Antidote to Fear

Antidote to Fear

I could see it in the way he walked
As he shouldered through the cafe door;

scanned the room and spied the stool
at the counter next to me.
I smiled, nodded resigned myself
to the next hour;
of listening to complaint, his fear, his story.
I was good with that
until the preacher on the TV
over my shoulder caught his eye, his ear,
and shifted his refrain.
The words he heard as prophesy,
were nothing but a gospel of fear
from a charlatan
spreading his poison across the land:
0ffering bowls of anxious pottage,
My heritage, for his own gain.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom
And truth
And Jesus proof
God is compassion.
And in that love it’s clear
that perfect love casts out fear.

Then my friend began to echo
the word that he was hearing:
How our nation is a victim
And he a victim too;
trade wars, loose borders,
terrorists- those foreigners
And all those liberals
destroying our country.
It never crossed his mind
that I might not agree.
And yet I held my tongue:
Not wishing to offend:
Knowing my own privilege
my comfort, my illusion of control.
But wondering if my silence
Was selling out my soul.

Not fear, but love is with us
marking our pathway clear
that perfect love that’s for us
is the perfect love that casts out fear.

Now there are other stories
As I recall
Other words of ancient prophesy
Righteousness and justice
Are a nations call,
For the people, the sojourner, the refugee.
There’s a woman great with child
knocking at my inn
God’s own son was
secured in Egypt’s foreign land.
The man seeking asylum,
though of a different skin
is my brother, my savior
should I not let him in.
There are children fleeing violence
Knocking at my door.
There’s a man who sits beside me
bound in chains of fear.
There’s a soul that rests within me
in full humanity:
all seeking the same thing –
belonging, hope, security.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom
And truth
And Jesus proof
God is compassion.
And in that love it’s clear
that perfect love casts out fear.
Not fear, but love is with us
marking our pathway clear
that perfect love that’s for us
is the perfect love that casts out fear.

-Written and Performed by Dale Dorrell

Introducing the Restoration Institute



Hello Friends in Iowa Yearly Meeting!

Let me start by saying Thank You for the support through the years. Friends and neighbors are asking me what I am doing now and I would like to catch you up and invite people into what is happening. I am looking forward to presenting a workshop for Peace and Social Concerns at Iowa Yearly Meeting as well as leading the music with some new friends this year.

I began 2018 working in warehouses and businesses in and through my area code, greatly enjoying all the wonderful people I had the privilege of working alongside. Some of us were looking at starting another career, some were just getting started. Many had to get over hurdles of their own making just to get to work. We were from different religious, national, and political backgrounds. God gave me a burden to see my friends be vocationally assessed, mentored, and sent out equipped to do more than fill a position on a manufacturing line. More than anything, I long for them to serve Jesus Christ with their own unique calling. Serving others with our unique gifts and divine calling is a testimony to the freedom and grace in Jesus Christ that extends all boundaries of culture. It is a gift from God when we enjoy our work and vocation.

In June 2018, Blaine Vos, Director of New Hope Community Center in Oskaloosa, asked me to plant this vision at his location. After much prayer, I resigned my delivery position and started Restoration Institute. I am once again helping to develop a diverse team in Oskaloosa, and New Hope Community Center is our Designated Business Agent (DBA). We are a 501c3 organization.





We have served many people in the 7 months since we started. You may have seen our Gofundme page or how we have repaired and given out two vehicles. At least ten people have stayed in transitional houses that we set up on site.  We are present on many community service boards. (Homeless coalition, mental health, community partners for the protection of children to name a few).

My goal is Preparing Souls and Stuff for Seasons of Service. I am looking for underutilized people and broken stuff that may be leftover and is waiting to be repurposed. Specifically, our immediate need is for transitional housing material. We are looking for trailer axles that can be mounted under transitional houses. If you have something that might fit that description, we would love to look at it and hopefully pick it up. Consider putting together a work crew as a team building exercise!

Written by  Spencer Thury, Director

If you have any questions, please contact me!

Spencer Thury, MATL, Restoration Institute, Director,

Office: New Hope Community Center

308 5th Ave West Oskaloosa, Iowa 52577

641 676 1602 / cell 641 512 5501

Preparing Souls and Stuff for Seasons of Service

Columbia’s Redemption Song

“We don’t know what the future holds,” said our teacher. “We don’t know how the next presidency is going to treat us.”

