What Am I Doing Next? AKA Announcing a New Ministry

By Greg

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My clean former office after I de-cluttered it!

Tuesday was my last day of working for Friends Center at Guilford College. A lot of people are asking what I will do next.

Here is my answer: I am taking a leap of faith and embarking on creating a new Quaker ministry! I am working to start a network of Quaker campus ministries on non-Quaker campuses in the United States.

This idea has been floating around in my mind since I interned with Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life during the last year of seminary three years ago. During my internship, I started a Quaker student group to worship with weekly.

I was surprised at who came to the group. There were several students who grew up identifying as Quakers, while others came who did not identify as Quakers, but they went to Quaker schools growing up and they cherished and missed the weekly meetings for worship. Then there were occasional visitors who were intrigued about Quakers.

Over the years, I have been involved in a lot of conversations about Quaker renewal and how to grow the Religious Society of Friends. None of these conversations have involved

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Talking about this idea at Emerging Practices in Quaker Outreach in late April (Photo by Chris Mohr)

talking about working with college students on college campuses. While I was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, many of my classmates talked fondly of their denominational campus ministry and that helped them to discern their call to ministry. At the same time, I know of several Quaker leaders who came to Quakerism during college at non-Quaker institutions, but we do not have any network or coordinated effort to assist Quaker students or students who may be interested in Quakerism at these institutions.

I envision creating a network of campus ministries to help reach young adults at non Quaker higher education institutions as well as creating resources to help Quaker students and Quakers in general support campus ministries in their area. My hope with creating this network is to support Quaker students at non-Quaker institutions, develop future Quaker leaders, and to reach college students who would be interested in Quakerism if they have the chance to hear our messages.

For the next year, with the help of my family, I have been released from full-time work to pursue setting up this network. Also I have a support committee from my meeting, First Friends Meeting of Greensboro, to support me in this work.

You can help me with this effort by helping to identify:

  • Quaker students you know at non Quaker institutions
  • Quaker student group at non Quaker institutions
  • Quakers who have a leading to work with college students

Here is a Google Form you can fill out or you can email me.

I welcome any help, input, and prayers as I take this next step! I am scared and excited at the same time!

Are Young Adult Friends Ready to Lead?

In March, I gave a talk via Skype to the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends Gathering on the future of Quakers and the need for Young Adult Friends to take leadership.  – Greg

In 1652, a 28 year old uneducated young man climbed Pendle Hill and at the top of that hill he had a vision of a great people gathered. This vision is what brings us together today. George Fox saw that the time was ripe for a major shift in his society and I will argue that we are in a time today where a major shift is needed in our society.

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George Fox preaching (Source)

George Fox and early Friends were a radical band of seekers. They caused a lot of ruckus
and they were unafraid of voicing their convictions and telling others that their beliefs were completely wrong. They had a powerful message for the masses that Christ Jesus came to teach himself. They certainly were not afraid to share that message with anyone. They even had the gall to try to convert the Pope and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Early Quakers had fervor in part because of the political climate that England was in due to an ongoing civil war. Many felt that they were near the end of days and that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. In part, I would argue that we are in a similar time period. Even though I do not think that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent, we are reaching a critical point in history, a time that we need to be on fire again.

More than 350 years after early Quakers began preaching their message, I sense a burning desire among people today to find a community that is uncorrupted by the current corporate church culture. Because of the recent culture wars and the obscene wealth that some churches flaunt around, many people have left the church in disgust and some of them have become refugees within Quakerism, especially liberal Quakerism. But a lot have just left the Church altogether, which is why we have a lot of people, identifying as a “none” and/or Spiritual But Not Religious.

We are seeing an upheaval in society with the Occupy movement a couple years ago and now with Climate activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. These are callings, yearnings for a major shift in society. Most of these movements have offered/are offering temporary community, which only lasts as long as the next victory looks possible. The Indian social activist Arundhati Roy said about 15 years ago, “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Quakerism has a lot to offer these movements, much like what early Quakers were offering in 1650s to the English society. In some ways, what we have to offer will not look much different than what early Friends were offering, yet in other ways they are completely different.

