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All God’s Quakers Got a “Place In The Choir” — Even the Non-Theists Who Can’t/Won’t Sing

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 12/27/2018 - 3:48pm

So we’re hearing some complaints about sniping back & forth between “theists” and “non-theists in some liberal Friends meetings. I have some thoughts on that. Kind of a long read . . . .


Let me work up to them with a story, going back to the turn of the years 1990 into 1991. I was working for the Post Office, as a Mailhander, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. I mainly shuffled bundles and sacks of mail back and forth across the floor of a facility about a quarter of a mile long. It processed several million pieces of mail every day. In those years, I had real calluses on my hands, and a lot fewer pounds around the middle.

I was also surrounded by veterans there, mostly from the Vietnam era, who had preference in Post Office hiring. We weren’t very familiar with the phrase PTSD then, but it was all around me. I felt a lot of solidarity with them, though I didn’t know how to express it. I was an Anti-Vietnam veteran, had protested one way and another all through those years, and bore my own set of scars from it.

November & December at the Post Office were always hectic: Christmas meant a continuing flood of packages, mandatory overtime, and running us off our feet. But the year 1990 brought a big additional burden of stress: the buildup to the First Gulf War, what’s known as Desert Storm, was in full swing.

I’m starting these reflections with a war story, not because I like war stories, but as part of my own grappling with the fact that when I look back over my 76 years, my life as an American and a Quaker has been dominated by war.

Big wars, punctuated by smaller and more secret wars, and then periods of tension and preparations for more war. I’m not sure that many Americans, and Quakers, really take adequate account of that over-arching reality: any American my age and younger has lived in a militarized, war-making country all our lives. And  that reality doesn’t appear to be changing much today.

August 5, 1990.

Anyway, I remember when the Gulf War buildup started, in late summer 1990, when the first president George Bush learned that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, next door. My memory of Bush is that he was riding in the presidential golf cart, and pulled it to a stop where some news cameras were clustered, and said, “This will not stand. This will not stand.” (Actually, an old video shows him saying that after stepping out of the presidential helicopter. At least I got the words right.)

Reporters shouted questions, but he waved them off with a curt, “I gotta go to work.” 

He had sounded clumsily florid; as most of us knew, he was no orator.

But I also knew in my bones that Bush meant it. He was “going to work” to plan a war, a big one.

Benches in the Stillwater Meetinghouse, Barnesville Ohio, site of a certified prophetic Quaking experience for me. There’s a plaque marking the spot. (Kidding about the plaque.)











The conviction stayed. In fact, a few days later I was in a worship session at Ohio Conservative Yearly Meeting, in their big stately old Stillwater Meetinghouse in Barnesville, and I was moved to speak — the whole thing, feeling shaky, reluctant, but pushed.

I rose and said I had been shown there was going to be a big war soon, and that if anyone in the room believed in what Friends call the Peace Testimony, they would soon have occasion to show it, and in ways that might be costly.

I went home from Barnesville resolved to follow my own counsel. If the government was  going to have a war, the least I could do was protest. So I got involved in planning a one-day Quaker peace conference in Washington, on the same weekend as a huge antiwar  march was scheduled. We were hoping against hope there was still a chance that citizen resistance might stop the rush to war.

As an event, the conference was a success: we packed the Florida Avenue Meetinghouse in DC. We had lots of workshops, fiery speeches, we fed everybody, cleaned up, and kept the fee low yet covered all the expenses.

A crowd estimated in the tens of thousands makes its way down Market Street in San Francisco, Saturday, Jan. 19, 1991 while protesting the United States attack on Iraq and Kuwait. The crowd was heading to an afternoon rally outside City Hall. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Of course, our gathering made no difference as far as stopping the war was concerned. The epidemic of war fever, ginned up by the government, using slick PR agencies to feed atrocity propaganda to a subservient media, kept spreading. Many people, as I soon learned, were becoming increasingly hostile to dissent.


At work, we often wore tee shirts under our shop aprons. I made a shirt with big bright letters on the back, which showed up clearly in my work apron: “No War For Oil,” it said. “One Vietnam Is Enough.”

I wore it a couple of times. Then the third time, within an hour after I’d clocked in, a union steward came up and beckoned me into a quiet corner.

