A Parable for the Lenten Season

Naylor Blasphemy

Coming from a Midwestern Protestant tradition, Lent never meant much to me.  That was something the Catholics observed.  They apparently saw it as an occasion to abstain from certain foods or pleasures.  Later I learned there was a deeper purpose, to repent from sin and consecrate oneself to God.  The season is not observed as special in Quaker tradition, where turning from evil and doing God’s Will are asked of us daily.  Nevertheless I am reminded of an historic parable beyond that found in the Gospels, one that continues to speak to me over the years.

The Sunday prior to Easter is called Palm Sunday.  It is meant to celebrate when Jesus entered into Jerusalem prior to his crucifixion.  It must have been a spectacular sight as people gathered and threw items of clothing and greenery on the path.  No doubt the site of Jesus riding into the city on a donkey evoked a lot of strong feelings and was probably scandalous to some people, as he played out the prophecy of Zechariah (Zac. 9:9).  The act certainly drew attention to himself and precipitated his death on a cross.  At various times in Church history this event has been acted out in the form of a pageant.  It has not always been universally appreciated or without scandal.

This parable features a prominent 17th Century English Quaker by the name of James Naylor (1616-1660).  He was one of the first followers of George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, and part of a group of evangelists known as the “Valiant Sixty.”  Naylor was known for his charisma and great speaking ability.  He led much of the early Quaker movement when George Fox was in prison periodically for upsetting the religious and civil authorities of his day.  James Naylor’s favored status however was not to last long.

At the height of the new movement, he got caught up with a number of adoring fans, mostly women.  By 1656 George Fox was hardly on talking terms with James Naylor because he had become overly enthusiastic and erratic.  In October that year Naylor and his friends staged a demonstration through the streets of Bristol that proved to be his downfall.  They reenacted the arrival of Christ into Jerusalem.  His followers may have been convinced that James Naylor was another messiah, which he denied claiming he was merely celebrating that of Christ within him.

This quickly became a public scandal.  George Fox was horrified and Quakers denounced Naylor.  By December James Naylor was convicted of blasphemy in a very public trial.  He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment with hard labor.  Prior to going to prison he was whipped through the streets of Bristol, branded with the letter B on his forehead, and his tongue was pierced with a hot iron.

By the time Naylor left prison in 1659 he was a broken man in ill health.  He had long since repented and George Fox ostensibly forgave him, though their relationship was never warm after the incident.  In October 1660, while travelling to join his family in Yorkshire, he was robbed and left for dead in a field.  A day later, from his deathbed two hours before he passed away, he made one of the most moving statements in Christian history about forgiveness and redemption:

“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it, nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for with the world’s joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places in the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.”

This Lenten season I can think of no better tribute than Naylor’s words at the end of his life.  Christ has come into this world for each of us to experience his redemptive love.  Never has the world so needed the Prince of Peace, the Holy One, who speaks to us inwardly across time.




Called to Be Angelic Troublemakers

angelic-trouble-makersWe live in a time when it is easy to lose hope and fall into despair.  I recall the words of Scripture to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and continue in prayer (Romans 12: 12)  These words were written in the context of Paul asking the church in Rome to act humbly and with charity to all, letting love be more than a pretense and choosing good over evil (Romans 12: 9).

In these days after the 2016 election I am especially drawn to the words of Bayard Rustin to become “angelic troublemakers.”  Bayard Rustin knew of what he spoke.  He was a troublemaker from an early age, being influenced by this Quaker upbringing and being an out gay man when it wasn’t popular to be one.  Bayard not only marched with Martin Luther King Jr., he helped King see the importance of nonviolent direct action.

For the first generation of Friends gathering in public worship wasn’t always allowed under the law.  Yet they persisted, holding their gatherings both indoors and out.  When the adults were arrested and taken to prison their children continued to worship in defiance.  They were angelic troublemakers.

For Friends active in the Underground Railroad they persisted in directing enslaved people to freedom, sometimes in defiance of their home Meetings. They were angelic troublemakers.

During times of war Friends have refused to fight and suffered for it.  They were angelic troublemakers.

When African Americans sat in on segregated lunch counters in the 1960s Friends were at their side.  They were angelic troublemakers.

