Articles & News

SJLI February 2018 BiMonthly Gathering

American Friends Service Committee - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 2:07pm
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 5:30pm to 7:30pm SJLI February 2018 BiMonthly Gathering

You are invited to join the Social Justice Leadership Institute for our first BiMonthly Gathering of 2018 on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 from 5:30-7:30PM at the Friends Center (1501 Cherry Street Phila, PA 19102).  We will have refreshments, speakers, and fun activities.  Join us as we explore history and decolonization.  Please submit your RSVP by Monday, February 19, 2018 at 5PM.

Photo: AFSC/
Categories: Articles & News

Send a #ValentineToGaza

American Friends Service Committee - Mon, 02/12/2018 - 1:53pm
Electronic Intifada logo Photo: AFSC/ News Source: Electronic Intifada
Categories: Articles & News

Human Rights City Report Press Conference

American Friends Service Committee - Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:48pm
Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 10:00am
Categories: Articles & News

Writing Opp: Creativity and the Arts (Due 3/5)

Friends Journal - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 2:49pm

We know there are plenty of Quakers who only need a little nudge to share their perspectives with a wider audience. If you know anyone who should write about Quakers creativity and the arts, please share this with them!

Early Friends were famously skeptical of art; modern Friends pretty much fully embrace it. Why the abrupt turnaround? What reasons might there have been for early strictures? And what cautions from early Friends might they still hold for us today?

Is all art the same or is there such a thing as Quaker art? Are some types of art more conducive to bringing us to a worshipful mode? To inspire us to change the world? To understand the life experiences of others? Does it even matter if art accomplishes any of this?

We don’t want only want articles that ponder existential questions: We’d love to reproduce Quaker art alongside stories of how artists found their medium. We’d also be interested to hear about the business side of being a Quaker artist: is there a way to promote ourselves and our art without being a self-promoter? Is a humble Quaker artist bound to stay an unknown Quaker artist?

And finally: the last time Friends Journal published an issue specifically devoted to the arts, we were in our final months of being a black-and-white magazine. We’d love to reproduce some art in full color! Here’s our description for our June/July issue, “Creativity and the Arts”:

Show us your art! Is there a kind of Quaker visual or musical aesthetic? How do we relate to early Quaker’s love/hate relationship to the arts?

Join the conversation and write something for us by March 5, 2018:

Friendsjournal.org/submissions

We’re always looking for new voices and perspectives from our community. Is there a side of the story you think isn’t being told or heard among Friends? Contact me with questions or ideas at martink@friendsjournal.org.

The post Writing Opp: Creativity and the Arts (Due 3/5) appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

February Full Issue Access

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:30am
Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below). Features: “Prophetic Witness, Prophetic Action” by Diane Randall; “A Perilous Neglect” by Alastair McIntosh; “The Trouble with ‘Strangers’” by Gerri Williams, “Can Quakerism Survive?&#8221🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Prophetic Witness, Pragmatic Action

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:25am

FCNL Advocacy Corp members in front of the Capitol. Photo courtesy of FCNL.

The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

For most of my life, I have been convinced by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that the moral arc of the universe was slowly but steadily bending toward justice. I imagined a slender birch tree arching toward the ground of justice: the beloved community where equality, freedom, and peace are universal truths understood and practiced every day. But in the past year, that arc has snapped back. I’ve felt shock and dislocation at having a president who lies constantly, bullies persistently, and fosters insecurity in both the foreign and domestic policy of the United States.

I grieve for our country’s political, social, and cultural upheaval as the fissures of our political institutions have become deeper, the media louder, and truth seems distant from ordinary life. I also recognize that the sharp edges of President Trump—as offensive as they are—are manifestations of problems that are more entrenched than the election of 2016. The militarization of our foreign policy and our domestic policy is not new; structural racism in our public policies is not new; an ambivalence towards—or worse, outright rejection of—refugees and immigrants is not new; sexual harassment by men in power is not new. And yet, this moment in time feels like an epic struggle for righteousness. My search for meaning in this turmoil has led me to consider anew our Quaker prophetic witness as it is alive today. How does our faith practice guide and sustain the Religious Society of Friends?

What does it mean to be prophetic at a time of political division within our country and across the world? It means confronting evil: that which opposes God’s desire for the world.

 

I live at the intersection of faith and politics as the executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. FCNL lobbies Congress and the administration on priorities that Friends have set following the discernment of Quaker meetings and churches across the United States. I came to Washington, D.C., and to FCNL in 2011, when Congress was politically divided and partisanship was on the rise. We’ve seen the divisions grow—not only over policy difference but through attacks on people. The Trump presidency is giving license for the worst impulses in our country to come out into the open. People who are marginalized by those in political power are no strangers to the abuse of that power, but this past year has forced us to see a dark side of ourselves.

