Day 37: Neil Snarr

Neil Snarr grew up in New York and Indiana in a conservative household. After a stint in the Army and obtaining advanced degrees in Theology and Sociology, Neil took a teNeil Snarraching job at Wilmington College. WC is a small Quaker liberal arts college in Southwest Ohio. Not long after arriving at WC, Neil began attending Quaker meeting and has been deeply involved with Friends ever since.

At WC he taught a variety of courses in Sociology and Global Issues. He also taught frequently in Wilmington’s prison program, which was a central aspect of WC’s social justice-oriented mission. In the 1960s, Neil began taking students to Central America and Mexico to learn Spanish and about the realities of the region. This was the beginning of his decades-long interest in taking students abroad and concern for native people throughout the world.

In the 1990s Neil began taking a handful of students to Spring Lobby Weekend, organized by FCNL in Washington, DC. At Spring Lobby Weekend, students learn about an issue of concern to Quakers, learn how to lobby, and then apply this knowledge on Capitol Hill. What began as a few students in a van has evolved into a charter bus loaded with 50-plus students, faculty, staff, and community members from Wilmington, Ohio.

In the academic realm, Neil has done research on post-disaster housing in Central America, edited a book on Nicaragua, and co-edited a book on global issues (now in its 6th edition). Additionally, he has served on various Quaker committees including Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO).

Upon retiring, Neil has remained active. At WC he raises money for student travel to Quaker-related issues and has researched the history of local desegregation efforts. Most recently, Neil received recognition for selling $10,000 worth of Palestinian fair trade olive oil. His support of Palestinian olive farmers fits well with Neil’s long-held mantra that “if you want to help disadvantaged people, you should buy their products.” Neil has also been instrumental in enabling WC students to join William Penn Quaker Workcamps as participants and leaders in DC, West Virginia and Pine Ridge.

In alignment with his dedication to education as peacemaking, there are these words from Maria Montessori: “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education. All politics can do is keep us out of war.”

Day 35: George Soros

George Soros (born György Schwartz on August 12 1930) was born in Budapest Hungary to a non-observant Jewish family. His father was a lawyer and had been a prisoner of war during and after WWI. As Soros grew up, his parent were cautious with their religious roots and, in 1936, changed the family name to Soros. In 1944, Nazi Germany invaded Hungary. Jewish children were barred from attending school, but were instead made to report to the Jewish Council, where they were used to deliver deportation notices. When Soros learned from his father about this, he did not return to the Jewish Council and, instead, went into hiding. Soros survived the war thanks to the employee of the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture. Post-WWII, he made his way to England, starting as an impoverished student but ultimately earning a BS and PhD from the London School of Economics.

George_Soros_-_Festival_Economia_2012_02Soros became rich in various positions and companies in the financial world, including at times shady dealings, insider trading and short-selling, something that should give pause to issues of integrity. But it is his philanthropic efforts (including giving $11 billion to philanthropic causes between 1979 and 2015) that are also noteworthy. He provided funds to help black students in Apartheid South Africa to attend the University of Cape Town, as well as funding dissident movements behind the iron curtain.  His Open Society Foundations have been instrumental in helping post-Soviet states non-violently transition to democracy. He has provided $100 million towards helping develop the internet infrastructure for regional Russian universities and $50 million towards poverty eradication in Africa. He has been an active donor to scientists and universities in central and eastern Europe. In the US, he has supported Prop. 19 (California’s marijuana legalization effort), provided initial funding for the Center for American Progress, and continues to fund Open Society Foundation and its programs in more than 60 countries. He has also been an outspoken advocate for liberal and progressive causes and anti-war efforts. Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker wrote of Soros that he was an enormously successful financial speculator, and the bulk of his winnings is now devoted to encouraging “open societies”, not just in the sense of freedom of commerce, but “more important – tolerant of new ideas and different modes of thinking and behavior.”

Soros is an outspoken critic of the current system of financial speculation, arguing that it undermines healthy economic development in underdeveloped countries. While he is clearly a participant in the market, he works to change the rules.  On the issue of anti-semitism, Soros holds the tension between recognizing the long history of anti-Jewish attitudes and actions, current Israeli and US policies and actions (particularly in the Middle East), and how his own position of wealth and power can contribute to the image that “Jews rule the world.”

For today, reflect on these Soros’ words of wisdom: “Once we realize that imperfect understanding is the human condition there is no shame in being wrong, only in failing to correct our mistakes.”

Day 26: Our Daily Bread

It all started with a pot of coffee.