As I sat there, I felt the weight of the world press down on me. Memories of me leaving Iraqi Kurdistan with hope in my heart for Kurdistan finally achieving its independence filled my soul. I was thinking that things were going to change. A week or two later, I would see the West’s apathy towards the country being denied its rightful independence and that denial leading to violence erupting in the region. It took me a few months to recover from that experience and to get into the normal flow of everyday life.

There I was in Colombia nine months later.

This delegation of Christian Peacemaker Teams was focused on women’s perspectives. We heard various stories from multiple organizations about how women were sexually, physically, and emotionally violated in the name of war. We heard their genuine fear about the coming government and the election of Duque, and how they dread how he is going to treat human rights leaders.

“In the 90’s,” the teacher went on, “paramilitaries came into our house, beat us nearly to death, and stole everything inside of it. We continued on because of the Gospel calling of standing with the poor.”

We heard about Plan Colombia, a policy enacted under President Clinton that was supposed to stop the “war on drugs.” Included in this were fumigations of coco and opiate fields. These operations did next to nothing to stop the trade. The farmers would wait a few hours before going out into their fields and taking off the leaves that were doused in chemicals. This had long term consequences, with birth defects and water supplies being contaminated. Farmers are put into a position by paramilitaries and drug cartels where they are forced to grow those crops in order to survive. We heard the dread in their voices again as they talked about how the current government is once again planning these fumigations in cooperation with president-elect Duque.

Under Plan Colombia, the government would kidnap homeless people in Bogota and take them out into the forests. They would dress the homeless people in military uniforms and then execute them. They did this to help increase US-funding on their part to disguise the real problems that were occuring. The investigations into the corruption during this period on top of the Civil War marks tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of cases where women were beaten, raped, or killed.

We visited a river community of Guayabo. They are a threatened community that has been under attack by both paramilitary and government forces. The government is attempting to push these communities out for more development plans. Astonishingly, this community in particular has been somewhat successful in resistance – but not without their scars. A family showed the delegation a house that was torn down by government forces. We knew we were standing on holy, sacred ground as the woman wept about what happened. They showed a delegation member footage of the house being torn down, with a child’s screams on full blast and the sounds of a family in tears begging the soldiers to stop.

I couldn’t bring myself to look at it.

I had the opportunity to preach at a protest by an organization that specifically dealt with women and helped raise them out of poverty so they wouldn’t be dealing with horrific options such as prostitution or the drug trade. I had no idea what to say. The faith of these women who regularly stood up against drug dealers, sex traffickers, paramilitaries, and government corruption was beyond what I could comprehend. In Homiletics, they don’t teach you how to preach to a group of Catholic women who can’t speak English. I managed to say a few words of comfort and support, knowing my status as a clergy member could help them. I talked about John 1 and the concept of the Light conquering the darkness, as well as Mary the Mother of Jesus being the first Gospel bearer (something I stole from a late night talk show host named Bill Pierce.) This sermon was followed by a performance of “Redemption Song,” a song that has always had a spiritual meaning to me.

I closed my eyes during the song and remembered an interaction I had back in Guayabo. It helped me to center myself and remember why I was doing what I was doing. When we were standing in the house that was torn down, I saw a phrase written in Spanish on the walls.
“What does that mean?” I asked our translator.

He fought back tears and his voice quivered a bit:
“It says… God is love.”

I opened my eyes again and looked into the eyes of the women resisting tyranny and oppression. I realized that God, in His infinite mercy, never abandons us – but that does not leave the Church without responsibility. When church history examines how the American Church dealt with international matters and oppression, I pray that our testimony reflects that of Christ and not of fear or personal agendas.

Written by Nate Perrin

Lessons from a Divided Past, and Seeking Justice for Today

Dear friend,

On May 9, 2018, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the United States made a raid on a precast concrete facility in Mt. Pleasant.  Thirty-two undocumented immigrants were rounded up and prepared for deportation.  This took place a few days from the tenth anniversary of the large Postville raid which netted over 300 workers.  Not much has changed over the past ten years.

The Mt. Pleasant raid has caused me to pause and reflect.  It doesn’t pass by lightly that this is just a few miles from Salem, Iowa, where I pastored for fifteen years.   This little town and Henry County were known as main stations on the Underground Railroad where some say “more slaves were set free than any other station on the circuit.”  That was 170 years ago.  The lessons of the past should speak to us today.