He told me I had to change the shirt. I asked why. He said it was pissing some people off — some of the Vietnam veterans. They thought I was mocking them and dissing their service and their buddies who didn’t make it back.

I protested. “Hey, I respect those veterans, I’m not mocking them, and I’d be happy talk to anybody about it.”

He said, “Look, you don’t understand. This is not a discussion group.”

Then he leaned closer, dropped his voice. “I mean,”he said, “you’re not safe wearing that shirt here. You’re not safe.”

It began to sink in. Of course. Old traumas were being deliberately stirred up and triggered by the drums of war fever and propaganda, swirling and echoing all around us. It was like a rising, threatening wind.

And there was more than just propaganda: preparing a mass invasion is a huge undertaking. A Friend who was in the Army then, told me her part of the war was figuring out how to ship about ten thousand trucks, big and small, from the U.S. mainland to the Persian Gulf.

Also, several hundred thousand soldiers and reservists had to be brought together, given last-minute training, crowded into planes and ships headed for the Gulf. Once there, they had to be fed and bedded down in big tents in the desert. Field hospitals were set up in more tents. Bombers and fighters roared overhead, keeping constant watch; along the coast dozens of Navy ships were assembling.

With this rumbling maelstrom in the background, my tee shirt, despite my high-minded intentions, looked like the enemy to many of the troops and veterans around me. Too many.

I won’t kid you: I didn’t want to get waylaid and beaten up somewhere in the vast parking lot outside. And beyond worries for my own safety, I didn’t want to feed my co-workers’ reflexes about enemies. I wasn’t the enemy of those haunted veterans — or an enemy to the new recruits preparing for their first deadly combat.

So I changed my shirt. Which helped my physical safety, but didn’t calm my internal turmoil, or that around me. This war, most of us worried, was going to be horrible. There were stories of the army secretly packing tens of thousands of body bags on ships headed for the Gulf, to be filled with the corpses of American casualties.

Even after our conference and big march, there were still voices against the war — I remember the Pope, John Paul II, who was no liberal, loudly denouncing it as unnecessary and unchristian. But he was ignored just as the rest of us had been ignored and belittled. They wanted their war, and they were going to have it, come hell or high water. And soon enough, they did.

NYTimes: “Pope John Paul II delivered a scathing denunciation of the Persian Gulf war today, calling it a ‘darkness’ that he said had ‘cast a shadow over the whole human community.’ ‘A choice was made of aggression and the violation of international law, when it was presumed to solve the tensions between the peoples by war, the sower of death,’ he said in his Easter Sunday message, ‘Urbi et Orbi’ — ‘To the City and the World.'” IV

At that time, my work weekend came on Monday and Tuesday. But of course my meeting, Langley Hill, not far from CIA headquarters, met First Day mornings.

The Post Office was supposed to make a “reasonable accommodation” of my religious observances, so they let me split my Sunday shifts: clock out in time to drive to meeting, then hustle back afterwards, and stay later to make up the time.

It meant a long day, but I did it. And I found myself feeling more urgent about it as the war buildup neared its peak, and several weeks of bombing Iraq began, as a prelude to a massive ground invasion.

I remember driving to meeting on many First Day mornings then, listening with one ear to the latest news about the buildup, and the flickering debate about it.

But there was more than talk. In the other ear it felt as if the drumbeats of war had morphed into a kind of invisible hurricane roaring around me and across the land, all feeding and reinforcing the momentum speeding us to war combat and its awful, unforeseeable consequences.

When I pulled into Langley Hill’s parking lot, I felt surrounded by this cacophony as I walked to the meetinghouse door, stepped up, opened it, and walked through.

And then something amazing happened: The hurricane stopped. Or rather, it continued, but was somehow shut out, kept at bay, quieted.

This was welcome, but very strange: Langley Hill’s meetinghouse was not a fortress, just a small converted Methodist chapel; white clapboard outside, with a steeple: Langley Hill Friends had weighed the stand against “steeple houses” against the expense of taking it down; thrift prevailed. Inside the meetinghouse was suitably plain, long sturdy benches facing each other, cream-colored walls, and a small Clerk’s table.

Yet in this small, unreinforced space, the outside hurricane of war was silenced. Or maybe more accurately, absorbed into the silence.