When LGBT people have demanded equal treatment under the law, Friends were there.  They were angelic troublemakers.

Every age has had its challenges.  I wonder what it means to be angelic troublemakers today, in 2017.  What are we Called to do?  This may mean once again standing with the oppressed and placing our bodies “in places so the wheels don’t turn” as Bayard Rustin advocated.

I’ve been a Friend who prefers contemplation over activism for many years now, but lately I find I cannot be silent.  Hopefully I find a healthy balance between faith and deeds.  Faith means nothing without good works to back it up (James 2: 14-26).  I wait in expectation for where God is Leading me.

Lately I’ve been reading a book by the gay Quaker activist Cleve Jones entitled When We Rise.  I knew Cleve Jones many years ago and have occasionally run into him.  I’ve always been impressed with his tireless witness for social justice.  It has led him down many interesting paths, some of which I’ve traveled on as well.

Like many of you I participated in a local Women’s March on January 21.  I was amazed at the level of participation.  This call to action has struck a nerve.  In the face of trouble there is an uprising of the masses that can be channeled for the greater good.  Once again I have hope because I see the rising of angelic troublemakers determined to work toward greater equality, peace, and justice.


A Post Election Reflection



It’s hard to “sing and rejoice” in the “thick night of darkness” yet something within me seeks the Light and wants to proclaim it.  This is a deliberate choice on my part.  It keeps me sane in times of trouble.   The world would like to portray a glass as either half empty or half full.  I chose to see the glass as a vessel that needs to be constantly filled.  In a thirsty world I cannot ignore the needs of others, because they are my needs as well.  We are in this together.

For over twenty years I was a science teacher, but what I really taught (on my best days anyway) was how to think and reason as a life skill and how to get along with and respect others.  My job was to inspire others to engage in the learning process.  My values as a Friend were interwoven with my job.  Seeing that of God in my students and their parents informed my teaching.

Engaging in the political process is no less important or even separate from the learning process.  For Friends the secular is not separate from the spiritual.  As a nation we made our choices in the last election and now we see (perhaps to our horror) how the process is playing out.  We want to be hopeful, but we may be fearing the worst.  As we exercised our civic duty we trusted that the will of the people would be heard.  But what if the will of the people results in suffering for others?  Never before in my lifetime has the necessity of staying engaged in the political process been clearer.  To say that the election is a disappointment is an understatement.  For some people at least the negative consequences are very real.  There are people, especially in minority communities, who are now living in fear for their very lives.

What is our role as Friends in binding the wounds of injustice and helping others to see the Light amid the darkness?  First we can be a safe listening place for people to express their fears.  Second we should be ready to place our bodies beside those most in danger.  We have an opportunity to bear witness to God’s love in what seems like a “thick night of darkness.”  In the end we also gain by being of service to others.  As the nation moves forward it is easy to leave behind the dispossessed.  How can we help those in need to feel safer and part of the process?  Here I prayerfully seek God’s guidance.  I do know that platitudes like “it will all be OK” are not enough.

In the days ahead we are called to be vigilant.  There is a great deal at stake.  Take time to listen to that “still small voice” for a way forward and know that no deed is too small when the needs are so great.  Perhaps all we can do is to be present and speak Truth to power.  We have an opportunity to show God’s love in every day acts of kindness.  Living up to the challenge of our faith we can take comfort in troubled times and become as Jesus admonished us: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10: 16)  That’s a lot to live up to but we are given the spiritual resources.  We need the peace we find in our Meetings for Worship more than ever to help us be “children of the day and the Light.”

Quakers and the Holidays

“When the time called Christmas came, while others were feasting and sporting themselves I looked out poor widows from house to house, and gave them some money.” George Fox’s Journal


As we enter into the holiday season I often reflect on Friends’ history concerning holiday celebrations and how that changed over time.  Historically Friends stay clear of holiday observances and rituals.  Most books of Faith & Practice explain this by stating we believe that all days are equally holy.  While this is historically true there is more to the story.

