Articles & News

Handling Change and Creating Communities

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:25am

Focused Relationships in Social Media

Artificial intelligence captures our world in algorithms built to understand all everyday habits and purchases—and now our thoughts. This is a scary world for us who are baby boomers. Not only are we losing our purchasing power but we are also facing a new world. Instead of us having the power of decision, marketers are forcing our decisions. That, my Friends, is uncomfortable.

It’s time to look at how Quakers in this new world are handling these changes. How do we create a community that is within our Quaker testimonies, commonly remembered as SPICE—simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality? I’d like to take you down a path that I am seeing in this new world.

I’ve been in the advertising and communications industry my whole career. I’ve seen print and publishing in a physical form become another commodity. Since Facebook and Twitter have merged onto our path, I’ve spent many years actively working on them.


We could just dump these so-called social media sites and live with one another face to face. Believe me, I get that: I would very much like to go back to that era. However, keeping a presence online with these social media sites allows us to keep in touch with close friends and those family members we do not regularly see. How would we ever be able to hear from a far distant cousin? Without Facebook, the process is more complex and takes more of our time. And, in fact, would we even do it? These sites offer a simple way of finding the light within you while you watch the light in those you remember from decades ago.

We have shared memories with people from our past. To have the ability to reconnect and relive those memories by simply going online is incredibly powerful. Yes, we may not agree with them on all things. As in any relationship, we can agree to disagree but still be friends; this is no different when you use social media.


I am a big supporter of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and its tradition of building relationships. That is the first step of communication. In any dialogue with people who either do or do not agree, building the relationship is the fulcrum to balanced conversation. You work to either agree or agree to disagree in a way so as to not hurt either party. Nonviolent communication has a foundation in peace. Quakers have the same foundations; in our communication, we practice it.

I’d like to shine a light by sharing two stories which witness FCNL lobbying.

Story 1: My congresswoman gave me tickets to see the Pope at the U.S. Capitol in September 2015. I shared a beautiful morning with my sister and her mother-in-law. We were sitting on the Capitol lawn as the Pope spoke to Congress on the big screen TV. A light turned on me and I went to Twitter to thank my rep using her tag. I said I was holding her in the light and thanked her for this opportunity. Not more than two minutes later she responded to me on Twitter, thanking me for my tweet. The was the start of my lobbying with her.

Story 2: In my communications on Facebook, I post letters to the editors, linking them to my representatives’ Facebook pages. Many of my Quaker friends will share them, and those too are linked to the representatives, building a bigger audience for the letter. When I went on a lobbying visit with one of my congresswoman’s staffers, her chief of staff came out to speak to me about the letter. This again built a new relationship, while showing the strength of my current relationship.

It is important to maintain consistency in all of this and always reinforce the relationship. It is my reason for doing this work: to build a dialogue and to know that it is okay to not agree and still have cared for others. In this way, we constantly build peace within the relationship.


By sharing your true self online, you build a base of integrity with others. You may find friends who you have never met. I have over 600 friends on Twitter and an equal number on Facebook. Never could I have dreamed I could be communicating with that many people. Your reach is multiplied when others share your media. When you build your online presence with integrity, the algorithms of artificial intelligence connect you with like-minded readers.


I have built a large community with FCNL’s advocacy team across the country; and I’ve built a community with the staff of my senators and representative, allowing me to build relationships with my senators and representative. I’m building relationships with my yearly meeting staff, quarterly meeting, and with those from other meetings. In building those relationships and developing a community, I help support their efforts. There is a lot of richness in online media, but also a lot of fake news. To build community online—as in real life—you need a solid foundation. Quakerism fits in this new world.


This may seem like the simplest testimony, but there is work to maintain it within social media. Issues constantly rise up. It can challenge you to see that of God or that of human in others. You can respond in anger or in kindness. You can get trapped in it, but the more you come up to the edge, the more of God you’ll find within you. This is where faith meets action. It is a forever-learning cycle, both online and off.

I do understand that many people do not trust social media platforms and feel there is a dark side to them. That too is an honest vision. And I know not everyone will agree with me. I would ask the reader to view this digital event as our grandparents viewed television. Think what it was like when their children bought a television for their grandchildren. The trepidation had to be similar: that the new medium will manipulate their brains. The same fears were expressed when rock and roll came into our lives. That too changed the way we thought.

I ask you to not be afraid of this new world. It is a place to challenge your being and your commitment to community and to relationships. It is a place to build new and old friendships; a place to give light and receive it. But know it doesn’t come right away: there is a deliberate and patient way to build it. You should always watch and do a bit of research on who you make friendships with (just as you do in the physical world). You will need to go with a leap of faith. To me, it is fully worth it. Look, you are reading this article, most likely, online.


The post Handling Change and Creating Communities appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

The Grief and the Promised Land

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:20am

The grief is real.

Imagine if every monthly meeting experienced deeply gathered worship; if every monthly meeting was rigorously engaged in outreach; if every monthly meeting played a meaningful role in its neighboring community; if committees arose and were laid down solely in response to the direction of Spirit; if all Friends understood what spiritual gifts were, and made a practice of naming, nurturing, and supporting them; if all Friends knew how to recognize and live faithfully into ministries; if all Friends used discernment in all areas of their daily lives.

Imagine if neither age nor gender nor race nor class nor level of education was an obstacle in any way to a sense of full belonging in the Religious Society of Friends; if it was never necessary for any Friend to ask for financial assistance to attend a Quaker event; if the majority of Friends practiced intervisitation or traveled in the ministry at some point in their lives; if Friends from pastoral meetings and Friends from unprogrammed meetings were equally assured of their full acceptance in all parts of our beloved community.

Imagine if 100 percent of Quaker gatherings were either multigenerational or included meaningful parallel programming for children and youth; if children, youth, and young adults were encouraged to participate in any Quaker activity they liked, and were provided the support they needed to participate meaningfully; if older adults were welcomed into traditionally younger spaces and were provided the support they needed to participate meaningfully; if we developed systems of communication that were genuinely accessible to younger generations; if we explained our Quaker terminology as we used it, without fail.

Imagine if our Quaker culture put multiracial culture, not white culture, in the center; if our decisions about allocating time and money were fully in keeping with our testimonies; if we spoke truth with love at all times in all places, both individually and collectively; if we learned to speak and live courageously; if each one of us lived a life that was 100 percent climate-sustainable.

I testify that this is possible.

And imagine what a light on the hill we would be.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” —Genesis 12:1

The grief is real.

Those of us who make up the Religious Society of Friends are not what we could be, and the first step to becoming something new is to name the fact that we’re not the new thing yet. There’s so much that could happen if we threw ourselves into the arms of God, if we behaved as though continuing revelation were real, if we declared collectively that we have no idea what our faith community might look like next year, and that the only thing we know for certain is that God is our guide and protector.

But committing to change and flinging open our doors is terrifying. What happens when half the people in my meeting are suddenly people I’ve never seen before? What happens if every other Sunday becomes intergenerational worship? What happens if my committee’s laid down because the meeting is called to redistribute its resources? What if my place of safety isn’t recognizable anymore?

Let’s pull this out of the abstract and look at an example:

Suppose we are called to fully welcome children and families. What might this look like? We might make a commitment to hold no meeting functions—worship, business, social, or service—without a plan for how children will be welcomed in the space. We might develop intergenerational worship. We might create a dedicated physical space for teens. We might put changing tables in all of our bathrooms. We might hire a childcare professional. We might work out a system of rotation so that all Friends, not just the parents, take turns providing a children’s program during business meeting. We might develop a teen accompaniment program to help with the transition from children’s programming to full adult participation. We might even change our worship space to a location that’s more fully family-friendly.

