her book, Bread of Angels.  She helps us understand the huge issue the dietary restrictions were to Jews by saying, “Imagine anything that, for you, is the dividing line between Christians and other people – the one thing that makes us who we are, that is not negotiable, that we cannot let slide without letting slide our whole identity as people of God.  And when you have figured out what that is, get ready to let it go.”


 This story is a story where I fall in love with Peter because Peter believed in the idea of continuing revelation and listening to the Divine Light within to radically shift his belief system.     With this vision to Peter and Peter listening to God’s voice, the norms that guided their religious community would reject exclusivity and restriction and explode with inclusion and radical hospitality.   Peter’s actions and declarations did not go over well with his Jewish leaders in the community.  They felt that he had sold out and had crossed a line that never should have been crossed.  He had violated the law and that could not be accepted.  Peter explained to them how God had spoken to him and revealed this so clearly and how could we stop the Spirit moving in new directions within us.


I was reading a sermon by Shannon Kershner of the Fourth Presbyterian church on this topic and I love what she says about what Peter was feeling about his vision.  “Peter knew he was in the house of a Gentile because of God. He had not wanted to come. God’s Spirit had compelled him into that place with those people.   Suddenly all those people—the ones he avoided, the ones whose politics made him sick, the ones who scared him by their difference, the ones who bored him with their normalcy—all of them received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the same gift he and his fellow Jewish Christian leaders had received. Apparently, without asking for permission, or asking for approval, God simply decided to give the same gift of new life and intimate presence to those outsiders, just as God had given it to Peter and the other insiders.”


What is in your blanket that you are holding onto so tightly and can’t let go today?   Who are we keeping out or separating from, rejecting, demeaning and ignoring?  I have been asking myself this question all week and I see  a few people that are in that blanket for me. 


And what about our First Friends faith community and the wider Christian church?  What traditions are we holding on to that God is telling us to let go? Who are we collectively rejecting and excluding? 


Barbara Brown Taylor in her story says, “How often in the church do we try to say where the Spirit may or may not blow, when the only thing God has asked us to do is to try and keep up with it wherever it goes?”   Where is the spirit blowing with you today?  Will we keep up with the spirit here at First Friends?


I ask that you reflect on these questions as we enter our time of waiting worship.  If God is speaking to you directly please hold that message tenderly in your heart and reflect on what it means and what you do with it.  If God is giving you a message to share with all of us, please be faithful and stand and wait for a microphone to be brought to you.



6-2-19 - Make My Joy Complete

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

June 2, 2019



Philippians 2:1-5


1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…



As those of you who were with us last Sunday already know, we had a beautiful gathered experience around the Big Oval in Fellowship Hall.  I have reflected back on our gathering several times throughout this week. Many of you have shared with me your positive experiences and the many take-aways. I thank Dan Rains once again for being willing to give testimony to our meeting and for so many of you sharing out of the silence. I am grateful for the experience and for the continued joy that has come out of our time together.


It seemed only appropriate that the scripture for this week be almost a recap of what we experienced last week.  If anything, we were encouraged, united, and comforted by a common sharing in the Spirit – there was tenderness and compassion, no selfish ambition or vain conceit, because what happened last week was grounded in our relationships with one another.  I know that my joy was made complete last week because of the unity and genuine compassion and joy that First Friends exudes for our community.  Honestly, being the shepherd of this community, is a blessing and true joy and I feel honored to minister alongside each of you. 


For me to be able to say those words means a lot more to me than most people would know.  At my last meeting in Oregon, there were many times when I did not feel being a pastor was a blessing and joy. I struggled with my own identity and especially seeing that of God in all people.  And let’s be honest, there are STILL moments when I struggle, I have personal and internal work to do, and yes, even sometimes when I have to admit that my perspective simply has to change.  


One of the voices that spoke deeply to my condition as I was going through those difficult days in Oregon was author Rachel Held Evans. Sadly, Rachel was laid to rest yesterday. She died at the age of 37 of complications from brain seizures occurring after a bought with the flu.


It was the words of her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions (which ironically she retitled a few years ago, Faith Unraveled (an even better title for my condition) that inspired me – I know it did so because I painted a painting which illustrated one of the chapters, and when Rachel came to speak at George Fox, I presented it to her. 


The chapter I was inspired by was the chapter called, “John the Revelator.” Where Rachel had been led to read the Book of Revelation very late one night.  Here is what she wrote in her bathroom the night of her experience that had a profound impact on me,


“As I sat staring at the mustard-yellow tiles around our shower, I wondered what exactly John saw and heard to convince him that the kingdom of God includes people from every nation, tribe, people, and language, people from the north and the south and the east and the west. I imagined that he must have seen women wearing glorious red, green, and gold saris beneath their white robes. He must have seen voluminous African headdresses of every shape and color. He must have seen the turquoise jewelry of the Navajo, the rich wool of the Peruvians, the prayer shawls of the Jews. He must have seen faces of every shade and eyes of every shape. He must have seen orange freckles and coal-colored hair and moonlike complexions and the lovely flash of brilliant white teeth against black skin. He must have heard instruments of all kinds—bagpipes and lutes and dulcimers and banjos and gongs. He must have heard languages of every sound and cadence, melodies of every strain, and rhythms of every tempo. He must have heard shouts of praise to Elohim, Allah, and Papa God, shouts in Farsi and Hindi, Tagalog and Cantonese, Gaelic and Swahili, and in tongues long forgotten by history. And he must have seen the tears of every sadness—hunger and loneliness, sickness and loss, injustice and fear, tsunami and drought, rape and war—acknowledged and cherished and wiped away. In one loud and colorful moment, he must have witnessed all that makes us different and all that makes us the same…


With this in mind, (she says) I returned to John’s vision often, sometimes daily. Even on days when I wasn’t sure that God exists, when I wasn’t sure I loved him or even liked him much, I knew that I cherished this image of him. I don’t know anyone, believer or skeptic, who doesn’t long for a day when God wipes every tear from every eye, when “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:4 NASB). Even the faintest inkling that this might be true can keep you going for one more day.”


And that vision kept me going.  It taught me that seeing with eyes of compassion those around me could make my joy fuller or even more complete – or maybe I should say, “make OUR joy fuller and more complete.” 


This seeing though, was my work.  I needed to open my eyes to see those around me, to see those that were my enemies, those I was neglecting, those that I did not have God’s eyes to see. 


Just before I came to First Friends, I took a personal retreat at a local monastery.  While on the retreat I read Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s, “The Book of Joy.” Much like Rachel Held Evans’ writing, it too had a profound impact on me. But it was a meditation in the back of the book that helped me process how I see those around me. How wishing those around me blessings and joy brings blessings and joy and hope to me.  This is what makes our joy complete – when we are like-minded with Christ.  