One of Friends earliest concerns had to do with the “true and acceptable worship of God.”  The 17th Century Quaker theologian Robert Barclay in his “Apology for the True Christian Divinity” devotes Proposition XI to worship.  It is under Proposition XI that the “testimony against the keeping of days” arose.  Section 3 of this proposition states “We are persuaded that all days are alike holy in the sight of God.”  The belief concerning “the keeping of days” included the plain numbering of days of the week and months.

The Book of Christian Discipline (now called Faith & Practice) for various Yearly Meetings weren’t in print until the late 18th or early 19th Centuries.  The 1806 Book of Christian Discipline from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting admonished Friends that only the “worship and prayers which God accepts, are such as are produced by the influence and assistance of his holy Spirit” are to be used by God’s people.  Observation of “public fasts, feasts, and what they term holy days; or such injunctions and forms as are devised in man’s will for divine worship.”

So the main concern was that holidays represent human invention, not a movement of the Spirit.  The same concern for being true to the inward life extended to banning outward rituals of baptism and the communion. There was a similar concern that arose concerning “vein and empty customs” (Barclay’s Apology, Proposition XV), especially those deemed “frivolous diversions” (such as dancing and gambling), the taking of oaths, and participation in warfare.

Until recent times Friends schools and businesses remained open on holidays.  Quaker businesses often faced fines and vandalism for keep their shops open on Christmas Day. Contemporary Quaker views on observing holidays is far less rigid than it was for our ancestors.  Nevertheless Friends tend to reject commercialism of the season and endeavor to practice simplicity in our homes.  Like George Fox we share concern for those living in poverty or despair.

My own view with regards to holidays has changed over time.  For several years I made it a point not to observe Christmas in particular, based on my understanding of Quaker principles and a rejection of the materialism that this holiday represented.  I was fond of pointing out that Christmas had its origins as a pagan holiday, having arose from the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. Nevertheless I could always be persuaded to listen to and even sing Christmas carols.  They were part of my childhood and are connected to fond memories.  The custom of putting up a Christmas tree in my home happened rather suddenly.  One day I came home from work to find one in my living room, brought in by my life partner Tom.  I simply laughed and surrendered the last of my objection.  We have had a tree in our home every year since then.  Those first couple years we made our own ornaments.  I still reject overt materialism as inconsistent with following Christ, but I’m a lot less judgmental about those who go all out with their decorations.  Interesting enough I don’t recall ever giving up Thanksgiving observance or even Halloween.  The first may reflect my love of good food and the second is about having fun watching children in costumes.  Halloween is also an especially treasured holiday in the gay community.  I have always loved fireworks, but I prefer to think of them as not connected to any particular military display such as Independence Day.

May whatever family traditions (if any) you observe this year be full of Peace and Blessings.  I leave you with these words from a 19th Century Celtic hymn called Quaker Benediction.

“When the song of the angel is stilled

When the star in the sky is gone

When the kings and princes are home

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins.

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music in the heart.”

Expectant Waiting


“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46: 10)worship

In Barclay’s Apology in Modern English the eleventh proposition concerns worship and is entitled Expectant Waiting.  It is aptly named in that unprogrammed worship is all about “waiting upon the Lord.”  When I consider what this means it has often occurred to me that “waiting” has at least two definitions.  One type of waiting in the sense of being patient, listening to the Inward Guide in this case.  The other type of waiting is an active verb, concerned with giving service to God and other people.  It seems to me that both are essential to the Quaker experience of worship.  We are Called upon to both quietly listen for God’s voice and to go forth in the world and live the kingdom of God.

Since moving to the islands one of the biggest adjustments for me has been getting used to how things are done on the Big Island with regards to Meeting.  I won’t belabor a point already made in other postings, but it has never been satisfactory for me to settle for dysfunction when I know we could be doing so much better.  In trying to explain to new people or visitors how Friends operate here I usually say, “It’s complicated.” and leave it at that.  One has to live here and participate in the process, such as it is, to truly understand.  Herein is perhaps a third sense of the term “expectant waiting.”  Expectations, in my experience, turn out to be a mixed blessing.  When I expect to be filled by the Spirit I am frequently humbled and blessed.  When I approach a situation with unrealistic expectations however I’m frequently disappointed.

