7-8-18 - Encountering the Divine in Nature

Encountering the Divine in Nature

Worship in the Meditational Woods

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry (facilitator)

July 8, 2018



This morning we are going to do something slightly different from our normal routine for Meeting for Worship. Our setting itself is a welcomed change of pace from the Meetinghouse. I always find it a joy to be in these meditational woods – they are a very special place to commune with God within the city of Indianapolis.  I believe in our world today, we need to find time away from the news, the busyness, the clutter, and get back to our roots.  


A few years ago, a librarian friend of mine suggested I read the book “Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in the Everyday Life” by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussart. I picked up a copy of this just over 600-page book and found it a true joy.  One of the chapters in the book deals with nature.  It begins this way…


“Nature provides a theater for some of the most dramatic experiences of the sacred. Most people can tell you about a time when they were soothed, inspired, or awed while contemplating the natural world. 

            The settings may vary but the feelings are universal.  Communion with nature may take place while walking through the woods, watching a sunset, fishing in a mountain stream, looking at the waves of the ocean, observing the ripples on a lake, or sitting under a tree in a park.

            Often these occasions turn into mystical moments when we sense that the inhabitants of the world – the trees, flowers, fields, streams, hills, rocks, dolphins, bears, birds, and babies – are our relations, as Native Americans express it.  When this happens, we have started to read the book of nature.

            Both the historical and the primal religions emphasize the importance of the natural world as a reservoir of spiritual meaning.  For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the Earth reflects the glories of God. Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists look for the connections between nature and human nature.

             For the aboriginal peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia, the land and all the creatures upon it are spiritual teachers who must be listened to and taken seriously.  The shamans of these groups are those who understand the languages of stones, plants, trees, and animals.” 


From this point on our service this morning will be broken into three sections: Go Out, God’s Trademark, and Wrapped in the Ordinary.  


During each section you will have the opportunity to let God’s creation or nature sooth, inspire, and awe you. We will be taking longer moments of reflection to allow your senses and minds to fully engage.  Also, during each of the sections, I will be sharing a thought or story from someone who has been lead to a deeper appreciation for nature and its effects on our lives. Then I will give us a query to ponder and Eric will wrap each section up with a song. I am asking us to keep silent during these experiences instead of speaking out of the silence, let nature do that this morning, so we can fully experience the Divine in nature.


So, let me begin our time this morning with our first section.


Section One -- Go Out.


Our thought is from Bede Griffiths, a British-born Benedictine monk and priest who lived in ashrams in South India and became a noted yogi.  In his book, River of Compassion he writes…


In South India there is a pilgrimage to a place called Sabarimala.  It is a pilgrimage to the forest and hundreds of thousands of people go there every year. The deep meaning of this is that people need to go back from time to time to the forest, to the wilds, where they were before they belonged to a settled civilization with a home and a city.  We need to recall the freedom of the forest. Some time each year, at least, we should go out from our fixed abode, leaving our possessions and everything to which we are attached, and become free to wander or to settle in some very quiet place, to be free for some time like the sannyasi. 


Bede Griffiths in River of Compassion (from Spiritual Literacy)



Bede Griffiths challenges us today to “go out” from our fixed abode.  We have done that this morning.  He asks us to become free to wander or settle into a quiet place and to release everything from which we are attached.  For us Quakers this is centering down.


Let’s now take some time in this quiet place to center our hearts, to calm our minds, and re-connect to the wild, to creation, and to God.  Let us open our hearts and senses to this place.



Section Two – God’s Trademark


For our second section this morning, I would like to read from Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal.  In his work, “Abide in Love”  he shares his observations of nature that give rise to the spiritual practice of wonder.


Everything in nature has a trademark, God’s trademark: the stripes on a shell and the stripes on a zebra; the grain of the wood and the veins of the dry leaf; the markings on the dragonfly’s wings and the pattern of stars on a photographic plate, the panther’s coat and the epidermal cells of the lily petal; the structure of atoms and galaxies. All bear God’s fingerprints.

            There is a style, a divine style in everything that exists, which shows that it was created by the same artist. Everything is multiplicity within unity. Everything is both like other things and unique. Every individual thing has its own manner of being; it is that thing and not anything else. At the same time there are millions and millions of others like it, both minute creatures and immense stars. Everything has its own stripes, speckles, spots, dapples, veins, or grain – the caterpillar, the clay pot, the chameleon, the Klee painting and the Persian carpet, sea spray, stalactites, white agate veins in pebbles, the carpet of autumn leaves, wood, marble, sea shells, and the skeleton of the reptile…

            In the image of God who created them, all beings are at once one and many, from the galaxy to the electron.

            No two caterpillars are alike, no two atoms, no two stars, even though they look the same in the sky at night. But all things also have something in common. The poet seeks to discover this pattern, this design running throughout creation, and tries to see how even the most different things have an underlying likeness. The mountains skip like rams and the hills like young lambs…Your hair is like a flock of goats winding through the mountains of Gilead.


Earnesto Cardenal in Abide in Love (from Spiritual Literacy)


Now, take a moment to look around you, look at both nature, the people, the space, where do you see "God’s trademark" in this place? What patterns, fractals, similarities do you see?  What is the underlying likeness running through everything?  Allow your eyes and mind to engage the wonder of creation.


Section Three – Wrapped in the Ordinary


In our third section, I will be sharing words from “A tree Full of Angels” by Marcina Wiederkehr, a member of Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and a catholic nun who has a facility for finding the sacred in the ordinary.


I must share with you a story about a particularly barren time in my life when I used a tree for a spiritual director. I learned so much that year because I listened in silence…

            Because it was small I couldn’t lean on it but could only sit beside it. That taught me a lot about what the role of spiritual guide should be.

            Even though it was small, it had the ability to give me a certain amount of shade. You don’t have to have a lot of leaves to give shade. Because it was silent I listened deeply. You don’t need a lot of words to connect with God.

            When it got thirsty I watered it.  The miracle of water is a little like the miracle of God’ love. That little sycamore taught me a lot about foot washing.  Watering it was a great joy. A soul-friend relationship never works only one way.  There is a mutual giving and receiving.

            I learned from my tree that being transplanted is possible. I can always put down roots again, connect with the Great Root, and grow on…

            I wouldn’t recommend using a tree for a spiritual guide all the days of one’s life, but that sycamore got me through a long stretch of barrenness.  It was only a little tree, and I didn’t know it was holy until I spent time with it.  Truly, holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. 


Macrina Wiederkehr in A Tree Full of Angels (from Spiritual Literacy)



I have always been fascinated by trees.  They seem to call me.  I find myself painting and drawing trees. There is a spirituality among trees, a sense of community, a wonder and awe that only trees can possesses.  They also have unique personalities, shapes, colors.  Trees are their own eco system. They are life sustainers, life producers, and life shelters. 


Take a moment to hone in on a specific tree in these woods, what might it be teaching you this morning? (If you would like to get up and move, to experience a tree more up close and personal, please do. Getting the perspective from underneath the tree, even up in the branches, and from a distance is important. Touching a tree also creates a special bond and connectedness.  Take this time to connect to a part of creation we take for granted that is part of the ordinary.  Allow God to speak to you through the trees in which we commune today.)


Prayer for our Path Dedication:

O Creator,

May this path be a path to peace and love.

May it be a path to prayer and communion with You.

May it be a path to moments of silence, stillness, and solitude.

May it be a path to transformation and growth.

May it be a path to thanksgiving and gratitude.

May it be a path to wisdom and discernment.

May it be a path to hope.

May it be a path to courage and perseverance.

May it be a path to strength and encouragement.

May it be a path to rest and refreshment.

And may it be a path that connects us to your wonderful creation!

Creator, be our companion on the way, our guide at the crossroads, our strength in weariness, our defense in dangers, our shelter on the path, our shade in heat, our light in darkness, our comfort in discouragement, no matter what path you have set before us. Bless now this path and all who take it.  And all God’s people said, AMEN! 



7-1-18 - Ignite the Light

Ignite the Light

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

July 1, 2018


It was James Nayler, a seventeenth-century English Quaker/Friend and traveling minister, who is probably best known for his fall into the darkness and eventual emergence into the Light at the end of a painful imprisonment who said,


“Art thou in the darkness? Mind it not, for if thou dost thee will feed it more. Stand still, act not, and wait in patience till light arises out of darkness and leads thee.”


Now, in a little more plain English…


“Are you in darknesss? Don’t mind it, for if you do, you will feed it more. Just stand still, don’t act on it, but wait in patience until the light arises out of the darkness and leads you.”


This morning we are going to talk about letting our light shine out of the darkness as you will hear in our text that Eric is going to read.  Take some time in our silence and meditation time to center down on those areas of darkness surrounding you and where also the Light may be leading you.


2 Corinthians 4:6-12

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.


7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

9 years ago, on our way back from our first family vacation to Florida, we stopped to experience Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky. How many have been there?


On our tour we went straight down deep into the bowels of one of the caves and then were to meander slowly up and out over the next couple of hours. 

It was in the largest opening - a huge cavern - that we stopped with our group.  In the cavern they had placed lights throughout to highlight the beauty of the rock formations and to give us a visual path to the exit. 


Our guide talked about the importance of light, but also talked about light pollution – especially for people who live in big cities or suburbs.  He said, we don’t know what living from “sun up to sun down” actually meant. 


Our guide then had us take our hand and put is right in front of our face.  He explained that even today because of light pollution we can still make out our hand in front of our face with the lights out.  But before the world had light pollution – this is what it was like. 


He then proceeded to turn off all the lights in the cave. Wow! It was a bit scary.  You could see nothing.  I could not even see the outline of my hand.  I could not see Sue or the boys.  I quickly realized I could not see or sense direction.  It was disturbing.  Light is so important to us.


But just as important is how dark the darkness really is.


During the summer months we have the sun much later at night.  So we stay up later around the camp fire or backyard fire pit.  We wait until the sun sets to watch fireworks – as we will this week.  It is at night that we see lightening bugs – something that we missed in Oregon because they did not have them. 


As we sat out in our back yard the other night the moon seemed more brilliant, and I could see the stars even with the light pollution of the city. 


Darkness at times can almost seem magical. 

But it is because of the darkness that the light is so important.