Early Quakers did believe in the sacraments, but not in the outward forms of the sacraments because first they did not believe that Jesus required them in the Bible and second they felt that the practice of outward sacraments over the centuries had made the practices to become empty, devoid of meaning. They wanted to recapture early Christian fervor to revive Christianity from its dull, hierarchical form that it looked like by the 1640s and 50s because the church had become institutional and corrupted. Early Friends wanted to find an uncorrupted faith that was rooted in community.

One of the most radical things that early Friends offer was the idea that an individual could have a direct relationship with God. They were raising up the idea of individualism in a time when people were grouped in the masses. As Quakers, we still believe in direct revelation, but our most radical offering to the wider world is a heartfelt commitment to community in the face of growing individualism. Other churches invite people to the table for outward communion on a weekly or monthly basis. But our inward communion happens whenever two or more are gathered for worship. We are participating in this sacred communion tonight. This communion has the power to sustain people hungry for change longer than any short-term victory could ever provide.

The time right now is ripe for a major shift. Quakers can provide a place to spiritually support this important work and the people involved. Are we willing?

Are we as Young Adult Friends willing to take on leadership for this shift? The shift in the Religious Society of Friends should come from Young Adult Friends. We have been at the forefront of change since the 1650s. As a denomination, we were founded by a young adult, someone younger than I am. Then in the 1860s, not too far from First Friends Meeting, it was young adults within Indiana Yearly Meeting who insisted on gathering outside of the yearly meeting program to sing and offer vocal ministry. This helped to lead Quakerism outside of the Quietism period. It was young adult Friends in Philadelphia who started meeting together in the 1910s- 1920s. This effort helped to lead to the founding of the Friends World Committee on Consultation and the unification efforts to rejoin the Hicksite-Orthodox yearly meetings in the Philadelphia area and other surrounding yearly meetings.

Sometimes I see more young adult Quakers at rallies and at retreats than I do at meeting for worship on Sunday morning. Are we living up to or down to what is expected of us? What are we offering to our meetings? Are we opting in? I don’t think it is easy to be a Young Adult Friend in a lot of Quaker meetings. Some are great, but many are indifferent or even hostile. Older Quakers tend to ask people in their late 20s or early 30s if they still in college. Or else regard us as not willing to stick around, so Friends do not even try to learn the names of young adults who attend their meetings/churches. I have been to some meetings where no one will greet you even if they know you are a newcomer. Sometimes it is not easy, but are we making an effort? What alternatives are there? We could also be starting our own worship groups and inviting people into a deeper communion together. For example, in Greensboro along with others I have started a monthly young adult group where we meet for potluck and worship. Young Adults come from different meetings and even no meeting to meet together for this time of fellowship. Are we willing to step up and lead?

We already have young adult Friends changing the landscape of the Religious Society of Friends and inviting non Quakers in at the same time. I want to highlight the work of a Young Adult Friend Christina Repoley and the founding of Quaker Voluntary Service. (A disclaimer: I am on the board of the organization.) Christina graduated from Guilford and wanted to find a way to serve Quakers. Like other young adult Quakers, she quickly found herself living in Philadelphia and a while she started working for a Quaker organization. But she did not feel supported by Quakers in general.

During her time in Philadelphia, Christina became friends with several young adult Mennonites and they had fond memories of service opportunities from Mennonite Voluntary Service. Christina wondered why is there was nothing like that in Quakerism. This question led to an almost a decade long journey that led Christina to finding people to help her build what is now Quaker Voluntary Service.  Along the way, Christina invited others, including other young adults to join her in her vision. Her vision became a collaborative effort that bought Quakers together from different branches to dream big. Ten years after graduating and feeling unsupported by Quakers, the first cohort of young adults moved into a QVS house in Atlanta, GA.

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2015-2016 QVS Fellows

Now four and half years later, there are about 25 young adults living in houses in four cities. About half are Quakers and the momentum is still growing. QVS is re-engaging young adult Friends into Quakerism and introducing others to Quakerism for the first
time. Local meetings in these four cities are feeling re-energized by these QVS Fellows. All this has happened from a young adult Friend who was frustrated by a lack of support by Quakerism.