So the question becomes how can I let go of expectations about others while still upholding a standard?  This is where letting go and letting God comes in.  I suspect we all secretly want to tell God how to run things.  I’m certainly guilty of this, but S/He seldom listens to my advice.  When I can let go of whatever expectation is preventing a connection with the Divine though I often transcend the disappointment and even (on my best of days anyway) come to acceptance.

Recently I have come to the realization that I can’t change Friends on the island or their casual view of Good Order.  I have to turn that over to God and stop engaging in unproductive struggles.  The result of this surrender has been an Opening I have prayed for long and hard.  For some time now I have hoped that regular worship would once again resume on this side of the Big Island, but there appeared to be no way forward.  One evening it came to me that there is a way forward for Friends.  I mentioned in my last posting that a three part proposal might help us.    That being to form an independent Worship Group, to advertise when finances allow, and to rent an indoor facility.  By independent Worship Group I do not see us being under the care of Big Island Monthly Meeting (or even Honolulu Meeting) for now at least.  This allows us to move forward without having to seek permission.  To advertise might be very low key at this point but it about being willing to share our Light with others.  An indoor rented facility is essential for this side of the island because of all the rain we get.  A rental space is less of an imposition on a host.  Also, visitors are generally more willing to attend in a public space, as opposed to a home.

I am pleased to report that this Leading seems to be testing as true.  Three months ago my partner and I invited Friends from this side of the island to our home to join us in worship (and a potluck of course) to discern whether or not we could form a Worship Group.  The response was more than I could have hoped for.  About ten Friends showed up and they are eager to make this happen.  We met once more after that at our home in Keaau and discussed possibilities for a rental space in the area.  One of those places has welcomed us with open arms and it seems to be working out well for all concerned.  We held our first worship session there on the August 28 and have reserved the space for the next four months.

We decided to start off cautiously (as Friends tend to do) by meeting once a month on the 4th Sunday for a few months and later consider how we might meet more frequently.  Once a month may not seem like much to Friends on the mainland, but here is it definite progress.  The rent is very affordable (only $10 per hour).  Friends have also been very generous with their donations, allowing us to reserve the space well in advance.  Our rent supports the Neighborhood Place of Puna (also known locally as the Girl Scout Building).  They are a community service organization dedicated to helping abused children and their families.

No name is perfect, but at least for now we have decided to refer to ourselves as the Keaau Friends (Quaker) Worship Group.  The title allows us to be connected to the community of Keaau where we rent space and lends support to the organization which has invited us to share their space on Sundays.  If our name seems inadequate to some, I remind Friends that over the centuries there have been a wide variety of names used by Quaker Meetings.  Most names are descriptive of the area where they reside and some are even amusing.  In the over the forty years I have been a Friend I have been a member of two meetings in California whose names are  connected to fruit production; those Meetings being Orange Grove Meeting in Pasadena and Apple Seed Meeting in Sebastopol.  When the Orange Grove Meetinghouse was built in about 1905 the Meeting was surrounded by orange groves.  Apple Seed Meeting is still found in apple growing country and their name is also a tribute to the Seed of God found in everyone.

As we wait expectantly on where God is Leading us, please hold us in prayer.  Friends and visitors are welcome to join in worship with us on the 4th First Day at 10:00 AM, with a potluck lunch to follow.  We welcome visitors.  Contact me for directions.

A Need for Silent Worship

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

On this day I stand with thousands of Americans in prayer for those whose lives were so brutally taken in Orlando, Florida.  It has never been more obvious that sensible gun restrictions are called for and that better attention to mental health and curtailing political extremism is needed.  The fact that most of those slain were LGBT people comes as no surprise to me, but being a hate crime makes it all the more insidious.  I can chose to respond in anger, and there is plenty of that, or with reason and compassion. For now I feel drawn to inward silence, to try to remember that God speaks most clearly for me through the still small voice within.  There is much work to be done in the world to help others respond to that of God within themselves and their neighbor.

This morning I attended a worship session at the local Metropolitan Community Church, where I am now a member.  The pastor was visibly shaken by the news and noted that experiencing terrorism is nothing new to LGBT people.  MCC has known over 20 acts of violence and desecration in its short history.  Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender people continue to be harassed, beaten, and killed.  This speaks to our resiliency perhaps that we continue to move forward.  Much progress has been made but there is still much work to be done.