This week we celebrate the Fourth of July and fireworks will be a key part of that celebration. It seems fireworks have become main stream.  We experienced fireworks at Disney World, recently after a Major League baseball game, even our neighbors set off fireworks in their yard that lit up the sky.  They seem to bring so much joy to children and adults alike. I believe they represent a celebration.  They bring awe and wonder.  Some consider them patriotic, but this week I decided to do a little history on fireworks. 


Jeff Rice in a piece on the History of Fireworks says this...


The history of fireworks goes back thousands of years to China during the Han dynasty (~200 B.C.), even long before gunpowder was invented. It is believed that the first "firecrackers" were likely chunks of green bamboo, which someone may have thrown onto a fire when dry fuel ran short. The rods sizzled and blackened, and after a while, unexpectedly exploded. Bamboo grows so fast that pockets of air and sap get trapped inside of the plant's segments. When heated, the air inside of the hollow reeds expands, and eventually bursts through the side with a long bam!


The strange sound, which had never been heard before, frightened people and animals terribly (it still does). The Chinese figured that if it scared living creatures so much, it would probably scare away spirits - particularly an evil spirit called Nian, who they believed to eat crops and people. After that, it became customary for them to throw green bamboo onto a fire during the Lunar New Year in order to scare Nian and other spirits far way, thus ensuring happiness and prosperity to their people for the remainder of the year. Soon, the Chinese were using bursting bamboo for other special occasions, such as weddings, coronations, and births. The "bursting bamboo", or pao chuk as the Chinese called it, continued to be used for the next thousand or so years.


I found this fascinating.  To think that fireworks were used by the Chinese to scare away evil spirits seems a wonderful illustration for us today. This is as our text said, “light shining out of the darkness” Evil spirits have always been associated with darkness.


Just as children talk about being afraid of the dark, about monsters under their beds and things that go bump in the night.  Parents are quick to illuminate the darkness.  We give our children nightlights or leave lights on to make it less scary.  When we go camping we give them flashlights, and I know as a camp counselor those were not just to find the path to the bathhouse, no they helped with homesickness, when it was too dark and things were scary. 


I shared that story about Mammoth Cave earlier because I have to admit I was a little bit afraid in that darkness.  For a split second, I thought, “What if the power went out and the lights did not come on?” 


In Jesus’ day it was that dark at night.  We don’t understand the Biblical story of the 10 Virgins and how important keeping their wicks trimmed and the oil in the lamps was to simply getting home after sunset. It was dark and light was of utter importance.  


Now, darkness doensn’t have to be the absence of physical light.  Sometimes, we suffer from levels of darkness in our own hearts.  As our scriptures said this morning, sometimes we are hard pressed on every side, we feel crushed,  perplexed, maybe in despair, sometimes we are persecuted, feeling abandoned, even struck down, or destroyed.  Death – physical or mental is knocking at our doors. 



There are times we aren’t sure if the lights are ever going to come back on for us.

There are times when we think the bad person is going to win or get us.

There are times when we think the darkness is going to consume us.


But God has said to us,


“Let light shine out of darkness,”


God has made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.


7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.


God wants us to remember our inner lights.

God wants us to look deep within our own souls. 

God has placed a special knowledge, an all-surpassing power within us. 

God wants us to be the light in this dark world.


Sometimes that is hard to believe.

Sometimes that light is hard to find.

Sometimes we wonder if the darkness of our world has consumed us and simply blown out our inner light.

Sometimes that means we need the shining light of our neighbors and friends surrounding us.


But scripture says that we are that treasure – in jars of clay.  Just think about this… we are really more like fireworks than we know.  Those big beautiful fireworks that we see on the 4th of July or at Disney World, or at the ball park – did you know those are clay shells.  They are fragile and need careful attention and care so they can really make an impact in the dark night sky.


The light, the color, the sparkle is found within those clay shells. And much like fireworks, God wants us to recognize the light within each of us and ignite it and come alive!  And when we do – it is actually out of the darkness that we are the most beautiful. That we radiate the Light of God into our world.   


A great modern theologian of our day, said it this way…


Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting though the wind
Wanting to start again

Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards
One blow from caving in

Do you ever feel already buried deep
Six feet under

Scream but no one seems to hear a thing


Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you

You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July


'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on show 'em what your worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby you're a firework
Come on let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!"
You're gonna leave 'em fallin' down down down


You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow


Maybe a reason why all the doors are closed
So you can open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow
And when it's time, you'll know

You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July


Firework by Katy Perry

Songwriters: Esther Dean / Mikkel Storleer Eriksen / Tor Erik Hermansen / Katy Perry / Sandy Julien Wilhelm

Firework lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Peermusic Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


You and I are fireworks.  We are to let our lights shine in the darkness of this world.

·        For some that will mean taking action.

·        For some that will mean being arrested and protesting.

·        For some that will mean volunteering and giving of themselves.

·        For some that will mean monetarily supporting.

·        For some that will mean physically moving or sacrificing.

·        For some that will mean dedicating their life to a call or passion.

·        For some that will mean becoming a faithful presence in their neighborhoods or community.

·        For some that will mean making food, writing letters, gardening, teaching, networking, smiling…you name it…


What is it for you? I look around this room and I could name so many ways that First Friends are “fireworks” in the darkness of our world already.  Yet how can we be even more brilliant, more impactful, more light in our dark world?  


I know often when my light seems rather dim or my firework seems to be fizzling that is when I need others to ignite my inner light.  One firework is beautiful, but a full night sky filled with fireworks -- now that is even better!  


When we recognize the light in us, when we let our light shine out of the darkness, then scripture says We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.


Our “firework” life addresses the evil spirits in this world, and lights up our world to truly be a celebration of hope, and love and peace.  So when it gets dark this week and you sit out on the grass or in a lawn chair to watch the fireworks.  Watch them and let them be a reminder of how we are to live our lives brilliantly in the darkness of this world. 


As we enter into waiting worship this morning, ask yourself this query, How will I  let my light shine out of the darkness this week?  



6-24-18 - Knowing the Truth to Inject a New Dimension of Love

Knowing the Truth To Inject A New Dimension of Love

Friends Educational Fund Sunday

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

June 24, 2018


This past week was an interesting week in our country to say the least.  Along with all the crazy news about children being separated from families at our borders and what we are going to do about it, two important days may have slipped by our calendars. 


June 19 was Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, an American holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas, and more generally the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans throughout the former Confederacy of the southern United States. Its name is a mix of "June" and "nineteenth", the date of its celebration. Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in forty-five states.


June 20 was World Refugee Day which was created by the United Nations General Assembly and is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world.


I would like our “Silence and Meditation” time this morning to be just that – a time of silence to hold in the Light all those in our country and world who have, or are, still suffering from injustices, racial and cultural violence, and being treated as less than and not equals.    


Hebrews 10:23-26 (NCV)


23 Let us hold firmly to the hope that we have confessed, because we can trust God to do what he promised.


24 Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. 25 You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other. Do this even more as you see the day coming.


26 If we decide to go on sinning after we have learned the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins.



As Quakers, we rarely talk about sin.  We prefer to talk of love, grace, and definitely peace and allow sin to stay and be more of a private issue.  Today, I have decided to talk about sin – and this is personal as much as it is corporate or maybe even national sin.  Let me give you some background.


20 years ago, the year Alex, our oldest son was born, I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. National Site and King Center in Atlanta, Georgia for the first time.  I was 25 years old and rather a newbie to ministry.  I had been raised in a good family, in the church, and went to good “Christian” schools. At the age of 25, I was serving as a Director of Christian Education in Elmhurst, Illinois, a near west suburb of Chicago. In Elmhurst, I served a predominately white church of about 1000 people and lead a fairly large youth ministry.  That year I had been asked by my denomination to be a youth representative to our national youth gathering in Atlanta, GA. Along with about 150 representatives from across the country, I traveled to Atlanta several months prior to the event to see the sights, give input into the preferences of our youth from Illinois, and to get a physical sense of the city of Atlanta -- all before 40 thousand youth from around the country showed up for the gathering. 


Looking through the options on my itinerary for my free-time on one of the days, I found I could visit President Jimmy Carter’s library, The Coca Cola Museum, or the King Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. I wasn’t too sure what the King Center or the National Historic Site was, so I read the description, thought it sounded interesting, chose it, and jumped on the bus. As I sat down, I waited for others to join me, but no one else entered the bus.  I moved up closer to the bus driver and got a personal tour on my way to the Historic Site and Center. 


Now, I have to be honest.  At age 25, I really didn’t know much about the Civil Rights Movement.  In the small Indiana town and school I was raised in I was taught about the Civil War, but I honestly do not remember being taught much about slavery or the plight of Black Africans in our country. What I was taught in grade school about the civil rights was probably about a paragraph in length in my history book.  Also, I honestly didn’t know much about the legacy of Dr. King. I do remember in about 5th grade clearly seeing a bulletin board announcing the first time we would celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day at my school.  Now, you must know, I attended a Lutheran School, so when I saw the picture of Dr. King, I leaned over to my friend and said, “I did not know that Martin Luther was black and why do they call him a king.”  This is how ignorant I was.  


So after being dropped off at the entrance of the King Center, I made my way in, grabbed a guide, and ventured into the museum. For the next couple hours, I received an education.  I read about the roots of Dr. King’s lifelong fight for equality and his leadership in the American Civil Rights Movement. I read every single word on each of the plaques throughout that museum. And at the very end, before crossing the road to see his tomb, his church – Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the King Center which his wife, Coretta started, I stood with about 5 other people and listened to a live recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” 


As I listened I was realizing something in me was changing.  I could not control the tears that fell from my face.  In many ways, I had realized that my ignorance to King’s legacy, the plight of my African American sisters and brothers, and to the American Civil Rights movement was downright wrong. Actually, I would say it was a sin of my white ancestors who reluctantly or willingly refused to teach the rest of the American story.


Since that day, I have been dedicated to learning, educating, and working hard on not being an ignorant white man about what has gone on in our country – sadly from its inception.  By no means have I arrived, got it figured out, or feel that I can relate to the plight of my African American Sisters and Brothers, if anything, I simply can say that I am more aware today. 