And what might we gain? We might gain a sense of joy; fresh energy and new ideas; the spiritual gifts carried by parents who, right now, cannot be fully present in our communities; a more certain future; a chance to learn by teaching; newness; and intergenerational connection.

But what must we grieve?

I love the absolute silence of child-free worship. If we increase the childcare budget, can we still afford other programming that’s important to me? I haven’t missed a business meeting in 14 years; how can I go facilitate a children’s program instead? I feel uncomfortable in playful environments. I feel safer when I know I’m not going to be asked to sing in worship. It’s much more convenient for me to schedule committee meetings without thinking about childcare.

Every one of these responses is worth hearing and affirming. When we make a change, even if it’s true that we might gain more than we lose, even if it’s true that this new step is a step in faithfulness and living into God’s call, it doesn’t negate the fact that we are losing something familiar, sometimes even something beloved.

We expect to grieve when someone has died. Can we learn to expect to grieve when we’re called into new things? Can we set aside time together in our meetings to grieve the old ways? Can we learn to treat grief as part of rebirth?

The grief is real.

We skip over this sometimes. We envision the glorious could-be and lament that it is not, and yet we never address our fundamental and totally human resistance to change. We cannot reach the land God shows us if we never leave our father’s house. If we do not collectively name this leaving and grieve the loss, however, we’ll contort ourselves into ridiculous shapes in an effort to “leave” without really leaving.

We do this in a number of ways. One way is to declare that we’ve already arrived. We have already reached the promised land. The Religious Society of Friends is perfect, or nearly so, and those imperfections we have are so insignificant (when compared to the glorious experience of the Light) that we cannot imagine why we aren’t growing. It must surely be due to some external circumstances, some influence of the world that we cannot control.

Another way is to diminish the power of God. Yes, there’s a promised land, but we can’t really get there … or not right now; or not with the amount of money we have; or not in the current circumstances. When God says to leave our father’s house, God doesn’t mean now; it wouldn’t be practical.

And yet another way is to hope we can reach the promised land without actually going anywhere. God is so powerful that God will bring the promised land here, now, exactly where we are, without any need for us to change at all—right?

But we have not reached the promised land. We can reach the promised land, but the promised land will not come to us. To get there, we will, at some point, have to leave behind the way things are right now. But the way things are right now feels very safe, or at least a lot safer than tromping through a wilderness we’ve never seen before.

The grief is real.

We are allowed to feel sad when we consider our beloved community’s changing. We are allowed to feel angry when others suggest it. We are allowed to feel frightened of the unknown. We are allowed to crave safety and sameness and security. To pretend we don’t experience these feelings will not make them go away.

The danger is that it’s too easy for us to avoid the grief of leaving the familiar. To do so, we just have to not leave the familiar. Or—and this is more common—maybe we can leave it a little bit but mostly not, and then say, “Look, we’ve changed,” and tell ourselves that the work is finished.

To get to the promised land, we must voluntarily, faithfully, and courageously release everything that feels safe and comfortable: not to immediately change everything (for that would just waste energy), but to put all of our traditions and habits into the category of “could be changed” and then listen to God (and each other) intently. And in this letting go of habits, we must acknowledge the grief that comes with change and walk alongside each other through it.

We must affirm for one another that the grief is real. We can’t skip over it (“we’ve already reached the promised land”), or postpone it (“we can’t really get there right now, so why try?”), or pretend it’s unnecessary (“the promised land will come to us, so we don’t need to change”).

Here’s another example:

Suppose we are called to be fully relevant in our neighborhoods: what might this look like? We might fundraise for the local public school. We might organize a meeting workday to volunteer at the public library. We might host movie nights. We might run GED classes, a mindful parenting meet-up, or job interview workshops for college students, depending on what our neighbors most need. We might add Spanish (or Korean, or Russian, or French) to our signage and find an interpreter for meeting for worship. We might go out into the community and talk with our neighbors.

And what might we gain? We might gain a sense of service-mindedness, new life as new neighbors come through our doors, a chance to learn from those who are unlike us, confidence in our own gifts and skills, human connection, and stronger communities.

But what must we grieve?

I don’t have time for this; I’d have to completely rearrange my schedule. I’d rather stay home on a weekday evening. I don’t like meeting strangers. I’m shy. It’s uncomfortable trying to give vocal ministry with an interpreter. What is our legal liability if we open up our doors? Does this mean laying down a committee that’s important to me? New people challenge the status quo. Suppose I make a mistake and embarrass myself? What if something goes wrong? What if some of our old members get uncomfortable and leave? Our meeting is so imperfect that I’m not sure I feel good about inviting people to come.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Nowhere does God promise that this will be a comfortable process.

When we as Friends are discerning next steps, can we ask explicitly, “In what ways will this new thing be difficult?” Can we affirm and respect the difficulty—the genuine, painful, and justified grieving of what we leave behind—and at the same time commit to continue moving forward?

Let’s do this thing.

Because the grief is real—and so is the promised land.

The post The Grief and the Promised Land appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Forum August 2018

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:08am
What do you want to see in Friends Journal? Since 2012, most of the monthly issues of Friends Journal have been set aside for specific themes. Every 18 months or so we poll readers and dream up ideas for future issues. Sometimes we’ll be inspired by a particular article that struck a chord with readers; other times we’ll look at a topic that Friends aren’t talking about enough. There are some relatively perennial themes (race, art, finance, social witness, outreach), but even with these, we try to find hooks that
Categories: Articles & News

News August 2018

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:05am
Britain Yearly Meeting in session, from the clerks’ table. L to R: Paul Parker, recording clerk; Gavin Burnell, second assistant clerk; and Clare Scott Booth, assistant clerk. Photo by Mike Pinches for Britain Yearly Meeting. Britain Yearly Meeting to revise Faith and Practice On May 6, at
Categories: Articles & News

It’s What I Do

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:04am

© Sergii Moscaliuk

Oh God, I tend to grasp,
control, hold on, as if I
could heave a lasso and pull
You close, corral or snatch,
tether You like a filly on a lead
while I stand front and center
directing you in circles and
threatening the wildness out of You.
I do this to myself. Then what do
I possess? An awkward inflatable
that drapes across a basement floor,
airless. Forgive me. It’s what I do,
when I feel the loss of You.

The post It’s What I Do appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Innocence Lost

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:02am
Talk of an unhinged jaw sent me plummeting into my twelfth summer at the lake a Brooklyn girl in rubber boots and a barefoot local boy, pants rolled-up to his knees in the muck as we explored the shallows swamped with lily pads resting their crowns on the lake’s skin and
Categories: Articles & News

God Sightings on the Hiking Trail

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 1:00am
Photo courtesy of the author. The scenery on the trail was spectacular, but just like life, the backpack was a mix of emotions and experiences. As I left the world of worries behind, I could feel myself becoming physically lighter. I was hiking on Oregon’s North Umpqua Trail with a group
Categories: Articles & News

Simple, Relevant, Amusing

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:45am

A recipe for “going viral” with the Quaker message

Urban dictionary defines “viral” as a simple type of marketing message. A viral marketing campaign is often simple, amusing, and relevant to current events. Its  message encourages people to share it with others. How do we share the eternal message of Quakers in modern times? I see this internet marketing formula as prescriptive for how we might frame our invitation of others to our spiritual practices. I believe this definition of viral marketing might serve as touchstones for how we share in both digital and brick-and-mortar spaces.


