Articles & News

What We Cannot Do Alone

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:40am

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But are [these] two diverse aims inconsistent and exclusive? Is it not possible to have both aims united in a larger synthesis? May we not become efficient in fact just because we have succeeded in finding God? Can we not be flooded with the consciousness of God and at the same time perfect some form of organization that will be the effective body and instrument of that experience?

That is the goal of this search.

—Rufus Jones, New Studies in Mystical Religion (1909)

I am as convinced as ever of the invitation and challenge before us. In the 1650s, the Quaker movement came together when it seemed the world was coming apart—a time very much like our own. These times call for no less courage, resilience, and vision.

If we can rediscover, reclaim, and reinterpret the gifts our tradition offers to encourage faithfulness in the context of today’s needs, Friends can make a precious contribution for the future of our planet. We have much to do to more fully take our place alongside all who are seeking and living a way of deep hope and love in a time of turmoil, separation, and fear in our world.

We need to renew our openness to bold vision. We need to be ever more clear about the Life and Power we are inviting people to discover and encounter. We need to help one another to know and abide in that Life and Power ourselves. And we need to deepen our shared work to reclaim and renew our institutions.

What follows are field notes from my experience serving at the intersection of institutional leadership and renewal in the Quaker movement. I hope this reflection might offer encouragement to your work of exploration and discovery in your own context: your local meeting, yearly meeting, other Friends institution, or in some new garden where you find yourself called to labor. I hope it will kindle something, stir something. It’s time to engage with our institutions in fresh ways.

Focus on Quaker institutions—really?

Facing the challenges in the United States and in our wider world, it’s easy to see how it could seem short-sighted, selfish, and privileged to devote energy to something as seemingly inward-looking as the present and future vitality of Quaker institutions. But I believe that movements need tools, and that’s what institutions are, essentially. The usefulness of tools depends not on their form but on how well they function—how well they serve the purpose for which they were made. And just like keeping a hoe sharp to help with the coming year’s garden, how we care for our tools matters.

It is through our institutions that we govern, administer, serve, and strengthen the Quaker movement. The integrity, strength, and vitality of these institutions affects our witness in the world: the inclusivity and depth of the welcome we offer, the boldness and vitality of our ministry, and the ways we relate and witness. Our shared values and behaviors as faith communities are shaped by these institutions: they influence where we invest our attention, our time, and our resources—ultimately, where we give our love and find our common life.

Stories of institutional decline, struggle, and crisis have become a common narrative among Friends in recent years: exhaustion of leadership, internecine conflict, budget shortfalls, declining membership, challenges with generational transitions, obstacles to diversity and inclusion, poor management, and lack of volunteers to serve in the many committee roles that need to be filled. We see the strains at all levels and in every dimension. Some days facing these challenges seems daunting and fruitless. The truth is that many of the forms we’ve inherited aren’t serving anymore.

It can be tempting to depict the situation as a choice between having institutions and being free from them, pacifying ourselves with the idea of being Spirit-led and not having to pay attention to the burdens of administration. But that’s ultimately a false choice. As Moses understood when he shaped a new way of living for the prophetic people he led into the wilderness, institutions are inevitable. The issue is whether the institutions are the right size and in right relationship; whether they are effective, accountable, and wisely used to support and strengthen the movement, as the Spirit leads. What matters is whether they help us to be more available and responsive as instruments of God’s Love.

As changing ways of working, living, believing, belonging, and connecting spiritually reshape religious life, the need for adaptation, growth, and renewal in Friends institutions—and especially in our denominational structures—is undeniable. Much work is happening; there are signs of health and hope. But in many places, we still aren’t responding with the vigor, courage, speed, and scope of vision that renewal demands of us.

But renewal of what? What essential qualities of Friends tradition will we invest in? What will we allow to be transformed or to die so that something new can be born?

An Answer to a Question

Fundamentally, I believe that Quaker institutions arose in response to a simple question:

What is needed for this life-changing—even world-changing—spiritual movement to grow and thrive?

The first organizational forms, including the first yearly meeting, were an answer to that question. At their best, our institutions are still helping us to do together what we cannot do alone.

Searching for Roots of Renewal

I’ve come to trust that by understanding the origins of the organizational forms we’ve inherited, we can find helpful glimpses of how we might reimagine them now. Following the threads of our institutional inheritance back through time, we can discover the necessary functions these forms played and the needs they originally addressed. Keeping our eyes on the function—the life in the form—and not the form by itself, we can glean fresh insights. Our movement’s history has much to teach us as we seek to be faithful to the Spirit now.