This morning, as a guided time of waiting worship in this beautiful setting, I would like to lead us through that meditation.  It is simply titled…



Compassion Meditation

Let us begin with a time of settling…

Please settle into a comfortable position and allow yourself to relax.

Take a deep breath and release. For a few moments, just focus on your breath and clear your mind of worries. Notice when you are breathing in … and breathing out. Let yourself experience and be aware of the sensations of breathing.

Loving-kindness & Compassion for a Loved One

Picture someone who is close to you, someone toward whom you feel a great amount of love. Notice how this love feels in your heart.

Notice the sensations around your heart. Perhaps you feel a sensation of warmth, openness, and tenderness.

Continue breathing, and focus on these feelings as you visualize your loved one. As you breathe out, imagine that you are extending a golden light that holds your warm feelings from the center of your heart. Imagine that the golden light reaches out to your loved one, bringing him or her peace and happiness. At the same time, silently recite these phrases. 

May you have happiness.

May you be free from suffering.

May you experience joy and ease.


As you silently repeat these phrases, remember to extend the golden light to your loved one from your heart. Feel with all your heart that you wish your loved one happiness and freedom from suffering.

Compassion for a Loved One

Now think of a time when this person was suffering. Maybe they experienced an illness, an injury, or a difficult time in a relationship.

Notice how you feel when you think of his or her suffering. How does your heart feel? Do the sensations change? Do you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation?

Continue to visualize your loved one as you breathe.  Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to your loved one, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to them during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that they be free from his or her suffering. Recite silently to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.


Notice how this feels in your heart. What happened to your heart? Did the sensations change? Did you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations, an aching sensation perhaps? Did you have a wish to take away the other’s suffering? 

Compassion for Self

Contemplate a time when you have suffered yourself. Perhaps you experienced a conflict with someone you care about, or did not succeed in something you wanted, or were physically ill.

Notice how you feel when you think of your suffering. How does your heart feel? Do you continue to feel warmth, openness, and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation?

Just as we wish for our loved one’s suffering to end, we wish that our own suffering would end. We may also envision our own pain and suffering leaving us so that we may experience happiness and joy.

Continue to visualize yourself as you breathe. Imagine that the golden light emanating from your heart is easing your suffering. With each exhalation, feel the light emanating within you, with the strong heartfelt wish that you be free from your suffering. Silently recite to yourself:

May I be free from this suffering.

May I have joy and happiness.


Again, notice how this feels in your heart. What kind of sensations did you feel? Did they change from when you were envisioning your own suffering? How is this feeling different from when you wished your loved one’s suffering to be relieved? Did you feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations such as pressure? Did you have a wish to take away your own suffering?

Compassion for a Neutral Person

Now visualize someone you neither like nor dislike—someone you may see in your everyday life, such as a classmate with whom you are not familiar, a bus driver, or a stranger you pass on the street.

Although you are not familiar with this person, think of how this person may suffer in his or her own life. This person may also have conflicts with loved ones, or struggled with an addiction, or may have suffered illness. Imagine a situation in which this person may have suffered.

Notice your heart center. Does it feel different? Do you feel more warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation? How does your heart feel different from when you were envisioning your own or a loved one’s suffering? 

Continue to visualize this person as you breathe. Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to them, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to them during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that he or she be free from suffering. See if this wish can be as strong as the wish for your own or a loved one’s suffering to be relieved.  Silently recite to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.


Again, notice how this feels in your heart. Did the sensations change from when you were envisioning this person’s suffering? Did you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations? Did you have a wish to take away this person’s suffering? How were these feelings different from when you were wishing to take away your own or a loved one’s suffering?

Compassion for an Enemy

Now visualize someone with whom you have difficulty in your life. This may be a parent or child with whom you disagree, an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, a roommate with whom you had an argument, or a co-worker with whom you do not get along.

Although you may have negative feelings towards this person, think of how this person has suffered in his or her own life. This person has also had conflicts with loved ones, or has dealt with failures, or may have suffered illness. Think of a situation in which this person may have suffered.

Notice your heart center. Does it feel different? Do you feel more warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation? How does your heart feel different from when you were envisioning your own or a loved one’s suffering?

Continue to visualize this person as you breathe. Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to him or her, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to him or her during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that he or she be free from suffering. See if this wish can be as strong as the wish for your own or a loved one’s suffering to be relieved. Silently recite to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness


If you have difficulty in wishing for this person’s suffering to be relieved, you may think of a positive interaction you have had with this person that can help you in wishing them joy and happiness. Perhaps there were times when you got along, laughed together, or worked well together on an assignment. Continue to silently recite:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.


Again, notice how this feels in your heart. Did the sensations change? Did you feel warmth, openness and tenderness? How were these feelings different from when you were wishing for your own or a loved one’s suffering to end? Were there other sensations, perhaps a tightness in the chest? Did you have a wish to take away this person’s suffering?

Compassion for All Beings

Now that we are almost at the end of this meditation, let’s end with wish for all other beings’ suffering to be relieved. Just as I wish to have peace, happiness, and to be free from suffering, so do all beings.

Now bask in the joy of this open-hearted wish to ease the suffering of all people and how this attempt brings joy, happiness, and compassion in your heart at this very moment.




5-26-19 - Race Sunday with Dan Rains

Last Sunday during Meeting for Worship as we were heading into our time of silence and meditation and centering down, I shared a moment from Sam and my experience last Saturday at the time trials for the Indy 500.


For those who were not here, Sam and I were sitting in the stands across from pit row and the famous Pagoda. It was a full day of racer after racer vying for position. The sun had heated up the track to 130 degrees at one point, but some cloud formations were bringing the track temps down and drivers were starting to go faster.


James Hinchcliffe who drives for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was the next up. Earlier, Sam and I had spent time watching Hinchcliffe’s pit crew work on his car in the garages. Ironically, his car was the only car I snapped a photo of while over in the garage area.


We heard the roar of the engine and Hinchcliffe was off for his warm up lap. He clocked the fastest warm up lap of the day and was given the green flag to begin his qualifying lap. His car roared around turn one…and then it happened. There was a loud noise and then complete silence.  I asked Sam what just happened.  The silence lingered. Then the announcer said, “James Hinchcliffe went into the wall going into turn two.” You could hear a pin drop. 


The big television screens went black and we waited as Paramedics and Clean-up crews flew past us on the track.  For what seemed about 5 minutes we all waited in silent anticipation – hoping for good news. Looking for signs of life. While also wondering, thinking, reflecting weirdly on our own mortality. My thoughts went to my parent’s car accident a few years ago in which my mom almost died.


But what struck me, even more since that experience, has been how in this tragic moment every single person at the Speedway went silent. 