We the Quakers seek simplicity. In a cluttered world with much competing for our time, creating space for listening, being together, and quietly seeking guidance in our hearts is a radical shift. It was when Friends simply listened to the Inner Teacher directly, outside the complicated structure of the formal church that Quakerism began. While I am wary of reducing the Quaker Way to a mere checklist of one-word testimonies, a message that is brief and clear can often cut through much of the noise we encounter each day. The message of “Simple faith. Radical witness” might invite others into our practice and seeking together. Four words. Not an end, but a starting invitation. How do you sum up your experience and share it in 5 words or less?


There was a time when Friends separated themselves from non-Friends in their communities, seeking to be apart and faithful without worldly influence and distraction. The message of Friends speaks directly to our times, to our place in the world, and our being in community made up of folks of many different backgrounds and experiences. I am often in ecumencial witnesses with people of many faith traditions. I am there as a Friend, bringing my understanding of how my faith calls me to show up and act as God has called me. How do I let my life speak every day, in all spaces? Am I just adding to the chatter and uncivil discourse, or am I speaking from that deeper place of eternal knowing? Our message should have an authenticity and relevance that can cut through the confusion and despair of our time. It extends an invitation to a faith that asks us to live in the moment, to act as if the Kingdom of Love is here.


How do we embody joy? The Quaker way is deep and comforting and challenging. I find it to be joyful, lighthearted, and embracing of the humanity in others. In the current time of despair and need, encouraging joy and creating a space for it seems a good fit for many Friends. “Walking cheerfully” can happen in many kinds of places. It is easier for me to be cheerful when I make a conscious effort to see that of God in everyone. I can take myself less seriously this way, and trust that while I am given important and hard work in the world, it is not all mine to do alone: I can trust in the One that accompanies us all. That is joyful indeed!

I see bits of these elements in the stories I share online. Here’s a few examples of my own viral sharing, and why I think they might have been shared so widely. I also hope, in some small way, they have helped to spread the message of a relevant, vital Quaker way that is able to speak to us today.


Quaker Kathleen’s top “viral” Quaker shares….. 1. Mary Dyer hanged in Boston!

Every year I share a picture of Boston area Quakers, marching in the Boston Pride Parade, walking right by the statue of Mary Dyer. She was hanged for her religious beliefs on the Boston Common. Over 300 years later, Quakers are still witnessing for love in Boston. A nod to history, but relevant now. How might we faithfully speak and risk in public witness to the needs of all?

2. Don’t sleep in and miss continuing revelation!

I love sharing bits of Quaker history, referring to plain-speaking Quaker tradition while reminding folks of current events. Yes, I could just say “remember to turn your clocks ahead and show up on time Sunday morning” but how much more fun it is to ask thee to remember not to be late for continuing revelation on First-day morning! Religious jargon? Maybe. But often folks are intrigued. I get questions about Quaker faith and how we listen each week, and why we call it First Day. I make sure I am available to answer those questions.

3. Are you ready for yearly meeting sessions? We are!

There are so many variations on this popular meme. The opportunity to share a bit of Quaker faith using modern movie and popular culture themes can be very fun. Sometimes these posts get shared widely among non-Quakers and I get to introduce folks to modern Quakers. Yes, we watch movies.


4. Wear what the Spirit requires of thee.

Maybe the Spirit requires we wear a bonnet and plain dress. Or maybe that we go drag and put on heels. The message in this? That we listen to the Spirit to tell us in the moment what to do. That is a very serious charge, with some risk. In the case of clothing the reason behind the Spiritual motivation for each of us in our hearts is more important than historical precedent. Also, it helps to have an colleague who takes himself lightly (while he takes his work seriously) whether in plain dress or a giant crab suit.

5. What do Doctor Who and modern Quakers have in common? (blog post)

Sometimes change is hard. The latest incarnation of the Doctor, the central character in the long-running, popular sci-fi series Doctor Who, has created controversy. The character will reappear for the first time as a woman! Is that allowed? What if God asks us to risk our safety and comfort in that way also. How do we Friends know how and when to take risks and act and change? The decision by the Doctor Who producers is an example of a pop culture news item with direct theological questions. Holy risk and change is deeply uncomfortable. How do Quakers handle it (any better than Doctor Who fans)? I was thrilled when British Quakers shared this “viral” post widely. It spoke to many aspects of their condition.

6. What the world thinks I do….

This was a popular meme last year. It can be challenging to explain what a Quaker is (and what a Quaker social media manager is!). This was a playful way to examine different views. We Friends hold the paradox of representing many things to many people. How do we distill a clear message, and still accept that we are seen through varied lenses?

7. Women have always spoken among the Friends

Politics is already viral. Sharing a Quaker view of current events is popular. Last year, there was great debate on women being “allowed” to speak in the U.S. government. I saw a way to highlight an aspect of the Quaker faith that applies to me personally: women can minister to all as equally as any others called in this way. Quaker women have been ministering since 1660—why not publicize that we are an old religion ahead of its time?

8. Holidays

Quakers traditionally did not keep days—every day was an opening for the Holy breaking in among us. Many Friends do now mark the days of various traditions. I call these posts “the day the world calls…” as a nod to the Quaker path. But what about a day that celebrates love and joy? That seems quite Quaker to me. Thus, a Quaker valentine might have a Friendly quotation about the eternal love we seek in our hearts every day (and some candy hearts too).


Quakerism supports radical witness, risk and challenge, and deep listening. This path can be joy filled and playful and fun. To be in the world, and relevant is a calling still worthy of sharing. We may have different communication platforms available to us than we did in 1650, but our message of radical witness and deep listening is timeless and still very much needed.


The post Simple, Relevant, Amusing appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

What’s the Point of a Meeting?

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:35am

Photo © Julie Heiland

Before we can make plans for how to revitalize our meetings, we have to know what they’re for. This might sound silly. They’re for spiritual community.

But really, why do we start meetings? Why do we keep them going?

I was having a chat with C. Wess Daniels from Guilford College. He used to be the pastor at Camas Friends Church in Camas, Washington. For reference, I’m over in the Liberal unprogrammed side of things. I was, well, kvetching, to be perfectly honest. Sometimes Friends fret over whether Quakerism will or won’t survive. Sometimes I see someone say online that it’s fine if Quakerism doesn’t survive. Perhaps we’ve outlived our usefulness to the universe or to God. On the one hand, I agree that if our sect’s continuation serves no purpose, then it would be reasonable for God to invest energy elsewhere. On the other hand, not serving God’s purpose seems like something we have the power to change.

Commission and Commandments

If you ask most churches about their mission or vision (that is, how they serve God’s purpose), you will get an answer that reflects the Great Commission (go and make disciples), the Greatest Commandments (love God and love your neighbor), or a combination thereof.

This language and these ideas might seem outdated or irrelevant to some Friends. However, Rufus Jones once wrote:

The [healthy] mystic does not exalt his own experiences over historical revelation, he rather interprets his own openings in light of the master-revelations. He does not foolishly conclude because he has a vision of his own, that “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is outdated and unnecessary.

So, neither the commission nor the commandments have been overturned for Friends. How well are our meetings as covenant communities doing at those?

Commission: Outreach

George Fox wrote in his Journal, “the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.” If we’ve got a great people to be gathered, we’re going to need to do the work of inviting people in and making them feel welcome.

I came across an interesting statistic. A study by Thom S. Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door, found that 82 percent of people who don’t attend more than five religious services per year said they’d be up for accepting an invitation to one. Turns out, they’re just nervous to walk through the door without a buddy. I’ve seen my brother get pulled into an altar call without knowing what it is, so I can confirm that trying a new faith community is scary.