Now, let’s go 20 years forward to just a couple of weeks ago – our family had the opportunity to visit and experience what the Washington Post claims “One of the most powerful and effective new memorials created in a generation.” Unlike, my experience in Atlanta 20 years earlier, I thought this time I was a little more prepared for what I was going to experience. But in many ways, I felt again I had been missing the rest of the story. The memorial was The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. As it states on the their website and in their brochures:


The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the nation’s first comprehensive memorial dedicated to the human loss suffered during the era of racial terror lynchings, which swept across the South and beyond in the decades following the abolition of slavery…A path leads into a structure made of more than 800 steel monuments, one for each location where a racial terror lynching took place, inscribed with the name of lynching victims (by the way, we have three steel monuments for Indiana). Visitors can read the stories of black men, women, and children who were lynched, many for mere social transgressions…The National Memorial is a reckoning that acknowledges Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful insight: True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It is the presence of justice.


As my family and I slowly made our way through the memorial, we found ourselves in tears, overcome by the overwhelming reality of what our white ancestors had done.  Again, this was sin.  At one point, we were approached by a young women who worked at the memorial. She asked if we were ok and if we had any questions.  Words were hard to come by. 


Before entering the monument we read of how from 1877 to 1950, millions of black Americans were targeted by racial terror lynchings – over 4, 400 were actually documented (many more went undocumented).   


But it was in reading the following that I was overcome by the enormity of all of this:


Racial terror lynchings were directly tied to the history of enslavement and the re-establishment of white supremacy after the Civil War.  These lynchings were distinct from hangings and mob violence committed against white people and other groups because they were intended to terrorize black Americans and enforce racial hierarchy.


Please note, we were taught that the term “racial terror lynchings” included any form of hate crime or violence to Black Africans which ended in death.  


The young women who approached us at the memorial knew that we were searching for words, but also knew we wanted to do something about what we were experiencing.  She said, “The best thing you can do is tell people what you have learned here.  Bring people here. Use your voice to make a change and not let this continue.” 


As I moved on I began wrestling with the fact that I have had people confront me politely and say, “Let’s not use words like White Supremacy or White privilege,” “Let’s talk about poverty instead of racism” or let’s not say “Black Lives Matter” no, let’s just say “All Lives Matter.” What I have learned is that when people say these things, they are often simply unaware of how they are actually reinforcing racism in our country and right here in our pews. 


I had a hard time sleeping that night after attending the memorial.  Actually, I wrestled most of the night with what I was supposed to do with what I had seen and learned. - me, a middle aged, overly educated, white man, that happens to be a Quaker pastor from Indiana.  I woke up early that next morning, headed down to the lobby of the hotel to grab a cup of coffee and a copy of US Today.  I took a couple of sips of my coffee and then read the headline on that day’s paper, “Churches struggle with how to confront racism.


Are you kidding me… I could not believe it.  But as I read the article, a quote by Chris Beard a white pastor from People’s Church just over in Cincinnati, Ohio struck me.  He said,


“It’s sinful that the white American Christian Church has perpetuated a climate of white supremacy instead of repenting for the sins of the founding of America. It’s humbling and scary to face our own sin, but without truth, there is no repentance.”


Now, I know that not everyone has had the same journey I have.  Some may not see ignorance or the sins of one’s ancestors something to seek forgiveness for, but I personally agree with Pastor Beard that it is time that we seek the truth.


Quaker Gary Cox in a Pendle Hill Pamplet titled, “Bearing Witness – Quaker Process and a Culture of Peace” says this about Quakers and Truth:


“As Quakers, we state that truth is something that happens, it occurs...not just a dead fact which is known. It is a living occurrence in which we participate. The guiding concern of people bearing witness to this Truth is to live rightly, in ways that are exemplary. Quakers are convinced that genuine leadings all proceed from a common ground, spring from a unity which we seek and find...”


Without Truth, there is no repentance because it springs from a unity -- a common ground.  To name our sin of racism or racial hierarchy or white supremacy (or even our ignorance) begins when we live the Truth into being, when we are educated and acknowledge our histories, and work hard at coming together in unity.  Yes, it means that we will have to acknowledge where we have been wrong and most certainly ask for forgiveness.


But this is only the first step – our voices need to be heard and action must be taken to tear down the bondage of racism in our country. African American football players should not have to be kneeling during our national anthem to get our attention of the racial terror that is still occurring in our country with police brutality and mass incarceration.  This is not politics folks – this is sin and we need to repent.    


Now, I could go on, but there is a reason we are all gathered here today. And it has to do with some people right here in Indiana who did not perpetuate the racial terror and violence our history records against Black Africans after the Civil War. Instead these people wanted to make a difference and the legacy of their difference is still being lived out today.


History notes that the Quakers were the earliest migrants to Indiana. And the Quakers specifically from Indianapolis 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.


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.  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 today.  John Williams (no, not the famous composer) but the 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.


John Williams’ name should be hanging on one of the steel monuments in the National Monument in Montgomery.


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 our 42 recipients today and now you know the story behind why we are here today.  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. 


Now, handing out money or scholarships is easy, remembering from where they came and through what pain and toil they had to be handed down is another thing.  It is important to not only know our history, but to also know what side of history we are on. 


I want us together, to continue the legacy of John Williams, to not forget his death, to always thank him for his sacrifice and foresight in making a difference in the lives of young black men and women.  I also want us to remember the legacy of the Indianapolis Quakers, who by putting others before themselves stopped perpetuating the sins of their ancestors, and found a way to seek Truth by helping Black Africans after the Civil War in this racially divided and terror stricken country.


Our scripture this morning from Hebrews 10 read,


Let us hold firmly to the hope that we have confessed, because we can trust God to do what he promised. Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds…but…If we decide to go on sinning after we have learned the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins.


Folks, there is hope in God’s promises. 

There is hope that we can be a people who continue to learn and become aware of our past.

There is hope that we can make needed changes while continuing to seek the Truth.


I believe there is hope for our future…but that hope starts with each of us.


Martin Luther King Jr. said it so well,


We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of LOVE into the veins of our civilization. 


You scholar recipients have this opportunity.

You parents and grandparents and friends have this opportunity.

And yes, we at First Friends have this opportunity. 


Let us take it and make our world a better place.


And all God’s people said, Amen.



6-17-18 - No Longer Living to Impress God

No Longer Living to Impress God – Father’s Day

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

June 17, 2018


Centering Down:


This morning as we center down and calm our hearts to hear from God, I would like us to ponder a query from the late Trappist Monk and author, Thomas Merton.  It is a quote I ran across in the book, “Becoming Who You Are” by James Martin. Originally this quote was in the chapter titled, “Being and Doing” from Merton’s classic “No Man is an Island.” Just listen and ponder these words or queries of Thomas Merton:


Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?


Take a couple moments to ponder Merton’s queries for yourself as you center down this morning.  (pause)


Galatians 2:17-21 (MSG)


17-18 Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.


19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.


Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.


If you have never had a chance to read “No Man is an Island” by Thomas Merton, I would highly recommend it for some summer reading.  The book is a quest to help one know and understand, and accept oneself. The line that probably most speaks to the overall thesis of the book is,


“We cannot become ourselves unless we know ourselves.”


And I would say the same is true about God – we cannot really know God unless we know ourselves.  This reminds me of the scripture passage that reads, “Love God and love your neighbor….AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF.” You see, our relationship with God and our neighbors must be in light of us understanding how we love ourselves, how we know ourselves, even how we treat ourselves.


And I believe this is exactly what Paul was talking about in our text for today that was just read.


What I sense Paul was trying to describe in this text was what some may label, “Spiritual Maturity.”  Now, I know Beth and John, while I was on vacation, both talked about other aspects of spiritual maturity – so in many ways I am continuing these thoughts. But this morning, I am going to focus on an aspect of spiritual maturity that is often a difficult hurdle to get over. 


You see, many Christians, when they first become followers of the Jesus Way (especially if it is later in life) spend a lot of time with “rule keeping.”  Actually, as one who has studied evangelism curriculums and evangelistic programs, a great deal of the material is riddled with “rule keeping and following.” It is what for some, Christianity is all about. Thus many are introduced to a rigid and often harmful Christianity from the beginning.  


Some people (especially in our country) feel that Christians are called to live to some standard which must be enforced by rules and lots of them. Over the last couple of weeks, my family and I have been touring the southern states, I was keenly aware of how often this “rules-based religion” was seen, heard, and lived openly and the harm it produces.


Over the years, I have had many people, from college students to retirees, literally come apart in my office, breakdown, over not being able to follow or keep “all the rules.”  Most of the time it is a family member, a parents or spouse, or even a former pastor or church who has taught this type of bondage to rule keeping.


Now, before we get too focused on this – I must remind us that this is nothing new – this is exactly what Jesus was fighting against and Paul is talking about in our text – this is what we call Pharisaical thinking.


Did you know that the name “Pharisee” – actually means “separatist” in Hebrew? That gives us a new perspective.


Pharisees are those who take great pains in separating themselves from people not like them.  Those sinners. Those people. Those over there…. Pharisaical thinking is drawing a line making it “us vs. them.”


Folks, I think this is so ironic.  Like Paul himself who said, “I am the chief of all sinners.” I personally cannot see how we have any right to separate ourselves from others, those people, the sinners.”  Aren’t we all in the same boat? Aren’t we all created equal? 


As soon as we stop believing this, we become rule-followers and rule enforcers and then we begin to do major damage to our neighbors and to our world.


Kim Harrington wrote in a blog post about Modern Day Pharisees, she said:


There is no greater turn-off than a Christian who acts self-righteous and condescending, as though it’s obvious he is better than you.  Yet many of us act this way…all the time. It’s no wonder that they don’t have the time to listen to us when we try and explain some point of the Gospel to them!”


The reality is that you and I are no different than anyone else.  Personally, I stink at rule-keeping.  And the thoughts that run through my mind (especially in light of our current political climate, the lack of justice in our world, the poor social conditions our country seems to be creating and supporting) are probably just as horrible as any other person on this planet. 


I sense to often the reason we feel we can separate ourselves from others, heap rules on those not like us, even treat people as less than us, is because we haven’t taken a good inventory of our own souls.