The Friends Church was divided over the Fugitive Slave Law that said any runaways had to be returned to their rightful “owners.”   In a tragic chapter in our history, the pre-Civil War Salem Friends Church split over this disagreement.  Fortunately they later united but the fact still remains there were those who said “the law had to be followed” and those who said “freedom for human beings is more important than man-made laws.”

That same debate continues today.  Many in our nation say that “We must be a nation of laws and these illegals are taking American jobs away or lowering the wage scale for others.”  “The immigrants serve as  examples for the millions of others who want to come here and take our jobs.”   Some even support our President in saying these immigrants are gang members and part of the drug cartel.  Others say that the 11 million undocumented immigrants are here escaping violence and war back home or are here to provide a living away from their poverty stricken homeland.  Our nation is divided and our church is once again divided.

There is no easy answer to the dilemma facing our nation today.  Immigration reform is essential for our legislatures.  Can we in good conscience fund the pain and stress experienced by families torn apart?  Is arresting 11 million undocumented immigrants a productive use of taxpayer dollars?  There is no path for these to become legal at this time.  Meanwhile what happened in Mt. Pleasant will continue across our nation unless we say “no more!”

A member of the Friends Church in Indiana (our daughter’s church) has been detained and is ready to be deported to El Salvador away from her husband and her three children under 10 who are American citizens.  She has been in the states for decades and has annually reported to ICE.  She is not a criminal and has been leading Bible studies and worship in her jail since being arrested on May 3rd.  Pray for Sonia, her family and her church.

Ponder the following scriptures: Leviticus 19:33-34 (LB) “Do not take advantage of foreigners in your land; do not wrong them.  They must be treated like any other citizen; love them as yourself, for remember that you too were foreigners in the land of Egypt.”  Psalm 146:8-9 “The Lord loves good men.  He protects the immigrants, and cares for the orphans and widows…”   1 John 3:18 “Let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.”

In the 1800’s Iowa Quakers wrestled with the difficult decision about slavery.  Some even disobeyed the laws of that day to follow a higher law.  Peter concluded in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Where do we stand?  Families and children are being torn apart if we remain silent.  I plead with us to not break fellowship as we did 170 years ago.  An excellent book by Mark Amstutz, Just Immigration, details this conflict within the churches of America today.  Amstutz is professor of political science at Wheaton College.   I would highly recommend it.  Let’s pray for unity and God’s leading on this issue.  Please dialogue with me.

Tom Palmer

A Call to Prayer and Action from Indiana…

Katy (Palmer) Moran, her husband Carlos, and their congregation Iglesia Amigos (Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Hispanic Ministry in Indianapolis) are requesting Friends join them in prayer and support for one of their longtime attendees named Sonia who was detained on May 3rd at her yearly check-in with ICE.

Sonia is from El Salvador, has three US citizen children under the age of 10yrs, and has lived in the U.S. for decades. Her options don’t look good for staying in the U.S., so her family is preparing to self-deport to El Salvador with her, to a country they have never known or been to in decades, where they know they risk violence and kidnapping.

As you can imagine, this tragedy has rocked their congregation to the core. Sonia and her children have been a pillar of their church from almost the beginning of their ministry. Her kids, ages 10, 8, and 6, came home from school last night to a home without a mom. It is devastating to think that this dear friend and sister in Christ is being treated as a criminal and taken away from her family.

They need your support in the midst of this horrible tragedy. Their church is committed to supporting this family in whatever way they can and they invite all Friends to join them.

Here’s a list of things they have quickly come up with if you, your family, your small group, or your church would like to get involved and show Christ’s love to this family in need.

1.This may not be an option for those of you out of state, but there will be a prayer vigil outside the detention facility where Sonia is currently being detained:
Clay County Jail
611 East Jackson Street

Brazil, IN, 47834
Wednesday, May 9 at 10:00 am.
It would be incredibly meaningful to have as many people as possible come and show support to Sonia and her family, to tell her story and surround this family in prayer. If you are not able to come in person join them wherever you are in prayer.