What ideas do you have to re-energize the Religious Society of Friends? What ideas can meet the needs of the people who are hungry for something more?

One idea I have is the formation of a nationwide Quaker campus ministry program. Other denominations and faiths have programs to nurture their college students who do not go to their denominational schools, but not the Quakers. There are some local efforts here and there across the country, but they greatly vary in quality and effectiveness. These ministries attract non Quaker students as well. Despite knowing that some of our leaders have come to Quakerism while attending non Quaker institutions, Quakers have made no effort to make a big push to offer a nationwide campus ministry program or much less materials to help Friends thinking about reaching out to college students. I have witnessed that college students are searching for something more meaningful, something more fulfilling than what the regular college experience can offer. Many students realize they have a need for a time for quiet reflection, which Quakerism can offer.

Whatever we do, we need to be mindful that it takes time. I know that I find this frustrating because I am a very impatient person. It is very hard for me to practice patience, but I am trying my best.

Last weekend, my IMG_20160309_165304972.jpgpregnant wife Jenn and I planted seeds for our garden and put them in a window sill, to be planted outside in a couple weeks. The next day during meeting for worship, I realized that when she gives birth in late June, we will hopefully be harvesting some of the produce that came from these seeds we just planted. In both instances, I do not know what the fruits of our/her labor will be exactly, but I do know that we can only hope that with love, patience, and maintenance, we can give both the plants and our baby the best chance to thrive in the outside world.

Whatever we try will not necessary thrive. Within a garden, not everything bears
fruit. One year might be a bumper crop but another year we could have a drought and everything could be lost. Along with all of this is the knowledge that we are not in total control, so faith and hope are important components of gardening and parenting. Faith and hope are also important in ministry and working on finding a way forward. How are we preparing the ground to grow these vital ministries to meet the world’s need? How are we working to support each other?

More importantly, are we Young Adult Friends willing to step up and lead the Religious Society of Friends in a new direction?

 

On why I’m not finding out ‘What it is?’

by Jennifer

Disclaimer: This is a personal reflection on why I am not finding out the sex of my baby. Parenting is not a one-size fits all and we’re all out here trying to do best by our child. There’s too much bashing and judgment of parenting and is not my intent to pass judgment on others parenting or to incur judgment on my own parenting.

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“Are you going to find out the gender?” Aliens-Movie-Chestburster

Or my person favorite: “do you know what you’re going to have?” (um, a human infant or you know, a thing like in the movie Alien based on the present kicking/movement)

I’ve been asked these questions and variations of these questions a lot. My answer is an emphatic ‘No’. And the simple explanations I give go along the lines of ‘We’d like it to be a surprise’ or ‘I don’t love pink or blue and don’t want people getting us a lot of either’. But the truth is my reasons are a lot more complex and are rooted in my feminist understanding of the world.

First, we gender children enough once they are out of the womb, so why start before the baby has even finished gestating in the womb.

As a feminist, I am concerned with all the ways that children get socialized into gender roles through clothing, toys, media, and activities. Just look at what gets labeled as a ‘girl’ toy and you’ll see, often in a plethora of pink or purple, princesses galore, dolls, cooking stations, tea party sets, and Barbies with endless outfits, shoes, and accessories. These toys emphasize the importance of looks, nurturing, cooking, and cleaning. And in a ‘boy’ toy aisle, in hues of blues and greens, are super hero figurines, guns, cars, dump trucks, train sets, tool sets emphasizing physical labor, action, and violence.

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From bithmedia.org blogpost

For people that are comfortable with traditional gender roles and think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, this might not be a problem. But for a 21st century feminist, I think it’s important to think critically about the messages children are receiving that suggest how their gender informs their identity and role in society. And as a parent, I would like to foster an environment that first shields from these messages and than encourages my child to critique them.