It was like what the early Quakers called a “holy silence” or as Quaker Rufus Jones described it, “an intensified pause, a vitalized hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God.”


Whether the crowd new it or not, in a real sense we had centered down and had entered a time of expectant waiting.  In that moment at the speedway, we were all “Quakers.”


That silence sat with me, it has even kind of haunted me. It also has made me wrestle with the fact that we are all internally wired for this. Silence is a part of every single one of us.


Finally, the screens came back on and James Hinchcliffe was seen emerging from his car.  The crowd cheered but that moment sat with me – it seemed different – actually it seemed sacred in a real and tangible way. 


That silence at the speedway spoke to me – it enlightened me.  It made me realize how much I needed more silence in my crazy busy life.  How in that brief silence at a very busy and noisy place, my mind asked deeper questions, and weirdly even gave me a glimpse of my own mortality.


Earlier this week, I was reading an article online about auto racing being a spiritual experience. Usually, I roll my eyes at this type of connection and can only think of Christian athletes wearing t-shirts with a scripture like Hebrews 12:1 – which reads, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” 


But this article had a different angle.  It said that sports or auto-racing can increase spiritual awareness. That stopped me and had me pondering what that really meant. Usually, we are fighting the battle of sports being a replacement for religion or an idol that we should lay down. 


But this article was making the point that racing or sports in general can actually increase spiritual awareness as we watch the athletes or drivers embrace the tensions between renewal, failure, and risk-taking. 


I think I got a small but lasting glimpse of this during the time of silence as we awaited the results of Hinchcliffe’s accident.  In the silence, my spiritual awareness was heightened – I had a spiritual insight that transcended my normal way of thinking.  Not only was I concerned about James Hinchcliffe, I too was thinking of the tensions in my own life between renewal and failure, and risk-taking.  And I have to admit, I was faced with thinking about my own mortality. 


Well, on Monday as I entered my office, I continued to process all of this. I started to wonder where else God was wanting to increase my spiritual awareness.  And I realized that Jesus modeled this in the Garden of Gethsemene as he faced his mortality, as did Buddha when he embraced his suffering, and even Muhammad when he accepted himself for who he was.  And it doesn’t have to be athletes or prophets or diety, there are people all around me that are embracing the tensions between renewal, failure, risk-taking, and mortality that I can learn from all the time. 


And that is why this morning, I have asked Dan Rains to come up and share with us out of the silence. Dan may not know this fully, but he has been teaching us a lot about renewal, failure, risk-taking, and yes, our own mortality. 


As I have been intentional about spending time in silence this week, it has been Dan who I believe God has put on my mind.


Dan and I have spent a good amount of time together as he, in his own words says, “gets poisoned.” or receives his chemo treatments. I find, that like the time of silence at the speedway, my time with Dan transcends the present, often seems to be a sacred time, and always has me thinking deeper thoughts. Dan has a way, as his body battles cancer, to embrace the tensions between renewal, failure, risk-taking and mortality. So I have asked him to, as old Quakers would say, “Give Testimony” to what he is learning and would like to share with our meeting this morning.


Prior to Dan sharing his testimony, I would like us to spend an extended time in “holy silence.”  I am going to ask you to refrain from speaking out of the silence, so that we can fully embrace that intensified pause, that vitalized hush, that creative quiet, to allow it to be an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God.  When Dan feels led he will come forward to speak out of the silence.


Let us now quiet our minds and our lives.


To hear Dan Rain’s testimony, please visit .



5-19-19 - Learning from the Samaritan

Learning from the Samaritan

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

May 19, 2019


Let us begin this morning by taking a moment to “center down” – to calm our hearts, our minds, our lives. I have a query for us to ponder that I hope will bring to mind some happy and joyful thoughts. 


Who are you the most grateful/thankful for, today? Why?



Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”




I love the following story…


A pastor in Dallas, Texas was once teaching Sunday School with a group of children. They were reading this story of the ten lepers.  “What do you think about this story?” the pastor asked after she read it to them.  One little girl answered, “Jesus must have been so happy that somebody thanked him!”


What a great attitude that little girl had and what insight to realize that Jesus probably didn’t get thanked that much.  If you think about it, this story is often looked at from the other direction. We often ask, what happened to the other 9?  Why did only one come back grateful?


But let’s be honest…in many ways, this is reality. This is what we do. Our world today is often short on the thanks. We have become a world where expectations are high, privileges abound, and rights come first – and the thanks and gratitude are forgotten, turning to assumptions and critiques instead.


With this Sunday being about recognizing our volunteers, we had to swallow some humble pie and realize we too neglected in the past to thank all of you for what all you do.  Sadly, it is too easy to skip the thanks and just be satisfied with what was done. Maybe that is how the 9 others healed by Jesus felt.  They were satisfied. Happy with the results and simply caught up in the moment of their joy.   Thanks was not a priority, there were bigger things to celebrate.  


All this had me thinking about the role and point of gratitude in our own lives. 


How often am I satisfied with what is done, but never take the time to thank the individual(s) for what they have done?   


I try hard to send thank you notes or emails, or at least say thanks to those deserving it, but many times I too get caught up in the moment and miss the opportunity. 


Let’s be honest, I have to assume that we all like to be thanked, right?  I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t appreciate a thank you note or being acknowledged for what they do. It makes you feel good.  It makes you realize you are worth something - that the efforts and work you have put forth has been beneficial.  


This all had me thinking about why gratitude is so important. 


In the bible, thanksgiving is key or a natural response to our faith. 2 Corinthians 4:15 reads,


All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.


Or again in 2 Corinthians 9:11.


You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.


Thanksgiving seems to go hand-in-hand to God’s grace. But in our text for today, there is something even more going on.  Alyce McKenzie points this out in her commentary/reflection on our text. She says this about those 10 lepers,


The purpose of visiting a priest after a cure (Luke 5:14; Leviticus 13:49; 14:2) was so the cured person could officially resume his place in society. The nine lepers, presumably Jewish, had their minds on the future, on resuming the life they had left behind with the onset of illness. Their minds were full of scenes of reunion with wives, children, with reentry into market and synagogue.  There is no indication that their goals and future actions were anything but respectable and legal.


But they were lacking something. The one leper, the “foreigner,” who returned to thank God, was “made well,” (sozo- “to be healed of spiritual disease and death”)  whereas the nine were merely “cleansed” or “healed” (tharizo- “to be made clean or healed of a disease”).   Physical cure (tharizo), the verb used twice and translated in the NRSV “made clean” (14) and “healed” (15) is not the same as “made you well,” or “made you whole” (sozo), a condition often referred to as “salvation.” When Jesus says, “your faith has made you well,” sozo is the verb he uses.