Here’s one such glimpse: The practice of keeping membership records wasn’t part of the plan. As the movement grew, many Friends were being imprisoned or killed for their faith, and it became essential to clarify which local group of Friends would take responsibility—financial and otherwise—for caring for and educating children in the absence of their parents. From this perspective, the creation of membership rolls wasn’t originally an effort to keep a census or establish who was “in” and who was not; it was a response to oppression, adding resilience to a movement growing rapidly in numbers, spiritual vitality, and influence.

How might our changing understanding of membership today—and more deeply, of belonging and mutual responsibility—be informed by the power of the shared commitment and relationship that early Friends witness offers?

Here’s another glimpse: The Meeting for Sufferings was one of the first bodies responsible for the day-to-day governance and care of the Quaker community. It was established to provide for the time-sensitive needs of imprisoned Friends and those who suffered for the Truth. The nascent institution was created to enable Friends to respond quickly, meaningfully, and effectively to the needs of the movement. Because of the close and concrete nature of the work to be done, feedback would have been clear, direct, and immediate; learning and adaptation would have been swift. The form arose out of necessity, and form followed function.

How might our contemporary business meetings and institutional governance change if we sought to be as responsive and agile as our spiritual ancestors in embracing the challenges before us? What might we give less weight? What would we find is essential? What might we let go of?

Beneath the spiritual story of the Quaker movement, there’s a parallel story of institutions. Institutions don’t bring renewal; they aren’t the source of our hope. But they can be—in fact, must be—part of how we rediscover and embrace God’s invitation for new life today. Faithful, skillful stewardship of organizations has an essential part to play in freeing the Life among us.

Institutions are fundamentally an integration of people, money, structures, processes, capacities, values, and behaviors that are crafted and employed for a purpose. But from many of our oldest stories (Moses at Sinai, Jeremiah before the Exile, the ministry of Jesus, and early Friends witness to religious oppression), we know that institutions can become the purpose, rather than serving the purpose. Our energy, focus, and attention can be diverted to serving the organization as an end unto itself, to the detriment of the movement it was created to serve. Sometimes we get lost on our way home. Despite a self-identity as rebels and the ever-present invitation for us to be a prophetic people, it turns out we’re just as prone to this as everyone else.

But there’s good news: It’s in our spiritual DNA to renew, redeem, and reimagine our institutions. That’s how Friends got started in the first place: reclaiming the life-giving energy that kindled primitive Christianity.

And there’s more good news: there’s nothing sacred or timeless about the form of today’s Quaker institutions. We can change them; in fact, we’re always changing them, often unconsciously. The better we know our roots, the functions that the forms were created to serve and what we need from them now and going forward, the more intentional, discerning, and courageous we can be.

The foundational institutions of the Quaker movement—monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, and yearly meetings—weren’t established to take us out of our wider communities into monocultural enclaves. Early Friends were able to be so radically inclusive precisely because they were powerfully clear about the invitation they were offering. They knew what they were about, and they shared it.

The movement was kinetic: it was always in motion, realigning and reorganizing itself in response to changing conditions. It was strategic: early investments in pamphlet printing and well-positioned real estate, coupled with shrewd provocation of public controversy, demonstrate early Quakers’ keen awareness of emerging technologies and the effective use of mass communication. Friends’ organizing center at the Bull and Mouth tavern combined a base for printing and distribution of publications with a space for meetings, public preaching, worship, and religious education, all of which greatly increased their capabilities and fueled the success of the Quaker movement during its dramatic expansion into London.

Many early leaders were gifted administrators. Margaret Fell was the architect of the whole system, a powerful complement to her spiritual eldership that made her the movement’s midwife. James Nayler served for years as a military quartermaster in the war against the King before becoming one of the most influential voices of the Quaker movement. In later years, George Fox held regular office hours through which he managed and adjudicated the affairs of Friends.

The organizational structures these leaders established were intended to serve as birthing rooms, conduits, amplifiers, watering cans, and catapults for a movement at the growing edge of change and possibility for the world. Early Friends heralded and modeled the revealing of a new way of Life, Love, and Truth born from the ashes of struggle, despair, and suffering. To do this, they forged fresh tools whose form followed their function. They paired compelling vision with effective action; a great People was gathered. And the Spirit moved powerfully through it all.