As our family, travelled the past couple weeks through the King Center and Birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, and the National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel in Memphis where King was assassinated, I could not stop asking myself what Martin Luther King Jr believed to be life’s most persistent and urgent questions, ‘What are you doing for others?’ and ‘Where do we go from here?”


The reality is, to help our neighbors and share the Good News of the gospel with them, takes first knowing oneself.  If anything our past, especially the Civil Rights movement, but also all that this going on in our world today, should have us taking a personal inventory of what we believe and how we are responding to our world today. 


Where is my heart?

What do I want?

What do I believe? 

What am I doing for others?

Where do we go from here?


Paul shared a little of his inventory in our text for this morning, he said,


If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.


19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God.


How often have you and I made or thought Christianity or our religious path was about…

·        Claiming to have more knowledge or skill than someone else.

·        Being “holier than thou.”

·        Keeping the rules.

·        Working one’s head off to please God.

·        Gaining a personal identity or impressing others.


Paul addressed this 2000+ years ago – and still today these are the top criticisms of being a Christian in our world. Sadly, not much has changed and looking back on our history, it is often that this lack of awareness and rule-enforcing has created some attrocities in our history – from slavery to treating people less than to even today separating children from their parents at our borders because we are following the rules of the bible.  


Yet because Paul took a personal inventory…he stopped to reflect…he slowed down long enough to see the damage in the way he was living the faith.. and because he did this – he made a change – actually he became the change.


Paul rebooted his life.


·        He quit being a “law man.”

·        He studied Jesus’ life (how he lived).

·        He began to identify with Jesus’ way (not just finding or being the answer).

·        He put his own ego on the back burner.

·        He no longer was driven to impress God or other people.

·        He stopped repudiating (means: to reject as having no authority or binding force) God’s grace.

·        He began to really live.


I wonder how much different our world would be if we did the same?


My greatest saddness over the last couple weeks was seeing the sights of the Civil Rights Movement, reading and hearing the stories, senseing the pain that our country has gone through from lynchings to having black men have to hold signs that proclaim, “I am a man” and yet looking around and realizing not much has changed when I turn on the news. 


Have we not looked internally and taken an inventory of our own lives? Haven’t we asked ourselves the questions that need to be asked?  Our refusal to look inside ourselves continues to bring pain to our world.


As you leave the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis there is a wall with the Gandhi quote – “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


To do that we must take some time for personal reflection and inventory of our own souls.  Sadly, if we do not know ourselves, we will continue to repeat the atrocities in our world, whether passively or intentionally.  To know ourselves is the first step in becoming the change.


In the book, “Becoming Who You Are” which I quoted earlier, James Martin says the following,


In the quest for the true self, one therefore begins to appreciate and accept one’s personality and one’s life as an essential way that God calls us to be ourselves. Everyone is called to sanctity [or what I would call a sacred life] in different ways – on often very different ways…And as we move closer to becoming our true selves, the selves we are meant to be, the selves that God created, the more loving parts of us are naturally magnified, and the more sinful parts are naturally diminished. As are so many other blocks to true freedom.


I began these thoughts this morning with two queries from Thomas Merton in our centering down time.


Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?


I believe we are in the same mind of Paul as he processed his obsession with rule-keeping. He was caught in a Pharisaical mode – maybe because he actually was a Pharisee at one time. If anyone knew how to “reboot” and get on another path, Paul did – and the reality was he could not do it without the help of God.


And neither can we.  God not only shows us the way…God wants to nurture in us a “living relationship” (as The Message put it) where Christ’s life can be lived out through you and me.  Paul proclaims, “Christ lives in me.” And the good news is that he lives in each one of us. 


So to do a personal inventory – to do some true soul searching – is to allow Christ’s life to be made know in your life.  If you turn to the back your bulletin this morning, you will find some queries – these are more of a personal inventory to help you process this.  Let these queries be a beginning point to ask yourself some deeper questions and free you to be who God made you! 


·        What’s one joy and one struggle you experienced in your life, recently?

·        How would you describe your walk with God this past year?

·        Where do you feel you would most like to grow as a Quaker?

·        What is something new about God you’ve recently discovered?

·        How would you finish this sentence: I feel good about my journey with God when . . . ?

·        What have been some of the ups and downs of your spiritual life since you began your journey?

·        How has First Friends helped you on your spiritual journey?

·        What do you need from this community to continue your maturity?



6-10-18 - What Doth the Lord Require of Thee? John Moorman

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Meeting for Worship June 10th, 2018

“What Doth the Lord Require of Thee?”

By John Moorman


This is the second First Day message while our pastor Bob and his family enjoy a well-earned vacation. A while back, I volunteered to give this week’s message. I thought that I had something in mind that I had given in Texas many years ago. However, after much thought and prayer the following came to me instead. It is a view of scripture and history from a high vantage point, not a deep diving into specific verses and chapters.


The title of this week’s message is; “What doth the Lord require of thee?” In this short time today, I will summarize a large period of history and its related scripture to arrive at a what I feel is a reasonable answer to the question above. Throughout my message,  I will be using the Message Bible in quoting from scripture. I feel that it best captures the language used when scripture was being placed in written format.


In early Jewish history, as indicated in scripture, the sacrifice of animals played an important role in the religious life of the community. Animal sacrifice was a part of their daily lives and was a way to indicate to God that they were repentant of sins and sought God’s forgiveness.  Animal sacrifice was also prevalent as a part of the cultural life of communities that they were acquainted with.


For those following the Jewish faith, it was not a simple animal sacrifice but consisted of many levels of animal sacrifice and the use of oil as a part of some of these sacrifices. The following are brief statements of each type of sacrifice and its purpose.


1.   Burnt Offering – To propitiate for sin in general, to signify compete dedication and consecration to God.

2.   Communion or Peace Sacrifice – The peace offering expressed peace and fellowship between the offender and God. The restoration of communion.

3.   Sin Sacrifices – To atone for sins committed un-knowingly, especially where no restitution was possible.

4.    Trespass Reparation Sacrifice – To atone for sins committed unknowingly, especially where restitution was possible.

5.   The Daily Burnt Sacrifice: Th standing or perpetual sacrifice. Daily sin offering for the people. The first liturgical sacrifice of the Sinai Covent.

6.   Remembrance Sacrifices – To relive the Exodus and Sinai experiences in every generation.

7.   The New Moon Sacrifices – To begin a new month in the lunar calendar.


Each sacrifice had specific rules about what animals were to be sacrificed and who received parts of the sacrifice.


An example of scriptural verses concerning animal sacrifices is quoted below:


Leviticus Chapter 6 Verses 24-30 (Message Bible): “God spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron and his sons. These are the instructions for the Absolution Offering. Slaughter the Absolution Offering in the place where the Whole Burnt Offering is slaughtered before God -The offering is most holy. The priest in charge eats it in a holy place, the Courtyard of the Tent of Meeting. Anyone who touches any of the meat must be holy. A garment that gets blood spattered on it must be washed in a holy place. Break the clay pot in which the meat was cooked. If it was cooked in a bronze pot, scour it, and rinse it with water. Any male among the priestly families may eat it; it is most holy. But any Absolution Offering whose blood is brought into the Tent of Meeting to make atonement in the Sanctuary must not be eaten. It has to be burned.”


These instructions are direct and concise.


Chapter 7 of Leviticus contains further instructions on other types of animal sacrifices.


This approach to appealing to God for the forgiveness of sin and other errors and misdeeds by individuals and the Jewish people as a faith community, continued for many centuries.


One of the joys that I find in reading scripture is to see God’s will being acknowledged differently as the world in which the Jewish people live changes around them.


As time and scripture records God’s continuing relationship with Judaism, it is almost as if God sees that the Jewish faith in its best affirmation, is ready for a new relationship with God. Thus, the following found in Micah, which was our scripture reading for today.


This is from the Message Bible:

Micah Chapter 6 Verses 1-9


“Listen now, Listen to God:

Take your stand in court. If you have a complaint, tell the mountains; make your case to the hills. And now, Mountains, hear God’s case; listen Jury earth-For I am bringing charges against my people, I am building a case against Israel.

Dear people, how have I done you wrong? Have I burdened you, worn you out?


I delivered you from a bad life in Egypt;

I paid a good price to get you out of slavery.

I sent Moses to lead you-

  And Aaron and Miriam to boot!

Remember what Balak King of Moab tried to pull, and how Balaam son of Beor turned the tables on him.

Remember all these stories about Shittim and Gigal.

Keep all God’s salvation stories fresh and present.”


How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God?

Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves?

Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil?

Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin?

But he has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.

It is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and do not take yourself too seriously-take God seriously.”


As Bruce T. Dahlberg notes in his introductory chapter to the Book of Micah in the Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible;” The name Micah is an abbreviated form of Micaiah meaning “Who is like Yahweh”. Except for his home and the general period in which he flourished details of Micah’s life are unknown.”  He was a contemporary of Isaiah.


The above scripture reading is in the form of a question and answer session between God and Micah. God is stating that he is tired of animal and oil sacrifices. There is more to the relationship of humans to God than just animal and oil sacrifices. God requires a total claim to the whole of man’s life. God requires a total claim to the whole of man’s life. As stated in the passage above; you already know what it that I require of you in your life, what to do and what I, as your God, are looking for in your daily activities. So- as the scripture states: ““Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and do not take yourself too seriously-take God seriously.”


What does this imply? Be fair and just in dealing with others, if you have wealth or power do not use it unfairly. In love be compassionate, do not take advantage of those you love and be loyal even if that loyalty may cause you personal hardship. Be humble of your talents and skills remember they all come from God. Take God’s commandments seriously. Take God’s commandments seriously.


As mentioned earlier, Isaiah was a contemporary of Micah. Commentary like what we have just discussed is found in Isaiah. In Isaiah Chapter 1, Verses 16-18 we find the following; “Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings, so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.”


This way of seeing what God required of humankind brought new obligations to those of the Jewish faith, obligations that required a changed approach to life. No longer could sin be simply done away with an animal/oil sacrifice, although this did not bring an immediate end to such sacrifices.


Like all of us throughout history, those of Jewish faith were found full of shortcomings. The prophets were a constant reminder of this and the need to alter their lives to remain as God’s people.