What does it mean to be prophetic at a time of political division within our country and across the world? It means confronting evil: that which opposes God’s desire for the world. It means taking the deepest understanding of our testimony of equality and resisting the radical restructuring of government that favors people who are wealthy and white over everyone else. It means holding fast to our peace testimony and making our elected leaders accountable for the human rights violations and deaths of civilians that our country is complicit in. It means caring for the earth God created to nurture and sustain us as we bear the consequences of the planet’s changing climate and its effect on millions and millions across the globe. It means listening for, speaking to, and acting on Truth.

This past year has made me see the extremes in the values of public life today, and I’ve gone looking for how people of faith have responded in earlier times of political upheaval.

Quakers have a prophetic faith. Our practice calls us to listen for God, both in our corporate worship and in individual silent reflection or prayer. Many of us experience revelation when we open ourselves to the Divine. My experience in worship rarely results in a clarion call to specific action; however, I am convicted of God’s unchangeable love for me and for every human being. This love is difficult to comprehend; it is the mystery that moves me. In worship, I sense my connection to all of humanity and the blessings of the earth. I’m aware of the brokenness in our world, the gulf between the kingdom of God and the world in which we live. This inner condition creates the motion for outward action.

While I’ve never felt easy with the idea of my having a prophetic ministry because it seemed presumptuous and solitary, I recognize that what many of us experience in our times of silent reflection is a call to prophetic witness. This past year has made me see the extremes in the values of public life today, and I’ve gone looking for how people of faith have responded in earlier times of political upheaval. I started reading Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets, which describes prophets as mediators between God and humans. They remind us of God’s love for human beings, God’s grief at the destruction that humans cause, and God’s desire for us to pay attention to injustice. In modern parlance, prophets call us to “stay woke”: to see what is wrong and name it. Prophets name morality and righteousness; they call out good and evil. And it is up to all people—the beloved children of God—to listen and act.

Although I’ve felt unsettled this past year, I’ve also felt tremendous hope and joy. One of the things I love most about my work at FCNL is seeing what happens on Capitol Hill when prophetic imagination meets pragmatic action. I know that loving kindness can move people in power, because I have seen it happen. Friends are standing up, speaking out, and working to influence change in government. And we are not alone. People of other faiths, along with people who profess no religious faith but who act from a concern for humanity and the planet, are active every day in every state to affect their local governance and their federal lawmakers. This outpouring of civic energy is deep and wide and diffuse: not always seen in the narrative of national news media but evident in the online communities of activism around the world.

Our representative form of government has failed us in many ways, but it does give access to people power, the most effective way to build justice and make sustainable change. How we use our people power to engage with political power reflects our inner condition. Do we answer to that of God in every person, regardless of political or religious identity? When I participate in lobby meetings on the Hill, I’m often with other faith leaders. Last summer, we focused our lobby visits in Republican senate offices to reject efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act. In every office we visited, members of Congress expressed the importance of hearing from people of faith. This is a consistent message from all those we meet with—whether senators, representatives, or congressional staffers. They know there is a moral dimension to the votes they cast, to the remarks they make, and to the positions they take.

People are showing up and making their presence and power alive. They are speaking up and engaging with elected officials to establish respectful relationships.

When constituents speak from the heart, they have an impact. I’ve been with Dat Duthinh of Frederick (Md.) Meeting when he spoke to Senator Van Hollen about the imperative to stop pouring billions of dollars into the Pentagon for the preparation for war. Dat shared his own story as a child in the war in Vietnam and as a refugee, with a plea that war is never the answer. I’ve been with David Bantz of Chena Ridge (Alaska) Meeting when we met with Senator Murkowski to ask her to vote against dismantling the Affordable Care Act. I’ve seen how a visit from FCNL’s Advocacy Team in Colorado spurred the Denver Post editorial calling for cuts to Pentagon spending. Each of these actions is generated by the inner motion of an individual to act in community with others. There are hundreds of stories of people sharing their personal stories to make prophetic witness come alive.

From the FCNL Advocacy Teams to the Poor People’s Campaign and Nuns on the Bus; from the witness of the New England Yearly Meeting Climate Pilgrimage to American Friends Service Committee led Sanctuary Everywhere movement, people are showing up and making their presence and power alive. They are speaking up and engaging with elected officials to establish respectful relationships. Like many older people, I am enthusiastic and encouraged by the leadership of young adults in the social justice movement. The FCNL Advocacy Corps are organizing and engaging their members of Congress in the communities where they live and encouraging Friends to participate in advocacy. The hundreds of young adults who participate in Spring Lobby Weekend with FCNL each year have seen the possibility of democracy in action from a Quaker perspective.

Just as my time in worship connects me with God and with Friends, my work with FCNL connects me with a prophetic role—stretching back centuries—Friends have played in influencing government. Seventy-five years ago this year, that vision led 54 Friends to form the Friends Committee on National Legislation. In the midst of World War II, these Friends were faithful to establish a permanent witness for Friends in Washington, D.C. The commitment of Friends and others to the work of FCNL—through activism, contributions, and prayer—has created a strong institution that is one part of the prophetic witness of the Religious Society of Friends. We rely on the discernment of Friends to guide our legislative priorities and to advocate for those priorities with their own elected officials.