Rob Farley had volunteered to run by the church every morning to wake CHUMC2the people who were sleeping on the steps of the church before the police came by.  One snowy, cold morning, one of the men asked Rob if there was any coffee. Rob’s first inclination was to say he did not have time, but then he recalled, from the Book of Matthew, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” That first pot of coffee became a daily ritual with a few people until, one day, another man spent a portion of his disability check on cereal and milk. 7 years later, this coming together to share a meal is a vibrant part of the Capitol Hill Community that brings people from all walks of life together.

CHUMC1“Our Daily Bread” is organized by Rob who, along with Margot Eyring and David Kennedy, using whatever food has been purchased and/or donated and put together a filling breakfast, while also taking a few minutes to read a daily reflection (or on Wednesdays, participate in Bible Study), and having good fellowship with whoever shows up. Faces become names, and a community of strangers becomes of a community of friends. It becomes a transformative experience for those who regularly participate, including some of the staff and interns at William Penn House. Hundreds of volunteer groups, including many of our Quaker Workcamp groups, also go. It becomes a part of the fabric of our lives.

For Rob, there is also the deeper transformation. The former corporate lawyer and Capitol Hill resident now leads an inspiring life that many people might admire, but few would actually have the courage to live. He lives in an intentional community in a house he purchased near Marvin Gaye Park in NE DC. All of his housemates at one time lived on the streets. He works as he has to to keep the roof over his head, but otherwise lives life in the service of the community. His story, alone, touches the lives of the hundreds of people every year who join in for breakfast as neighbors from the area or as visitors to DC to do service work.

IMG_1652This evening at William Penn House, we are honoring “Our Daily Bread” at our annual “Creating the Peaceable Kingdom” event. What happens here every day is a living model for what it is to live in community and fellowship. We hope you can join us tonight at 6PM, or perhaps can make your way some morning to Capitol Hill Methodist Church for breakfast.

And for today, take a few moments to reflect on Matthew 25: 31-40, the verses that have been at the root of this wonderful example of what it is to live in faith:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Day 14: Titus Brandsma

Titus Brandsma was a Dutch Carmelite friar, Catholic priest, and professor of philosophy born on this day in 1881. He vehemently opposed to Nazi ideology, and ultimately died in Dachau as a result. He was born into a small dairy-farming family and was named Anno Sjoerd Brandsma. His parents were devout Catholics in a predominantly-Calvinist Province of Friesland, and all but one of their children entered religious orders. He entered the novitiate of Carmelite friars in 1898 where he took the religious name Titus (in honor of his father), was ordained in 1905, and received a doctorate of philosophy in Rome in 1909. He was knowledgeable about Carmelite mysticism, and was one of the founders of the Catholic University of Nigmegen (now Radboud University), where he became a professor of philosophy and the history of mysticism. His studies on mysticism were the basis for the establishment of the Titus Brandsma Institute (in 1968) dedicated to the study of spirituality.

TitusBrandsma (1)After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Brandsma fought against the spread of Nazi ideology. In January, 1942 he hand-delivered a letter from the Conference of Dutch Bishops to the editors of Catholic newspapers ordering them not to print official Nazi documents as was required by law. He visited 14 editors before being arrested on Jan. 19. He was transferred to Dachau on June 19, where his health quickly gave way, and died on July 26 from a lethal injection that was part of a medical experimentation on prisoners.

In a biography about him, The Man Behind the Myth, Brandsma was said to have combined vanity, a short-tempered character, extreme energy, political simpleness, true charity, unpretentious piety, decisiveness and great personal courage. His idea were of his own age and modern as well. His strong disaffection for any kind of antisemitism offset contemporary Catholicism’s negative theological opinion about Judaism.  In 2005, the town of Nigmegen named him its greatest citizen, where a memorial church has been dedicated. A street in Dachau is also named in his honor.  He was Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1985.

In honor of his birth 135 years ago today, take a moment to ponder these words of his: “Do not yield to hatred. We are here in a dark tunnel, but we have to go on. At the end, an eternal light is shining for us.”