In Luke’s account he points out the foreigner – and not just any foreigner, but a Samaritan. 

Now I have taught this before, but it is worth a review.  It is important to remember Jesus was a Jew from Galilee. So, this means, his family would have most likely raised him with a racist bias against Samaritans. 

Yet, it is Jesus, who wherever possible shows us a sensitivity toward racial justice as it relates to the Samaritans – which would have been unheard of and actually problematic for him.  Actually, this time, he differentiates between Jews being healed and a Samaritan being saved. Oh my, that is blasphemy! Every Jew in the room would have been up in arms that Jesus would highlight the Samaritan’s gratefulness. Folks, it is historically documented that by the time Jesus was on the face of the earth, the Jews and the Samaritans had hated each other for at least 200+ years.

Remember the Jews and Samaritans had been involved in an internal family war. Violence, hatred, horrific discrimination, had been dividing factors among these two people groups for quite some time.

But Jesus crossed the border, which he did on several occasions. Sometimes to the displeasure of the disciples and those watching him.

Yet, with all we know of this non-existent relationship between the groups, Jesus had the audacity to often mention Samaritans, talk to Samaritans, heal Samaritans, and now bring “salvation” to a Samaritan.  Oh, that rebel Jesus.    

It seems for this Samaritan, to be made fully well took being thankful or grateful to God. Usually, we thank someone else for what they have done for us, but what Jesus was noticing was the posture or attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving coming from the heart of the Samaritan.

When the Samaritan acknowledges this thankfulness, he experiences a salvation that goes beyond the merely physical cure of death we often think of as salvation.

In a true and Quakerly sense it could be considered a reorientation of his inner life.  What happened to this Samaritan was something more than proving he had good manners, or that he took the time to write a thank you note or simply say thank you.  It wasn’t something on the surface of his life, but rather something deep down – a real change.  He was transformed by the grace and healing of God and gratitude was the mark of his change.

His eyes were opened to a much bigger grace.  The Samaritan for the first time had been accepted, acknowledged, no longer a foreigner, no longer one of those outcasts and marginalized people.  He was not only healed by a Jew (Jesus), it was approved by a Jew (the priest). Think about it…this Samaritan was changed so dramatically that he risked it all as a Samaritan to go before a Jewish priest to get a blessing – a priest who would have thought just being in the presence of this man would make him unclean (whether a leper or not). 

He was changed. He had experienced salvation.

When we help the marginalized, when we extend grace, when we serve our neighbors, when we accept, acknowledge the foreigner, the outcast, we too are offering salvation to our world. 

And you and I know when that truly happens, you can see it on their face, in their eyes, in their posture – it radiates from them.  Thank you for accepting me.  Thank you for acknowledging me.  Thank you for healing me.  Thank you for extending undeserved grace to me.  I am so thankful.

John Pattison and Chris Smith, who were with us in the fall, have a chapter in their book, Slow Church, titled gratitude. They point out in this chapter that,

“Researchers have found that the happiest people also tend to be the most grateful.  But while this might seem obvious at first, there’s an interesting twist. These folks aren’t grateful for being happy, they are happy because they have been intentional about cultivating a life of gratitude. We have a hunch that something very similar might be true of our faith communities: the most joyful churches (meetings) are probably the ones that have been intentional about making space for gratitude.”      

So this morning, let us continue to learn about having a grateful heart from the Samaritan.  Let us also be like the girl in the story I shared at the beginning of this sermon, that saw how happy, thankfulness made Jesus.  And let us also be a meeting that continues to be intentional about making space as we have this morning for gratitude – because our thankfulness is changing us…or just maybe it is saving us. 



5-12-19 - Born Again or Transformed for What Ought to Be

Born Again or Transformed for What Ought to Be

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

May 12, 2019


This morning as we center down, I would like us to reflect on a verse from Rumi.  I have come back to this verse on multiple occasions this week and in many of my conversations I found myself afterwards reflecting on these words.  So, I will give some time for silence to calm our hearts, bodies and minds, and then I will read the verse and allow us to reflect.



“You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.”


“You sit here for days saying, this is strange business. You’re the strange business. You have the energy of the sun in you, but you keep knotting it up at the base of your spine. You’re some weird kind of gold that wants to stay melted in the furnace, so you won’t have to become coins.”


“Why should I stay at the bottom of a well when a strong rope is in my hand?”


“Become the sky. Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”


“Do you know what you are? You are a manuscript of a divine letter. You are a mirror reflecting a noble face. This universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you are already that.”




This morning, we are going to look at what some people consider one of the most important conversations in scripture – a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee leader, Nicodemus.   Also, it may seem a bit ironic that on Mothers Days, of all days, we would be looking at the theological concept of being “born again.” Literally, that may be a nightmare for some mothers. 


Our scriptures for this morning will include some of the most quoted scriptures and concepts in Christianity.  Not only does it talk about one of the most controversial terms in Christianity – the concept of being “born again” it also closes with the most quoted verse from the New or Second Testament – John 3:16. 


To lay a foundation, I would like to read our familiar text this morning from the Message translation.  Eugene Peterson titled this section of John 3 “Born from Above.” That title is more than simply a title.  It is actually a correction. Most modern texts translate the words “born again” but the reality is that John actually said something more in line with being “born from above” or “born of the Spirit from above.”  This is key to our understanding and helps us manage these verses in light of the whole of scripture.  Let me read the text from John 3:1-18 this morning.


John 3:1-18 (MSG) Born from Above


3 1-2 There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”

3 Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”


4 “How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”


5-6 Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.


7-8 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”


9 Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”


10-12 Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God?


13-15 “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.


16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.


Now, I don’t know if you have noticed how the term “born again” has evolved over the last 20 or so years, but when I was young, everything seemed to be about being “born again.”  People used the term to describe an event or process in which they “gave themselves to Jesus,” which caused a change in their lives and even gave them a sense of meaning.  Many of you in this room, may have this part of your spiritual journey.  For some it may be comforting and for others it could hold a lot of baggage.


Today, in the world we live in, being “born again” or using that tern is primarily negative.  Actually, I have dropped it from my vernacular as a pastor – especially with people in the public sector.  The term is often associated with an extreme Christian perspective.  It also carries with it a specific set of beliefs or theologies, a political stance, even a legality that gives us a way to divide people, groups, beliefs, and thoughts.


I believe this is also one of the dividing lines among church denominations and Yearly Meetings, and I am pretty sure if we took time to diagnose, it would be among our Yearly Meeting as well.  It may not be called being “born again” or not, but it could be labeled conservative or progressive.


Being “born again” has always been linked with a “Conservative Christianity.” Yet that might be a bit misleading. Let me explain:


In “Speaking Christian,” Marcus Borg says,


“A conservative is one who seeks to conserve the wisdom of the past.  But much of “conservative” Christianity in our time is a modern creation, not a conservation of the riches of the Christian past.”