2. They have started a fundraising campaign to help the family with the many detention and resettlement expenses they will have. You can donate online to their Go Fund Me account at:
If you don’t feel comfortable giving money online you can also mail a check to:
Iglesia Amigos
9219 S. Meridian Street
Knightstown, IN 46148

3. We know Sonia would love to receive letters of encouragement from her brothers and sisters in Christ. Sonia does speak some English so you can write these in English or Spanish whichever you prefer. We are told that she will be held at this facility for about a month before being deported. You can send those letters to her at:
Sonia Marlene Pocasangre Aviles A# 8-759
Clay County Jail
611 East Jackson Street
Brazil, IN, 47834

4. Share her story with anyone you know, on social media, word of mouth, with your neighbors, with your church, at work basically anywhere that you are allowed. Injustice thrives in silence and as people of faith we can stand for the marginalized and oppressed by telling their story when they are unable to. We know from scripture that God loves immigrants and requires us to care for them. All of our stories are a part of God’s bigger narrative and we know that by sharing our stories we are telling God’s story. We trust that somehow God will work through this difficult part of Sonia’s story and that is why we can stand with her in the midst of it.
Lev. 19:33-34
Deut. 10:18-19, 24:17-18
Ps. 146:9
Jer. 7:5-7
Malachi 3:5
Matt. 25:35-36
Eph. 2:11-22
1 John 3:18

If you have other questions or want more information please contact:
Katy Moran

Thank you for joining these brothers and sisters in Christ with your prayers and support!

IAYM Board of Christian Social Concerns Spring Body 2018 Report

The IAYM Board of Christian Social Concerns has discerned that our theme for this year is “Loving and Listening to Our Neighbors.” We believe that our culture in America has become toxic and antagonistic, and that human political divisions, fear, and anger have affected our churches more than we often want to admit. As followers of Jesus who are historically known for championing peacemaking, it would often seem that what passes for peacemaking for many of us today borders either on the side of avoidance, or warm hearted neglect. And before living out Jesus’ calls to be peacemakers who experience God’s blessings when it comes to things like international war, we need first to develop our skills with interpersonal peace. And where better to start than practicing peacemaking among ourselves?

Not having peace among the body of Christ can severely hinder our witness. Without unity and the maturity to do the hard work of reconciliation and restoration, and without the courage to address our differing perspectives, it will be hard for us to make disciples of Jesus. Charlotte Stangeland once said “a Christian should strive to be unoffendable”, and in our world that seems to be almost majoring in seeing the speck in our brothers eye, how might be not get sucked in by the whirlpool of hysteria? It is my conviction that our relationships with Christ and following his example, if nothing else, should allow us within the church to disagree agreeably.

Wiyh all this in mind the IAYM Board of Christian Social Concerns is challenging every church in the yearly meeting to go through a study of Ken Sande’s book “The Peacemaker: A biblical guide to resolving conflict”. This study includes a book, participation guide and DVD. The following guidelines were recommended: the group should be no larger than 10 participants, consider having two people be co-leaders, invite other church members/attendees within your Quarterly Meeting to participate with you and plan on 8-10 weeks to complete the study. A sermon series through biblical peacemaking principles could also be a wonderful asset to help those who may not have been exposed to it how rich what God’s word brings to bear on these subjects truly is.

We also desire more effective methods of communication to Monthly meetings such as articles in their newsletters, articles in Iowa Friend, MM visits by Christian Social Concerns committee members and highlight what each Monthly meeting is currently doing on our blog site, What does each monthly meeting do in reaching out to their communities? Please let us know so we might highlight each others faith in action and spurn one another on to good deeds that bring glory to God.


James Tower



Do you know anyone that has problem with controlling their pain?   Are you or someone you know taking prescription pain medications?

The abuse of and addiction to opioids (Fentanyl, Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Morphine) is a serious global problem that affects the spiritual and physical health of our society including our church bodies.

No matter how hard you pray or how closely you adhere to the teachings of the Lord, life is rarely easy.  A split second is all it takes to turn everything upside down.   Whether you begin taking a prescription medication as a way to mitigate pain after surgery or started sampling opioid’s to deal with the stress of life, a few uses is all it takes.  A highly addiction pain killer that is prescribed contributes to 20 million Americans with a substance abuse disorder.

What signs will you see in a person? What behaviors indicate that you may have an addiction?
Noticeable elation Need for increase in dose
Nodding off during the day Feeling down or depressed without medication
Changing moods Missing work, family or church activities
Altered judgment Inability to sleep without medication
Clammy skin Having financial problems
Social Isolation Spending time in trying to figure out how to get medication from doctors

It isn’t easy to admit to an addiction or to seek help outside of worship and prayer.  It isn’t an easy problem to solve.  Sometimes we need to access a Christian helpline @ 844-329-6895 for more long term care by a trained counselor.