I can’t explain this, but it happened many times in those days. Spoken ministry was rare, and usually quiet; I don’t remember calls to the antiwar barricades; worship here felt more like largely unspoken mourning for those already harmed in Saddam’s invasion, and for those who would be harmed by the impending invasion, and of the unmasking of our powerlessness in the face of it.

For me, these morning intervals of quiet were religious experiences. They’re in the same category with visions and angels bearing supernatural messages, things I’ve read about in other sources. A visitor might not have noticed anything special, beyond a subdued group of Quakers in gloomy silence; and that would be true enough. But for me it was not the whole truth: those times beyond the grip of the hurricane were more of a lifeline.

These brief periods away from work were something closer to miraculous. I remember thinking, or maybe it was praying, that I had never been so grateful to be a Quaker, among Quakers. When meeting was over, and I passed through the meetinghouse doorway, the hurricane resumed.


Looking back, it’s clear that in an outward sense, Langley Hill didn’t “DO” much about the war. Some Friends helped with our conference and other protests; but others were not “active.” They related to our situation in different ways.

I remember one of these “non-activist” Friends in particular. His name was Herbert Brown. He was old, stooped, and retired, likely from a white collar civil service job. He was a very quiet man, whose family had long been part of the Orthodox branch of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, which had reunited with the Hicksite branch about twenty years earlier.

Not long before the war, Herbert Brown began to show up at the meetinghouse several times a week. He became its volunteer janitor and handyman: sweeping, dusting, cleaning, fixing.

He did this quietly, with only occasional help from others. He kept doing it as that long winter of our discontent folded into a bleak spring. Soon the war was officially “won,” and was followed by weeks of jingoistic victory celebrations.

A small stretch of what was called “The Highway of Death” in Iraq, where U.S. bombers and artillery killed thousands of Iraqis.

Trying to ignore them, I reflected on the experience of how important the respites from the hurricane of war had been for me. As I did that I also became more conscious of Herbert Brown’s low-profile presence  in that.

I talked to him about it a couple of times. He quietly made it clear that he felt led to do this seemingly menial work, and that it needed to be done. I got the sense that in years past, he had likely filled other slots, maybe more visibly weighty ones: Finance Committee, clerkships and such.

But now, those were in the past. Yet he was hardly useless, or marginalized: he was caring for the meeting house, I realized, in order to care for the meeting. (As in turn, the meeting had cared for me, one of those Friends who could be identified as an “activist.”)

Even more, he understood something about such work that was only beginning to dawn on me. Especially now, looking back, I’ve concluded that if Langley Hill, and other Friends meetings, had any real contribution to make in our crazy world, it would grow out of the combination of these varying leadings in them.

I also learned another thing, in bits and pieces: Herbert Brown had cancer. I forget what kind. It was somewhat in remission, but considered incurable. I screwed up my nerve one day and asked him about it. He answered plainly and calmly that yes, he did have it, the cancer was not curable, but he was “resigned,” and well enough to do his janitorial/handyman work. He planned to keep doing it as long as he could. It was his leading.

And he did do that. Eventually his strength failed, and he took quietly to his bed and died.


Here in sum, I think we can see, or at least I think I can see, that this time of war was also for me a time of learning about the various roles Friends play in meetings and in witness. I don’t know if the pattern I saw is visible to anyone else, though I think I have observed it in other meetings and individual Friends.

There’s a fancy theological term for this pattern: it’s our ecclesiology, our sense of the basic structure and dynamic of a religious community. I think I can summarize this, if the jargon isn’t too complicated, in one line, and the line is this:

“All god’s critters got a place in the choir.” Or: “All God’s Quakers got a place in the choir — even if they’re non-theists in an unprogrammed meeting that doesn’t have a choir.”

(Don’t ask me to sing that song; but I hope it’s familiar.) Here’s a version by Makem & Clancy.

Sometimes that “place” is quite visible: the Clerk presides at business meetings; the Treasurer handles the money. “Activists” talk in acronyms and are busy trying to change the world.

For others, the role is less clearly defined: for instance: who was it that upheld the remarkable atmosphere in worship at Langley Hill, during those awful months when I needed its shelter so much? Was it those who believed most in prayer? (We didn’t talk about that a lot.) Not to mention those who taught First Day School with my children and others? And how much came from Herbert Brown, with a broom in his hands and a screwdriver in his pocket?