During communion our pastor framed his invitation to the Eucharist in the context of remembering those who died in Orlando, connecting with many other churches around the country this morning doing the same.  I found myself partaking in the outward ritual, despite my Quaker understanding of silent communion, out of respect for those who have died or have suffered from gun-related violence.

Had there been a Quaker Meeting to go to I might well have gone there to rest the anguish of my mind.  For a variety of reasons Friends Meeting on the east side of the Big Island barely functions.  In a recent gathering at my home I got the clear sense that there is a desire to meet for unprogrammed worship more often than once every few months.  I’ve been giving this much thought and here is what I envision.

I would like to suggest that the time has come to gather in unprogramed worship at least once a month as an independent Worship Group.  Being independent would help us to avoid being drawn into the rancor and dysfunction of times past.  We should make every effort to remain in fellowship with other Friends on the island, but still speak our truth.  Furthermore such a gathering should be publically advertised to the extent that finances will allow.  This would let those who may be looking for such a spiritual home know that we exist.  Let’s stop hiding our Light under a basket.  Lastly such a Worship Group should be in a public location.  Given that there is often rain on this side of the island the public gathering place should be indoors.  That most likely means renting a facility because it is an imposition to hold worship service on a regular basis in people’s homes.  Also, in my experience, newcomers tend to prefer public accommodations.

So, to get things started and to season this concern I propose that Friends on the east side of the island (and others who may be interested) come together at 10:00 AM on Sunday, July 3, 2016 at our home in Keaau for silent worship.  Call or email if you need directions.  I have at least one place available to us for inexpensive rent.  That location and other possibilities can be discussed after worship during a potluck lunch.  Come share your vision and let’s see what happens.

Tragedy is part of life, but we can find sustenance in God’s presence.  While that can be done alone, it is far more nourishing to do it in community.  As we pray for those who died or suffered in Orlando, Florida, let us also pray for Friends on the Big Island that we can find a way forward that serves the needs of all.

Your Friend in Christ, Rick Troth

Confessions of a Quaker Heretic

“And oh! How sweet and pleasant it is to the truly spiritual eye, to see several sort of believers, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ, every one learning their own lesson, performing their own peculiar service, and knowing, owning, and loving one another in their several places and different performances to their Master, to whom they are to give an account, and not to quarrel with one another about their different practices!” Isaac Pennington, 1659


For just over a year now I have been a member of another denomination while still maintaining my membership in the Religious Society of Friends. Our Faith and Practice discourages sentimentality concerning membership in Meetings we are no longer able to partake in and the holding of duel membership. I am in full agreement with this functional approach. Nevertheless I find myself in the circumstance of not having a functional Friends Meeting nearby. As I mentioned in a prior post Big Island Monthly Meeting, for a variety of reasons, simply doesn’t function on this side of the island. I wish that were not the case but it would be less than truthful to claim otherwise.

Life would be simpler I suppose if I could do as Jesus advised (in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and wipe the dust from my feet and move on. The finality of such a judgment seems too harsh though. I prefer to remain on the sidelines as loyal opposition, reminding people of the potential we still can obtain. Is it that no one is beyond redemption or that I simply am not ready to once and for all leave Friends? I am uncertain.

So why did I join another church? It wasn’t primarily for the worship. I still find “the silent assemblies of God’s people,” as Robert Barclay put it, the most pure in practice. It was the sense of community I found there that drew me to my new church home. I think no one can survive long spiritually in a Meeting or Church without being part of a strong community. I remember several years ago when I served on the Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice Revision Committee the struggle we had trying to put into words what was obvious to us, that the Testimony on Community is at the center of our faith, even though it is the hardest Testimony to articulate.