Day 9: John Lewis

John Lewis has spent all of his adult life as a champion for civil rights. Born in Troy, Alabama in 1940, he was the third son of a large family. His parents were sharecroppers.  While growing up, he witnessed segregation in full tilt. He remembers times when even checking out a book from the library was reserved for white people only. After high school, Lewis attended American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fish University, both in Nashville, TN. It was here that he became a leader of the Nashville sit-ins that ultimately led to the desegregation of lunch counters. He was also arrested many times in the struggle to desegregate the whole downtown Nashville area. While a student, he was introduced to non-violent workshops, and he became a dedicated adherent to the discipline and philosophy of nonviolence, something he still practices to this day.

lew0-005Lewis became one of the youngest leaders of the tumultuous 1960’s civil rights movement. He participated in the Freedom Rides, and followed Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks on the radio. He and his family supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963-66, during which time they opened Freedom Schools, launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer and voter registration efforts that led to the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. He was named as one of the “Big Six” leaders (along with Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins) to organize the 1963 March on Washington where MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis was the youngest speaker that day.  In his speech, he was going to ask “Which side is the federal government on?” when looking at the passivity of the government in the face of Southern violence. Other organizers eliminated that line, not wanting to offend the Kennedy Administration, but it was a question he would not let die. His subsequent leading of the Freedom Rides, which were bombed, and where Lewis was also beaten and left unconscious on the bus station floor, showed that federal government was not yet up to the task, simply calling for a “cooling-off period” and a moratorium on Freedom Rides. Lewis was imprisoned for 45 days for his participation.

After leaving SNCC, he spent the next decade working with community organizations and johnlewisfor the National Consumer Co-op Bank in Atlanta as community affairs director. He entered into politics in 1977. After an unsuccessful bid for Congress that year, he accepted a position in the Carter administration as associate director of Action, running the VISTA program, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and the Foster Grandparent Program. He left that after 2.5 years to run for and win a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1981. In 1986 he was elected to the US House of Representatives, a seat he now holds. He is considered one of the most liberal members of Congress, but also can be fiercely independent and is known as the “conscience of Congress.” He opposed the Clinton adminstration on NAFTA and welfare reform, asking “Where is the sense of decency? What does is profit a great nation to conquer the world, only to lose its soul?”

Despite having seen some of the ugliest that humanity can dish out, Lewis is routinely upbeat and optimistic. For today, we have his words about that: “When I was a student, I studied philosophy and religion. I talked about being patient. Some people say I was too hopeful, too optimistic, but you have to be optimistic just in keeping with the philosophy of non-violence.” 

Day 10: Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle (1780-1866), chief of the Suquamish and other Indian tribes around Washington’s Puget Sound, delivered what is considered to be one of the most beautiful and profound statements ever made. This speech, given in 1854, was made in response to a proposed treaty under which the Indians were persuaded to sell two million acres of land for $150,000.


For today, take a few minutes to reflect on his statement:

“Our good father in Washington–for I presume he is now our father as well as yours, since King George has moved his boundaries further north–our great and good father, I say, sends us word that if we do as he desires he will protect us. His brave warriors will be to us a bristling wall of strength, and his wonderful ships of war will fill our harbors, so that our ancient enemies far to the northward — the Haidas and Tsimshians — will cease to frighten our women, children, and old men. Then in reality he will be our father and we his children. But can that ever be? Your God is not our God! Your God loves your people and hates mine! He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the paleface and leads him by the hand as a father leads an infant son. But, He has forsaken His Red children, if they really are His. Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us. Your God makes your people wax stronger every day. Soon they will fill all the land. Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return. The white man’s God cannot love our people or He would protect them. They seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help. How then can we be brothers? How can your God become our God and renew our prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness? If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial, for He came to His paleface children. We never saw Him. He gave you laws but had no word for His red children whose teeming multitudes once filled this vast continent as stars fill the firmament. No; we are two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies. There is little in common between us.”

How can we build bridges where there is hurt, distrust, and difference? How might we need to be discomforted, and what might we have to give up as we seek to bring healing, peace and justice?

Day 5: RonDell Pooler

Tonight at William Penn House, we are honoring a Peacemaker within our midst at our 3rd Annual “Creating the Peaceable Kingdom” event. RonDell Pooler is an inspiring man with a powerful story of redemption and service. As a youth, he got into a lot of trouble that ultimately led him to serve 6 years in prison. Rather than become a negative statistic, this was a wake-up call for RonDell. Upon leaving prison, he relocated from Norfolk, VA to Washington DC. He started looking for work and ended up enrolled in a Green Job Corps program, learning about environmental stewardship through Washington Parks and People. He eventually worked his way up to volunteer coordinator and now oversees the Green Jobs program. He is a model for others to not give up. He sees that it is not enough to get a job, however, but to also take care of the environment, and that the future holds many opportunities in this area. His work takes place in many of the under-served communities in Washington DC. He is a man of few words, but his actions speak volumes as he works to transform communities he once “helped destroy”.  See more about his story here.


RonDell says “I feel I’m obligated to help clean any neighborhood because I helped destroy not only the neighborhood that I used to live in, but other people’s neighborhoods.” In that spirit, for today, think about how we all may be impacting those around us in ways we may not be aware of.