I believe this era calls all of us.

Today we see dramatic increases in Pentagon spending contrasted with dramatic decreases in support for diplomacy. Deep tax cuts benefit the wealthiest, while deep budget cuts harm the poorest. There is a retrenchment of environmental protections for the air we breathe and the water we drink. There is outright discrimination against Muslims and rejection of immigrants, while white nationalism has gained public recognition. These policies that foster hate and inequality counter the values and testimonies of equality, peace, and community that we as Friends seek to live.

I take heart in the Truth that Margaret Fell spoke of when she said

Truth is one and the same always, through ages and generations pass away, and one generation goes and another comes, yet the word and the power of the Living God endures forever, and is the same and never changes.

We know when we are touched by the sacred, by that power that is greater than any one of us; we hunger for wholeness; we yearn for Truth. We find violence intolerable; we are in pain for the earth; we suffer the injustice of people whose dignity is disregarded and disdained because of their religion, their race, their gender, or their sexual identity. The brokenness of the world is clear; the promise of God’s love is felt, and the path of right action opens.

I believe this era calls all of us. It calls for a greater presence and visibility of Friends faith and practice in every community. And it calls for the work of FCNL on Capitol Hill in Washington, which is helped by the opening of our new Quaker Welcome Center. We want all Friends and others who find common ground with us to join our advocacy for peace, for justice, and for an earth restored. As I confront the turmoil of political life, I pray that my anger burns to the purity of love and that my heartbrokenness over injustice heals through the life-giving force of justice realized. I pray that Friends continue to understand and act on our prophetic testimony, not as political actors but as people of faith grounded in the unchanging nature of God’s love.

 

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Categories: Articles & News

A Perilous Neglect

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:20am
Jim Forest @ www.flickr.com What makes for grounded and life-giving ministry in our Quaker meetings? It was in reading The Seven Storey Mountain, the 1948 autobiography of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, that a penny dropped about this question that is vexing many long-standing🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

The Trouble With “Strangers”

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:15am

© Fibonacci Blue @Flickr.com

U.S. sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild spent five years living among and interviewing hard-pressed whites in the poorest and most polluted part of Louisiana, itself one of the poorest and most polluted states in the Union. Her subjects—Donald Trump supporters all—find validation within their fundamentalist religion, Fox News, Tea Party affiliation, and their seething resentment against all of those—minorities, immigrants, feminists—who they are convinced have unfairly jumped ahead of them in “the line of the American dream.” Hochschild’s interview subjects reserved special scorn for the effete denizens of the blue states: the liberal New York Times readers and NPR listeners. Even more galling, these elite “cosmopolitans” were said to look down their noses at hard working, virtuous, God-fearing, patriotic whites in small towns, mocking their culture as ignorant.

The book that recounted her sojourn, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, was published in 2016. An unexpected bestseller, it received rapturous reviews and was listed as a finalist for the National Book Award. Prestigious publications heaped praise on Strangers and Hochschild’s commitment and skill as a social scientist.

I read the book with a mixture of rage and revulsion. I’ve continued to wrestle with what its contents suggest about my country, and struggled to find a response consistent with my Quaker values.

Strangers in Their Own Land also set off a spate of reactions and commentary that I have found troubling. Many reviewers have treated Hochschild’s subjects as some kind of exotic fauna in the forest, labeling them wholly innocent and good, deserving of urgent care and special feedings. They wrote copiously in guilty tropes about arrogant and insensitive liberals—among whose company they included themselves. How, they agonized, could they have overlooked and discounted for so long the concerns of the millions of the hard-up white fellow citizens who voted for the New York billionaire? They exhorted “us” to get out of our privileged bubbles and make special efforts to empathize with the plight of the Trumpists.

Remember the Tea Party? Placards at Tea Party rallies featured violent, race-tinged depictions of Barack Obama, including lynching.

Friends haven’t been immune to this tone. The Friends Journal review of Strangers in Their Own Land agreed that “cosmopolitan liberalism can look grasping, rootless, and without honor . . . [embracing] a cultural environment that is polluted, unclean, and harmful.” Reviewer Pamela Haines suggested that liberals unfairly benefit from the environmental destruction Hochschild’s interviewees suffer. She apparently commiserates with white Southerners who had to endure generations of “moralistic” and “elitist” Northerners—including those impertinent Freedom Riders—swooping down with, as Hochschild quotes a Louisianan, “their PC guns blazing.”

I don’t concede my freedom as a black American citizen to be anyone’s politically correct option; I’m just glad that in the 1950s and 1960s, blacks and “liberal” white allies drove a (nonviolent) stake through the heart of Jim Crow laws and segregation. I do not expend much sympathy for the Southern whites who believed in—and benefited from—an unjust system (or, as they might express it, “our way of life”) and lamented its demise. You can hear echoes of this sentiment in the ongoing debates about Confederate statues and other symbols of national treason.