With the coming of Jesus, the picture is altered. While Jesus was a Jew his messages in many forms (parables, talks, personal examples) did not fit the Jewish concept of their Messiah. With his death on the Cross and his resurrection, a new religious faith was born. As Quakers, we are a part of the Christian faith tradition. As George Fox stated; “There is one even Christ Jesus who can speak to thy condition”.


What does Jesus have to say about what God requires of us? Along with his many parables and messages indicating how an individual should live and interact with his/her fellow beings, the following two sections from scripture found in Matthew Chapter 22, Verses 36-39 and Mark Chapter 12, Verses 28-31 give us, Jesus’s answer.


I will quote from Matthew Chapter 22, Verses 36-39 again from the Message Bible: “When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?

        Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: “Love others as well as you love yourself.” These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hands from them.”


In this context, Jesus is indicating we must love God with our whole being. This love must be shown in all our thoughts and actions. This is a constant love, one that is never ending. How we express this in our prayers and daily living enriches our lives and the lives of those with whom we come into contact.  


The second peg; “Love others as well as you love yourself” is to me the hardest commandment of all. As a human being each of us is full of imperfections, doubts, questionable desires, motives, and other failings. The challenge given us is to accept ourselves for who we are, remembering that each of us is a loved child of God.


The process of accepting our self as we are is not easy. We must avoid narcissism as that is not a proper way of loving ourselves. It is dangerous as we have seen throughout history and in the present.


We must understand our faults and continually work on self-improvement. It means coming to terms with those aspects of yourself that you cannot change. We can be beautiful inside even if our outside presence is not what we desire. Too tall, too short, bald head, no musical ability, could not boil water etc. You are still a creation of God and were made in God’s image. Accept yourself unconditionally and respect who you are. This makes it much easier to love others who are not perfect either.


With self-respect, a positive self-image and unconditional self-acceptance you will then be able to love others in the manner indicated by Jesus.

Many translations of this part of scripture indicate that you should love your neighbor as yourself. This begs the question of who is my neighbor? This question is one reason I like the Message Bible interpretation of scripture. As I indicated above it states: “Love others as you love yourself”.  In Jesus’s time individuals did not travel much, if any, beyond their hometown. They attended worship at the local synagogue they understood Jesus’s command to love those with whom they were familiar. Through other teachings of Jesus, we understand that his commandment is unconditional and refers to all with whom we meet.


As we enter this precious time of unprogrammed worship, center your thoughts on the queries listed on the back page of today’s bulletin. What concerns, and answers do these queries bring to your mind and how do you propose to address them?


If you are convinced that you have been given a message to share, stand up and share it. If it is addressed solely for yourself to further think over and ponder rejoice and keep it close to your heart.



6-3-18 - Our Odyssey to Spiritual Maturity

Our Odyssey to Spiritual Maturity

Beth Henricks Message

June 3rd 2018

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:24-26

Resources Utilized – Falling Upward by Richard Rohr




Friends, Bob and his family are on their way to a much-needed vacation in Florida today.  I was asked several months ago to give the message and appreciated the opportunity to share with you.


But dear Friends, I have struggled to hear God’s voice in what I should say today.  I ask for your grace in my words and appreciate your love and support in our experience together.


I read Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward several years ago but re-read it this last week.  Its message hit me in a pretty profound way and has been challenging me all week.


Most of you know that Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province.  He has written may books and I follow his daily blog.  He is an important voice in Christianity today.


He wrote Falling Upward in 2011 encouraging us to think about our lives in two halves.   The first half is all about building our container.  The issues we are concerned about in the first half of our life are “identity, security, sexuality and gender”. We want to look good to others.   Marking boundaries and protecting boundaries are the primary task of this first half of life.  We are defensive about our personal, group and our tribal identities.  And in terms of religion it is much about purity codes, rules to follow and being clear and clean in our theology.  


 I remember graduating from college with a business degree in 1982.  I desperately wanted to be successful to the outside world.   My mother who was born in 1914 thought the only option for me to enter the business world was as a secretary.  I was determined to follow a different path and declared that I would never be dependent on another person.  This was part of my journey work in the first half of life. And my spiritual journey was focused on absolutes, externals, formulas, and Bible quotes to answer the tough questions. 


While we may look down on this period, the first half of life is absolutely a part of our odyssey to spiritual depth.  To be healthy and whole human beings requires us to establish our containers and identities.  As humans we all have certain needs that are prioritized. At a basic level we need food and shelter before we can move to a higher level of consciousness.  Then we need security, love and belonging, self-esteem and finally we can achieve a level of self-actualization.  These lower level needs are part of the first half of life work while the higher ones are the second part of life work.   We need to be successful in establishing the first half of life stuff, we need to learn to be responsible and independent.   As The Dalai Lama said, “Learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.”


The marking of time in the first half of our lives in also not a matter of chronology.  Some folks move into the second half of life early and many others never leave the first half.  And sometimes when our foundations are shaken, we step back into first half responses.    The familiar and comfortable are reassuring places.  And unfortunately, most of our institutions including the church focus on first half matters.  It seems to be how our world defines progress and success.


I believe we start considering second half life matters when we start asking some of the deep questions, have doubts, and wonder about our purpose here on this earth.  This second half of life is focused on the contents that go into our individual containers and identities.  And we begin to understand that the way to go up must be by going down.   


I was fascinated with the Bill Moyers interviews in the late 1980’s called The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell (Campbell was a professor of literature, writer, philosopher and a student of comparative mythology and religions).  He talked about how our myths, stories and religious expressions have had so many common elements throughout history.    The hero’s odyssey has been told in many ways from the heroes of our Bible stories, throughout mythology (Homer’s Odyssey is the classic example) to the saints in the Christian tradition and to many books, movies and shows.    All the hero journeys have 5 common elements as Rohr defines in his book.

·        “They live in a world that they take for granted and is sufficient.


·        They have a call and the courage to leave home for the journey.


·        On the journey they find out the real problem – they are always wounded, and the epiphany is that the wound becomes the secret key.


·        The first task is not the only task and is usually a warm up to the real task – a deeper river beneath the appearances.  They find their soul.


·        They return to where they started and know the place for the first time.  They have a life energy force and share it with others.”


Joseph Campbell said in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “We have only to follow the thread of the hero path.  Where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”


This is the soil of second half of life stuff.  We never really find something unless we lose it and then re-find it later at a different level.  We must experience falling, losing, failing, as they will lead us back home.    We grow spiritually more by what we do wrong than by doing it right.  As Jesus said in our scripture reading today, we have to lose our life to find it.  2 Corinthians 12:10 says that when we are weak, we are strong.   Jesus also tells us the last shall be first.  Do we really believe this? Because our culture and our churches don’t tell us that.  

And do we live this out in our lives?  It’s pretty radical stuff. 


The second half of life brings us to appreciate what we all have in common.  We can live in the tension of both/and instead of separating everything into either/or.  We seek the wisdom of our elders and “weighty friends”.  “We can participate in a sacred dance versus a survival dance”. 

We stop making God so small and imagine the depth of God’s love to every person and all creation.  We can swim in the river of doubt, unknowing and mystery and won’t drown.  And as we read our sacred Scriptures, we can claim Truth without having to believe in historical facts.


I was talking with my brother who is 9 years my senior on Mother’s Day this year.  We were reflecting on our mother whom we lost at 95 years old in 2010.  I hold my mother in such esteem – not only as an amazing mom but a spiritual giant and one of the biggest influences in my life.  My brother however feels differently about our mom.  He felt that as he was growing up our mom was rule oriented and rigid.  He saw a significant change in her as she aged so my experience was different.  This was her journey of moving from a first half life focus to a second half-life focus and we were all the beneficiaries of this shift. 


This second half of life is also a time where we expose our inner selves to the Light, we see our shadows and we are humbled and we experience death and resurrection.  We experience the Gospel. We feel the fire of the Holy Spirit.  We attempt to describe this experience through our metaphors like Flowing Water, Fire, the Seed, the Wind.  I love how St Augustine describes this in his confession, “you were within, but I was without.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped.” 


I think I finally understand what Jesus was saying in Luke 14:27, Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters – yes even one’s own self! Can’t be my disciple.  Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.  It’s the act of letting go of the relationships that are most important to us.  It’s the second half of life experience that Jesus is trying to explain.


As we enter our unprogrammed worship time together, please reflect on the queries in the bulletin and open your heart to the voice of God.  If the message you hear today needs to be shared with others, please stand and share.  This message may be for you alone and please hold this in your soul.   I would like to read you a poem from Thomas Merton:


When in the soul of the serene disciple

With no more Fathers to imitate

Poverty is a success,

It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:

He has not even a house.

Stars, as well as friends,

Are angry with the noble ruin

Saints depart in several directions.

Be still:

There no longer any need of comment

It was a lucky wind

That blew away his halo with his cares,

A lucky sea that drowned his reputation

Here you will find

Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.

There are no ways,

No methods to admire

Where poverty is no achievement.

His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.

What choice remains?

Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:

It is the usual freedom

Of men without visions.



5-27-18 - Taking the Turns: A Labyrinth Journey

Taking the Turns: A Labyrinth Journey

Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
May 27, 2018

Psalm 25:4-10

4 Show me how you work, God;
School me in your ways.

5 Take me by the hand;
Lead me down the path of truth.
You are my Savior, aren’t you?

6 Mark the milestones of your mercy and love, God;
Rebuild the ancient landmarks!

7 Forget that I sowed wild oats;
Mark me with your sign of love.
Plan only the best for me, God!

8 God is fair and just;
He corrects the misdirected,
Sends them in the right direction.

9 He gives the rejects his hand,
And leads them step-by-step.

10 From now on every road you travel
Will take you to God.
Follow the Covenant signs;
Read the charted directions.



This morning, not only are we in the “oval” (I guess you could say it is more of a round), we are also gathered around an ancient symbol of the Church.  Now, I know that we, Quakers, are not typically fond of symbolism, but this is not the typical Church symbol, instead it is a tool or aid which allows us to experience our spiritual journeys in a new way. 


I want to thank Warren Lynn a pastor with the Disciples of Christ who provided our labyrinth. One of his ministries and passions are labyrinths and he allowed us to borrow this beautiful canvas labyrinth for our experience.  Please respect it by taking off your shoes when walking on it.  I will remind us again before we begin the experience.  