By this definition, Quakers by their very nature are “conservative” in their desire to return to the way and teachings of Christ. What I find interesting is that there are “progressive Quakers” that could be described in this way as well.


I would say that one of the aspects that has confused or convoluted this way is our obsession with heaven and the afterlife, and its connection to escaping this place.  For many people being “born again” has been linked simply to going to heaven, (what some label) “fire insurance”, or a way out of this messed-up world’s hurt and pain.


But this leads to another problem.  In the text for today, many people throughout history have turned the phrase or even translated the “kingdom of God” into simply heaven and then claim that unless one has a new birth experience, which they usually associate with believing the right doctrines, one cannot enter heaven or sometimes even know God in a personal way.


Chuck Queen shed some light on this in his reflection on this text.  He says,


“Actually, to “see the kingdom of God” is just another way of talking about experiencing and participating in the dynamic reality of God’s life and will.  John also calls this “eternal life,” which he contends is the present possession of disciples of Christ. (3:15-16). Scholars of John call this “realized eschatology,” which is just a fancy way of saying that John puts the emphasis on interacting and engaging in God’s life and work right now – in this world – rather than in the afterlife. John by no means denies the afterlife, but the emphasis is on being in relationship and partnership with God in the present.”


Like many Christians today, Nicodemus is a literalist.  He evens struggles with ACTUAL RE-ENTRY into his mother’s womb (that is about as literal as you can get.) He doesn’t get the symbolic nature of the language Jesus uses – and I would say many of us struggle with this as well. 


Remember Jesus’ response to Nicodemus, though?


“You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics?”


I may be a bit bold in saying this, but I wonder if God is asking us this morning and maybe even our Yearly Meeting something similar.  As Quakers we are all about being “born of the Spirit” or being born from above.” Have we forgotten our basics?


Being “born of the Spirit” is obviously the work and revelation of the Holy Spirit or the Inner Light in our life.  Here is what we actually say in our Western Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice about this working:  


“It…inspires him or her to live, struggle, and suffer for the achievement of what ought to be…It is the spiritual endowment that enables one to advance beyond the narrow bounds of self toward the Christian ideals of goodness and love, and to respond to the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  George Fox often called this principle the “Seed of God,” “That of God in you,” or “the Light Within.”  William Penn called it “The Great principle of God in man, the root and spring of divine substance.”  Robert Barclay described it as “a real, spiritual substance,” or “a divine bestowal.” It is “that something we cannot call less than divine and universal, for it links us with the eternal realities, and with our fellow women and men of whatever race or creed. It may be hidden or warped by ignorance or pride or self-will or prejudice, but it cannot be wholly lost, for it is part of that which makes us essentially women and men, made in the divine image, and having within us boundless possibilities of life in God.”


Being “born of the Spirit” is about being inspired to live, struggle, and suffer for the achievement of what ought to be…it links us to the eternal and to our neighbor…and even though at times we may get in the way…with God there are boundless possibilities of life.


Or as Chuck Queen articulated,


“One can think of being born again as a clearing away of all the debris and obstacles so that the dynamic energy, love, compassion, and nonviolent power of God (the Spirit) can flow unhindered in us and through us into the world.”


 I don’t know about you, but I think we need to reclaim this language and teach it in the right way. Instead of spending so much time trying to figure out who is in or out in this world or the next, what if we actually worked on being personally or corporately “transformed”?  


Isn’t that the message Jesus is giving to the “rule-obsessed Pharisee, Nicodemus?


Being “born of the Spirit” implies that we are transformed from the inside by the work of our Inner Light or Spirit of God – so that we will be able to in turn transform the world around us – to demonstrate the Jesus life – to share in the work of our creator…unhindered, with dynamic energy, love, compassion, nonviolent and transforming power.


I love Eugene Peterson’s translations of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus after he shared John 3:16…just listen once again…


“God’s didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”


And that is exactly what God is calling us to this morning. 


You and I are to be transformed. Born from above. Born of the Spirit. Transformed to help put the world right again. Not with accusing fingers or by telling others how bad they are – but by joining God in living, struggling, and suffering for the achievement of what ought to be!


And living, struggling, and suffering is going to take…as Chuck Queen says,


“…getting rid of the clutter that dams up the flow of living water.  So, if we want to know and share in the aliveness of God then our pride, prejudice, resentment, hate, and lack of forgiveness will have to go.  We can’t keep replaying our painful grievance stories over and over.  We will need to turn from our selfish preoccupations and interests because the Kingdom (read as kin-dom) of God, as we use to sing in Sunday School, is deep and wide.”



Queries to Ponder:

  1. How am I demonstrating the Jesus-life and sharing in the world of the creator?

  2. What is getting in my way of experiencing the deepness and wideness of God in this world? (pride, prejudice, resentment, hate, lack of forgiveness, etc.)

  3. How do I/First Friends/WYM need to be “born from above” or transformed anew?



5-5-19 - The Stewardship and Inspiration of the Earth

The Stewardship and Inspiration of the Earth

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

May 5, 2019


Job 12:7-8 (NRSV)

7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
8 ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.


Some of you may be a bit confused about why we are celebrating Earth Sunday on Cinco de Mayo instead of April 22 as it usually is celebrated. Well, April 22 landed on the day after Easter this year, so we moved it to a later date not to miss it.  As Quakers and Christians, the stewardship of the Earth is or should be very important to us.  It is actually covered in one of our distinctives or what we like to call our S.P.I.C.E.S. (actually the last “S” of SPICES is referenced to as both “stewardship” and “sustainability” depending on who you are talking with.) I think both are important.

Sadly, too often we only think of stewardship in relation to issues of money and forget that biblical stewardship originally was the conducting, supervising, and management of the Earth. 

Remember in the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1:28) where it says,

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion [a better translation would read - be stewards] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Many scholars call Genesis 1:28 the cultural mandate. It’s the original call to stewardship. It’s where God first calls humanity to cultivate and care for her creation using the unique gifts and talents she has endowed to every person.  As Friends, we uphold and even promote this mandate in our own statements. On the back of the bulletin is the Statement on Earth Care that is shared among Friends.) 

“The earth we share is limited in its capacity to support life and to provide resources for our survival.  The environment that has provided sustenance for generations must be protected for generations to come.  We have an obligation, therefore, to be responsible stewards of the earth, to restore its natural habitat where it has been damaged, and to maintain its vitality.  Friends’ historic testimonies on simplicity have long stressed that the quality of life does not depend upon immodest consumption.  The urgency of the threat to the environment cannot be overstated.”