“For the Tea Party around the country,” Hochschild writes, “the shifting moral qualifications for the American Dream had turned them into strangers in their own land, afraid, resentful, displaced, and dismissed by the very people who were, they felt, cutting in line.”

Remember the Tea Party? Placards at Tea Party rallies featured violent, race-tinged depictions of Barack Obama, including lynching. Tea Party-affiliated politicians hurled insults and circulated images of both Barack and Michelle Obama that are too vile to reproduce in this publication. Hochschild’s subjects may not have committed those specific acts, but neither did they repudiate them by ending their affiliation with the Tea Party.

Hochschild—seemingly to her own surprise—writes of the deep regard she developed for the interviewees. She finds them “caring,” “bright,” and “warm and intelligent.” She admires their stoicism and dedicates her book to them. And in the book’s epilogue, she urges East and West Coast liberals and the Trump/Tea Party-identified whites to reach out in understanding to each other—to “climb the empathy wall.”

Friends, I cannot scale that wall.

© Mobilius in Mobili @commons.wikimedia.org.

As an African American (and a woman), would have to agree to assume a subordinate position in American society, so they can move to the front of the “line” they believe it is their right to occupy. That I will never do.

As one of those “line crashers,” my reaching out, over, and to the Trump voters would only legitimize and reinforce their self-serving beliefs. It would imply that to assuage their feelings of anger and disenfranchisement, I, as an African American (and a woman), would have to agree to assume a subordinate position in American society, so they can move to the front of the “line” they believe it is their right to occupy. That I will never do.

I do not overlook or excuse the right-wing Republican legislators and their unquestioning embrace of the Trump agenda. But it was the Trump base—coupled with Republican voter suppression techniques targeting mainly minority populations—that enabled the presidential outcome.

Anyone who can or wants to may proceed to reach out to and plan listening sessions with the Trump base. Apart from the logistics, those healing conversations might be rather one-sided: I don’t see a population boom of contrite Trumpists on the horizon. As the New York Times reported in January 2018, Trump retains an 80 percent approval rating among those who voted for him.

However, for those who do venture into the wall-climbing experience, I offer a few words of advice:

  1. Dismiss, ignore, and disbelieve the self-serving canard that religious fundamentalists are somehow more moral than the rest of the population just because they believe in biblical inerrancy and can speak in tongues. As one raised in that branch of the Christian family tree, I am completely persuaded that its adherents possess no more moral virtue than those of any other sect.
  2. Dispense with labels on all sides. If you don’t want to identify groups of people as rednecks or hillbillies, why unthinkingly employ the moniker of “cosmopolitan liberal” to describe yourself? It’s a made-up term, a caricature whose only purpose is to invalidate. You are not obligated to repeat that term, and certainly not obligated to adopt it. Stop doing it.
  3. Stop apologizing for your values. If you think that tolerance, equality, and inclusion are non-negotiable values, be prepared to articulate and defend them with the same fervor as the conservatives refute them. Appeasement and false moral equivalency are not good baselines for honest mutual communication.

I don’t claim more wisdom than any other American in how to engage with those whose views I oppose—no, loathe—in these volatile times for our country. I don’t know what reconciliation would look like. Our exemplary co-religionist John Woolman abhorred the institution of slavery but traveled among the slaveholders in the American South, preaching that the practice subverted God’s will and was injurious to whites’ own humanity. Woolman did not merely “talk the talk”; he made substantial material sacrifices to carry out the acts that supported his beliefs. And he did change the hearts of a few slaveholders to release African Americans from bondage.

The unhappy fact, however, is that the iniquity of slavery endured for another hundred years, and ended by a bloody civil war. New laws enforced emancipation, equality, and economic opportunity (no matter how imperfectly they were and are applied). They have remained in place precisely because racial discrimination and hate crimes persist to this very day. Now, not only these hard-won laws but also basic democratic norms and institutions are under threat from extreme right-wing lawmakers and Trump appointees, facilitated by the “Strangers” who assured Trump’s election.

Scripture reminds us that to everything there is a season. In this season, my energy, focus, and future as a citizen and human being is served by working to repudiate everything these “Strangers” in their own land, and their candidate, stand for and that their vote has unleashed. As a Quaker, I look to the principle of continuing revelation for hope and for spiritual wisdom. May Way open.

The post The Trouble With “Strangers” appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Can Quakerism Survive?

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:10am

How can we speak truth to ourselves if we deny its existence? I worry that we are in denial about a truth that threatens Quakerism’s survival. Membership in many of our yearly meetings has been shrinking for decades. There are relatively few young members and attenders, and many (if not most) of our meetings are primarily made up of aging baby boomers. When they are gone, there will likely be a sudden decrease in overall membership—maybe even a collapse—because there won’t be younger people to replace them. If membership continues to decrease, Quakerism in the United States will eventually die out.