If you’re new to a meeting, or to Quakerism, you might ask: how do you find your “place in the choir”?

Good question, and I don’t have a simple answer. Personally, I think I’m a slow learner: not a birthright Friend, raised Catholic and come to Quakers in my early twenties. I began attending in 1966, about eleven years before I came to Langley Hill. For the first ten years I was mostly in a student or apprentice mode: learning; reading a lot, attending meetings, protesting the Vietnam War, absorbing things.

I didn’t join many Quaker committees then, or donate money to the meetings. But I don’t feel very guilty about that: I was poor and struggling professionally too, and I figured, if my situation ever gets better, I’ll do my bit; and eventually it did get better. So also eventually, I ended up on many committees.

In fact I’m now part of the “Quaker Retirement Plan”: no money, just committees till you drop.


Because my profession turned out to be journalism and writing, my first real meeting responsibility was related: I became editor of Langley Hill’s newsletter. One thing led to another, and I’ve been editor for numerous other Quaker projects since. (That also led to the Post Office, since writing for and about Friends never has paid much.)

And that writing background had another important aspect: traveling along Friends, I soon noticed that there were many events and issues that were live and contested among Friends, but which were rarely discussed in Quaker publications. With my journalist’s hat on, these issues looked like stories that needed to be reported and discussed, maybe debated. (Some would call all this “discernment.” Some others might consider it stirring the pot.)

But with my meeting member’s spectacles on, I saw pretty clearly that the institutional pattern was mainly to avoid talking or writing about them, and playing these matters down, especially the difficult ones.

I resisted that pattern, and that resistance initially made me a failure as a Recording Clerk, not once, but twice: at Langley Hill, and then at Baltimore Yearly Meeting. I wrote minutes that were intended to be useful to Friends far into the future, as a detailed window on our history. But enough living Friends in both groups strongly objected to that kind of minute-taking, clearly preferring notes that were brief, oblique, sanitized and became all-but completely opaque within a few years.

So I yielded to the will of the body; that is, I was fired.

That  is, by the way, one effective way to learn it’s time to find a new place in the Quaker choir.

After a bit of  experimentation, I started my own Quaker publications, which examined many subjects, including some of the tough ones. For instance, at the first national Quaker gathering I attended, in 1977, the issue of recognizing the presence of gay & lesbian Friends (trans were not on our radar yet) came up suddenly and explosively, and I ended up writing an article about it that was pretty widely circulated.

A Friendly Letter, a monthly independent Quaker newsletter that began in 1981, and continued til early 1993. It was first prepared on an antique instrument called a typewriter, but soon moved to a computer. In 2004 it resumed as a blog.

Since then I’ve written about many other Quaker concerns, including plenty about the wars. But I realized two years ago, in 2017, that I have been writing about LGBT issues & struggles among Friends for forty years. 40 years! (And those issues are still far from being resolved.)

I don’t apologize for that work, but I can say I didn’t mean to do it; as an old straight guy, I’m no expert; but most of what I reported on, would not have been written about otherwise. Yet these are community struggles, and I’m convinced that silence on such matters does not serve us or the Spirit.

The rise to visibility & inclusion of LGBT Friends in many Quaker spaces, and their continuing exclusion and erasure in others, is much too big a piece of our recent history to ignore; it ought be studied and told by many; but it really hasn’t been yet.


So I did the best I could; and along the way, there have been a few other “religious experiences” that came at crucial but unexpected moments; but those are another story. And while I’m slowing down with age and trying to retire, these and other issues (especially the wars) are still very much alive among American Friends, and in Quaker groups elsewhere. And the experience of being comforted and encouraged in very hard times by sitting in meeting has returned often in the past two years.

But it hasn’t all been gloom & doom.  I’ve published two books of Quaker humor; I like Quaker jokes;  and they’re a survival tool. Yet as I said earlier, my American Quaker life, now in its 53rd year, has been lived in a time of nearly constant American warmaking. And in that record, I can see the truth in the biblical warning from Galatians 6:  “Be not deceived: God is not mocked. A man (or a country) reaps what they sow.” And as part of the harvest of our military wars, Americans are in continuing domestic conflict on numerous fronts, even among Friends.