We’ve been having more conversations about this in the Quaker blogosphere in the last year. I know a lot of folks say we should just let our Lights shine and people will be attracted to us. While I’ll come back to that in a bit, I would like to encourage Friends to explore the work of the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative, which has been working on how we teach people what it means to be a Friend: how we make disciples. They’re creating and collecting resources for religious education of both children and adults. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel in every meeting.

Commandments: Love

I’ll leave your position on loving God up to you. I know some people aren’t too into “God talk.” A lot of us who are into it would say that communing with the Spirit during meeting for worship is one way we love God. But the other commandment, loving our neighbors: how well do we do on that?

Now, I don’t know if this is fair, but here’s the impression I tend to get. Most churches are very invested in solving immediate needs. They’ll give you a gift card for the grocery store, run a food pantry or soup kitchen, or open their building as a shelter in the winter for those who’d otherwise be out on the streets. But maybe they’re not so interested in long-term systemic change to prevent people ending up in those situations in the first place. They’re here for charity, not advocacy.

On the other hand, Liberal Quakers seem to really have the advocacy thing down. But when it comes to making sure people can eat between now and when the minimum wage goes up, we seem to handle that differently. I’m not saying we ignore immediate needs, but I think we’re often less hands-on about immediate needs than about advocacy. Rather, we send money to other churches and organizations who will do the messy work for us. Are we loving our neighbors when we hold them at a distance? Does loving them by proxy count?

I would be remiss if I didn’t note the ongoing conversations in many yearly meetings about race, sexual orientation, and class. There doesn’t seem to be much of one going about disability, but it’s worth considering whether your meetinghouse is accessible. Are we loving our neighbors when we make it difficult—mentally or physically—to participate in our meetings?

Neighbor Love: Is it a goal?

Wess Daniels’s “As the Seed Falls: Building a Generative, Convergent Quakerism” was why the chat started. He wrote, “The reality remains that we must, if we have any hope at bearing new, fresh fruit, be engaged in what God is doing now.” He wrote about good news to the poor and marginalized and what that looks like today.

One example was Laundry Love, which Camas Friends Church participates in. They show up at their local laundromat on a regular schedule with a jar of quarters (collected in the meetinghouse lobby) and some detergent. People who can’t otherwise get their clothes washed are able to do just that. This is a way they love their neighbors. Another way is by hosting Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in their meetinghouse.

Returning to that “hope at bearing new, fresh fruit,” I told Wess it can be very difficult to concretely serve the local community when you’re a small, struggling meeting. I said, “I don’t know how some little groups even could do much of anything with so few people, but I also don’t know how they could become more than that if they don’t.”

His response was that it’s not a bad thing to lay down a meeting and, as he wrote in the article, redirect money and energy to being “engaged in what God is doing now.”

And that was where we hit a programmed/unprogrammed cultural barrier.

I understood what he meant. I hang around enough ecumenical spaces that I knew where he was coming from. People from the laid down meeting would join the meeting a few miles away, of course, or join another church. And so I explained: the thing is, we start meetings because the nearest one is just too far to drive, not because there’s some grander purpose.

He confirmed my thinking, that churches generally start because the church planter wants to engage with a particular community.

I continued, telling him that we unprogrammed Friends are often too sectarian to do otherwise. It’s not only that we won’t join a non-Quaker congregation (insert Quietist-era gasp at the thought of worshiping with Methodists). I know of tiny Liberal unprogrammed meetings that exist not far from a Conservative unprogrammed meeting and several Evangelical Friends churches. Those, of course, are the wrong kind of Quakers.

Well, this threw him for a loop. And after sleeping on it, I realized it’s the old remnant-versus-leaven problem.

Remnant and Leaven

“A people trying to be a remnant, keeping itself pure and undefiled in the midst of a wicked world, may reveal a certain nobility of character, but is radically different from the pattern taught by Christ. The wonder of leaven is that it is effective, not by keeping itself separate from the world, but rather by penetrating the world.” — D. Elton Trueblood

In the days of the Great Separation between the Hicksites (what have become Friends General Conference [FGC] Friends) and the Orthodox (everybody else), this division existed.

The Orthodox, especially the ones who would eventually become programmed, had a more evangelical flair. They were the leaven (yeast), going out into the world and trying to raise it all; they wanted to change the world.

The Hicksites tended toward the remnant. The “hedge” between Friends and the world had to be maintained. It was very important that we maintained simplicity in dress and furnishings. It was also very important that we have “select” Friends schools, where our children could be educated with other Quaker children, by Quaker teachers, with none of the bad influences they would get from mixing with Methodists and Episcopalians.

Today, the archetype of the remnant would be the horse-and-buggy Amish sects.

To be sure, this division wasn’t 100 percent. Today’s Conservative Friends could be seen as the remnant wing of the Orthodox (as much as they get confused with the Amish); meanwhile, the Progressive wing of the Hicksites (like Lucretia Mott) did a lot of work out in the world. We do have a desire to change the world; our advocacy work is evidence of that. I think most of us would deny that we have any desire to be cut off from the world like the Amish.

The remnant thinking still remains though. Sometimes Friends talk about going to meeting as “taking a break.” I must ask: a break from what? Are we retreating from the world? I’ve been told, “But we don’t want to be a neighborhood church.” Why not?

If we have only enough resources to either care for our meeting space or care for our neighbors, which do we choose? If combining two meetings into one meeting space would make it possible for us to care for our neighbors, would we do it? Or do we need to stay away from the wrong kind of Friends: “pure and undefiled”?

Moving Forward with Purpose

A bonus side effect of hands-on neighbor love is that the neighbors see you. It’s hard for them to “just see your Light shining” when they never see you at all. And loving your neighbors makes it really shine.

Personally, I think this whole business of Quaker schisms resulted in us all losing balance. I’ll leave it to Evangelical Friends to articulate the problems they see in their branch. For Liberal Friends, though, we might want to consider how we can be more engaged with our literal, physical neighborhoods; how we can serve them; and how we can invite them into a loving and vibrant faith tradition.

Or else, what’s the point of a meeting?

The post What’s the Point of a Meeting? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Planning for a Trending #Quakers

Friends Journal - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:30am

Emma Gonzalez speaks at the March for Our Lives. Photo: Mobilus In Mobili via Wikimedia.

On February 13, 2018, Emma Gonzalez was a typical high school senior: she was president of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s (MSD) Gay Straight Alliance,  loved creative writing and science, and had about 200 Twitter followers. On February 14, a shooter entered her school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people. Three days later, Emma spoke at a rally in Ft. Lauderdale, and her now-famous eleven-minute “We call B.S.” speech about lax gun laws went viral, broadcast live by attendees at the rally via Facebook and Twitter. That speech was the beginning of a movement that has rallied thousands of children and adults in school walkouts, precipitated the Washington March For Our Lives a month after the shooting, and started voter-registration drives across the United States.

In the weeks following the shooting, Emma and many of her classmates developed the #NeverAgain movement, growing a worldwide social media following. This includes celebrities supportive of their cause who offered large donations to fund the march in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of marches across the country were planned concurrently in support of sensible gun legislation.

As Gonzalez and her friends saw their Twitter followers increase, they used the platform to tweet invitations to perform in Washington to entertainers like Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Jennifer Hudson. They connected via Twitter to students in Chicago and Washington, D.C., where gun violence happens with regularity, and the Parkland students made sure that the speakers at the Washington event included African American and Latina voices, underscoring the cross-sectional impact guns have on all neighborhoods. Without social media, the students would not have connected so easily to advocates around the country who could lend support, funding, and influence in the movement’s formation.