What happened? Thoughts on how we got here

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Friends led by visionaries like Rufus Jones created many of the wider Quaker institutions we know today. Largely through these efforts, a divided, scattered religious society at risk of irrelevance, following the separations and decline of the previous century, was reconnected and molded into the shapes we recognize. They forged new forms to sustain and transmit the Quaker movement in their time. This was vital and needed work. And now it’s our turn, a century later, to reimagine how to reclaim and recycle the tools we’ve inherited to respond to today’s needs.

Like their religious contemporaries and the whole society, those Friends were influenced by an early twentieth-century worldview that institutions and organizations were like machines. In subsequent generations, the energy of newness and renewal that fueled their efforts has subsided; in many places an attitude of “this is how it’s always been” has set in.

In the early twenty-first century, our human community is finding in the natural world wisdom to help us re-learn what we have forgotten about living on this planet. While not losing what we’ve learned, we now need more organic, ecological, and relational ways of understanding how our institutions function and support the wider Quaker movement—the whole ecosystem. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of what we are discovering resonates deeply with far older understandings of nourishing spiritual community.

So where do we go from here?

We don’t know how this story ends. But I am convinced and daily see fresh evidence that a new vision—a new way of relating organizationally—is breaking through the numbness that sometimes clings so closely in our institutional life. It’s on its way, and already here.

There is shift happening from an industrial lens to a view that also includes an ecological or relational lens, from the institution-centric orientation to an emerging—and also much older—movement-centric one. Both are present in our Friends institutions and culture today, often in the very same space. These two ways of seeing and being show up in and shape our meetings, our institutions, our worship, our witness, and our relationships with one another. It isn’t always an either-or; both have something to offer us, and both are available. Have you seen signs of this transition?

When we can create shared vocabularies and shared understandings, we can have shared conversations. Those shared conversations can inform our discernment and decision making, and build our capacity to envision our way forward. They may allow us to be more intentional about what we’re valuing and what tradeoffs we’re making. They may help us to adapt or create fresh forms that will serve the functions we most need at this crucial time in the life of this still life-changing, world-changing spiritual movement.

We have choices before us, Friends. These choices matter more than ever. What are you daring to risk in faith? What are you learning? Please share your news, your discoveries, and your challenges. Our journey of faithfulness continues.

Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.

—Clarence Jordan’s translation of Hebrews 11:1, The Cotton Patch Gospel


Web extra:

Download a printable version of Noah Merrill’s chart.

The post What We Cannot Do Alone appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Worshiping Online

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:35am

© WavebreakMediaMicro

An Experiment with Online Programmed Meeting for Worship

I’m not quite sure when my fascination with religion began. I’m not even sure when I learned that there were other religions, but I do have early memories of going to meeting for worship at Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, and having to drive past the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen each and every Sunday.

They were next door to each other, and at some point, my First-day school class climbed the hill from our parking lot to the cathedral’s, and attended mass. I remember walking into the enormous gothic building and staring up at the extremely high ceiling. The paintings, the sculptures, the candles, the altar—each and every part of the church fascinated me. We sat quietly through the service and did not rise for communion, our First-day school teachers using that opportunity to describe to us how communion was different in our Quaker tradition. When the service was done, we tumbled back down that hill between our two parking lots and joined Quaker worship with our parents. Each Sunday thereafter, when the bells of the cathedral tolled 12, indicating the end of our worship, I would think about that church and how different it was from the simple, yellow walls and brown benches of our meetinghouse.

By the time I was in high school, my fascination with religion had led me to sing in a Baptist choir before Quaker meeting on Sundays, and attend Catholic mass at that same cathedral on Saturday nights. My time at Quaker summer camp and my attendance of Baltimore Yearly Meeting Quaker high school conferences had deepened my relationship with the tradition of waiting worship, but my thirst for more—more spirituality, more religious experience, more knowledge and understanding of religious tradition—wasn’t satisfied. An opportunity arose for me to attend Youth Quake, a national conference that no longer exists that brought together high school youth from different Quaker traditions. Encouraged by the adult leaders of my Quaker youth group, as well as my parents, my mom and I flew out to Seattle, Washington, to attend.

It was there that I experienced programmed Quaker worship for the first time. There was something in the heart of the scriptures that were read and the songs that were sung that made my body shiver. It was the same feeling when someone spoke in waiting worship and I knew that message had come from God. At Youth Quake I befriended some young people from Friendswood, Texas. They were politically and theologically different from me. I haven’t stayed in touch with them and don’t even know if they remember me. Yet this group of Friends introduced me to vocal prayer; in a time of personal difficulty, they prayed for me. I felt God’s presence in that prayer; I experienced that still, small voice in me connecting with everyone else. It was my first experience of communion.