That statement I just read is on the back of your bulletins this morning and comes from Friends Committee on National Legislation policy statement (from 1987), it is also cited in the Friends Committee on Unity with Nature statement.

We are mandated by God and our Quaker Faith to be good stewards, people responsible for the care of the Earth. 

I remember one of my first times hearing Quaker Richard Foster speak at a Renovaré Conference he shared with us the three great “books” that guide our lives. He spoke of…

·        the book of scripture,

·        the book of experience,

·        and the book of nature.

I personally have found my faith deepened and my life altered or changed by spending time in the stewardship of the earth. Making time to take in the book of nature has not only been therapy for me, it has given me insights to my own spiritual path, and at times has calmed my soul and given me peace.

From doing the hard work of tending to the weeds in my life, to learning about parenting from watching birds, to sensing hope in a sunrise or thankfulness that the day is done when watching the sun set.

The list could go on and on.  But if there is one thing, I have learned it is that to be a citizen of this Earth means we have a responsibility to take care of it, to learn from it, and allow it to be a bearer of peace in our lives.

A book that I quote from often and has had a profound voice in my life is Quaker Catherine Whitmire’s book, Practicing Peace.  It was in her book that I was first introduced to a Quaker that I have come to highly respect and learn from. This person is Jim Corbett. (Has anyone heard that name before?)

Some consider Jim a philosopher, spiritual warrior, and even some consider him a modern Quaker prophet.  Catherine Whitmire introduced me to Jim in her chapter titled Practicing Peace in our Everyday Lives with the Earth.

As I have further explored Jim and his life, I have been amazed not only by his story, but the role that nature, the animals and the earth had in helping him see his higher calling. Much like Job in our scripture text from today, Jim was about asking the animals (specifically the goats and the bees), the plants of the earth, and the fish of the sea to teach him and inspire him. I consider Jim’s connection to the Earth both prophetic and a call to the importance of allowing nature to inspire us and helping us find ways to respond. 

Since most people have not heard of Jim Corbett, I want to share some of his story with you this morning. It is important that we have contemporary Quakers as well as historic figures to be inspired by, especially for our younger generations who will continue the Quaker faith.

Arden Buck has beautifully shared some of Jim’s story in a Friends Journal article. This morning, I want to highlight some it so we too may be inspired by Jim’s life.    

Jim Corbett was a brilliant and original thinker and writer; he was a fearless activist, who insisted on putting his Quaker principles into action rather than just talking about them. He was also a rancher, a goatherder, and an expert at living simply and close to the Earth.

Corbett grew up in Wyoming, a descendent of Blackfoot Native Americans, Kentucky pioneers, and Ozark Mountain mule traders. As a child he taught himself to be comfortable with discomfort – at ease with hunger, cold, pain – and to detach himself from social expectations. A convinced Quaker, Corbett was a quiet, soft-spoken, unassuming person. For much of their life he and his wife Pat lived very simply in an old salvaged house trailer.

As a student, Corbett breezed through Colgate University in three years and then went on to earn a master’s in philosophy at Harvard in only one year. (WOW!)  Throughout his life, he held a variety of jobs including philosophy professor, librarian, park ranger, cowboy, anti-war organizer, and Quaker activist. But he was always a rancher at heart. For a while, he lived with a group of semi-nomadic goatherders in Mexico. 

Catharine Whitmire pointed out that “Corbett spent years listening to the earth and its innumerable creatures as he rambled through the arid but beautiful Sonoran Desert in Arizona, herding goats. Of his time following the flock through barren wilderness he wrote:

“Leisure, solitude, dependence on uncontrolled natural rhythms, alert, concentration on present events, long nights devoted to quiet watching – little wonder that so many religions originated among herders and so many religious metaphors are pastoral.”

Jim Corbett was known for what he called, “Goatwalking.” Arden Buck says he developed it into an art.

He would wander the desert with goats for weeks at a time.  The goats would forage as they went, and Jim would drink their milk and forage as well. It was a way for him to go on solitary meditative retreats without having to carry any food or water.  He pointed out that this way of living was pastoral nomadism. It is how the Plains Indians lived, and it’s how we are told that Moses led his people in the desert for 40 years. Many Bedouin and Mongolian herders still live this way today.

Corbett saw goatwalking as a form of errantry, which he defined as “going outside of society to live according to one’s inner leadings.”

Corbett even invited people to join him on his goatwalking journeys utilizing the same rules. No food or water, except the occasional oats and raisins. He taught people how to live off the earth, to understand goats, and become companions with both. Even though people were drawn to this extreme experience, Corbett knew that it was almost impossible for most modern urban humans (like you and me) to understand the idea of living in communion with our natural world.

One thing that I found interesting is that Jim said not to bring reading or writing materials when experiencing nature. He said, “Just be there and soak in your experience of the wilderness. 

I don’t know about you, but I think one of the biggest reasons we cannot connect to the earth and nature anymore is because of technology.  Jim didn’t mention that, but if reading and writing were out, so was technology.    

A couple years ago, our son, Alex, was sent as the youth representative for the Northwest Yearly Meeting on a spiritual formation retreat with another Yearly Meeting. He flew to Colorado, and then joined a llama pack and several other youth and adults on a journey into the Medicine Bow Range and up to the top of Medicine Bow Peak. Much like Corbett’s goatwalking, Alex became the friend of a herd of llama.  They ate very simply, did some scavenging, and slept out in the wild. Listening to him explain the conversations he had with the participants was amazing. As someone that is going into Digital Media Arts and will spend his life behind a screen, this really had a profound impact on Alex. He learned things about himself, about others, about nature, about struggle, about accomplishment, and about God.

Similarly, Jim Corbett also learned a lot about himself and others in nature. Actually, nature brought him face-to-face with a new calling.  After moving to Tucson, Arizona Jim developed his bee hive and goat husbandry techniques for use in poor countries. He saw his connection with nature helpful to other cultures but didn’t fully realize what he was learning about community and relationships and helping people in his current place. 


At the edge of his property was built a fence to deter illegal border crossings. Something Jim never really thought about. This was the early 80’s and sadly we were backing violent governments in Central America who were killing and torturing labor leaders, students, church activists, and their relatives.  Individuals and even entire families were fleeing across Jim’s property.  He stayed out of the politics and really wasn’t interested in refugee work.    


But it wasn’t long until Jim heard of a Salvadoran refugee being caught by Border Patrol on his property. This caused things to hit closer to home.  Jim felt compelled to inquire about the refugee and follow him to an immigration detention center in California. Jim’s eyes were opened when he found hundreds of detained Central Americans in this detention facility who had fled war and persecution in their home countries.  