The urgency of this problem struck me this past summer, when I attended Pacific Yearly Meeting for the first time. Although it was fulfilling and I was glad that I went, I expected to see at least some time devoted to the problem of dwindling membership. None was. I also have seen little about it in Quaker magazines, books, and pamphlets. This is what leads me to suspect that we avoid speaking truth to ourselves about our future—that we don’t want to face it. Acknowledging and dealing with the real threat to our existence may be so anxiety provoking that we ignore it and instead focus inward on less threatening topics.

I’ve seen this dynamic before. Over the past 40 years, I have been part of and seen organizations that had high ideals and did good work but were focused on internal dynamics and paid little attention to threats to their existence. As a result, they went under. I worry that our yearly, quarterly, and monthly meetings will also.

As part of vocal ministry during a plenary session at Pacific Yearly Meeting, I expressed some concern about the problem of decline. Afterwards, many people thanked me and said that they had had similar thoughts. Former presiding clerk Steve Smith wanted to start an email conversation about the topic, and so I sent him an email detailing my concerns and some possible solutions. It seemed to me that we didn’t know what methods or programs could be used to turn things around.

He wrote back and mentioned that in his own library he had a copies of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Outreach Handbook: Suggestions for Attracting and Nurturing Newcomers and Enriching Quaker Meetings, published in 1986. FGC, which has seen an overall decline in attendance at its annual Gathering of Friends in the last decade, had also produced some material on outreach, found at “Outreach: Friends General Conference” with a link to “Growing Our Meetings Toolkit.”

I thought about what Steve had written, the resources he described (including FGC’s Quaker Quest outreach program and the Spiritual Deepening small group program), and realized that my initial diagnosis of the problem was wrong: it isn’t a lack of methods or programs; it’s a problem of motivation. Steve had written, “It appears to me that most Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends have come around to a fatalistic attitude, and take it for granted that our numbers will continue to shrink.”

This attitude needs to change. We need to be much more active if we’re going to survive and flourish.

Discontent, Urgency, and the Brutal Facts

Becoming active starts with acknowledging the problem. This may go against a tendency in Quakerism to avoid conflict and unpleasant truths, but you can’t solve a problem if you don’t recognize it. Acknowledgement often begins with a frank discussion—“confronting the brutal facts,” as American organizational theorist Jim Collins puts it. This is the start of speaking truth to ourselves. There are many forums in which to begin such a conversation, including monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings; Quaker publications; and FGC and other larger Quaker bodies.

The point of frank discussion is to break out of complacency and increase discontent with the status quo. This is likely to create conflict, but dissatisfaction is the fuel of organizational change. Without dissatisfaction and a sense of urgency, people won’t act. And many motivated individuals need to act to turn around Quakerism. The strongest possible case for change needs to be made. Author and emeritus professor of leadership John Kotter writes that the point of increasing a sense of urgency is “to make the status quo seem more dangerous than launching into the unknown.” (Many of the ideas in this article came from the work of Kotter, organizational design researchers Bert A. Spector and Todd Jick, and church consultant Lyle E. Schaller.)

Why Is There No Vision of the Future of Quakerism?

Increasing discontent and fostering a sense of urgency is a good start, but without creating a vision of the future and showing the path to get there, people will just feel helpless. A well-defined vision allows people to clearly see the discrepancy between their hopes and reality. Confronting this gap is motivating, and the more people who do it, the better—because people who act to create change are more committed to it. Burning discontent with the status quo moves people to get away from an intolerable situation. A stirring vision of the future attracts people towards it. This combination of two forms of motivation is uniquely powerful.

Often a small group of three to five activists start a change process like this. They usually operate outside of normal organizational channels and committees. Individuals in such a group may want to look toward another person who changed Quakerism—John Woolman. He modeled the changes he advocated and had enormous determination. A small group may be all that’s needed in the first year, but a larger group is needed to pull together a rousing vision of the future, and this takes time.

Without the clear goal a vision provides, a change effort can fall apart and become a mishmash of unrelated programs that work against each other or lead nowhere. In The Vision Thing, author Todd Jick argues that an effective vision is “clear, concise, easily understood. Memorable. Exciting and inspiring. Challenging. Excellence centered. Stable, but flexible. Implementable and tangible.”

Is there such an inspiring vision for the future of Quakerism? If there is, I am unaware of it. And that’s a problem, because a vision needs to be widely held throughout Quakerism, if it is going to motivate people to change. It needs to be continually “reinforced through words, symbols, and actions or else it will be viewed as temporary or insincere,” according to Jick.

A Starter Vision

It may help to see a specific example of such a vision, so here is my vision of Quakerism in five years. It is just a possible starting point. If it proves effective, many people will add to it, correct it, and change it to fit their needs.