In the weeks that followed, Gonzales and her classmates kept the conversation going on social media, launching a boycott of Fox News’ Laura Ingraham for her derogatory comments about Marjory Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg. MSD students started an Instagram account that pokes fun at the clear backpacks MSD students are now required to use, interjecting student-generated content with memes reminding 18-year-olds to register to vote. Within two months of the shooting, Emma alone had 1.5 million Twitter followers, and many of her classmates had hundreds of thousands. It is a platform they now use almost solely to grow the #NeverAgain movement by engaging an audience larger than any major newspaper or cable television provider in the country.

As Friends wrestle with questions surrounding our growth, relevance, and legacy, the work of 18-year-olds like Emma Gonzales is a blueprint that Quakers need to examine. For Friends who see social media as frivolous or who are risk-averse in light of the recent Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, it’s important to reflect on the spaces where Jesus found himself most comfortable and where he made the greatest spiritual impact: among regular folks, including outcasts and nonbelievers.

Whether we embrace social media platforms or not, they have become our town squares: equalizing access to everyone, providing a platform for the marginalized and a library for seekers. We need to be there. Of the 2.2 billion Facebook users and 330 million Twitter followers worldwide, how do those who may be receptive to what we believe find out that we even exist?

A website is not enough, and frankly, many Quaker websites do not provide the content that would draw in potential attenders. Here’s an exercise: do an Internet search for “Quakers, (location).” When you click on the website for your first search result, does the first thing you see tell you anything about what Quakers believe? My guess is that what you’re reading tells you what they’re not: no fixed creed, no ministers, no doctrine. People who are researching faith communities really do want to understand the congregation’s beliefs.

If discerning beliefs for an entire meeting is too difficult, could we profile those who are comfortable sharing specifics about their faith in videos or photos? Part of the reason our digital footprint is so vague is our never having taken the time to go through the process critical to our survival: strategic planning.

Almost every organization that we work or volunteer for engages in planning. The process usually starts by developing a vision, creating long- and short-term goals, and evaluating results in a spirit of continuous improvement. While Friends may resist a process that is associated with corporations and making profits, a thoughtful, careful discussion of who we are and what we want our meeting to become can be done in the spirit of worship. For Quaker meetings, how might that look?

Establishing the Vision

Quakers love committees. Most meetings have lots of them, but if each committee isn’t working to support the meeting’s vision, they are limiting the meeting’s ability to do its best work. A meeting’s vision might be “To Build the Beloved Community” or “To Live in Right Relationship With All Creation,” but whatever it is, it needs to be developed by the entire community, not just conveners, committee representatives, or by the Friends who usually attend meeting for worship with attention to business.

The visioning process might start with a number of worship-sharing exercises as a meeting, followed by some small group discussions where Friends consider queries that may arise from the large-group sessions. The emerging vision needs to be ambitious enough to challenge Friends to bring their best selves to their faith community, yet broad enough for Friends to experience success and fulfillment in their work and worship.

Create Long-term Goals

Once a vision is discerned, what does that mean for a meeting’s growth for the next five years? If the vision is “To Build a Beloved Community,” does a meeting need to attract members whose age, ethnicity, or life experience aren’t currently sitting on the benches? What are specific goals a meeting would need to achieve to make that happen? They may be things like “Increase attendance by persons of color by 15 percent within five years,” “Establish a prison ministry within two years,” or even “Provide $500 per year in sustaining support to Malcolm X Middle School’s conflict resolution program.”

Develop Short-term Goals

This is where committees come in. Once a meeting’s specific long-term goals are discerned, Friends should discuss whether they have the appropriate committees in place and how each committee might work toward those goals. If a long-term goal is to “Increase attendance by persons of color by 15 percent within five years,” a meeting’s Property Committee might set a short-term goal of selling or renting out an existing meetinghouse in order to relocate to a neighborhood where those potential new Friends may live. The First-day School Committee may consider planning service projects with Sunday Schools or after school programs in that neighborhood. The Ministry Committee might plan to partner with another faith community and use Latasha Morrison’s “Be the Bridge” curriculum to begin dialogue about racial unity. Each committee should have the opportunity to identify how their work can contribute to the meeting’s long-term goals and whether they may need additional committee members or ministerial support in order to do their best work.

Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA)

A meeting’s planning process is continuous: developing a plan to test the change, carrying out the test (do), studying the results, and determining what modifications should be made to the test (act). The PDSA cycle also offers accountability and a framework for dialogue that may shine a spotlight on committees that aren’t regularly heard from.

While a meeting may just be grateful that someone has offered to oversee hospitality for the year, that committee’s work now supports a goal for increased membership. Friends on the Hospitality Committee may now be able to go beyond making coffee each First Day to developing surveys to learn more about what Friends like to eat, whether there are enough child-friendly options, and whether the seating area is comfortable and conducive to fellowship.

All of this good work is the germ for a flourishing digital footprint, rich with images and video of long-term members and brand-new attenders working toward realizing God’s Kingdom. It is the basis for queries arising from worship that can be tweeted and tagged with handles from Friends in Great Britain (@BritishQuakers), New England (@QuakersofNE) and Indiana (@richmondfriends) to explore understanding together in a way that only digital outreach can provide.

Digital ministry is what has drawn together disparate Friends into the Friends of Jesus Fellowship (on Facebook: @Friends.of.Jesus.Fellowship), what has helped non-Quakers learn who Friends are through the QuakerSpeak video series, and what has engaged Friends worldwide in conversations about improving ministry, welcoming newcomers and developing a First-day school curriculum that grows our membership.

Social media is being used effectively by faith communities like @TheSlateProject, who host regularly scheduled Twitter gatherings that begin with a query or reflection that encourages engagement. Hashtags like #NationalDayofPrayer are a tool used to discover non-Quaker thought leaders like James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) or Rev. Dr. William J. Barber (@RevDrBarber). The more than 400 tweets about theologian Yolanda Norton’s #BeyonceMass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco encourage a conversation about womanist biblical interpretation and how pop culture can encourage accessibility to experiential spirituality. Social media provides endless opportunities for outreach, ministry, and learning, yet most meetings are exploring none of them.

In order for the Religious Society of Friends to flourish, it is imperative that we embrace a call to create engaging websites and social platforms that are visually appealing and mobile friendly with clear communication of our beliefs and vision. If we recognize the importance of growing our membership, we need to recognize that just as Jesus encouraged his followers to leave behind their 99 sheep to bring back the one who was lost, we may find today’s lost sheep scrolling through a Twitter feed on their iPhone in hopes of finding a spiritual connection they’ve drifted from or possibly never encountered. Let’s get #Quakers trending.

Strategic Planning Tips Visioning Phase
  • Consider asking a visiting Friend to lead these sessions so that the entire meeting can be fully engaged. At the conclusion of your process, identify Friends within the meeting who are willing to offer the same ministry to other meetings with a desire to do the same.
  • See how simply the meeting can communicate the vision. Share it widely: on signage, letterhead, digital media, and in interactions with community members.
Long-term Planning Phase
  • Make sure to engage young Friends in this process. The goal is for them to be around to help carry out the plans!
  • If the meeting is having difficulty reaching consensus on a particular goal, consider setting it aside in order not to delay the next phase. A meeting committed to PDSA planning will be continually evaluating whether the goals set are achieved, which goals need to be revised, and what additional ones are relevant now but may not have been a year ago.
Short-term Planning Phase
  • Remind Friends that just because each committee should find ways to support each of the meeting’s goals doesn’t mean that committees have more work. It just may be different work than before.
  • This phase is an opportunity to reconsider a meeting’s current committee structure, challenge Friends to consider how Friends are introduced to committee work, and how members of a meeting can see their gifts used to their greatest potential.
Continuous Improvement Phase
  • Find a way to incorporate the PDSA review process as a regular part of the meeting’s business on a quarterly basis.