From there, my journey took me many places to study religion in college and in graduate school. I studied Quaker faith and practice, Abrahamic traditions, Eastern religions, liberation theologies, Christian history, and spiritual formation. I’ve attended services at many different churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and holy places. And more recently, I’ve trained as an interfaith hospital chaplain. As with most interfaith experiences, the more I’ve learned about other experiences and traditions, the more I’ve learned about myself. I’ve learned that while Quaker waiting worship is at the core of my faith and practice, unprogrammed Quaker worship does not completely satisfy my religious and spiritual hunger.

I also learned that for the first several generations of Friends, waiting worship was not the only time of spiritual focus during a Friend’s week. Friends read scripture; participated in Bible studies; and later on, influenced by the American revivalist movements, wrote and sang worship songs. In fact, the practice of preparing for worship was more than just being awake on Sunday morning; rather, it was an involved practice of integrating spiritual experience into every aspect of life.

Personally, I need more than an hour of waiting worship once a week. I’ve often supplemented Quaker worship with worship experiences of other traditions. While high liturgical services, Catholic mass, Gospel choirs, and contemplative practices have filled that need over the years, I’ve often wished that I could receive more from my Quaker tradition.

When I was a student at Earlham College and later at Earlham School of Religion, I was blessed to be able to attend First Friends Church in Richmond, Indiana, and experience programmed Quaker worship as part of a community. This has been the Quaker worship experience that has most holistically fed my spiritual needs and longing. Situated uniquely in the Quaker world at the crossroads of the liberal and programmed traditions, First Friends (now part of the New Association of Friends) offered scripture, song, a children’s message, and a sermon, in addition to waiting worship. The community was vibrant, involved in each other’s lives in healthy and positive ways, and intricately part of making worship whole on Sunday mornings.

When I moved to New England Yearly Meeting, I was hopeful to find other liberal programmed and semi-programmed meetings, but both geography and the situations of these meetings have prevented me from attending them. Indeed, the meetings themselves seem to be moving away from the programmed tradition: four out of the seven programmed meetings no longer have pastors.

Yet a hunger is emerging among Friends for creative, semi-programmed, full, and alive worship. There is an experimental semi-programmed worship group in the Boston area, and I hear from many Friends a longing to be part of a programmed or semi-programmed Quaker worship environment. More and more Friends I meet consider themselves multi-spiritual or bi-spiritual and seek to meet some of their spiritual needs in other traditions. Some are even afraid to offer vocal prayer or scripture in waiting worship, fearing that their ministry will be eldered as too programmed.

So several years ago in worship, the idea came to me to host an online programmed meeting for worship. There are several unprogrammed, waiting worship opportunities online, but to my knowledge, there are no other online programmed meetings for worship. I seasoned my leading to host an online programmed meeting for worship by talking with friends, praying, and bringing it to discernment circles. At first, it felt like a leading to supplement my Sunday waiting worship experience with scripture, song, and study. As months and years went by, I began to understand how an online programmed meeting for worship might serve the needs of others in the wider Quaker world.

Around the same time that I began publishing online programmed meeting for worship outlines, a dear friend of mine, Ashley Wilcox, started a mid-week in-person programmed meeting for worship in Atlanta, Georgia, with her friend Hannah Hill. This is a region that hasn’t historically had programmed meetings. Ashley and Hannah’s vision for this worship lifts up the voices of women and queer people, and provides an inclusive and radical place to unite Christianity and liberation theology. Their Facebook page reads that their church, the Church of Mary Magdalene, is “a place where women preach. It is a community where the voices of women, queer people, and others on the margins are centered.” They host semi-programmed Quaker worship on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m.

Since December of last year, I’ve written weekly posts with scripture, songs, a message, and a format for prayer and reflection. Forty-five to fifty people or more visit the site each week (“unique visitors” in tech speak). On average, my tweets about the worship are retweeted ten to fifteen times, and my posts on Facebook to various Quaker groups are reposted five to ten times. The unique online format of this programmed meeting for worship offers Friends an opportunity for programmed Quaker worship wherever they are, and is connecting Friends around the world.