To help us better understand what is before us, let me give you some history, especially if you are not familiar with labyrinths.  Labyrinths seemed to develop around the twelfth century as a substitute for making a pilgrimage to a holy site.  Labyrinths are not mazes or race courses, even though kids often think of them in this way, nor are they something magical. 


As well, please understand, walking the labyrinth is not a newfangled technique to automatically jumpstart your spiritual life or find a specific answer to a problem or issue in your journey. 


Rather, experiencing the labyrinth is a slow, quiet, meditative, practice that has historically attended to the desire to make a journey toward God.  Dr. Ian Bradley, a pilgrimage leader for people of all faiths, describes it as a departure from daily life on a journey in search of a spiritual well-being.


The early church connected it with the early pilgrimages to Jerusalem – thus many old Christian churches have them built into the mosaic floors or their sacred places of worship. 


A few years back, my family had the opportunity to visit Grace Cathedral in San Francisco – a grand space with both a labyrinth as you enter the sanctuary, and one outside for those not interested in the journey within the church building.  I also have experienced labyrinths at hospitals, retreat centers, on the beach, and in public parks.


 Often on or around labyrinths you will see the latin phrase, “Solvitur Ambulando” which in Latin means "it is solved by walking" and is used to refer to a problem which is solved by a practical experiment.  This past year in Seeking Friends, we have been studying Brian McLaren’s book, “We Make the Road by Walking.” Brian describes this process this way, he says,


“The title suggests that faith was never intended to be a destination, a status, a holding tank, or a warehouse. Instead it was to be a road, a path, a way out of old and destructive patterns into new and creative ones. As a road or way, it is always being extended into the future. If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a parking lot, not a way. To be a living tradition, a living way, it must forever open itself forward and forever remain unfinished – even as it forever cherishes and learns from the growing treasury of the path.”   


The imagery of “the way,” “the road,” “the light unto my path” are all biblical in nature, yet how do we translate the labyrinth experience into our Quaker tradition. 


My friend and fellow Quaker poet, Nancy Thomas, from the Pacific Northwest, wrote of her experience with the Labyrinth at North Valley Friends Meeting in Newberg, OR. (another labyrinth I have enjoyed journeying).  


She says this: 


In some senses a labyrinth seems antithetical to Quakerism, with its formal path to the center and its high symbolism of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It makes me think of Anglican or Catholic spirituality, or, more lately, of New Age practices. But here sits a classical labyrinth on Quaker ground. And I’m one Quaker who uses it regularly.


As I draw on the Quaker conviction of the light of Christ in every person or culture, the adaptation and use of other spiritualities, when appropriate, seems entirely a Quaker thing to do. It certainly fits in with another conviction, that Christ is here among us and speaks to us in the gathered meeting and through any medium the Spirit chooses.


What I love about the practice of walking the labyrinth is that it engages my whole person. The physicality of walking, the sensuality of the beautiful setting, the spiritual focus on drawing near to God, these all combine to help me worship and pray.


I agree with Nancy’s experience. I find walking and praying through a labyrinth very Quakerly in nature.  In walking the labyrinth you leave behind the noise and hurry of life – what we Quakers call simplifying.   Just as you would pack simply for a pilgrimage, you offer your load to God as you begin your prayer journey. 


One of things that I hear most often in conversations, appointments, spontaneous meetings is the burdens of the baggage that people of faith are carrying. This experience allows one to begin to lay those burden down. 


Also, the prayer-path structure moves you slowly (now that is Quaker), toward the center and toward God.  This is again symbolic of what we Quakers call “centering down.”  Quaker Rich Lewis says that “centering down” in the Quaker tradition could be considered a contemplative prayer practice. He says it consists of three steps: release, receive and rest.   In the same way, the labyrinth allows for each of those steps to manifest at your own pace.  As you center down and begin to release your burdens and allow God to speak into your life you enter a journey (it can happen anywhere – in your chair, in a garden, in your car, or even on the labyrinth before you this morning).


With the Labyrinth, as in life, at times you sense you are close to the center and at other times along your journey you may be farther from the center.  This represents the reality of the spiritual journey.  As we keep moving through, we are always getting closer to the center and to God, no matter how far away it looks in real space. 


At the center of the labyrinth journey you can stop and rest in the presence of the Spirit, listening for a word for you from the Spirit (this is just like we do during waiting worship). The difference is that with the Labyrinth we are physically on a journey. 


So once you arrive at the center you must listen and rest and then begin to make your way out into the world with what you have received from God on your journey.


On many occasions, I have heard very clearly from the Spirit on my journeys of the Labyrinth, and on other occasions, I have simply had to discipline myself to stay the course without any special word from the Spirit. 


Either way, the journey has been important to my discipline of taking time to release some burden, being expectant and open to receiving from God, and learning to rest and slow down. Something I believe we all need in our day and age.


Now, to get us started in this, I want to ask us some queries (which you will find on the back of the bulletin for this morning).  These are to help you center down and begin your experience.  As well, there is a cheat sheet in your bulletin labeled, “A Guide for Walking the Labyrinth” to give you prompts as your journey.  


In a few moments, I will ask you to take a couple deep breathes and relax your mind so you can clearly begin to process and I will read the queries.  After some silence to ponder those queries and begin your centering, Eric will play some instrumental music to set the tone for you to start your journey or waiting worship. 


Please note: If you do not feel led to experience the labyrinth, please use this time as waiting worship in silence as others journey.  When you feel led or nudged to begin, please come to the entrance of the labyrinth (point it out) and remember to remove your shoes before you begin.  Be courteous and respectful of fellow travelers.  When the Labyrinth is clear, Eric will close us in song. 


Now, let us take some deep breaths and calm our hearts.


I will now read the queries for us to ponder as we prepare for our journey this morning.   


·        Where are you in your current spiritual journey?

·        Have you traveled a long way?

·        Do you feel close to God or far away?

·        If you go on a journey this morning – what things will you need to leave behind?

·        How might you leave these burdens behind you here and now?



5-20-18 - Tapping a Viral Energy

Tapping a Viral Energy
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Robert Henry
May 20, 2018


This morning, I am going share with you something a little different – I am not simply going to preach or exegete the passage Eric just read, but rather share from my heart about my understanding of the current condition of Quakerism in our world. Karla Jay from our fellow Friend’s Meeting, Iglesia Amigos asked me to give the keynote address at a small conference she was putting together a couple weeks ago. Some of you were there – I was grateful for your attendance and your encouragement to share this with our Meeting.


Karla wanted me to talk about the grounding of social justice in our Quaker tradition and in scripture, but I sensed a deeper call.  In preparing to speak I had already begun thinking through my own personal experience within the universal church and among Friends. You may not know that for 20+ years, I have been dedicated to ministry and taking action in cities like Chicago, IL, Detroit, MI, Portland, OR, and now here in our great city of Indianapolis. I have not only been involved in activism, advocacy, and teaching, but, I have learned the importance of the behind-the-scenes daily grunt work of learning to become a faithful presence in the communities and neighborhoods in which I have and currently live. This morning, my hope is that you will get a sense of potential, maybe some challenge, and hopefully a clearer vision of who we are and where we are going as a peculiar people called Quakers.    


Let me start this way….


I have been there – no hope, no vision, no sense of purpose – ready to give up. Ironically, this was also how I felt about Quakers at one time. Please understand, it is not the way I feel anymore. This revived confidence was sparked in the midst of great challenges and personal weakness. As one who became a Friend after much study and experience in a variety of faith traditions, I realized that Friends have a great deal to offer our world today, but many are missing out because of a lack of energy. Let me explain.


Most of us know that Quakers across our country have been embroiled in battles over a multitude of issues, many relating directly to our action and the people we serve, and the lasting effects cause everything from exhaustion to some actually giving up. I guess we all could sit around arguing to get our way or hoping for a better outcome someday, but, let’s be honest, that is not going to get us far.


Quakers come from a long history of passionate people who not only argued and hoped, but passionately and confidently lived out what they believed. History records them as fearless in their pursuits and trailblazing new paths. From women’s rights to the abolition of slavery to becoming sanctuaries for refugees…whether we were marching with Dr. King for civil rights, protesting war through sit-ins, or simply inviting our neighbors over for dinner, we have had an active, prominent Quaker voice that has made way for change and drew people to be that change.


Those voices came forth from enthusiastic and willing women and men who went the extra mile and lived against the grain of society.  People like Elizabeth Abegg the German educator who rescued Jews during the holocaust, or John Woolman who campaigned for years against slavery until it was abolished. Or Bayard Rustin the gay, African-American civil rights and LGBTQ leader who stood with Dr. King, or Elizabeth Fry who reformed English prisons. These are just to name a few.  They possessed an energy that is rarely seen in Quakerism, today.


What I would label a “viral energy” – one that spreads rapidly through a population by being enthusiastically shared with a number of individuals.




Not only have religious niceties, worldly comforts, overt busyness, and mass consumerism taken a toll on our viral energy, many Quakers today find themselves defaulting to religious conformity and simply wanting to be right.


What happened to being different?

What happened to being radical?

What happened to seeking a truth that can make things happen in the world?

What has happened to our action?


In my lowest moments when I began to give up, I realized my viral energy was starting to wane. As I preached and spoke of looking for “that of God in my neighbor,” I had stopped looking for that of God in myself. I no longer had confidence in the message I had been given, nor did I have the energy to live differently. I had become disconnected, broken, and useless to myself, and thus to Quakerism as well. I was no longer enjoying what had drawn me to the Quaker Way in the beginning. The light within had dimmed, and survival had set in.


Everything became about arguing my position and others being my enemy, and I’ll have to be honest, I began lacking personal awareness. Things became rather myopic and all about salvaging meno longer a positive viral energy, but rather more like a negative virus to my system.  


Where was the gathered meeting?

Who was discerning with me?  

What happened to me bearing witness to life together with my community?  


That is just it.  I became, what I believe much of Quakerism currently finds itself, caught up in -- bondage.  


Many Quakers are in bondage to traditions, to the glory days, to a specific experience, set of beliefs, ministry, or even leader. Often, I have found well-meaning Quakers telling stories from 40-50 years ago and thinking somehow things will magically change in the present. There is clearly a disconnect. The energy surrounding those stories are not translated into finding new ways to go viral and take action in the present. Probably because we have chosen to tell the same stories for so long that we began worshipping the traditions and the past instead of rendering it for a new generation. This leaves us in bondage to our past and little hope for going viral and taking action in the present.  