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Categories: Articles & News

The Ecology of Quaker Meeting

Friends Journal - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:30pm
By James W. Hood. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 449), 2018. 32 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

James Hood, a member of Friendship Meeting in Greensboro, N.C., begins this pamphlet with a description of his regular walk along a path in a natural area close to the meeting. It’s a very inviting entrance into his keen observations of what is happening around him and how it is all part of a miracle of life. He is in awe of the intricate interrelationships of the flora and fauna that abound. One might begin to think this is a nature pamphlet, but then Hood surprises us with his observations in a meeting for worship.

I live in the woods of Vermont, surrounded by a deciduous forest, views of the Green Mountains, and with wildlife bursting out all around, spring, summer, winter, and fall. Over the 27 years that I’ve resided here, I’ve had the same opportunities as the author in intimately knowing the place where I live. It inspires my life, work, and worship. I feel connected to “place.” I’m delighted with the visitations of bears, raccoons, opossums, deer, raptors and songbirds, snakes, and so much more (except when they partake of the food in the garden). I feel so very much alive and connected to Spirit here.

Hood goes even further with his observations. Throughout the pamphlet he juxtaposes the natural environment with the meeting for worship. As we now know, the natural world is physically connected through the mycelium, defined according to Merriam-Webster as “the mass of interwoven filamentous hyphae that forms especially the vegetative portion of the thallus of a fungus and is often submerged in another body (as of soil or organic matter or the tissues of a host).” All of life in the natural world depends on this interconnectedness of the mycelium since it provides what is needed for the vegetation to survive and the vegetation is needed for all the rest of the species to survive.

Hood says, “Quaker meeting for worship is a unique spiritual ecosystem.” As the mycelium in the forest is held together by filaments, the Quaker meeting is held together by Spirit. Hood describes the way of settling into waiting worship, recognizing all the participants and opening up to the Spirit, which is available to all.

He goes on to say, “When gathered—the term we use to mean a meeting in which participants’ hearts and minds align along the leadings of the Spirit—this ecosystem thrums with intricate connection. The words that become audible echo those that remain unspoken; even the air in the room feels charged with extra light.”

Meeting for worship will never be the same for those reading this pamphlet. Maybe the reader will, like the author, allow their mind to travel in a forest as they settle, seeing the relationships of the living beings there and then turn inwardly to opening to Spirit. Will this enrich your worship experience? It certainly did mine.

Ruah Swennerfelt is a member of Burlington (Vt.) Meeting and serves as co-clerk of the meeting’s Ministry and Counsel Committee. She is the author of Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith and is active in New England Yearly Meeting’s Earthcare Ministry Committee.

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Categories: Articles & News

A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time: Julia Wilbur’s Struggle for Purpose

Friends Journal - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:25pm
By Paula Tarnapol Whitacre. Potomac Books, 2017. 320 pages. $32.95/hardcover or eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

The story of Julia Wilbur’s life and work as an educator and advocate for African Americans in Civil War-era Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Va., is documented in Wilbur’s own diaries (donated by her great-nephew, noted Quaker Douglas Steere, to Haverford College’s archives). Paula Tarnapol Whitacre further contextualizes the life and times of Julia Wilbur with thorough research to weave together a compelling narrative. Wilbur’s life story is engaging, as she lived through a time of transformational change. The opportunities available to her in the chaos of wartime service allowed her to participate in meaningful interracial work. Descriptions of Wilbur’s family relationships illustrate the wide range of reactions to the war—including family members who enlisted in the Union Army and others who remained home in upstate New York.

While Wilbur grew up in a Quaker family and continued to have connections to Friends in New York through networks of family and friends, her work was not done through the auspices of a Quaker organization, and there are no references to her personal spiritual life or participation in Friends meetings. This is not a spiritual autobiography. The struggles Wilbur encounters are practical dilemmas as a nineteenth-century woman seeking to live and work independently and taking active roles in advocacy endeavors often at odds with male leadership.

Readers familiar with Quaker and abolitionist history will appreciate references to familiar names—such as Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and Amy Post—who intersect with Wilbur’s activities in New York. Those familiar with the narrative of Harriet Jacobs’s escape from slavery will appreciate the opportunity to read about her later life working in partnership with Wilbur to provide education and much-needed basic necessities for African American freedom seekers. Descriptions of Alexandria and Washington in the midst of war are illuminating with their focus on living conditions for African Americans and the bureaucracies at play. Julia Wilbur’s life and struggle took place more than 150 years ago, but remain relevant. This book presents tensions that continue to challenge individuals who seek their life purpose while negotiating societal expectations in a landscape rife with racism and social injustices.

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Categories: Articles & News

Beautiful Rising: Creative Resistance from the Global South

Friends Journal - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:20pm
Edited by Juman Abujbara, Andrew Boyd, Dave Mitchell, and Marcel Taminato. OR Books, 2018. 272 pages. $22/paperback; $10/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

“Agitate, agitate.” —Frederick Douglass, 1852 address in Salem, Ohio

Nonviolent activism is part and parcel of Quaker tradition, and our ministry continues to reflect its reach. New or unresolved problems dictate innovative approaches to address them. The authors of Beautiful Rising, a toolkit for understanding and organizing peaceful resistance, hold that an activist agenda must be well designed. The five interlinked tools that comprise the book’s framework—Stories, Tactics, Principles, Theories, and Methodologies—document the strategies and hands-on activities that groups living under repressive governments have used to counter and disrupt “business-as-usual politics.” Forty-eight contributors representing the global south (Asia, Africa, and Latin America) share their experiences and the challenges they’ve encountered while subverting corrupt rule. Conceived as an open-ended project to be updated online by contributors with new tools, each section includes references to supplemental readings. This volume is a continuation of Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution (2012), also available on the toolbox website (

In the first section, “Stories,” 16 colorful accounts unfold against a backdrop of political and social injustice. The brief narratives analyze decisive behaviors and campaigns undertaken, along with a critique of their effectiveness and/or deficiency. “Sign Language Sit-In” relates the mobilization of hearing-impaired activists in Zimbabwe who unified around a common cause, despite their disparate economic and political traditions. Utilizing the tactic of civil disobedience and guided by a belief in the social model of disability as a theory, the advocates’ triumph affirmed that “the problem of disability does not reside in the individual, nor … in the impairment, but in the response of the society towards a person with a disability.” Similarly, female elders in “Stripping Power in Uganda” protest illegal land seizure and violate a cultural taboo against nudity by disrobing before a military convoy and government ministers. The successful tactic of nudity invoked a cultural curse: frightened soldiers refused to obey orders, and the convoy retreated back to the capital. One example of a moderately fruitful operation is the “Burmese Students’ Long March.” When the military government outlawed student and teacher unions, students marched 360 miles from central to lower Myanmar as a tactic to call attention to the undemocratic law. Although the demonstrators adhered to the theory and practice of direct action and the principle of nonviolence (“Why It Worked”), we are told that the campaign folded (“Why It Failed”) because students refused to curtail the march when the government sought a meeting to hear the grievances; instead, many were jailed and unable to monitor the promises of lawmakers.