From my limited data, I suspect that there are at least four different reasons people are reading or participating in the online programmed meeting for worship each week:

  1. The first group are those who are unable to go to Sunday worship. This group is perhaps the most obvious: Friends who use the online programmed meeting for worship as a substitute for going to worship in person. Some Friends live far from a Quaker meeting; some Friends have physical or medical limitations that prevent them going to meeting; some Friends work on Sundays as religious educators or in other professions; some Friends just moved to a particular area and haven’t connected with local Friends yet; and some Friends haven’t been to meeting in years but still want to stay connected with our faith tradition.
  2. Some Friends participate in the worship, or indeed just read the worship, as a preparation or supplement to their Sunday worship experience. Different elements offered speak to different people at different times. One participant wrote in a comment: “Perhaps it would help me to open myself to the song selections as I do to messages in meeting for worship: listen, feel with the messenger, then tune out the spoken words if they are not for me.”
  3. Some Friends long for connection with liturgical traditions and/or work in ecumenical settings where knowledge of the weekly scripture, as outlined by the Revised Common Lectionary, would be helpful. Connecting liturgical tradition to the Quaker experience helps Friends interact with other Christian communities as authentic and informed members of our own faith.
  4. A few of my friends who are Friends pastors and others who are preachers of other faith traditions have found the worship outlines helpful for settling into a place of contemplative worship as they prepare their own sermons. In this way, both the faith and practice of Friends has something to offer our own tradition as well as the wider religious world.

My own process in putting these worship outlines and messages together each week is grounded in worship. I often write them when my son is napping, settling into waiting worship and prayer. I then read the scripture chosen for the week as well as newsletters, emails, posts, and blogs that I’ve collected. Finally, before I begin to write, I consider the books on theology and history I have on my shelf and surround myself with voices of others. Then, as the writing unfolds, I weave together the insights on these different sources and the stories of my own life. I pause before again diving deep into that place of worship and asking God what message should emerge. Sometimes I get stuck, and I wonder if God wants me to stop writing mid-sentence. Other times the lyrics of a particular song will arise from that place of worship, and listening to it over and over unlocks another place in the soul. And as I write, I ask myself if the messages that are rising are for me or for others. I know that sometimes what comes out on the page are messages for me, but I hope that I am being faithful in my discernment of messages that are for others, too.

I have felt blessed by the comments and feedback that I have received so far from this ministry. I intend to continue the weekly posts and hope that this worshiping community will grow. I am excited to see what God has in store by bringing together Friends and seekers from around the world in this way. I am also discerning how and when to take the next steps. One possibility is to host a live programmed worship time online. I’ve also been inspired by the mid-week programmed and semi-programmed meetings for worship that are emerging, and I am discerning whether I am led to start one myself. I am bringing these ideas and questions of accountability, partnership, and support to my support committee, and expect that there is time needed to fully discern the next steps.

The post Worshiping Online appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Finally Breaking Down the Hedge?

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:30am

© hydebrink

It appears that Friends are again at a point of questioning whether institutions that have served well for centuries have finally become obsolete. Part of the problem may be that we are using structures that past generations of Friends created for very different purposes.

From the beginning of the Quaker movement, Friends have made decisions about acceptable conduct. The Epistle from the Elders at Balby is the best-known example of this. By the eighteenth century, these rules and advices were collected in what Friends referred to as the Discipline. Friends created rules and structures “for the exercise of a Christian care over each other for the preservation of all in unity of faith and practice” and “as an exterior hedge of preservation to us, against the many temptations and dangers to which we are exposed.” Today, my sense is that only a minority of Friends—mainly pastoral Friends and those in Ohio Yearly Meeting—are concerned with the “unity of faith and practice” that our structures were intended to uphold.

Until the late nineteenth century, it was understood that to be a Friend meant to live according to the Discipline. Some of its strictures, against dishonesty, drunkenness, and other forms of immoral behavior, would have been embraced by believers of all kinds. Others expressed distinctive Quaker beliefs, such as the prohibition on oath taking. Still others, founded on Quaker understandings of Truth, served as part of the “hedge,” most notably plainness of dress and address. Finally, Friends created a hierarchy of meetings, similar to a Presbyterian system, to maintain ties and order.

Before the mid-nineteenth century, few Friends questioned this hierarchy of Quaker business organization. It was understood that preparative meetings were subordinate to monthly meetings, monthly meetings were subordinate to quarterly meetings, and that yearly meetings represented the highest level of authority among Friends. In turn, American Friends deferred to London Yearly Meeting as “the good old mother yearly meeting,” and regarded visiting English Friends as especially favored guides.

The theological diversity that appeared among Friends after 1820 produced the first challenges to this consensus. When Orthodox Friends in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting tried to silence Elias Hicks, Hicks and his supporters perceived a clear abuse of power. It finally led them to conclude that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had become so corrupt that a complete reorganization was necessary to return it to a sound basis. Once reorganized, however, they made only minor changes in the Discipline. They reinterpreted certain aspects of Quaker business practice, determining, for example, that a yearly meeting could not transfer a monthly meeting from one quarterly meeting to another without its consent. What distinguished Hicksites from Orthodox was the emerging Hicksite consensus that purely theological views were a matter of individual science and thus not a matter for church Discipline or disownment.