The darkness of bondage can be overwhelming, but it also can make the light seem much more brilliant.


Even though I, personally, had hit bottom, I had not been completely destroyed. As I climbed out of my pit of despair, I began to notice my energy increase. I not only rediscovered myself, I began to rediscover my love for the Quaker Way.  I laid aside the arguing, the reveling in the past, and the comforts and went on a new search for Truth. 


What I didn’t realize at the time was that my journey was very Quaker in nature. Our Quaker ancestors found themselves feeling empty within the church of their day and learned to live with viral energy the foundational virtues of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. The early Quakers found these virtues in the teachings of Jesus’ apostles and the life and ministry of Jesus, himself.  Early on, our Quaker ancestors wanted us to return to living out these virtues. 


Jesus in his very first sermon outlined this ministry of action.  Luke 4:18-19 records Jesus’ words - he says:


8 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]


This is what he taught his disciples and they lived out.  This is what we are to do as well. 


Even Jesus’ own mother sang prophetically in her Magnificat of Jesus’ life and ministry and how it would affect us.  As you know from back at Christmas, I love Joy Crowley’s translation of Mary’s words, she says,


This goes deeper than human thinking.

I am filled with awe

at Love whose only condition

is to be received.


The gift is not for the proud,

for they have no room for it.

The strong and self-sufficient ones

don’t have this awareness.


But those who know their emptiness

can rejoice in Love’s fullness.

It’s the Love that we are made for,

the reason for our being.

It fills our inmost heart space

and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.


It’s the Love that we are made for!


Or as Bishop Michael Curry said in the sermon at the Royal Wedding just yesterday.


“When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the Earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there's plenty good room — plenty good room — for all God's children. And when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”


I realized that if I was to find that resurrection and hope for the future which the bible so clearly speaks of, or if Quakerism was to be resurrected, it was going to first take learning to truly live again and embrace this love.


The most profound thing I was learning was that Quakerism

was not going to change until I did.


Our presence or the way we live in this world is the key to what I believe will revive Quakerism, break the bondage, and engage our active life. When we, Quakers, awaken to this reality, we start to realize that we are integral to creating a more just, loving, and peaceable world - just as Jesus did.  We are to build healthy communities, not arguing, divisive, proof-seeking, unwelcoming places of fear.  The Bible is clear that Jesus was opening the door to ALL people. 


Our viral energy should be put into creating spaces where differences are appreciated, cultures are celebrated, and where the process of life and living is explored together.  When this happens, new stories begin to emerge, new energy flows, the bondage of our past is broken, and the message goes viral in our world.  And folks that means lives are changed now and forever! 


For several years now, a personal revival has been taking place in my own life. Not only am I seeing young and old (even in my own family) being drawn again to the Quaker Way because new stories, new possibilities, and new people are working together to build the type of community that our ancestors wanted and lived out, but I am excited and filled again with a viral energy about what Quakerism has to offer my neighbors, community, and First Friends.


It is clear that our world has been desperately crying out for a new way to translate life and find hope. Don’t you feel or sense it?


Because I have seen the impact the Quaker way is having in the eyes of youth, college students, young adults, I have full faith that our future is ripe. These next generations are not in bondage to their past, but easily could be if we don’t, with a viral energy, embrace hope and possibility for their future.


A while back, I was watching the Disney movie “Tomorrowland” with my youngest son.  As I was pondering the future of Quakerism, I could not help myself be moved by this quote,  


"In every moment there's a possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality."




I have wondered at times, could it be that Quakerism has lost its belief of a better future?  


Folks, please hear me on this - I DO NOT believe this. I sense now, more than ever, it is time to do whatever is necessary to lift the bondage, embrace the future, gather the people of ALL cultures, nationalities, and races, and make Quakerism a viable reality with a viral impact in our world, again.  


I believe strongly, that it is going to take embracing new ways of coming together, new uses of social media, new teaching methods, new art and music, new activism, and a new translation of those biblical and Quakerly distinctives for today’s society. I think you would agree that we need to simplify our lives, be a more peaceful people, act with more integrity, gather and know our community, seek equality on a multitude of levels, and work for sustainability while being good stewards of our resources.  


We will need to explore all the possibilities, not just those that worked in the past. It is going to take us living new stories and inviting others to join us. People we may not even be comfortable with or who we have rejected in the past.


It is going to take a willingness to get-up-and-go and get out of our boxes and experience new things. That means it is going to take RISK, which means it will take a new you and me, full of viral energy, possibility, and belief and attitude that this can be a reality, NOW!  


Friends, it is time to make Quakerism go viral. It is time to believe, again! It’s time for action!


As we enter our time of waiting worship, take a moment to ponder the query in your bulletin:


What am I doing to lift the bondage, embrace the future, and make Quakerism a viable reality with a viral impact in our world, again?



5-13-18 - Of Wild Grace and Swiftness

Of Wild Grace and Swiftness

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

May 13, 2013


Acts 9:36-43 (MSG)

36-37 Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, “Gazelle” in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out. During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.

38-40 Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha’s body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them. Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: “Tabitha, get up.”

40-41 She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.

42-43 When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master. Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner.


I love that Eugene Peterson in his translation of the story of Tabitha takes us one step further and gives us the what Tabitha’s name actually means in her language.  I think it brings a bigger picture to the story.  Names have such meaning in the Bible. On “” they point out that often when God changed a person’s name and gave him or her a new name, it was usually to establish a new identity.

God changed Abram’s "high father" name to “Abraham,” which now means "father of a multitude" and his wife’s name from “Sarai,” “my princess,” to “Sarah,” “mother of nations”.  Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter meaning Rock – “a foundation to build on.” And the examples go on and on throughout scripture.  

Our text for this morning, was not one of these type of name changes as I just explained.  Instead the meaning of Tabitha’s name, I believe gives us a deeper meaning to the text.  Like Adam meaning literally Earth Man or from the earth.  Tabitha in our text has a Greek name – also known as – Dorcas.  

Now, we can all understand, in our day, why she might want to change her name.  But Dorcas was really a derivative of the Greek word Eudorcas – literally a species of gazelle.  

Eugene Peterson points this out for some reason.  Some may say it only confuses things.  First it is Tabitha, then Dorcas, now Gazelle…this could get confusing. 

Well, all this would not have even phased me or had me thinking any deeper, until a couple of summers ago.  As the boys and I made our trek across the country to meet up with Sue for her father’s funeral, we took in a lot of America’s scenery – 8 states in three days.  

And with that scenery came wildlife.  As Alex and I took turns driving, I began spotting wildlife that I never noticed while focused on the road.  Please understand, one of the reasons I love my wife is for her adventurous spirit. Often the boys roll their eyes as their mother has our family driving several miles out of our way just in hopes of seeing a wild animal  that we have possibly never seen before (in Oregon it was always whales or elk).  Yet, going across the country and through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and all the terrain of the states between Oregon and Michigan we checked off a ton of new animals – from bears, to moose, to yes, gazelles.  

The first gazelles we saw were along the road in Nebraska of all places. I believe it was a deer and gazelle wildlife park.  At first, I thought they were just small deer, but the antlers and color patterns gave them away.  We saw more while in Yellowstone, but most of the time when we got closer they were just mule deer. 

I tried to take pictures of the gazelle, but they liked hiding in the tall grass.  Often they were so still they looked like statues or sticks coming out of the ground with their distinct antlers.  I remember watching them while Alex drove and remember them seeming almost so still they looked dead.  Actually, if they were lying down with their heads low they looked like rocks or they just blended into the scenery.  We probably saw many more, but never noticed them. 

One website says that gazelles are considered to be an animal of “wild grace and swiftness.” At times they can seem statuesque with very little movement only to come alive and bound across the plains.  This was my experience.  As I watched, this seemingly lifeless animal would go from complete stillness to a full leap and all out run across the fields.  It was with such grace and beauty.  One minute seemingly dead and the next minute alive and full of vigor! 

There could not be a better word to describe Tabitha – especially in our story for this morning. 

Peter said, “Tabitha, get up!”  You are no longer dead but alive to continue to do good and help out.  Like a gazelle she goes from what seems complete death to aliveness.  Tabitha experiences what I like to call the “resurrection life” in the present.

I don’t know about you, but I often catch myself kind of walking dead through life – and I so need a resurrection in the present moment. 

Theologian NT Wright points out what this looks like for us. Often we are taught, 

“…one day you will go to be with him [Jesus]” but he says, “No, you already possess life in him [Jesus]. This new life, which the Christian possesses secretly, invisible to the world, will burst forth into full bodily reality and visibility.” 

Just like a gazelle bursts forth into wild grace swiftness.”  Just like Tabitha as Peter asks her to “get up!” 

So where is our hope of this “bursting forth” in our lives.  Let’s look at Romans 8:9-11 (MSG). 

9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

Tabitha the Gazelle experienced that in its fullest form. As Quakers we can understand this – we too would say the Spirit of Christ was still embodying her.  She was known for embodying the Spirit of Christ and living it out in her life. Our text said she was well-known for doing good and helping out – living the life of Christ in her world.  

And Peter calls out to that Spirit within her – even though she seemed physically dead – there was life in her. This is what we need to recognize in our world – that the resurrection life can awaken in anyone, it can burst forth from our dead lives, it can burst forth from dead institutions, it can burst forth from dead ways – because resurrection life – ALWAYS FINDS A WAY, folks! 

Tabitha’s story is a picture of what we have to hope for – what we can look forward to in the present– what we as Quakers want to experience in our world. 

NT Wright concludes that 

“…all this relates directly to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

“58 With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”

…the resurrection means that what you do in the present, in working hard to bring hope, is not wasted. It is not in vain. It will be completed, will have its fulfillment, in God’s future.” 

So you and I are called to live like Tabitha the Gazelle. 

May we be well-known for doing good and helping out – living the resurrection life now – the Jesus way in our world.   

Let’s not waste our lives, or our time, but rather work hard in the present. 

Nothing should get in our way – not even death.  But instead, we may actually find ourselves coming through the death experiences and finding ourselves getting up with wild grace and swiftness and fulfilling the resurrected life in the present moment!  