When I worship with the church community there is hardly a moment of silence during the entire service, yet the music on occasions speaks to that still small voice within. Likewise the sermons are often very inspiring. The pastor, who I’m convinced often acts as a covert Quaker, is skilled at speaking to the principals of his faith in a heartfelt manner that is as moving as any vocal ministry I’ve heard in Quaker Meeting. During communion we are advised that is it quite acceptable to remain seated in silence, partaking in the “common union” with others, which I do. No one forces me to partake in anything I’m not comfortable with. The time of community prayer is different than the language I’m used to in Meeting, but when you listen to the desires of the heart it isn’t really different than our asking to hold someone in the Light.

I find my new congregation very receptive to Quaker beliefs and even some practice. I’ve been asked on at least two occasions to conduct the worship service when the pastor has been out of town. When I have led the group in worship I include moments of silent waiting and it has been well received. If I occasionally refer to the programmed worship as Meeting for Worship, ask that someone be held in the Light, or call the building a Meetinghouse there is appreciative understanding. Recently I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the church in a secretarial capacity taking minutes and keeping track of records. They refer to this position as Clerk, a little different than how Friends use the term but still part of their vocabulary. In the taking of minutes I find myself using terms like “Unity” and “approved” with no objection noted. We all desire to do God’s will even if the structure of how things are done is different than what I’m used to.

We are in the process of building a new church building which is ambitious for a congregation of only about thirty members. I find myself being more generous than I have been in years about sharing financial resources. I sincerely hope that Friends on the Big Island will find a similar determination to build a permanent home someday.

Language and practice may differ slightly but the same Spirit is being served. The problems of our world, such as injustice and continuous warfare, are too big for any one faith tradition to address. Our very planet is crying out for mercy and we are called to be God’s hands. I ask for your continuing prayers as I continue to discern how best to move forward. Whether I remain a member of the Religious Society of Friends or not Quakers are my tribe and I will always hold dear the faith and practice of Friends.

James Naylor

A Call for Greater Presence of Friends on the Big Island

GF Be patterns

“From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.” – George Fox’s Journal, Chapter VI

It has been several months since I’ve posted on this blog, but with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and surrounding events I have come once again to reflect on the state of Friends here on the Big Island. Where is the prophetic voice of God’s people in these troubling times?

In George Fox’s vision on Pendle Hill he saw “a great people to be gathered.” We have a rich history as a voice for reconciliation and compassion in the world. The contribution of Quaker theology has also profoundly affected the Church, showing the value of seeking the Divine without intermediaries in our silent assemblies. The message of George Fox, amid the current rhetoric of ISIS, anti-refugee rants, and Islamophobia, is as needed today as it ever has been.

I have no doubt that Friends around the world are speaking up for peace when others around us are beginning the steady drum beat of war. Even here, on this wonderful island, I’m sure Friends are doing what they can to “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34: 14) Nevertheless, to my knowledge there is still no regular Meeting for Worship open and advertised to the public on the east side of the island at least. Even on the Kona side the gathering is only by word of mouth. Should we not in these times be proclaiming our message at every opportunity? I believe we are called to display of measure of Light, not to hide it under a basket. I’m willing to be accused of being a little evangelical in this pursuit. The notion that Friends don’t proselytize is utterly untrue. We have to be sensitive to the path of others and not judge them but we are free to share what insights we have.

I believe the world, amid all this chaos, needs to hear Quaker voices. Won’t you join me in being a voice of reason in these times of fear?


On another note, I’m still questioning my role with Friends on the Big Island. It has been months since I have worshiped with any of you, mostly due to lack of opportunity on this side of the island. As some of you know I now hold duel membership in another religious society, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC). My husband and I have been able to find much comfort in a local UFMCC congregation. Nevertheless, I still crave silent waiting worship. I will always be a Friend on some level, but I’m not sure how much longer I will maintain membership in the Society of Friends.

I’m also not sure how much longer it is appropriate to keep Big Island Quaker Blog going. I await Guidance in that regard. This has been an experiment and your response to the blog has been greater than I ever expected. When I first set up this website I thought I would be lucky to get 500 hits. It is now nearly 2,000 hits, many from Friends new to or traveling to the Big Island. So this has been my contribution to sharing the Light, for better or worse. Lately I’ve been on Facebook frequently and have been able to reconnect with family members I had long since lost track of. When I can I share my Quaker values, sometimes even linking to Quaker articles or videos. By the way, I hope you have been watching the QuakerSpeak weekly videos from Friends General Conference. Before I close this blog down, if I decide to do that, I’d like to extend the experiment to include the ability to link to Facebook. Let’s see where this goes over the next few months.