The only truly radical challenge to customary ways came in the 1840s and 1850s, when Hicksites who had embraced radical reform causes like women’s rights and nonresistance broke away, or (in their own view) were forced out to form groups of what they called Congregational or Progressive Friends. Committed to the utmost spiritual and political liberty, they effectively abolished the Discipline, ceased appointing elders or recording ministers, and regarded anyone as a member who wished to attend their meetings. Some see the Progressive Friends as forerunners of modern liberal Quakerism, although their organizations proved short-lived.

By the late nineteenth century, Hicksite Friends, while maintaining their long-standing organizational structure, had ceased to see the Discipline and the plain life as hedges against the world. Only flagrant moral failures, such as being convicted of a felony, brought disownment. By far the most common reason for loss of membership was effectively resigning it by nonattendance or joining another church. Hicksites found a new vision of religious life through forming a religious community based on commitment to the Inner Light as the highest form of religious authority and bringing the message of Christ to reality through philanthropic and humanitarian work. Thus Friends General Conference (FGC) began as Friends Union for Philanthropic Labor. Similarly, the schools under their control ceased to be “select,” limited to Quaker students and staff. By the 1910s, a few meetings were finding it desirable to employ a meeting secretary to coordinate the varied committees that meetings saw as necessary to the life of the meeting. Over the past century, meetings in FGC and independent yearly meetings, such as Pacific, have shown considerable creativity in adapting older structures. Clearness committees are a prime example.

Meanwhile, Orthodox Friends were passing through a different set of changes, which ultimately brought them, however, to a similar conclusion. They also experienced stresses in the 1840s and 1850s. Most drew closer to the larger religious culture of the United States, becoming explicitly evangelical in faith and forming links through reform and humanitarian work, ranging from antislavery to missionary societies to Sunday schools, with non-Quaker evangelicals. They became known as Gurneyites, after Joseph John Gurney, the English minister who was an articulate advocate of this vision. The minority who saw such ties as endangering Quaker peculiarity and distinctiveness became known as Wilburites. The result was another series of separations. After 1870, most Gurneyites transformed even more radically, eventually embracing pastoral ministry and a programmed form of worship. Those who could not accept such changes left to join the older Wilburite groups, forming what became known as Conservative Friends. Conservative Friends held to traditional understandings of the Discipline long after other bodies of Friends had given up on them.

Pastoral Friends mostly embraced what became in 1902 the Five Years Meeting of Friends (now Friends United Meeting). They had revised their Disciplines after 1870 to reflect their ceasing to enforce older standards of Quaker plainness and separation from “the world.” Many attempted, however, to preserve the Discipline for use against moral and theological deviations. Selling alcoholic beverages, for example, meant forfeiting one’s membership. And to challenge what were seen as fundamental Christian doctrines, such as the authority of Scripture or the Atonement, still brought disownment. But pastoral Friends were more lax on other matters. They maintained traditional statements concerning war, for example, but did not see military service as a matter for disciplinary labor but rather of individual conscience.

Over the course of the twentieth century, this drift away from organizational and disciplinary uniformity continued. One of the foundations of the Five Years Meeting had been a Uniform Discipline for its member yearly meetings. In 1950, however, diversity had become so great the Five Years Meeting gave up on a uniform doctrinal statement, and since then its yearly meetings have given up any coordination.

Still, some few Conservative Friends and many evangelical Friends (both those in Evangelical Friends International and Friends United Meeting) have continued to see yearly meetings as final guarantors of faith and practice, with the power to bring the erring into line, both for their own well-being and for maintaining a consistent Christian witness to the world. Such Friends, however, generally distinguish between essential and nonessential matters. A good example can be found in Indiana Yearly Meeting in the past decade. Some of its churches decided to allow what they called “liberty of conscience” on the matter of outward sacraments, permitting their use in their worship. This brought protests from others in the yearly meeting, but the yearly meeting was never able to agree on a response. On the other hand, when one meeting adopted a “welcoming and affirming” statement on same-sex relationships, churches where outward sacraments were used were among the most vocal in demanding sanctions from the yearly meeting. The difference proved so intractable that it led to what became known as “reconfiguration.” The meetings that desired an organization in which the yearly meeting did not have oversight powers left to form the New Association of Friends. The 15 meetings who chose thus are theologically diverse but are united in desiring maximum local autonomy. Meetings with dual affiliations feel such tensions acutely. Western Yearly Meeting is a good example. Beginning in the 1980s, meetings also affiliated with Ohio Valley or Illinois yearly meetings decided to bless same-sex unions. For Ohio Valley and Illinois, such decisions were a local matter. But for Western, they were fundamental matters of faith and practice not to be done before the yearly meeting had reached unity. The response of some Friends is to affirm diversity as a good. For others, it is to challenge the very viability of dual affiliation.