First Friends, I believe we are on the verge of great things.  God is calling to us to “GET UP, because WE ARE ALIVE!” 

I want to close this morning with pondering the words of Eugene Peterson from his book “Living the Resurrection.” He says,

“In this resurrection-created world, we find ourselves as allies and companions to friends, bound to one another not out of need or liking or usefulness but because there are common operations taking place among and within us. We are part of something larger and other than ourselves that we cannot adequately be part of by ourselves.”

That something larger is the resurrection life God wants for us. To experience it we need each other.  We need to, like Peter did for Tabitha, help each other get up and be presented as ALIVE. 

Take a moment and look around this room.  We each have been through a lot, we have experienced death in many forms, and for some we are experiencing it as we speak. 

Yet, the query for today is…

How can you and I be allies, companions, and friends and help each other turn the death around us into life? 

With wild grace and swiftness may we come alive to our world, TODAY!



4-29-18 - Blessed is Mr. Rogers

Blessed is Mister Rogers

By Daniel Lee


I’ve always loved that one of the names that the early Quakers gave to themselves was “Children of the Light.” The experiences of our childhood follow us through all the days of our lives. Yet even as adults, we still in many ways remain children – we have the same basic need, to love and to be loved, as children.


In 2016, I went to London on a work trip. The one day I had some free time was Sunday, so I went to Westminster Quaker Meeting for worship. The theme for worship that day was children. At the beginning of the hour long silent worship someone read this following passage from the London Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice book. The passage was written in 1980 by Elizabeth Watson. I found it to be beautiful and power.


I wanted to read it to you this morning to set the tone for today’s message on Mister Rogers. I believe this passage speaks to us as adults who interact with the children around us, but also speaks to us ourselves as children of God:


“Our children are given to us for a time to cherish, to protect, to nurture, and then to salute as they go their separate ways. They too have the light of God within, and a family should be a learning community in which children not only learn skills and values from parents, but in which adults learn new ways of experiencing things and seeing things through young eyes. From their birth on, let us cultivate the habit of dialogue and receptive listening. We should respect their right to grow into their own wholeness, not just the wholeness we may wish for them. If we lead fulfilling lives ourselves, we can avoid overprotecting them or trying to live through them… The family is a place to practice being ‘valiant for the truth’. We can live lives of integrity, letting both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ come out of the depth of truth within us, careful of the truth in all our dealings, so that our words and our lives speak the same message. We cannot expect our children to be honest with us or anyone else if they hear us stretching the truth for convenience or personal gain. They are quick to catch such discrepancies. Moreover, we should trust them enough to be honest with them about family problems – disasters, serious illness, impending death. It is far harder on children not to know what is wrong.”


Back in the 1980s, my dad was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and was a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He’d go swimming at the Pitt pool and sometimes he’d see Fred Rogers swimming there. Mister Rogers’ TV show originated from WQED in Pittsburgh. As a pediatric endocrinologist, my dad saw very young patients were very complex growth issues, some were extremely small for their age, making them easy targets at school. Others had conditions with how they were developing as boys or girls, issues that made them look different than other children in the most fundamental of ways.


So, my dad asked if he could come to Mister Rogers office and talk with him about his work and about helping to reduce anxiety and stress in young patients. Mister Rogers made time for him, and they had a nice meeting.


At some point during their meeting, my dad asked Fred Rogers about one of the song’s he had sung on his Mister Rogers Neighborhood PBS TV show. The song is entitled, “Everybody’s Fancy.”


The song opens with these lyrics:


“Some are fancy on the outside.
Some are fancy on the inside.
Everybody's fancy.
Everybody's fine.
Your body's fancy and so is mine.”


My dad, the pediatrician, asked Mister Rogers if this song was written to help both boys and girls, no matter who they are, to feel good about themselves as they grow and develop.


Mister Rogers said, yes, it was.


Awhile after that, when I was about 20, I was home from college and went in with my dad to work at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. In the parking garage we saw Mister Rogers. My dad introduced us. “It’s very nice to meet you, Daniel,” he said.


He friendly welcoming tone was the exact same in person as it was in TV. He seemed to genuinely happy to see me. I’ll never forget that chance encounter! I was a college student, not a little boy, but Mister Rogers made me feel special.


Actually, it still makes me feel special!


I was born in 1968, the same year Mister Rogers Neighborhood debuted on PBS. That was a pretty scary year, with war, social turmoil, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. These are scary times now, too, aren’t they?


Maybe that’s why now, with the 50th anniversary of the show, Mister Rogers is getting so much attention. I was in a gift store recently and saw a coffee mug with Mister Rogers coffee mug where his cardigan would change colors when you poured in hot tea or coffee. There’s a new documentary about Mister Rogers set for release in June. Tom Hanks is set to play Mister Rogers in another upcoming movie.


Fred McFeely Rogers, born in 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, was a composer, writer, puppeteer, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and an expert in children development. He was a man deeply in touch and deeply influenced by the loving people of his own childhood. His grandfather, Fred McFeely, was the special person in his life who made young Fred Rogers feel loved and special.


People are hungry for this sort of love -- love in its most simple form. They’re so hungry for honesty – honesty in its most simple form. People are also hungry for integrity – integrity in its most simple form. 


Mister Rogers lived his life in the spirit of Christ beautiful commandment, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them…” His life’s work reflected a sincere love, compassion, and integrity that it touches the human soul deeply.


Throughout our lives we all have the same basic needs as children – we need to be loved, we need to feel valued, we need a community, and we need to be dealt with honestly.


Today I was to focus on three areas in which we can learn from and be inspired by Mister Rogers. These also happen to be three areas at the core of the Quaker way of living:


1.      Mister Rogers’ speech was plain and honest

2.      Mister Rogers’ inner life was disciplined and consistent with his outer life

3.      Mister Rogers’ life shined the love of Christ


First, Mister Rogers’ speech was plain and honest.


He told children that it was a natural thing to be sad or to be angry just as it was natural to be happy and joyful. We must learn to accept and handle all emotions and situations in life.


Mister Rogers talked with children about how he coped with the death of his dog Mitzi and talk with children whose parents were going through divorce. He would have on his show people with disabilities and in a straight forward and sensitive way ask them about their wheelchair and about their lives. The children could see they too were special people with challenges but also with great talents and abilities. 


As I began work on this message several weeks ago my wife, Jennifer, gave me this book, “The World According to Mister Rogers.” It’s a collection of short quotes, essays, and song lyrics. I want to read several to you today.


This first excerpt illustrates Mister Rogers ability to talk plainly to adults as well as children:


“I received a letter from a parent who wrote: ‘Mister Rogers, how do you do it? I wish I were like you. I want to be patient and quiet and even-tempered, and always speak respectfully to my children. But that just isn’t my personality. I often lose my patience and even scream at my children. I want to change from an impatient person into a patient person, from an angry person into a gentle one.’


Responding to this, Mister Rogers wrote: “Just as it takes time for children to understand what real love is, it takes time for parents to understand that being always patient, quiet, even-tempered, and respectful isn’t necessarily what ‘good’ parents are. In fact, parents help children by expressing a wide range of feelings – including appropriate anger. All children need to see that the adults in their lives can feel anger and not hurt themselves or anyone else when they feel that way.”


Mister Rogers’ speech was plain and honest.


Second, Mister Rogers’ inner life was disciplined and consistent with his outer life.


I once told someone I know about meeting Mister Rogers. That person then told me that he had heard that Mister Rogers had been a military sniper before starting his children’s TV show. Of course, this was a complete lie. If you look on the Internet, you will find that Mister Rogers is the subject to numerous Urban legends and lies.


There’s another image around the Internet of Mister Rogers appearing to give the middle finger to the camera. They think it’s funny. In reality, Mister Rogers was singing Where is Thumpkin… There’s Thumkin the thumb, pointer the first finger, and “tall man,” the middle figure.


We live in a cynical world in which all too often we see that prominent people have very real flaws and do great harm to others. But from everything we know, Mister Rogers was exactly who he purported to be. His inner life was consistent with his outer life.


Mister Rogers shows us we can be that same way! Mister Rogers constructed this consistent inner and outer world through a life of faith and discipline.


Writing about her husband, Joanne Rogers said this: “If I were asked for three words to describe him, I think those words would be courage, love, and discipline – perhaps in that very order.”


I mentioned earlier that my dad used to see Mister Rogers on his daily swim. Mister Rogers wrote this of his daily workout:


“I live to swim, but there are some days I just don’t feel much like doing it – but I do it anyway! I know it’s good for me and I promised myself I’d do it every day, and I like to keep my promises. That’s one of my disciplines. And it’s a good feeling after you’ve tried and done something well. Inside you think, ‘I’ve kept at this and I’ve really learned it – not by magic, but by my own work.”


A life of love is a life of discipline.


In his song, “You’ve Got to Do It,” Mister Rogers wrote these words:


“You can make believe it happens.

Or you can pretend that something’s true.

You can wish or hope or contemplate

A thing you’d like to do.

But until you start to do it,

You will never see it through

‘Cause that make-believe pretending

Just won’t do it for you.


Mister Rogers’ inner life was disciplined and consistent with his outer life.


Third, Mister Rogers’ life shined the love of Christ.


Mister Rogers found so many ways to tell people they were special. On the front of my autographed photo of Mister Rogers I received all those years ago in Pittsburgh he wrote, “For Dan – with kindest personal regards I’ve glad to have met you.” On the back of the photo, he wrote a second short note that simply read: “Kindness of your dad.” He wanted us both to feel special.


On his TV show in 1969, amid racial tensions and strife, he invited the character Officer Clemmons, an African American, on his show. It was a hot summer day and Mister Rogers was resting his feet in a plastic pool of water. He invited Officer Clemmons to join him, helping him to dry his feet.


This was Mister Rogers humble and world changing ministry. This ministry is a good feeling, and it’s open to all of us, in the smallest of ways every day.


I want to send us into silent worship by reading these words from Fred McFeely Rogers:


“The purpose of life is to listen – to yourself, to your neighbor, to your world, and to God and, when the time comes, to respond in as helpful a way as you can find… from within and without.”


Blessed is Mister Rogers!