You can walk into any monthly meeting and see strong First-day school and youth programs. There are people of all ages sitting down for worship. Some newcomers are there because members and attenders invited them. Others are there because of the meeting’s outreach programs. People explain to newcomers what to do in meeting for worship before it starts, and they have a meaningful first experience of worship. The meetinghouse has the look of a spiritual home that is vibrant and growing. People new to meeting are greeted warmly during fellowship. A lot of newcomers are staying because they’re finding a spiritual friendship and intimacy in the small groups. People in meetings are focusing their lives on the Spirit more and more—discerning leadings and acting on them. This has led to inspiring, influential peace and justice programs.

We Must Commit and Persist

The changes suggested here won’t be accomplished if they’re the result of weak or intermittent efforts. In an email, Steve Smith wrote:

Dwindling membership and attendance in Pacific Yearly Meeting has been on the front burner at times, both at Pacific Yearly Meeting and in various monthly meetings and worship groups in Pacific Yearly Meeting. A few years ago, there was a modest burst of energy invested in Quaker Quest.

A burst of effort that fades away won’t work. We need long-term, persistent, strong effort at all levels—local, regional, and national. Half-hearted measures, like adding a session to a yearly meeting’s annual gathering, won’t do it. Tenacious effort is essential.

I’m only touching on the first steps that are needed to change the direction of Quakerism. There are more. Kotter suggests that they include communicating the vision; empowering others to act on it; creating short-term wins; consolidating improvements, and producing still more change; and institutionalizing new approaches.

There Is Hope

I don’t want to give the impression that all Quaker meetings are slowly dying or that all of us really don’t want to face this crisis. Some meetings are growing, and that shows that it is possible to counter the slow decline that afflicts so many meetings.

In 2013, I was a member of Santa Monica Meeting in southern California. Attendance at meeting for worship had been shrinking for at least ten years. But that year we started an outreach committee. We examined the problem of declining attendance, looked at what other denominations were doing, came up with some ideas of our own, and put what we learned into action. The next year, attendance increased somewhere between 15 to 20 percent. Since then, my wife and I moved about 400 miles north and now attend the Grass Valley Meeting in Nevada City, California. I still get back to Santa Monica Meeting once in a while, and every time I visit, it just seems to keep growing and flourishing.

The change made by Santa Monica shows that decline is not inevitable. Even though it may be controversial or cause conflict, we need to speak truth to ourselves by breaking out of denial and publicly acknowledging the problem, increase discontent with the way things are, clarify the urgent need for change, forge an inspiring vision of the future, start to take action, and persist until we’ve reversed the trends that threaten our survival.

The post Can Quakerism Survive? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Quilting as Ministry

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:05am

Author’s quilt. All photos courtesy of the author.

 

In the bedroom of every fellow in the Portland, Oregon, community of Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) lies an astonishingly colorful and carefully patched quilt. Upon first glance, it appears these quilts have been crafted by the gods. (If you thought so, you’d be close enough!) These quilts, it turns out, are actually the culmination of the hard work and dedication of the Portland Local Support Committee and its constituents.

Support for the service house comes from four Portland Quaker congregations: Bridge City Meeting, Multnomah Meeting, West Hills Friends Church, and Reedwood Friends Church. As part of welcoming the incoming QVS fellows to the Portland area, Friends from these meetings gather together every summer for a work party at Multnomah, where they volunteer to cut fabric, arrange thematic patches, and sew together some of the most vibrant, individualized quilts in all the Pacific Northwest. Jane Snyder, devoted support committee member and quilting connoisseur, spearheaded this tradition back in 2012 when she first joined the QVS family.

She recently invited me into her home on a breezy Portland afternoon and fed me crackers, carrots, apple slices, hummus, and other healthful, tasty morsels in classic Jane style. She told me that not only does she view the yearly quilt making as a fun and engaging QVS tradition but also as a kind of ministry.

Jane’s inspiration for the QVS quilting project began at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference where she met several women who practiced the art of quilting as ministry. The entire conference meeting room was colorfully lined with their craft. These women, members of the North Seattle Friends Church, affiliated with Evangelical Friends International, come together regularly to quilt for those in need of healing.

In one project, Stone Soup Quilters, Friends make quilts for individuals beginning cancer treatment; prior to delivery, they drape them over the meeting room pews to pray for healing for the recipients. Their second quilting project, Peace through Pieces, emerged as a response to the violence in Rwanda and Burundi in the 1990s. “A lot of the women in Burundi were widows and considered social outcasts because they’d been rape victims,” Jane explained. “They just didn’t have any way to make a living or fit into the culture. The Peace through Pieces project brought them sewing machines and taught them how to sew and sell their quilts. So those were my inspirations for this project.”

Quilting is indeed an act of healing, an act of agency. And as the local support committee consistently demonstrates, quilting is also an act of welcoming. Each QVS fellow’s quilt contains six thematic patches that symbolize the work they will embark upon during the year;  the remaining colorful designs come from the generous fabric donations made by folks from the local Portland meetings.