For over a century, Friends have adapted traditional structures to contemporary needs. But the breaking point may have been reached. The next decade may well show whether Friends will be able to continue.

The post Finally Breaking Down the Hedge? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Turning Somersaults in the Quaker Ecosystem

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:25am
Photos courtesy of the author.   In terms of the Quaker ecosystem, I have turned somersaults. First, I had certainty; then my convictions were challenged; third, I had the rug pulled from under me. Now I live in ecological fluidity, and that’s fine. The illusion of certainty When I first became a Friend, I tried to make the Quaker system fit into my existing🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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The post Turning Somersaults in the Quaker Ecosystem appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

After Mowing Hay

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:20am

after William Stafford

After a June day’s work, having driven
a diesel tractor, dodged limestones and sinkholes
hidden in the folds of earth and grass, I waited
in the shade of old maples where the house
used to stand curtained, windows screened.
Dusty with hay seed and red clay, I waited
for my return driver while the tractor cooled.

A ball of light emerged from the ridged wood,
rose and descended; circled, then engulfed me.
So immense, once it arrived, all edges disappeared.
Fireflies’ twilight. Hundreds, perhaps thousands,
dancing a golden rhythm, tapping messages—light,
no heat wasted—folding me into their world,
overlapping themselves then roving on into the meadow.

They left me standing alone in the dusk.
The last of blinking lights lingered
then melted away. Fodder lay felled in the fields;
I was but fourteen

The post After Mowing Hay appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

A Grace of Thanksgiving

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:15am
頂きます Itadakimasu (I humbly receive) We are cooking and talking about how some foods require attention and care while others are more forgiving. When things blend easily, everything flows. Lasagna, for example, is forgiving, and vegetable soup is very forgiving. Pie crust, on the other hand, is persnickety— exacting and demanding— the very definition of unforgiving🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

The Value of Seminary

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:10am
The author preaching at Church of Mary Magdalene on a recent Wednesday evening. Photo © Hannah Hill. “But why go to seminary?” I heard this question so many times in the months before I left for my first year of seminary. Usually, I would be sitting across the table from a weighty Friend, and the conversation would progress to how we don’t do that—Quakers don’t go to seminary. The honest🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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  • A year of Friends Journal delivered to your mailbox (11 issues) and email
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Categories: Articles & News

News, June/July 2017

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:05am
Albuquerque Friends provide sanctuary

Emma Membreno-Sorto sharing a statement at the March 14 press conference held at Albuquerque Meeting. Image from YouTube.

Albuquerque (N.M.) Meeting is providing sanctuary for a local woman facing the possibility of deportation or detention. Emma Membreno-Sorto came to Albuquerque Friends on March 6, and has been staying at the meetinghouse since. Membreno-Sorto, a Honduran immigrant with incomplete immigration paperwork, requested sanctuary in light of the dramatic increase in detentions and deportations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a result of executive orders issued by the Trump administration that makes immigration law violations a deportable offense.

Albuquerque Meeting has been involved in sanctuary work around immigration since the 1980s. In 1984, the meeting approved a minute offering “the sanctuary of religious fellowship to refugees fleeing violence in Central America.” At that time, the meeting was involved with housing and supporting refugees as they either settled in Albuquerque or moved on to other destinations.

Thirty years later, Albuquerque Friends revisited the idea of sanctuary. Two more minutes were approved relating to sanctuary in August and November of 2014. These minutes laid the groundwork for the meeting’s involvement with the new sanctuary movement and its continuing relationship with the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, leading to its provision of sanctuary.

On March 3, members of the meeting met with the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice and other local churches committed to sanctuary work. At this meeting, representatives learned of a request for sanctuary by a local woman who feared deportation or detention by ICE.

On March 5, Albuquerque Friends postponed most of the scheduled business at their business meeting to discuss the possibility of offering sanctuary at the meetinghouse. The business meeting lasted over four hours, and unity was found to offer sanctuary. The previously accepted minutes, which outlined reasons for providing sanctuary, proved very important in the discussion of this opportunity. A member of the newly formed Sanctuary Task Force said the decision to provide sanctuary housing “took four and half hours, and 34 years.” Membreno-Sorto moved into the meetinghouse on the following day.