If dealing with such struggles makes a Friend uncomfortable, it’s relatively easy to hunker down in a cozy, like-minded meeting and ignore most of them, and maybe that’s the right path for some. (I write that last without being convinced.)

But such cocooning doesn’t make the struggles go away. And sooner or later, one or another of these conflicts may well come knocking on your meeting’s door; and then, for instance, the blessed sanctuary that Langley Hill was for me in 1990 and early 1991 can all-too quickly dissolve into a faction-ridden catfight or worse.

In fact, some years after I left the DC area, Langley Hill started a Quaker school, with high hopes and a dedicated committee. But that project failed, and ended with the school closed and some Friends in court against others.

I don’t know the details, and wouldn’t burden you with them if I did. But I will repeat that the Society of Friends today exists within a larger society and culture that is riven with very deep conflicts, reaping what we have sown, and various aspects of these conflicts afflict many Friends & meetings too. I don’t know how to solve those, or how to escape them. I do have ideas about how to work on some of them, and have done my imperfect best.

I’ve also learned that Jesus’ time was like ours, only worse; do you remember where he ended up? And if you read a serious biography of George Fox, you’ll see that he and the first generations of Friends faced such internal travails as well.

So as I said, for me it took some time, more than a decade, among Friends, to find my place in the choir, and my broadest leading, centered on writing, in which specific other leadings have taken shape, in changing circumstances. And even then, specific leadings can and have changed. Further, some of my most important leadings were ones that I at first rejected and struggled against.

Even so, my basic message still stands, that among Friends, “All God’s Quakers got a place in the choir.”

Let me expand it a bit: you may have to seek, perhaps for years, to find your place. You might even have to struggle to claim it. Or have to invent it, and even stand fast for it. And then, due to “stuff happening,” sometimes positive, sometimes not, and as a consequence of further leadings, your place can change. 

And that’s not to mention that the “choir” may not always get along or sing in perfect harmony.

Nevertheless, “All God’s Quakers got a place in the choir.” That includes you, if you stay with it. And if you don’t remember anything else that I’ve written here, I hope you’ll hang on to that motto. Then find or make your place, stick to it, yet be ready to move when the time to change places comes.

If you find this post helpful, please pass it on.


The post All God’s Quakers Got a “Place In The Choir” — Even the Non-Theists Who Can’t/Won’t Sing appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Holy Night, Holy Light

Friends Journal - Tue, 12/25/2018 - 1:15am

It was a nocturnal birth.

Without darkness
no desperate search for end-of-day lodging
no angel visions for sleepy shepherds
no star to guide Magi on their journey.

And for us,
no candles on Christmas Eve.

Which is to say
that it is often in the night-times of our lives
when holy hope can best be born,
when holy light is most visible, most welcome.

The post Holy Night, Holy Light appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Nuturing ministers: Case studies

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Mon, 12/24/2018 - 11:04am

Brian Drayton is starting a new series of historical examples of Quakers giving ministerial advice and training:

As I am working on a revision of my book on the Quaker ministry, I am revisiting historical accounts of times when a minister was given guidance (eldering, oversight, nurture, discipline). As part of that work, I will from time to time post “case studies” on this blog.

Nuturing ministers: Case studies, Intro

As I am working on a revision of my book on the Quaker ministry, I am revisiting historical…

Amor vincat
Categories: Blogs

Ho. Ho. Ho? How The Grinch Is Stealing Christmas at Earlham College

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sun, 12/23/2018 - 7:04pm

You read it here last August:

“At Earlham College, it’s going to be a tense Christmas this year, especially for faculty and staff.

That’s because, whatever goodies Santa brings, the Grinch will be close behind, snatching away the good cheer and hopes for a happy new year in 2019. . . .”

And this week, Mr, G. will indeed be out there, prowling the streets of Richmond Indiana. And he’ll be delivering pink slips.

The trigger was pulled Wednesday Dec. 19, 2018. The Earlham College Board of Trustees adopted a plan, in preparation since late summer, that will cut Earlham College’s budget by 12 per cent, or $4.3 million (to $45.7  million total), and result in elimination of 12 staff positions, a reduction of five more staff jobs from full to part-time, and the ending of 11 visiting faculty positions: 28 in total.