Jim had learned from goatwalking and bee keeping, and living close to the earth, a deeper understanding of humans and the need to help each other and take care of meeting our neighbor’s basic of needs.  Goats and bees had inspired the need for a greater community of love and peace.  


Soon Jim teamed up with John M. Fife III, a Presbyterian Pastor in Tucson who helped him begin to harbor refugees. They organized a system for passing, or maybe we should say “herding” and “keeping,” illegal immigrants from church to church across the country.  Corbett mailed 500 Quaker Meetings and groups seeking their help in the creation of an underground railroad to Canada. Jim Corbett is considered by many today a modern-day Levi Coffin. Hundreds of Quaker meetings and other churches joined the effort. During the 1980’s Corbett and his sanctuary helped free thousands of Central American refugees and helped them build communities of safety. 


Arden Buck speaking of Jim’s writing said, he…


“developed a philosophy that embraced not only humans, but all life on Earth. He extended Quaker principles to apply to all of Earth’s creatures and ultimately to all of creation – there is that of God in all nature.  Regarding environmental preservation, he followed a third way between the two extremes of exploiter and environmentalist by advocating that humans and nature can coexist respectfully.”


As I have been processing all that I have learned from Jim (and there is so much more to glean from his life and work). I return now to my own experience. I have consistently taken walks every day for about a year through my neighborhood, through parks, through the gardens at Newfields.  I have watched and learned the patterns of ducks and geese, and the great blue heron.  I have watched the death and resurrection of the plants, the changing of the trees, the invasiveness of weeds that take over, and the rhythm and beauty of the sun’s rising and setting.  It was Dan Rains last year, who challenged me (and many of you) to look up at the clouds and the patterns and see to see the change they represent.   I learned that I prefer a natural path over cement walkways and roads.  That the sound of moving water can be healing, and that squirrels are hard workers, but still have fun.  I watch out my back window at the beauty of the birds on my bird feeders, how finches consider thistle seed the crack of their world – always coming back for another hit until it is completely gone.  How the sound of the birds chirping becomes a song of praise to my soul. 


I guess what I am saying is that God is still using the Creation to teach and inspire. We just need to be willing to get out of our homes, out of our cars, off our devices, and spend some quality time in nature.  It will change you.  It will inspire you.  It will give you hope. 


As for Jim Corbett, sadly he died on August 2, 2001 at the age of 67 from a rare brain disease.  His legacy still lives on today with the Saguaro-Juniper Corporation, a group of shareholders who bought land in Hot Springs Canyon, Arizona working with disadvantaged and disenfranchised people. They characterize themselves as stewards or even servants of the land, the plants, and the animals.  Jim has two books, Goatwalking: A Guide to Wildland Living and A Sanctuary for All Life which document his learnings and life. 


Now, on the back of your bulletins are some queries to ponder.  Let us sit in the silence (maybe listen for the creation outside the window speaking its praise for this day).    



4-28-19 - In the Proximity of Hope

In the Proximity of Hope

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

April 28, 2019


I Corinthians 15:1-7 (The Message)

15 1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-7 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.



There are several different appearances of Jesus after the resurrection event that are both interesting and have had me reflecting this week on the hope that they convey. 


Scholars often discuss the 10 different accounts that are recorded in the Bible of Jesus’ appearances.  I am sure there were others, but the ones that were written down, must hold some weight since they were recorded for the world to read 2000+ years later.  Now, just to remind you of these appearances and to give you a sense of the order in which scripture recorded them happening, I just want to read the list.  


It is recorded that Jesus appeared to:


1.     Mary Magdalene (where she mistakes Jesus as the gardener)

2.     The other Mary, Salome, Joanna, and at least one other unnamed woman.

(On a side note, I find it fascinating and a huge statement to Jesus’ day and culture that the first 5 people to encounter Jesus recorded in scripture were woman.)  

3.     Simone Peter (one of Jesus’ inner circle)

4.     Cleopas and a companion on the road to Emmaus. (Most likely the companion was not named because it was very likely a woman as well.)

5.     The Eleven Disciples without Thomas (to discuss doubting...)

6.     The Eleven with Thomas (to discuss believing…)

7.     Seven Disciplines at the Sea of Tiberias (This is the famous Breakfast on the Beach scene)

8.     Disciples and a large gathering at a mountain in Galilee. (This is the one Jesus most often reminds the disciples about – meeting on the mountain to receive the charge or next steps – this ends up being almost a month after the resurrection.  

9.     James (private meeting with Jesus’ brother about the church)

10.Disciples (probably in Jerusalem before he led them out of the Mt. of Olives to give the Great Commission and his departure.)  


Ten different situations, all with very different interactions.  As well, Jesus appears sometimes miraculously and at other times in normal situations.  We have Jesus coming through walls, disappearing, not being able to be touched, asking to be touched, and often the gatherings are accompanied by eating. But to understand the importance of all of these appearances to us today, I think we need to look a little deeper at what Jesus was addressing in the individual appearances and with whom he was addressing them. 


After a death (or any loss for that matter), most people not only go through the stages of grief, they also face the deeper need of seeking and finding hope amidst the loss and pain.  Each of the people that Jesus appears to is both in shock and grieving. As a pastor, I am familiar with the reactions of people in that first week after the loss of a close friend or loved one.  Its often a very difficult time and hard to have clarity or peace.


Over half of the recorded appearances of Jesus happen in the first 8 days after his execution (literally in front of them – talk about a difficult thing to work through. I cannot even imagine having to watch a good friend executed in front of me – especially by crucifixion.)  And the bigger gatherings happened over the next few weeks up to 40 days later.  For those who have experienced loss and grief…these 40 days can be a rollercoaster of emotion. 


C.S. Lewis put it this way in his classic, “A Grief Observed.” 


In grief, nothing “stays put.” One keeps emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round.  Everything repeats.  Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I’m on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?


This was the situation for the disciples and followers of Jesus – they were in the “spin cycle” of grief and loss.  But each of them was dealing with other things as well, and I have a hunch that Jesus’ appearances may be speaking about more than we know.  I think it has to do with what I am going to call “the proximity of hope.”  


Let’s start with Mary Magdalene. She was so caught up in the loss – that she missed the proximity of hope before her eyes – just assuming he was the gardener.


Losses can do this to us – and not just loss through death.  Losing our keys or glasses can have a tremendous impact on how we see (even literally see) the world around us in that moment.  Or take the loss of a computer file or a record.  On Thursday, I stopped at Starbucks for a coffee during morning rush hour.  When I approached the drive-up window, two women stared out at me in a funk.  Their computer had just completely gone out. They were at a loss for words at the moment – just hoping it would come back on.


Loss often takes us away from the moment and has us missing what is actually going on. Those who go through divorce often can no longer see their former spouse in the same light – or even themselves.  Jesus appearing to Mary and her thinking he is the Gardner shows us how easy our loss and grief control how we see.