What can we do as Friends to become more aware and help others with identifying opioid abuse in our neighborhoods and church families?

These verses come to mind: Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.   We, as church families need to be aware of those that are hurting or going through difficult times.   Are we continually praying for one another?  Do we know each other outside of church?  Are we watching out for each other and correcting each other in love?

Philippians 4:13 I can do all thing through Him who gives me strength.  Are we remembering and truly believing in Christ’s healing power?

Written by Charlene Martin of Bangor-Liberty Friends Church

Glorifying God in the Midst of Conflict

When we think about peace, unfortunately, what comes to mind is the opposite of war rather than the rich imagery of human wellbeing and harmony that is the Hebrew understanding of shalom. And yet, before we could ever begin to approach the implications of a biblical model of peace when it comes to something like war, perhaps we followers of Jesus might take a deeper look at what tools God has given us to address conflict among ourselves. Many of the leaders of College Avenue have recently done a study through Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, and I can say our group has had a truly transformational experience as we wrestled together with what God’s word has to teach us about repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Sande’s interest in biblical conflict resolution draws from a wealth of experience serving as a Christian lawyer, who at many points found himself  sincerely desiring God’s best for many of his Christian brothers and sisters who thought civil court was their last hope.

Ken’s presentation style is personal, practical, and unflinchingly faithful. Ultimately, he and some others founded Peacemaker Ministries to better serve and assist God’s people to work through conflict in a way that gives glory to God and strengthens the credibility of our Christian witness. Our hope as the IAYM Board of Christian Social Concerns, is to challenge our Yearly Meeting churches to consider making their way through this 8 week study. To do this, what is needed is a pair of facilitators with the time and passion, and a book and study guide for everyone in the class. While some might not choose to purchase them, there are also wonderful video resources designed to augment the study with teachings by Ken, and many illustrative short skits or “parables” that go with each lesson that truly bring these principles to heart. While not required, these video resources are recommended, and could perhaps be a shared resource among our various quarterly meetings. Peacemaker Ministries also has youth and family books and resources you may be interested in taking a look at, to make God’s best for us accessible to all.

We know that not every IAYM church has a Peace and Social Concerns Committee, and some that do aren’t very active, but if your church has a pair of co-leaders who are passionate about being peacemakers, you would be well on your way to facilitating a study on your own, as we did. But if your church is close enough to drive to College Avenue, and you are willing to make the trip, we are planning on starting two fresh courses: one on mondays at 6:00pm (beginning Feb 26th) that will be taught by Mike Fogle and Bill Blake, and a second wednesdays at 6:30pm  (beginning February 28th) taught by Mike and Deb Moyer. The second will even have soup a half hour prior! We also have two additional pairs of co-leaders lined up to offer additional courses this year, with one potentially being in the summer. We at College Avenue invite those who would to join us, with the hope to empower you with practical tools and inspire a passion for interpersonal peacemaking and biblical conflict resolution. We as Christians have such a foundation to draw on when it comes to living by God’s principles. Often, it is putting God’s best into practice where we struggle. Our hope as a committee, and my hope as a pastor, is to equip Christ’s church for faithful service and witness in the world. This study is not political, and not primarily about addressing the violence of our broken world. What it is, however, is a starting place to come together and earnestly seek God’s will when it comes to the things that so often divide us. And from that common frame of reference in God’s word, learn to walk together toward maturity to the glory of God. Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers. Let us seek that blessing together in 2018!


James Tower




Kit with DVD’s

Following Jesus to Iraqi-Kurdistan

God has taken me on quite the soul-stretching, faith-growing adventure this summer. Although it is difficult for me to discuss and talk about because of the emotions surrounding my trip, I know that God has called me to discuss this. I pray that your heart is open as well and that the Holy Spirit convicts you to at least pray.