Jane and I paused during our interview so she could show me the process of tracing images and cutting fabric with her rotary cutter and grid. She carefully laid out the thematic patches that she incorporates into each quilt: the QVS logo; a peaceful dove; a set of volunteer hands; Portland’s infamous backdrop, Mt. Hood; and an image of a hand with a heart sewn onto it, inspired by the Shaker saying “Hands at work, hearts to God.” The earth-tone fabric, Jane pointed out to me, is an Australian aboriginal design. She brought me across the room to show me her sewing machine. “At the work party each year, we put all the fabric on a table in the middle; several people bring sewing machines, and the whole fellowship hall is filled. There are some really fun and funny characters that show up and it’s just a laugh fest from beginning to end, trying to figure out which patch to put where.”

Jane emphasized that both Liberal and Evangelical Friends come together each year to collaborate on the quilt making. “This is just one of so many examples of the convergence of Friends in the Pacific Northwest,” she noted. Janet Jump, another support committee member and quilter, agreed that convergence plays a special role in the Portland QVS community: “When I was a kid, you didn’t talk to another branch of Quakers at all—they weren’t real Quakers. But the Pacific Northwest started having regional gatherings of Friends in the late 1970s, and we found ourselves in and out of each other’s spaces. We finally realized that maybe we could do Quaker Voluntary Service as a joint endeavor, too.”

When I asked both Jane and Janet what they hoped to communicate to the QVS fellows through the gift of quilts, I received strikingly similar responses: “Well, when you’re furnishing a house with donated used goods, it doesn’t always look like Home Decorating’s Hall of Fame,” Jane laughed. “We want the fellows to feel warm and welcomed and comfortable and loved when they arrive, and quilts communicate a lot of that.”

QVS founder and executive director Christina Repoley wholeheartedly agreed: “I always think of the Portland QVS quilts as symbols of the love and support surrounding our fellows. I remember one fellow remarking in awe when she was presented her quilt, ‘They had never even met me, and they made me this amazing quilt!’ I like to think of the quilts as a physical expression of the love local Quakers have for our QVS fellows even before they meet them. Our fellows can literally wrap themselves in this love.”

As we Portland QVS fellows headed into our last few months of the service year of community, nonprofit work and spiritual exploration, we continued to cherish our colorful quilts. The more connections we made here in Portland—within our site placements, the local Quaker community, and among ourselves—the more we found ourselves growing into our quilts, and into the QVS experience.

Adriana, a QVS fellow from Seattle, reflected on what she’d learned about quilting from her spiritual nurturer, another active participant in the annual work party: “I’ve come to better appreciate quilting as an art form and a way to send messages. It’s more than just a practical thing you make look nice; it’s deeper than that.”

As for me, typing here atop my quilt of chirping birds, scheming cats, and primary colors, I’ve come to better understand the process of quilting as ministry and the concept of ministry in general. Still fairly new to Quakerism, I asked several people after my interview with Jane to clarify what the word “ministry” meant in a Quaker context, or at least what it meant to them. What I gleaned is that ministry happens when the spirit moves individuals to action, bringing joy to themselves and others. If that is the case, then Jane and the local support committee have certainly fulfilled their purpose.

 

The post Quilting as Ministry appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Breath of the Ancestors

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:00am

Fellowship of Friends of African Descent and Hill House Friends Meeting. All photos courtesy of the author.

The story of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent began more than 26 years ago, with a group of African American Quakers and their families and friends whose hearts were stirred in support of the spiritual and social needs of Quakers of African descent worldwide. The mission adopted in 1990 continues to serve the needs of the Fellowship today:

  • To publish and respond to the concerns of Friends of African descent within the Religious Society of Friends.
  • To provide for the nurture of Friends of African descent, their families and friends.
  • To address and respond to issues affecting people of African descent in their communities worldwide.

At the 2016 gathering of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent at Philadelphia’s Arch Street Meeting House, the Fellowship reaffirmed the latter part of its mission to address and respond to issues affecting people of African descent worldwide. In doing so, Friends accepted an invitation given by the Hill House Meeting in Accra, Ghana, to come and visit with them there. We understood that cross-cultural experiences are central to the Quaker faith and practice of seeing the presence of God in all people.

Founded by British Quaker settlers who were recruited as staff for Achimota College and School in 1925, the Friends established a meeting for themselves and for other members of the staff. In 1934, they built the Hill House Meeting garden shelter on the school property.

Today Quakerism in Ghana is fully indigenized, with Ghanaian Quakers serving on every level of leadership in the meeting. Hill House is a vibrant Quaker meeting with a big heart, a heart that has reached out over the years to engage with the larger Ghanaian society by joining the Christian Council of Ghana and supporting Accra schools nutrition and health project under the supervision of Adam Curle, professor of education at the University of Ghana.