The next component of the toolkit centers on “Tactics,” or forms of creative action to be employed wisely, given the uniqueness of a group’s circumstances: divestment, civil disobedience, subversive travel, music videos, flash mobs, jail solidarity, and blockades. In the same way readers are advised that tactics are fraught with risk, the same caveats apply to “Principles,” defined as “time-tested guidelines for designing successful actions and campaigns.” Here practical action rules range from the use of humor and everyday language over complex terms to establishing safe support networks and recognizing that as movements grow so do their decision-making processes.

“Theories,” the penultimate section, treats the origins of “big-picture” ideas that we must know in order to check the machinery of oppression. After young women were sexually abused following Kenya’s 2008 elections, defenders—underpinned by feminist theory—set up boxing lessons in many communities to empower the women and “politicize gender oppression.” There is insightful commentary on “Democracy Promotion” (to control emergent civil societies in targeted countries), “Al Faza’a” (a surge of solidarity that quickly disappears), and the “NGO-ization of Resistance” (transforming “resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job”).

“Methodologies” provides frameworks, intelligible diagrams, and implementable exercises to transition from apprehending the issues to planning, evaluation, and winning. Where “Pillars of Power” counsels how to identify institutions and ways to destabilize the pillars that uphold them, “The Onion Tool” is a method to peel back layers of rhetoric to reveal positions (what we say we want), interests (what we really want), and needs (what we must have). The message is unequivocal: when we are able to fathom the dynamics of power, we can discover “endlessly adaptable solutions to common challenges.”

As I weighed the creative approaches espoused in the toolkit and their relevance to current movements, I reflected not only on the manner in which each story was moving but also on how Quaker values have always placed human dignity at the forefront of ministry. Preserving and defending human dignity lies at the core of Quakerism, and the authors of Beautiful Rising remind us that in any struggle, dignity is not negotiable; when defiled or injured, we seek correction and redress. The risings that give title to the book translocate dignity from an abstract concept to its concrete embodiment in the individual and group and evince the interconnectedness of our struggles in politically repressive systems. The authors contend that in mounting discrete forms of resistance to combat oppression and safeguard human rights, it must be followed by constructive action, for “Resistance by itself does not create freedom from oppression.” Movements that spring from thoughtful organizing increase their likelihood of effectuating change.

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Categories: Articles & News

The Magnificent Story: Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

Friends Journal - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:15pm
By James Bryan Smith. IVP Books, 2017. 190 pages. $22/hardcover; $21.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

James Bryan Smith is a “magnificent” writer; that is, with this book he begins a trilogy of books with “magnificent” in the title, continuing with The Magnificent Journey: Living Deep in the Kingdom (fall 2018) and The Magnificent Mission: Called and Sent by the Storyteller (fall 2019). Smith is also a “good” and “beautiful” writer. Not only do those words appear in the subtitle of this present work, his previous trilogy included The Good and Beautiful God (2009), The Good and Beautiful Life (2009), and The Good and Beautiful Community (2010). Smith is the executive director of the Apprentice Institute for Christian spiritual formation at Friends University in Wichita, Kans. Another Friends connection is that Smith was mentored by well-known Quaker Richard Foster. With other books to his credit, Smith is not only a magnificent, good, and beautiful writer but also a prolific one.

In this book Smith sets out his case early: “Any story worth giving the power to shape our lives must pass a simple test: Is it beautiful, good, and true? If it is, then it is a magnificent story.” He particularly decries the version of the story that says that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins in order to placate an angry God. This story is shrunken and distorted.

The book appears as a Formatio book, InterVarsity Press’s series on spiritual formation. Discussion and reflection questions appear in the margins, and a “soul training exercise” (speaking one at a time to beauty, goodness, and truth, then to each of the five senses) appears after each chapter. The book also includes a study guide.

The book is engaging and an easy read. If nothing, Smith is a good storyteller, which is essential for a book entitled The Magnificent Story.

Smith’s magnificent story is certainly trinitarian, which might not be so magnificent for many Friends. He argues that the church has a “trinitarian deficit disorder” (TDD? My acronym, not his). He goes on to say, “What is at stake in not understanding and interacting with the Trinity? … disconnection with God.” Smith seems to overstate his case here, as many Friends enjoy a close connection with a “non-triune” God.

Because of the trinitarian emphasis, I cannot recommend the book for group study in a Friends meeting. I would suggest, though, that individuals interested in evangelical theology or narrative theology might read the book with profit. The Magnificent Story is at points beautiful, always good, and basically true.

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Categories: Articles & News

The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View

Friends Journal - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:10pm
By Tim Crane. Harvard University Press, 2017. 224 pages. $24.95/hardcover or eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

“I don’t believe you / You had the whole damn thing all wrong / He’s not the kind [of God] you have to wind up on Sundays.” —Jethro Tull

Charles Taylor asked (in A Secular Age) “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” People who are dismayed by this development see various causes. People who applaud the movement to secularization also have their own favored accounts. Many of these, especially the more polemical intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker, premise their arguments on descriptions of religious experience that seem quite uninformed—fighting against both straw men and straw gods, so to speak. Tim Crane, an avowed atheist, is a philosopher who has decided not to start off with a simplistic framework upon which to rack religion, but to explore it in a way that neither compromises his atheist stance, nor oversimplifies what he calls “the religious impulse.” The result is a book that I can recommend to both the seeking theists and the seeking nontheists in our meetings as a more thoughtful and therefore more educative companion to the work of mutual understanding.

Crane points out that many of the modern atheist critiques of religion assume that the core of religion consists in the positing of a supernatural being, an assumption on which other irrational and unwarranted claims are made, often as a result of tradition, and maintained by the indoctrination of youth and other means. I have always felt that this general stance is quite unrelated to my own experience of religion, and seems primarily designed as a convenient target for attack. The aim then seems to be that all you need to do to get people to abandon their irrational, Bronze-Age worldview is just to explain how irrational it is, and what bad consequences it has had.

Taking roughly the same approach as that of William James, Crane assumes that something much more complex and subtle is going on, and that any framing, necessary for the purposes of reflection and reasoning, must recognize that “religion” is not definable as a proposition, nor based on a “hypothesis,” in the scientific sense. He explains his point of view:

This book … differs from some recent atheist writings on religion in two ways. First, it is not about the truth of religious belief but about its meaning: what it means to believe in religious ideas, what it means for believers, and what it should mean for nonbelievers too.… Second, it differs from much recent atheism in the picture of religion it draws.… While I think there are both cosmological and moral elements in religious belief, I reject the reduction of religious belief to either of them, or even to their combination.… We will fail to understand this fundamental human phenomenon if we try to force it into these preconceived categories.

Still, Crane must define the grounds for his inquiry. He posits four key elements of the “religious impulse,” and it’s his discussion of these which I think would be very useful in personal reflection or meeting discussion:

  1. Religion is systematic: Your religion involves a number of ideas, practices, attitudes, narratives, metaphors—a rich field of symbolic material—which form a fabric. Moreover, as Crane points out, most people’s religious fabric provides resources for interpretation and revision to reflect new times, new challenges, new sensitivities to moral or other challenges.
  2. Religion is practical: It is intended to shape one’s life, decisions, and actions—first as a member of the group, and second in relation to those outside the group. I would say that this is a key place in which a religious person includes themselves in the religious narrative with which they identify.
  3. Religion is an attempt to find meaning (and, I would add, a way to do so). He argues that, while “meaning” can come from a lot of different sources, the religious impulse is a holistic one, which might be paraphrased (here he quotes philosopher Thomas Nagel): “How can one bring into one’s individual life a full recognition of one’s relation to the universe as a whole?”
  4. Religion appeals to the transcendent. Crane points out that this need not be (indeed often is not) an appeal to God, a god, nor any “supernatural being”; rather, “God” is an oft-used term that in fact merely labels the experience of that which transcends our own personal scope and in some sense embraces the whole. Crane argues (following Émile Durkheim) that for many religious people, “supernatural” is not relevant, since that implies some opposition or separation between the Transcendent and the Immanent—a tension Friends are well aware of experientially.