On September 10th through the 23rd, I went on a peace delegation with Christian Peacemaker Teams to Iraqi Kurdistan. Christian Peacemaker Teams, or CPT, is a human rights report group inspired by Mennonite pacifist theology – although any denomination can work with them. Despite many warnings from people, I knew that God was taking me to somewhere unique and special.  CPT’s main work is working with villages along the border that have been getting bombed from Turkey and Iran. It is intentional violence against the Kurdish people. Violence against Kurdish villages started to escalate more and more during our delegation, although we did not see this violence first hand. There were many other issues happening, such as Exxon Mobil’s abuse against these very same villages and sexual abuse against women, but the most prevalent problem that needs to be talked about on an international scale right now is the fact that a group of people, who have had their own land stolen from them multiple times, is seeking independence.

Iraqi Kurdistan has been more friendly towards the minorities that have sought refuge within their limits. Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims, exist next to each other with little to no conflict in the Kurdish regions. One Christian village, Keshkowa, got bombed by Turkey frequently until CPT helped to amplify their voice. The Muslim village five miles away named Dupre has also been getting bombed less and less. These two villages have keys to each other’s houses because these bombings used to happen on a regular basis. The Turkish government has called these incidents “casualties,” even though no known terrorists have been hiding in these villages and no direct connection has been made to them from any terrorist organization. I should also mention the Christian village Keshkowa is known for its peacemaking-leanings. In their courtyard is a cross that was used as target practice by Saddam’s regime. One of the statements that was said there was that although Saddam’s regime was extremely violent to them, they decided to respond with “the love of Jesus Christ” and forgave them.

While the United States Congress is overwhelmingly supportive of Kurdistan’s independence from Iraq, President Donald Trump has taken the opposite stance for the sake of fighting ISIS.[1] The evangelical preacher Franklin Graham has also come out in massive support for Kurdistan’s independence.[2] With the recent threats of deporting Iraqi citizens from the United States by Trump, churches in the entire nation of Iraq and Kurdistan are concerned with the fate of Middle Eastern Christians returning to their countries – violence either from their communities or from the government oppression.[3] A big issue is that these Christians and other Kurds and Arabs could be seen as cowards for fleeing the violence and oppression that began with ISIS, thus leading to community rejection and oppression.

My delegation just so happened to have been there during a politically tense time. It was during the build up to the independence referendum, and we all flew out two days before independence was declared. The vote officially took place on September 25th. After that, the airports were immediately seized back by the Iraqi government and all travel to this region was banned. The Iraqi military immediately seized with force the oil-rich Kurdish city of Kirkuk. Turkey and Iran have been bombing the villages along the border once again. Turkey has also opened fire on Kurdish villages in their own region and killed innocent citizens. Minorities really have no other place to go in this region. If Kurdistan falls, so does the hope for the indigenous Muslims, Yazidis, and Christians.

Despite all of this violence and despite all of the oppression I heard about, I cannot help but pray that I one day go back. My heart was open in ways that I thought could not be opened in. I don’t know what the solution to these problems is, but it does not stop me from praying for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan and keeping them in my heart.

Authored by Nate Perrin, pastor of Valton Friends Meeting, Valton, Wisconsin

[1] Mylrorie, Laurie. “Rep. Glenn Grothman: ‘Overwhelming support’ in US Congress for Kurdistan referendum.” September 23rd, 2017. Kurdistan 24 English. Online.

[2] Mylrorie, Laurie. “Franklin Graham: US should support Kurdistan Referendum.” September 24th, 2017. Kurdistan 24 English. Online.[3] Casper, Jayson and Jackson, Griffin Paul. “Christians Could Return to Middle East, Thanks to Trump (Deportations.)” September 20th, 2017. Christianity Today. Online.

Some Thinking on Thankfulness

While not a very religious holiday, Thanksgiving is still my favorite one to celebrate. This has to do with my love of gathering loved ones around a table in fellowship. It truly is the great American love-feast, and often comes the closest many of us ever experience in our culture to the table fellowship of the early church (or for that matter the holy feasts of the Old Testament). There is something holy in the love that our green bean casseroles were made with. There something holy (and wholesome) about dedicating a day to spend together with family thanking God for His providence.

Thanksgiving seems to break through our individualistic culture and provide a sorely needed excuse for togetherness. In our fragmented and disconnected world, there is something that food and fellowship around a table provide, that I believe, is sorely needed. It gives us an opportunity to invite in that weird uncle or aunt or neighbor who sees the world so differently than we do, and to love them where they are (not as we want them to be). As Quakers, we believe that everyone is imbued with the image of God; that all people have value. At Thanksgiving, many of us put that commitment to love our neighbor to the test! We need this grace to us more than most of us are willing to admit.