While worshiping in deep silence with Ghanaian Quakers on the First Day morning of our journey, the second stanza of one my favorite hymns stuck in my head: “This Is My Song, O God of All the Nations,’’ written by Lloyd Stone and based on a tune composed by Jean Sibelius.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover-leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

The bluer skies of Ghana took us to places of great beauty and places of great sadness. One such sad place was a visit to the slave fort of Elmina Castle. Erected by the Portuguese in 1482 as São Jorge da Mina (and a United Nations-listed historical site), it has the distinction of being the oldest standing European building in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fort was a place where unspeakable acts of evil were perpetrated against people of African descent. It was believed that only the strongest would survive the transatlantic voyage. Our guide at Elmina Castle told us that the slave dungeons were cramped and filthy, each cell often housing as many as 200 people at a time. The floor of the dungeon was compacted filth and human excrement. African girls as young as 12 years old were systematically raped, abused, and tortured daily.

In Elmina Castle, there is a small gate leading to the ocean. Through this gate, thousands of enslaved persons would leave Elmina and be placed into ships that would transport them to slave traders across the Atlantic to the Americas. Hanging upon the wall as one enters the castle is a plaque dedicated to the many lives lost in the transatlantic slave trade. It reads:

In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetuate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this.

We continued our journey to the Kakum National Park, a rainforest which many Ghanaians have called the “high places” of the Earth. We marveled at the beauty of creation as we walked the forest canopy walkway 200 feet above the rainforest floor.

We spent three days in the Ashanti Region. While visiting the Centre for National Culture, we observed indigenous craftsmen at work carving, kente weaving, and adinkra cloth printing. We concluded our regional visit in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana and the former capital of the great Ashanti Empire. The city is rich in the traditions of the Ashanti people and is the location of the Manhyia Palace, the residence of Asantehene, the king of the Ashanti people, and the royal family.

We learned of the famous Golden Stool that “holds the soul of the Asante kingdom.” According to oral tradition, in the seventeenth century King Osei Tutu I, with the help of his feared fetish priest Okomfo Anokye, conjured the Golden Stool from the sky and landed it on the lap of Osei Tutu, the first king of the Ashantis. The fetish priest declared that the soul of the nation resided in the stool, and the people must preserve and respect it.

According to the World Economic Forum, ten of the world’s countries with the youngest populations are in Africa. The combined effects of a high birth rate and low life expectancy mean that in some parts of West Africa, the median age is under 15 years. A 2014 United Nations report observes, “Lack of meaningful work among young people is playing into frustration that has in some instances contributed to social unrest or unmanaged migration.”

One of the highlights of the trip for this writer was a visit with Linda Nyaamah Anaabah. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her about her work with the Afrika Youth Movement, a pan-African, action-oriented, youth-led movement which was formed in 2013 to advocate for the participation, development, and leadership of African youth in transforming Africa and achieving their right to peace, equality, and social justice.

The opportunity to travel to Ghana made a lasting impression on the lives of many in the Fellowship, one being a deeper understanding of what it means to be people of African descent living in the diaspora. The visit to historical sites like Elmina Castle was a testimony to the power of honoring the past, but it was not the last chapter. The ancestral spirits live and speak in us today through the presence of God in our hearts. The lyrics of “We Are,” composed by ​Ysaye​ ​M.​ ​Barnwell​ and sung by ​Sweet​ ​Honey​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Rock, remind us:

We are our grandmothers’ prayers
and we are our grandfathers’ dreamings
we are the breath of our ancestors
we are the spirit of God.

The post Breath of the Ancestors appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Rahab

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:55am

© geothea

 

I lived in the wall, between the wilderness
and stony Jericho. Because I would not hide
behind a veil, or let myself be shut from light,
I belonged nowhere. Listen, daughters, if
you pay the price, you have a choice. I chose
this: a cot, a robe I would take off. Myself.

Outside my window, naked sand lay undulant
with heat; at my door, men panted to come in.
To press against a woman at the edge.
To break me. Daughters, my breast was silk,
the rest of me stood hard, closed against siege,
trumpeting braggarts and their body blows.

That’s how I fed my family, brothers who spat,
sisters who scuttled from me in the market.
And then the Hebrew spies looked into me,
full in the eyes, and kindness broke me open.
Whoever was their god, that god was mine.
Daughters, let no one else define your enemy.

I slipped them out, and let the city die. Saved
in the tabernacle of my belly, you and your
children’s children travel far. A red cord joins
your life to mine, my heart pumping for yours
until you push into a larger space. Daughters,
a time will come when every wall falls down.

The post Rahab appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Winter

Friends Journal - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:50am
© Galyna Andrushko   Starving herself by choice my mother wanted to know what meat and vegetables we daughters ate and whether the pie was good. She marked on a calendar the days without food, then water, then ice chips. She liked the taste of pink🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News
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