Taking these together, Crane suggests that “religion is the systematic, practical attempt to align oneself with the transcendent.” It is not an intellectual construct, but a whole-self response, which can have intellectual as well as emotional, esthetic, and ethical elements: heart, soul, strength, and mind (Mark 12:30).

He then goes about exploring the ramifications of this impulse for the construction of our identities, and then into an extended and plain-spoken consideration of the “case” made by many polemical atheists that wickedness (especially wars and similar violence) represent the outcomes of irrationality. And since in their analysis religion is inherently irrational, therefore it is an easy thing to demonstrate a causal link between religion and war. Crane points out, “The obvious facts are that reasonable, rational, educated, and knowledgeable people can be wicked and vicious; ignorant, irrational people can be good and kind. And vice versa.” I cannot reproduce all his argumentation here, but it is worth engaging wit —especially in light of traditional Quakerism’s assertions about the seeds of war, and the work of Christ to bring us off from the spirit out of which wars come.

In his final chapter, Crane advocates an honest toleration of religion by the non-religious, and vice versa—acknowledging that religion in its multifarious forms is a persistent feature of human life, while not privileging it, in the exchanges of civil society: “The idea that all views or opinions are worthy of respect is entirely false. What is closer to the truth, however, is that all people, rather than their opinions, are worthy of respect.” He concludes with “Any view about how atheists and theists should live together and interact must ultimately confront the fact that neither religion nor secularism is going to disappear.… we can hope for a kind of dialogue between those who hold very different views of reality.… [T]he first step must be for each side to gain an adequate understanding of the views of the other.”

In one of my favorite challenges from the Psalms, God says, “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.” Crane’s accessible, philosophical inquiry represents a helpful companion in the construction of such dialogues, starting as it does from a commitment not to take it for granted that we know how others inhabit their world, to ask hard questions, and to listen as the answers come.

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Categories: Articles & News

Because of This: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: How to Live, Love, and Lead

Friends Journal - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:05pm
By Jim Teeters. Barclay Press, 2018. 104 pages. $14/paperback.

Jim Teeters’s new book, Because of This: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: How to Live, Love, and Lead declares with its title what is either a bold stepping forth or an unusually casual approach to one of the great works of literature.

Of the Tao Te Ching it has often been said, “If you think you understand what’s written there, you haven’t understood it at all.” Perhaps that notion is illustrated by examining a few of the often widely divergent translations. For example, these are three from the beginning of the first poem of the Tao:

There are ways but the Way is uncharted;
There are names but not nature in words.

(translation by R.B. Blakney)


The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

(translation by Stephen Mitchell)


Don’t try to name
the unnamable,
You’ll miss it.

(translation by Jim Teeters)


The responsibility of reviewing a new translation of the Tao calls for at least as much humility as is asked for by anyone bold enough to try translating this 2,400-year-old Chinese text into contemporary English.

That, of course, has not stopped over 100 people from trying, including Teeters, who tells us that he finds the Tao Te Ching to fall into “three distinct categories: how to live, how to love, and how to lead.” Teeters has restructured the order of the 81 poems to fit equally into those three categories. He acknowledges filtering this translation through his Western mind and Christian–Quaker heart, and challenges his readers to “keep your mind and heart open as you read and reflect.”

Perhaps it is the burden of my academic background that encourages me to wonder if there might also be value in approaching this translation with a critical eye. For example, Teeters’s sparse explanation of why he undertook this translation leaves one curious about the intellectual and spiritual rationale that informs the choices he made. Why, for example, did he choose to title his Tao Te Ching “Because of This”? What determined his other language choices for this translation? What is his rationale for choosing to apply a Quaker perspective to a centuries-old Chinese text, as opposed to, say, applying the Tao to his understanding of Quaker thought?

The fact that he prefaces each of his three sections with a quotation from the New Testament makes clear that one of Teeters’s goals is to offer a Christian approach to the Tao. Teeters begins his introduction to each section with an assertion about Lao Tzu’s intentions. This suggests that for Teeters, unlike many other scholars, Lao Tzu is a single person rather than an amalgam of many ancient Chinese philosophers.

One of the books I was reading while preparing this review was Li-Young Lee’s new collection of poems, The Undressing, which I found to be a deeply moving work—one that embraces both story and metaphor, while turning philosophy into theology into a spirituality that shimmers in its authenticity. Because I was thinking about the Tao Te Ching, it struck me that it might not be too much of a stretch to suggest that there is a direct line from Lao Tzu through Rumi and Hafiz straight to Li-Young Lee’s The Undressing. Indeed, the very kind of connection I imagine Teeters was also hoping to achieve.

I am always grateful for books that stimulate my thinking about language and the expression of wisdom, and Jim Teeters’s Because of This has certainly done that. It has also evoked further thoughts about the limitations and responsibilities of translating any text—especially poetry—from one language into another.

Always there is the fascination and wonder that engage us as we seek better questions, deeper understanding, and greater wisdom. Because of This is an offering for that feast.

The post Because of This: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: How to Live, Love, and Lead appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

African Project Partners Retreat

Friends United Meeting - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 6:13am

Kibera is the most densely populated urban slum in Africa. Some sources estimate that 1.2 million people live in this 2.5 square kilometer area of Nairobi.

A few weeks ago, I visited Lindi Friends School, located in the heart of Kibera. There is no easy way to get to the school. My hosts from Nairobi Yearly Meeting drove part- way, then set out on foot. They guided me through a labyrinth of narrow trash-littered alleyways, with an open sewer running down the middle. Upon arriving at the school, I was greeted by the sounds of 300 vibrant school children laughing and playing, and amazing teachers who were proud to show off their students and classrooms.

Lindi Friends school is a place of hope and contrast amid the impoverished urban sprawl. Standing on the upper level of the schoolhouse, overlooking the rusty tin roofs of slum dwellings, I was reminded that FUM exists to establish communities and safe places where the peace, joy, and love of Christ is known and experienced. This is happening in Kibera at the Lindi Friends School.

It is also happening through FUM’s other project partners in East Africa. Recently, I participated in a retreat at the home of Shawn and Katrina McConaughey. They invited FUM’s partner leaders to talk about their ministry goals and concerns:

• Francis Makete talked about the healing ministry of Lugulu Friends Hospital.

• Sammy Letoole gave thanks for the new churches being planted by the Samburu Friends Mission.

• Getry Agizah shared about the Friends Church Peace Teams’ work towards establishing sustainable peace in the Mt. Elgon region.

• Robert Wafula gave an exciting report about Friends Theological College’s six new satellite campuses to equip church leaders and pastors.

• John Moru talked about hopes of the Turkana Friends Mission to establish a mobile clinic to better serve the Turkanan people.

• Seth Kibisu shared that every student at Lindi School passed their national exams and how they have secured scholarships for 14 students to continue their education.

It was a blessing for me to hear how the mission of FUM is being lived out through our project partners. Please visit our website to learn more about some of these leaders and support their great ministries.

Grace and Peace,

Kelly Kellum

Categories: Articles & News

Tell Congress to show support for TPS holders and attend AFSC's congressional briefing.

American Friends Service Committee - Tue, 07/10/2018 - 9:03am

Urge Congress to show their support for TPS holders by attending our June 17 congressional briefing to hear directly from TPS holders and why we must protect this life-saving program. 

Categories: Articles & News
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