To address my second reason for not wanting to find out, let’s start with a basic, simplified lesson on sex and gender. (disclaimer: I’m a cisgender person trying to simplify a very complicated topic that I’m still learning more and more about.) Sex is not the same as gender. Sex refers to the biological – i.e. organs/chromosomes – including male, female, and intersex. Gender refers to how an individual A_TransGender-Symbol_black-and-white.svgidentities and expresses their gender identity. Someone’s biological sex might not always match up with their gender identity and expression and they might identify transgender. Further, someone may not identify with the binary gender system (male or female) and identify on an expansive continuum of non-binary or genderqueer identities.

So when someone asks me if I am going to find out the gender of my baby, I can’t help but think that there is no medical test or professional that can tell me the gender of my baby. Only my child will be able to discover and reveal, over the course of years, their gender identity and expression.

A Kind of Love That Never Ends

This is the sermon I preached on February 14th at Spring Friends Meeting.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a romantic holiday, which celebrates love. A lot of couples will celebrate today by sharing gifts, eating out at a romantic restaurant, or getting away for the whole weekend. I have a hunch that 1 Corinthians 13 will be read or recited a lot today between couples and in churches around the country in honor of today. You may even see it quoted on church signs or posted on social media today. I am fairly certain that I am not the only person preaching on this chapter today.

I am glad that this chapter will be read a lot today. 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful piece of writing. My favorite part of this chapter is verses 4-8: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

These verses are often recited at weddings. It is really beautiful to reflect on what romantic love could be like. If a couple followed these guidelines for love, it would certainly build a great foundation for an long-lasting, romantic relationship.

Yet, people often take this chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth completely out of context. Paul is not talking about romantic love at all in 1 Corinthians 13, not even close. Paul does not care at all about the romantic lives of the Christians in Corinth. He is talking about a greater kind of love.

In Chapter 12 of his letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul is talking about the variety of spiritual gifts that Christians may possess. His overall point for Chapter 13 is about how we can only use our spiritual gifts in the most effective way if it is done with love. The Greek word that Paul uses in this chapter is agape. Paul does not use the Greek word eros, which is translated more as romantic love. Instead, agape translates to mean benevolence and good will. Christians have translated agape to mean God’s unconditional love. For example in the King James Version, agape is translated to English as charity, instead of love, unlike the New Revised Standard Version translation that I just read from.

Even though Paul does not talk about romantic love in this chapter, I still want to talk about this type of love on Valentine’s Day. For me, to only define love in one way, only in the romantic sense, robs us of a deeper love that Paul is talking about. A love that Jesus came to teach us about himself: An unconditional love from God that is given to us just because we exist. No matter who we are or what we have done, God still loves us, each of us.

On Facebook in recent days, I have seen friends my age reminiscing about what Valentine’s Day was like in elementary school. Valentine’s Day back then meant that everyone received a card and some candy. Ideally, back then, no one was singled out to get more cards or candy, nor left out of the exchange at all. For me this example illustrates what I believe God’s love is like. God loves each one of us the same way.

With the knowledge of this love comes responsibilities that we must bear. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is reminding us about these responsibilities that this love entails. We need to treat each other like the children of God we are, reminding ourselves of Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is not an easy task by far. I often fail to love others, especially the people who I disagree with on matters I hold dear.

This is perhaps a great reminder to have right now. Currently, we are struggling among each other in the yearly meeting and also we are in the midst of yet another bitter Presidential election season. In this time of intense disagreement, let’s keep asking ourselves: How do we seek that of God within everyone we encounter?

At the same time, more is required of us than just passively loving each other despite our differences. It is a good start, but it is not nearly enough. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly implores His followers to show solidarity with the oppressed. We need to take heed of this call to action, especially with the numerous injustices currently happening within our wider community, like mass incarceration, police brutality, eroding of voting rights, mass deportations of undocumented people of color. I could go on listing the social ills affecting our society. Most of these injustices do not directly affect us, as a congregation largely made up of privileged white people. This is precisely why we need to be working in solidarity with those affected by oppression at the same time challenging the status quo.

The scholar and activist Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” We need to be showing up in solidarity with the oppressed to fight for justice, whether that means attending Moral Monday protests, educating others about injustices in our community, or helping people learn their own rights. To take action will look different for each person, but we all need to be doing something.