Let me know your thoughts. As always, go with God.

Your Friend in Christ, Rick Troth

A Tale of Two Meetings

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

In Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Tale of Two Cities” he explores the duality of life in both London and Paris mostly told from the viewpoint of the under-class during the French Revolution. The opening line has been on my mind of late in that Quaker life on the Big Island is both full of promise and at times a dismal failure. In our case the two cities are Kailua-Kona and Hilo, both on different sides of the island and both with very different experiences of Meeting. This essay is far from a perfect analogy but I think the topic is worth looking at.

In the novel the death of Sydney Carton is dealt with as heroic metaphor, likened to Christ in his suffering on the cross. It would be self-serving to see either myself or others who have offered Friendly critique as heroic, but we do call Friends to embrace Good Order. If that is revolutionary, so be it.   I am far from perfect Friends, but I feel called to hold up a mirror and ask if this is truly our best selves within the Quaker context. Are we actively building the Blessed Community or are we living nostalgically in our rich past?

Geography (as beautiful as it is) works against us on this island just as it did between London and Paris in Dickens’ day. The span isn’t across an ocean but most Friends (and I include myself in this) are either unable or unwilling to drive two hours over the mountain pass. Years ago a system of rotating worship around the island was put into place. Perhaps it worked well for several years but now seems to happen mostly in name only. On the west side of the island Friends are able to gather in worship twice a month in North and South Kona. On the east side we meet only once a month and even then it is erratic. Waimea is no longer an option so that leaves Hilo which in the best of times is dependent upon decent weather. In the worst of times we are left with no place to gather or no one aside from Tom and I shows up. The two of us have taken up some of the slack on some of the 5th Sundays but that isn’t a permanent arrangement.

In the novel London is painted as the peaceful haven of civilization while Paris is in ferment. Always lurking in the background however in an undercurrent of discontent in London. As goes Paris so too might London fall into chaos. Here the analogy is weak but it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to see Meeting life Hilo as being in greater disarray than in Kona. Could Meeting in Kona fall into equal disrepair? I certainly hope not but situations could change.

Geography isn’t the only thing separating the two sides of the island. There have been some major personality clashes that have most heavily affected Friends on the east side. I need not get specific or personal here. Any Friend living on the Big Island for very long is well aware of what I am saying. This raises the question if there are other Friends willing to come forth and serve? As Friends we do not depose those who serve us. Rather we thank them for their service and periodically seek to find the best placement of skill with need. Rotation of responsibilities is healthy for a Meeting. No one should be burdened with leadership in perpetuity. This serves no one well in the end. To infuse new blood however requires some degree of process. Appointing an ad hoc Nominating Committee to look at not only replacements for Friends in long-term service but also new positions that might serve us well in the future might be in order at our next scheduled Business Meeting on August 2.

In Dickens’ novel, while he sympathizes with the goals of the revolution, there is great ambivalence. Did the ends of freedom justify the means of violence? For Big Island Friends there is also ambivalence due to the rancor of the past and its present manifestations. Are we doomed to continue a circle of neglect and bitterness? I hope not. Some Friends would prefer not to talk about our problems, but in my experience denying what exist isn’t helpful to healing.   I would hope we can be both honest with each other and loving.

For me Meeting life on the Big Island has been both the spring of hope and the winter of despair. I have recently found another more stable spiritual community in which I am nurtured but I remain a Friend and continue to attend Meeting for Worship when I can. I try my best not to become embroiled in acrimony, but it has been difficult balancing truthfulness with genuine concern for others. The problems with Big Island Meeting spans decades and it would be arrogant of me to think that I alone can change the situation given the inertia that has become the norm. I now keep some emotional distance, though I will continue to call us to the idea of a Blessed Community from time to time.

Let us chose wisdom over foolishness, Light over darkness, and kindness over rancor. This Easter season let’s build the New Jerusalem, resurrected from an epoch of incredulity. Not all revolutions have to be bloody.