The appearance of Jesus to the other Mary, Salome, Joanna and the other unnamed woman, continues these thoughts.  Here the thing that happens when we are dealing with loss and grief is that we forget what has already been said or done.  In each of the scriptures telling of this appearance, it has the figure of light saying, “Remember how he told you…”.


Loss often has us forgetting or at least neglecting to remember all the details of our lives.  The loss of a friendship has us forgetting the good times and focusing often on only what tore us apart.  The loss of our own memory has us searching and searching for answers. Sometimes I need to take a day and look back through photos, thank you notes, and even highlights in books to remember what I have done and learned.  I think this is why at most memorials we have slide shows and photo boards.  We need to remember the bigger story of life


It says that Jesus presented himself directly to Peter (before the others).  Sometimes loss needs direct intervention. We need someone in our life to directly interact with us.  I don’t know about you, but I have always related to Peter. 


On many occasions, Jesus had to interact with Peter – one-on-one – and often Jesus had to convey a difficult message.  When I am struggling with loss or grieving, sometimes I need someone to come to me and be direct.  Often, we need a sponsor or a mentor, to keep us on track, to invest in us, to believe in us.  I think Jesus did that with each person he encountered.  Again, this was being put in the proximity of hope.


On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and the other disciple encounter Jesus.  Jesus actually walked with them it says. He had them remember, he engaged them directly….and then he did one more thing…he ate with them. 


When we are dealing with loss and grief, food is a huge part of the process.  Some people eat, some do not.  Some find it comforting.  But there is more to this.  Conversations and interactions happen around the table.  The table is a harbinger of the proximity of hope.  The church is good about making meals when people are experiencing loss and grief.  We are good about having meals after memorials, inviting hurting people out to eat with us to allow them to talk…I know for me having a cup of good coffee with someone opens up conversations and has us dealing with and processing our losses and grieving. Sometimes we find answers, insights, and at other times, just like Cleopas and the other disciple – our eyes are simply opened to hope!


When Jesus meets the eleven disciples without Thomas, he begins to lay a foundation for peace in their lives.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson translated the scene this way, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over.” 


Sometimes we are so upset and doubting ourselves, others, and even our experiences that losses and grief can be intensified.  I am sure the disciples were upset, but often we become irrational when we are upset. We can easily let our anger get the best of us. Our misunderstandings about the losses in our lives can have us going down bunny trails that lead us into unhealthy thinking about ourselves and others.


At times, it would be good to find a place for silence and solitude, to calm our hearts and minds.  Loss often creates doubts that can consume our minds and we begin to say things like:   

·        “I don’t think I can do this without...”

·        “I don’t know what I am going to do.”

·        “I don’t think I can go on.”

·        And I am sure you can think of others that run through your minds…  


These are the kind of doubting questions Jesus is talking about not letting take over.


When Thomas (who gets a bad rap for all of church history) arrives in the upper room eight days later, Jesus again takes a similar approach by bringing a word of peace, but then gets more to the point about dealing with this doubt getting out of control.  He says specifically to Thomas, “…you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” 


Boy, I can’t tell you how important that has been to me.  I have been gripped in wondering how things were going to turn out, sometimes after experiencing loss, and I have worked myself up so much that only my way of “seeing” will do.  But my impatience and my lack of will to see from a different perspective has caused me to think I needed to see the entire picture to believe it would come out ok.  Often, I just need to believe without seeing for it to work out just fine.


When Jesus meets the disciples on the beach – a scene I absolutely love – he realizes that the disciples had gone back to their old ways (that sounds so familiar – I can relate).  We go to our defaults when we are dealing with loss and grief because they often bring comfort or normalcy.  There they were all fishing again.  And again, they were struggling with the catch.  But what is interesting is Jesus doesn’t walk on the water or do anything really out of the ordinary, no this time he takes care of the ordinary.  He takes care of starting a fire and making breakfast.  Sometimes we need others around us when we are dealing with loss and grief to simply keep up the normalcy and ordinary in our life.  They don’t need to do anything spectacular, because often it is simply us who needs to try throwing our nets out on the other side of the boats of our lives. 


And sometimes when we are in a funk and have gone back into our default mode, sometimes we need someone to give us a new charge on life.  Scripture points out that some of Jesus’ followers held back, not sure about risking themselves totally. Loss and grief can have us not sure, not wanting to step out, not wanting to do anything, but that is when we often need a nudge or a charge.  Jesus’ charge was to go! And it was followed up by those beautiful words I ended the service with last week, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.”


Actually, Jesus took several disciples aside including his brother James and did more than just charge them – he commissioned them to represent him.  He gave them a purpose and job.  James would go on to be a founder and developer of the Early Church.  James would later write in his own epistle,


“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.  You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So, don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.”   


I got a feeling James would have rather continued in his loss and grief, embracing his default, but Jesus’ charge had him listening and feeling the call to go and truly live. 


And in the very last appearance Jesus makes before his departure, he commissions all of his followers.  He gives them all a purpose to move on and to live.  He says that it will come from within as the Spirit equips them.   And then he does what many needs as they work through their loss and grief – Jesus blesses them.  He raised his hands and blessed them before leaving. 


Back when I was in Silverton, people often requested that I share the blessing that I ended our Meetings for Worship with almost every Sunday.  I said it last week to end our Easter service. Every time I shared that blessing, I would find people who would tell me that they were changed by hearing those words.


As I would say, God loves you.  God is not made at you. I would see tear forming in people’s eyes.  That blessing was healing to their losses and their grief that they endured in the church.  God loves you. God is not mad at you.  And as he said in that last appearance, “and God will never leave you nor forsake you.” 


Folks, I sense what Jesus did in those final appearances was give us some guidance on how to handle our loss and grief by interacting with those he loved.  Jesus became the proximity of hope to those suffering the loss and grieving his death.  And now Jesus is charging us to go and be the proximity of hope to a hurting world. 


Let’s remember the insights we have learned this morning from Jesus’ appearances:


1.     Check your sight – Ask: What do I really see?

2.     Always remember the bigger story – Ask: What have I forgotten? 

3.     Be open to needing direct intervention – Ask: Can I do it alone?

4.     Take time to eat together for the benefit of the soul – Ask: Who do I need to have coffee or lunch with? 

5.     Don’t let your doubts get the best of you – Ask: Can I believe without having to see? 

6.     Stop reverting to your “defaults” – Ask: What are my possibilities?

7.     Doing the ordinary is just as important as the extraordinary – Ask: What am I about in the daily?

8.     Remember you are not alone – God, are you mad at me? Do you love me? Help me remember that you will never leave me nor forsake me – or just help me remember the proximity of hope!