It is the eleven faculty who will be getting pink slips from Mr. G. By college regulations, the bad news must be delivered, preferably in person, by New Years Eve. (The plan was announced in an email letter from the Board on Friday Dec. 21, which was also the Winter Solstice. The staff cuts will be made official by February 15; rumors that this date was chosen to spoil Valentine’s Day as well were unconfirmed.)

[The full text of the December 21 letter is  at the end of this post.]

From one perspective, the cuts were a big success for the faculty: they protected all the school’s tenured & tenure track professors, and turned back the Trustees’ earlier call for $8 million in cuts.

But for how long? The Board was careful to point out that this batch  of cuts was not the end of the matter. Their original $8 million target for cuts, almost 17 per cent, was not forgotten.  To reach that higher number would likely have meant adding some tenured names to the pink slip list. (We explained in the August post how the Board can get around tenure, by abolishing entire majors or departments.) And the December 19th letter was explicit that this option was still on your the table:

“It is quite possible that some majors will be discontinued in the future due to staffing reductions. The College will work with all current students to make sure they can take the classes they need in order to complete their majors. We will follow the faculty governance documents and established process in making these decisions.”

To my southeastern ears, that sure sounds more like “when,” rather than “if.” They then added, under the heading “Future planning”:

“The president also recommended that the College immediately begin work on a new institutional and curricular plan that will focus on a path forward that allows Earlham to fulfill its mission and serve the needs of current and future students in a financially sustainable way. The Trustees approved this recommendation. . . .

The board has requested that this framework, which will be developed in close consultation with the Faculty Meeting, be completed no later than April 19, 2019 so that it can go to the board for their approval at their June 2019 meeting. The Board expects a full curricular plan and institutional plan, also created in close consultation with the Faculty Meeting, to come for approval during the October 2019 Board Meeting.

It was clear from the conversation during the meeting that the Board is committed to financial sustainability . . . .” [Emphasis added.]

“Financial sustainability” is the key phrase here. The Board’s analysis of admission and income trends views Earlham’s present path and staff/faculty configuration as “unsustainable,” requiring much more drastic restructuring (and job cuts) to stop the bleeding.

A concrete example of where “financial unsustainability” leads can be found by looking east, to Boston. There Wheelock College, after 131 years “merged” last June with Boston University, shrinking from a freestanding college to a department in BU’s ed school. And when the merger” was done, 111 employees, more than half of its almost 200 faculty & staff, were laid off.

How did this happen? One report said: “Schools like Wheelock have experienced a perilous cycle of shrinking enrollment and rising costs over the past decade. . . .

That spiral — of rising costs and shrinking enrollment — is common at small colleges colleges across the country.

Michael Horn, an education consultant based in Boston and co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, puts it this way: pit “significant increases in tuition, year over year over year, against the reality that middle-class wages have largely been stagnant.”

Horn anticipates that many such schools could end up merging, closing or going bankrupt in the years ahead. “Forty percent of colleges in this country have fewer than 1,000 students — I think all of those are at grave risk,” he warns. [Emphasis added.]

Earlham’s recent enrollment is barely over a thousand.

An informed Earlham veteran advised me last week that another big factor in Earlham’s plight is that it gives away a great deal of scholarship aid, which has cut down its net tuition revenue to dangerously low [aka “unsustainable”] levels.

So one “fix” likely to be in the mix for the Round Two plan is a substantial reduction in scholarships and raises in tuition.

Such reductions might yield a jump in net tuition income. But then again, maybe not: perhaps enrollment would fall, as prospective  students take their tuition money and look for better bargains elsewhere.  Wheelock raised tuition; it didn’t save them.

And there’s another wild card the Board did not mention in the December 19 letter, but which I bet has been on all the Trustees’ minds since then: the stock market’s rapid slide. Just three months ago, as the first round of plans were taking shape, the market was riding high, seemingly  promising continued steady growth and income from endowments.

Last August, Earlham estimated its endowment at $438 million, up from $425 million in 2017. The school had been drawing on its endowment to cover operating deficits (“unsustainably,” said the Trustees).

But as of last week, all the year’s growth in major markets had been abruptly and completely erased, and more chaos was in the forecast. The Christmas Eve fall of 600+ In the Dow Jones Indexwas one for the record books. Could the markets be heading into a new crash like that of September 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed?