As an Osky transplant, I am blessed with a newcomer’s perspective. I see the many things about this community that are amazing. For me, it has been kind of like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting, in a very good way. I think as a community we have a lot of things to be thankful to God for, and that joining together in worship to celebrate God’s rich bounty is something that is worthwhile. While there may be theological differences and a variety of ways people experience God in worship in this community, I bet one thing we could all agree on is God’s goodness to us. This one brute fact should inspire us to live out our love modeling Christ’s example. If God truly loves us–US–warts and all…that should fill us with excitement.

In my Quaker values class I teach regularly about simplicity, something I like to define for a largely secular audience as “saying no to some things in order to say yes to the right things.” I regularly do an exercise where I have the students physically stand in the left, middle, or right side of the classroom to show their response (agree, unsure, or disagree) to an intentionally vague statement. This really gets people talking because they have already made a statement in their walking. For the week on simplicity I pose the statement “having lots of money will automatically make a person grateful, happy, and enjoy a meaningful life.” I am always surprised with how this exercise reveals. Some, see money as giving a person the freedom to pursue a life of meaning unhindered. Others, resonate with money’s power to magnify good or problematic areas of a person’s life. They acknowledge statistics about high levels of suicide among lotto winners, and recognize that in many ways, massive wealth could undermine the things in life they value the most.

This is a crucial step in the class’ journey of exploring the intersection between simplicity and gratitude, something few of us wrestle with openly. To get the class moving in this direction, I read a quote from Robert Fryling’s book The Leadership Ellipse that asks such an important question:

“…Gratitude is the involuntary response of the heart to all aspects of life and ultimately to God. It is not based primarily on circumstance. Some of the most grateful people in the world are the poorest, while many that are rich often are characterized by their lack of gratitude as they seek to acquire more money or fame. If this is the case, what then makes us grateful, or how can we be more grateful people?”

I think how we answer that question powerfully shapes the direction of our lives.

It is easy for many of us to always focus on what we have not attained, to be driven (consciously or not) by our fears or pride, or other people’s expectations. Few of us ever stop and be grateful.

One girl, who warned me on the first day of class that she struggled immensely in all of her attempts at religion classes, ended the course having a spiritual awakening and getting involved in a local church. As she presented her journey of exploring simplicity, she found such freedom that as a part of her relationship with God, she had someone to be grateful TO for her many blessings and the beauty of creation. This, among many other extravagant luxuries, are easily taken for granted by us Christians. But at the end of the day–each day–so much of how we see the world is shaped by where our focus lies. We daily have a choice of what we choose to focus on–the blessings we haven’t yet received, or the ones we have. We can allow gratitude to fill our hearts…or jealousy. The only one who chooses this, is you or me.

How DO we become more grateful people? I think grateful people focus less on the negative aspects of their current circumstances, and more on their many blessings. It is easy to fall into the same trap as the nightly news which is basically to focus only on the terrible or controversial things that happen in the world, and to do so until we find ourselves ever torn between reeling in fear and addicted to outrage. There is a story of three couples–freshly moved to town–who encounter an old man on a bench. In separate encounters, he asks each of them, “What was it like where you came from?” One couple said everyone was always gossipping and backbiting, another that people were always looking down their nose at others as they kept up with the Jones’, and the last said that there were many wonderful people with friendships that had deepened over dozens of years. The man on the bench responded to each couple with the exact same answer, “You are going to find a lot of that here too.”

As Christians we are going to find a lot of what we are “looking for” as well. We may see slights or grace, good or evil, the fallenness of people or the faithfulness of God. Whatever we want to see more of we will find. But we seem to need extra grace to do as Paul exhorts in Phil 4:8,

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Scott Mcknight once said “Tables build societies.” How might Thanksgiving be an opportunity to see God’s value in all people? How might some food, fellowship, or even board games around a table be an opportunity to share God’s love? That table of old where Jesus sat with his rag-tag disciples transcended the differences between a radical zealot and his nemesis a tax collector. It brought together rough and tumble fishermen, and even had room for a traitor like Judas. There is something about Thanksgiving that connects us to the table Jesus shared long ago, and reminds us of the Great Wedding Supper of the Lamb to come. I believe it is there to find for us, if we are willing to let God give us the eyes to see it.