Whatever we do, we must continue to be mindful that we are affirming the dignity of the oppressed, not using them just to pat ourselves on the back. In the same vein, we need to lovingly challenge people in power, not demonize them. We should not be doing this work if at the end of the day we still feel superior towards the oppressed or smug towards people in power. This work should be done in partnership to achieve liberation for all. The Aboriginal activists group once said: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” God is calling us towards a collective liberation. Are we heeding this call?

On this Valentine’s Day, let’s remember to love each other unconditionally just as God love us and further challenge ourselves by asking: How are we seeking that of God within each person we encounter? How are we showing up for justice in our communities? Where is God calling us to challenge the systems of oppression affecting our neighbors?

Because this kind of love never ends!

Pregnant and Still Pro-Choice

Now that I got the old stuff out of the way (see last post), I can move on to my current thoughts and reflections which due to my current condition revolve around pregnancy. And I am speaking a topic on which people hold passionate opinions and am sharing how my opinion has been shaped by this new experience so I am a little nervous.

My grandma Margaret was a staunch and die hard Republican. She campaigned for Nixon back in the day. When I was studying at Georgetown, her friends commented that I’d one day be running against the likes of Hillary Clinton not imagining that any granddaughter of Margaret could NOT be a Republican. However, I clearly remember my grandma talking about her discontent with the Republican stance on abortion. My grandma often grumbled about male Republicans making decisions that impact women and that it’s a woman’s body and a woman’s choice.

I’ve been thinking about my grandma’s frustrations about men making policy decisions on issues they have no experience with because I am currently pregnant. And while I don’t think you have to be pregnant to have a stance on abortion, it has been an experience that has given me a new perspective on abortion. I am currently 20 weeks pregnant. Before getting pregnant, I had thought that pregnancy might make me question my pro-choice stance. I thought I would be overwhelmed by the miracle of a life growing within me and the different milestones reached (which I have been). What I hadn’t counted on, though, was all the ways the pregnancy would impact my bodily well being.

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Source: Wikipedia

I appear to be one of those woman that gets hit hard by morning sickness, otherwise known by anyone who has experienced it as every day pregnancy sickness. In my first trimester, I had nausea all day and I often violently threw up all that I drank or ate in the evenings. I went days where I spent up all my energy at work and found myself lifelessly living on my couch afterward (in between trips to the bathroom).

To fully set the stage for how awful this is, I will unapologetically share in detail. Imagine that you find yourself bowed in front of the toilet peeing yourself (even though you just went) because your body is so violently trying to empty it’s insides while everything you ate and then some (think acidic bile) projects out of you into the hated bowl. Then repeat multiple times a day multiple days in a row. Then imagine your hormones are all over the place and while you feel you ought to be happy at this blessed occasion that you’ve been dreaming of, you’re actually miserable, depressed, and fatigued (probably in part due to dehydration as not even the liquids can stay down). And the things that you know might help your mood (seeing friends, being social, getting out of the house) seem impossible due to the fatigue, nausea, and necessity to remain close to the toilet. All the while you learn through your pregnancy app about all the ways your body is and will continue to change to accommodate this precious life inside you.

For me, it was a physically violent and emotionally draining experience. And I experienced all this with my consent. I want this life to be born and to be its mother. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to go through all this if it weren’t my choice. As a result, it is now staunchly my view that it is simply and plainly violence against a woman to force her to go through pregnancy when it is not her choice.

(I know that was a lot of details and build up to say just that one simple statement but there it is.)

(Also for any women reading this struggling with morning sickness, I stumbled across this blog post at Double the Batch and all the comments and they gave me a lot of much needed comfort.)

On Situating my Narrative in the Personal and the Cultural

A short disclaimer before jumping into the post: It has been a minute since I blogged last and I started drafting this around that time and then forgot about it. But I wanted to finish this out before moving on to other topics.

I don’t often share but I am a recovered bulimic. Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binging and purging. In working on my recovery back in my early 20s, I explored and worked through in psychotherapy how my bulimia related to my individual story (my depression, family history, sense of perfectionism, disconnection with my emotions, etc.).