Who knows? But uncertainty hangs over us all, including colleges living on or near the edge. Wheelock College saw its endowment tank in 2008, and it never recovered.

Can Earlham pull through this time of uncertainty? I make no predictions, but here’s one somewhat upbeat footnote: I am reliably informed that these financial problems have not affected the Earlham School of Religion. Or at least not yet.

ESR has a separate budget, which is currently deemed to be “sustainable.” (Of course, seminaries have their own problems, involving shrinking church attendance and finances, which means fewer job opportunities for their graduates. But that’s another story.)

And in the meantime, there’s the Mean One, on the loose.


Full text of Board letter, released in Friday, December 21, 2018

On Wednesday, December 19, 2018, the Earlham Board of Trustees held a special meeting on campus to consider some time-sensitive issues. Following is a report on the meeting.

Presidential search

The trustees heard an update from the Presidential Search Committee, and they approved a slate of semi-finalists who will be invited to participate in preliminary interviews in January. Finalists will then be invited to visit campus for interviews in early February. The committee will share feedback on those interviews and a recommendation for next steps during the Board’s meeting on February 9-10, 2019.

Financial sustainability

The trustees received the president’s recommendations for a budget reduction for the 2019-2020 academic year. (This was in response to the Board’s direction in June to reduce the 2019-20 expense budget to $42 million, which would be about an $8 million reduction from the current year’s budget.) More than 20 teaching faculty, administrative faculty and staff attended the discussion with the Board. Trustees heard reports from committee conveners on the processes that led to the recommendations, and asked questions to which teaching faculty, administrators and staff members responded.

After a robust discussion, the recommendations were approved. The resolution will reduce the College’s operating budget by nearly 12 percent, lowering our annual expenses by approximately $4.3 million. After this reduction, the College’s operating budget for the 2019-20 academic year will be about $46 million. We consider this a positive step toward long-term financial sustainability, but we must continue to find ways for the College to meet this important strategic goal.

The Board expressed its gratitude to the Teaching Faculty and Curricular Working Group, the Administrative Budget Reduction Team, the Cabinet and the President for their hard work, thoughtfulness, perspectives and advice on the budget reduction process. Trustees acknowledged that they had given the College a very challenging task and that the recommendations are difficult and, in some respects, unwelcome to some in the community. They believe that what they have approved will help the College address its financial challenges while staying true to its core educational mission.

The budget reductions approved by the trustees touch every area of the College. We will eliminate 12 administrative or staff positions, most of which are vacant or will be vacated as a result of our voluntary early retirement program. In addition, five administrative positions that are currently full-time will be reduced to part-time.

We will also not be renewing the contracts of some visiting faculty members, many of whom were hired on one-year contracts. In total, the size of the teaching faculty will be reduced by 11 positions. Most are visiting positions that were scheduled to end this year. In addition, two retiring faculty members will not be replaced. All searches for tenure track and visiting positions that are currently underway will continue. These reductions will change our student-faculty ratio (currently 10:1) to 11:1. The recommendations did not call for the elimination of any tenure or tenure-track faculty positions.

Visiting faculty members whose contracts will not be renewed are being informed this week. We feel that it is important to share this sort of information in person, when possible, and it is necessary to do so this week since the Faculty Handbook stipulates a deadline of December 31, 2018 for non-renewals for visiting faculty. Administrators and staff whose positions will be reduced to part-time will be notified no later than February 15, 2019.

It is quite possible that some majors will be discontinued in the future due to staffing reductions. The College will work with all current students to make sure they can take the classes they need in order to complete their majors. We will follow the faculty governance documents and established process in making these decisions.

Future planning

The president also recommended that the College immediately begin work on a new institutional and curricular plan that will focus on a path forward that allows Earlham to fulfill its mission and serve the needs of current and future students in a financially sustainable way. The Trustees approved this recommendation.

The first step in this effort will be the creation of a framework for a curricular plan, developed by the faculty, that will articulate the core values of an Earlham education and offer the world a compelling value proposition.

The board has requested that this framework, which will be developed in close consultation with the Faculty Meeting, be completed no later than April 19, 2019 so that it can go to the board for their approval at their June 2019 meeting. The Board expects a full curricular plan and institutional plan, also created in close consultation with the Faculty Meeting, to come for approval during the October 2019 Board Meeting.