Reflection on Abundance and the Work of the Spirit

God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Recently Big Island Friends held an annual gathering in Volcano for all Friends on the island. The event was well attended. It was good to see Friends again that I’ve not seen in months. After worship and potluck, Friends gathered to conduct business.

To say that the Business Meeting left something to be desired would be classic Quaker understatement. Nevertheless we endeavored to do our best and some concrete matters were accomplished. We also began a discussion about concerns for the life of the Meeting, making suggestions about what might need to happen to revitalize the Meeting community. Unfortunately there was resistance in some Friends to change, which I suppose was to be expected. Change is seldom easy and our resources, being spread out across a large landmass, presents challenges.

Some of the language I heard though was unfortunate and I don’t think served us well. I heard a lot of talk about “consensus” but almost no references to building Unity. I realize to many modern Friends the term consensus is synonymous with Unity and is preferred contemporary language. I could not disagree more. Consensus is a secular process in which everyone agrees to come to agreement on any given action. It is certainly better than voting to maintain group cohesion, but not at all what Friends do in our Business Meetings. Instead we refer to seeking Unity or finding God’s will. This recognizes that our individual desires are secondary to trying to discern what God would have us do. In Unity we are allowed to have dissenting opinions as long as we are equally willing to set those aside for the betterment of the whole body. Unity does not require that everyone gets what they want. This is often not the case. Unity instead presupposes that God can open us up to greater Truth, even when we step aside and let others proceed. This is why it is essential that the Clerk not interject his or her own will at the Business Meeting. It is a hard enough job discerning the sense of the Meeting on our behalf.

We live with different realities on the east and west sides of the island. There is a rotation system that was put into place years ago but that hasn’t functioned for many people in some time. On the western half of Hawaii Friends have Meetings for Worship twice a month. On the east side there is at this point worship only once a month and that is weather dependent. No regions of the island hold unprogrammed worship weekly. This prompted one Friend from the west side when presented with the idea of regional gatherings to say that “half a loaf is better than none.” True enough, but can’t we do better? My immediate quip, being from the east side, was “I’d settle for a slice.” This wasn’t helpful on my part, but let’s look at how we tend to view opportunity.

We live in a world of finite natural resources yet we have long lived beyond our means. We are now facing the consequences of our lifestyle as Americans. It has never been more important to recognize this fact as we examine the impact of the human species on the planet and try to mitigate our ecological footprint to benefit future generations.

It would be a mistake however to extent this sense of scarcity to the spiritual realm. God has promised us an abundant life and we need go no further than the Inward Christ, the Inner Light, or whatever metaphor you feel comfortable with. Thankfully life is full of opportunities for us to recognize our failings, pick ourselves up, and begin anew. It is natural to fear the unknown or untried path but I know at the heart of my being that Spirit will provide if we have a little faith. Will it be easy? Most likely not. There is a lot of inertia to overcome and a lot of fear to face along the way. Jesus promised his disciples a good life, not necessarily an easy one. I believe this is as true today as it was for our spiritual ancestors. It’s easy to glamorize the past, to revere Friends like John Woolman or George Fox. These Friends were often as not though disagreeable to others and they each faced their own demons. They became convinced (in the sense of being convicted) of their own failings. Yet they ventured forth into unknown territory and the Society of Friends benefited from their willingness to rely on Divine guidance. We can, and perhaps if we are to survive must, do the same.

Off and on for years now I have been baking homemade sourdough bread. The leavening is usually only from a natural yeast culture I have kept for years. The process is slow, but well worth the wait in terms of flavor. Only a little inoculate is needed to affect the entire dough. It seems to me that this is like what happens in worship (whether with Friends or elsewhere). With some patience and the Seed of God present wonderful things can happen. As the Bible says “a little yeast leavens the whole batch.” (Galatians 5:9) I don’t think the apostle Paul was talking about making bread. He was using a common household event to draw a parallel with what can happen when God is invited into the heart. Whether you are worshiping in silence or (as I usually do these days) attend a programmed service, God promises us “more than enough for every kind of good work.” Wonderful things can and do happen. It is my prayer for Friends that we may see the great abundance the Spirit has offered us and know that it doesn’t take much to feed us all.