The field of social work utilizes a person-in-environment (PIE) approach. The individual is often portrayed at the center of concentric circles representing individual, family, relatives, friends, community, and then the more macrosystems of government, economy, culture, etc.

Once again, I was given the seed for another life lesson in Dr. Michael Sheridan’s Diversity Class. (I referenced this class in my last blog about working on my ableism.) In talking about Sex and Gender, we watched a documentary that looked at the impact of modern media on women’s self-image. (I think one of the versions of Killing Us Softly). Included in the documentary was information on a study looking at how the introduction of media in Fiji impacted behaviors and attitudes about eating among adolescent girls. The gist being disordered eating increased significantly after increased exposure to television.

I wrote in my learning journal following that class:

“I feel upset. … The video made the argument that the media caused eating disorders. As a recovered bulimic who struggled with bulimia throughout undergrad, I have an experience that is way more complex than the video suggested. The causes for my experience with bulimia had almost nothing to do with the media.”

I thought I had completely pieced together my own eating disorder story and it didn’t include the media or consumer culture. But Dr. Sheridan challenged me in her feedback on that learning journal to think beyond the concentric circles of person and family to that of culture and society.

Since then, my viewpoint on how my individual narrative fits into the broader consumer culture has been continuously growing and changing. But my current personal conclusion (not grounded in fact or research but based in my own experiences and story) boils down to one simple idea. Our current consumer culture doesn’t want women (some would say more broadly people in general) to be happy or confident. Self-confidence cuts into sales.

Instead, it’s better for sales if women have within themselves a gaping hole of inadequacy and self-loathing that they try to fill with various products and services (clothing, shoes, face wash, toner, make-up, gym memberships, hair products, nail polishes, diet products, etc). Advertising and media are there from birth to help shape the way we think and feel about ourselves and to give us the ‘answers’ to our problems.

Perhaps it’s oversimplified. But for me, I can honestly say that as my self-confidence increased throughout my 20s, I found myself making purchasing decisions based on a self-awareness of what brings enrichment and happiness to my life (food, drink, and travel) and not an overwhelming urge to cover-up my self loathing. I consider it counter-culture to be self-confidant and to love myself.

Just one last slightly off-topic thought on this journey. While my years of psychotherapy have been essential and vital in giving me a space to grown into the person I am today, I can’t help but feel that my understanding of my narrative would have been less rich if I hadn’t been pushed to connect my individual story to its societal/cultural context. It’s empowering to identify the ways in which one’s personal narrative has been shaped by oppressive systems like sexism. As a social worker, it has left me yearning for a therapeutic approach that simultaneously engages in individual psychotherapy and consciousness raising.

God Is With Us, Indeed

During my summer chaplain internship several years ago, I met a patient who had became paralyzed as a young adult. She was a patient at the hospital several times during that summer. Each time I tried to visit she would immediately turned me away.

On my last visit with her, shortly before my internship ended, she asked me to say a prayer for her. Even though it was in the middle of the day, the blinds were shut and the lights were off, so the room was completely dark except for the light coming from the hallway through the open door that I keep ajar so I could see enough to walk to her bedside.

After I prayed, I felt that she wanted me to leave. As I was about to leave the room, she asked in a loud voice: “How do you know that God actually exist?”

I replied: “Because I have felt God’s presence in my life.”

“I think people make God up to just to make people worry less about death. Why am I in all this pain then?” she asked.

“I do not know why this is happening to you, but it is not by God.”

Our conversation continued and I talked about believing in God while having a speech impediment. I explained that my theology doesn’t believe that God caused pain as an act of revenge, but also I don’t know when God does not prevent pain.

I remember feeling that amid all of the pain  and sorrow in the room that I did believed God was with us that day.

Last Sunday at First Friends Meeting, we looked at the passage of Matthew 1:23: “’Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”

During this Advent season, I have been remembering again that God is with us indeed. Even in the midst of all the violence, terrorism, and so much misery happening in the world, God is still with us.