It was clear from the conversation during the meeting that the Board is committed to financial sustainability, but that it is also steadfast in its desire to offer an exceptional educational experience to a diverse group of students with a diverse and committed faculty and staff.


The post Ho. Ho. Ho? How The Grinch Is Stealing Christmas at Earlham College appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

A Free Book Download on Quaker Bible Study: “A Respondent Spark”

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sat, 12/22/2018 - 3:20pm

For ten summers, 1984-1994, I led workshops on “The Basics of Bible Study” for the Friends General Conference Gatherings. They were lively and well-attended, highly rated on evaluations.

Putting my thoughts together for it, I produced a handbook. The title was “A Respondent Spark,” which was taken from a quote from Robert Barclay’s early Quaker theological treatise, “The Apology for the True Christian Divinity”:

“In the Scriptures God has deemed it proper to give us a looking glass in which we can see the conditions and experiences of ancient believers. There we find that our experience is analogous to theirs….

This is the great work of the Scriptures, and their usefulness to us. They find a respondent spark in us, and in that way we discern the stamp of God’s ways and his Spirit upon them. We know this from inward acquaintance we have with the same Spirit and his work in our hearts….

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate, primary rule of faith and manners. Yet…they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule…for… according to the Scriptures the Spirit is the first and principal Leader.” [Emphasis added

I’ve had some requests to see this handbook, and have resurrected it from my hard drive as a PDF. It is located here, and can be freely downloaded.

I’m conscious of its limitations: I’m not a trained Bible scholar; and the text is several laps behind recent biblical scholarship. Even so, there are some ideas in it which may be of continuing relevance.

Certainly the sections in it introducing the work of literalist biblical interpretations, and some of the nefarious ways these ideas were then being put to work in our society and politics are not obsolete. Some of the names are different, but the key issues are much the same.

Yes, the Bible DOES teach slavery. But it also brings images of and hope for liberation.

For that matter, some of the names are much the same too: I wrote about Jerry Falwell’s so-called “Moral Majority” and its [mis]use of the Bible. There’s still a Jerry Falwell at work today, but his view of the Bible as a political battering ram is not much different from that of his late father. And then there’s Franklin Graham; lord help us.

Still the book was not and is not about politics, except incidentally and when it’s unavoidable. (Alas, there was too much of that unavoidable stuff going around these days; and in these days too; sorry.).The book’s main goal was to answer a query:

Is This the Book For You?

This brief handbook is for certain kinds of people:

First, people who don’t know much about the bible, but think they would like to.

Second, it is for people who are independent-minded, and prefer to form their own judgments rather than simply accept the pronouncements of a traditional authority, no matter how venerable.

Third, it is for those who have a high tolerance for ambiguity because, as we shall see, one thing the Bible doesn’t offer is easy, automatic, simple answers.

This book is also for people who want a practical approach. There is, of course, much more to this subject than could possibly fit into these few pages; but it is my hope that when you have finished it, and become familiar with the tools it describes, you will be able to pick up the Bible, begin to make sense of what you read, know where to get more information about it, and not be afraid of following your leadings about its meaning wherever they may lead.

Beyond the personal benefits it offers, the ability to find your way around in the Bible is of particular value these days, when groups who claim to have the exclusive, true understanding of Scripture are running around attempting to impose their understanding on everyone else, or else.

In case you missed it — you really didn’t. Didn’t happen.

I happen to think that these groups are mostly wrong, especially about what the Bible means. But I don’t think their efforts can be effectively blunted except by people prepared to meet them on their own ground, that is on the basis of knowing something about what the Bible says and how to figure out what the text means.

So if you’re wondering about Bible study, give it a whirl. Did I mention that it’s a FREE download? No registering, no information sought, no facial recognition, and I won’t sell your data. (Some web prowlers might come and snatch it; but can’t help that.)

If you’re interested, check it out, and I welcome feedback.

The download is here.


The post A Free Book Download on Quaker Bible Study: “A Respondent Spark” appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

The strange world of banned books in Florida prisons

American Friends Service Committee - Fri, 12/21/2018 - 2:14pm
News Source: Florida Phoenix
Categories: Articles & News
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