Although the physical housing for sanctuary is being provided by Albuquerque Meeting, the meeting is not alone in supporting Membreno-Sorto. Approximately 100 volunteers from the local community, including many other local places of worship, have been trained to provide accompaniment. A volunteer is with Membreno-Sorto 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These volunteers have been trained in supporting Membreno-Sorto through sanctuary. Trainings included the legal rights of those offering sanctuary, as well as role playing on how to respond if ICE came to the door.

Additional support for the meeting has been provided by American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), through both the Albuquerque and Denver, Colo., offices. Further support was provided by Mountain View Meeting in Denver, which has been providing sanctuary since December 2016. Information and support provided by AFSC and Mountain View Friends assisted Albuquerque Meeting with the transition from discussing to providing sanctuary at their meetinghouse.

The Albuquerque Meeting press conference on providing sanctuary to Membreno-Sorto can be viewed on YouTube; go to

Friends engage in immigrant rights work

Friends across the world have expressed concerns with growing anti-immigrant attitudes and policies. In February, the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) published a briefing for Friends: “Protecting refugees and migrants under the New York Declaration: challenges and opportunities at the UN level.” The briefing states that QUNO’s work on behalf of refugees and migrants “stems from [their] principle to uphold the dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their nationality or circumstance they find themselves in.”

The QUNO briefing reflects other statements that have been put out by Friends. On April 21, Mount Toby Meeting of Leverett, Mass., published a statement urging Massachusetts lawmakers to pass the Safe Communities Act. The act would prevent the commonwealth from creating a registry of Muslim residents, and from assisting the federal government in doing so. The article echoes the QUNO briefing in stating that Quakers “are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and cannot support the recent federal executive policies restricting immigration and accelerating deportation which put our friends, neighbors, and fellow human beings in unconscionable jeopardy.”

In addition to statements, local meetings and churches are also taking concrete actions to support immigrants and their families. Quaker meetings in Denver, Colo., and Albuquerque, N.M., have taken in people seeking sanctuary, or protection from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

Read more about Friends and immigrants rights work at

Bridge Film Festival announces winners

The Bridge Film Festival features films by youth who attend a Quaker school, camp, or meeting. Film submissions for the eighteenth annual festival were due by March 15, and the judges choice awards were announced on April 18. Entries were submitted under four competitive categories: narrative, documentary, public service announcement, or new media.

A total of 19 films were submitted to the festival, from participants in three different countries. A winning film was selected from each category of submissions, and a Spirit of the Festival award was also given across submissions from all four categories.

  • Narrative: Simply Sophie submitted by Tandem Friends School
  • Documentary: Being Other submitted by George School
  • Public Service Announcement: Be a Friend, Not a Bully submitted by Friends School Mullica Hill
  • New Media: An LD Student’s Educational Journey submitted by Delaware Valley Friends School
  • Spirit of the Festival: Mannequin Challenge – Peace and Stewardship submitted by Tandem Friends School

Read more about the winning submissions at The videos can be viewed at

Earlham College receives $7.5 million gift

Earlham College, a Quaker university in Indiana, recently received a $7.5 million donation. The gift will go toward the school’s Earlham Plan for Integrative Collaboration (EPIC) program. The new EPIC Advantage program guarantees all junior and senior level students an opportunity to participate in a paid internship or research opportunity, beginning in summer 2017.

The money is a gift from Alan and Peg Kral Scantland of Columbus, Ohio. Both graduated from Earlham in 1974. Their gift is the largest single alumni donation to Earlham in the institution’s history. In an article published on Earlham’s website, Alan Scantland is quoted as saying that he and Peg both “have benefitted tremendously from our Earlham education,” and “are happy to support Earlham in its efforts to provide similar experiences to future students.”

Read more about Earlham’s new EPIC Advantage program at

Oread Friends install a Little Free Library

Young Friend Gus Richardson, age 10, stands by the Little Free Library erected by Oread Meeting in Lawrence, Kans.

Oread Meeting in Lawrence, Kans., recently installed a Little Free Library outside their meetinghouse. The library is dedicated to the memory of the late Deborah (Misty) Gerner, a passionate reader and beloved member of Oread Meeting. Misty’s legacy included a donation to the meeting. In October 2016, the meeting decided to use the legacy donation to help pay the costs for constructing the Little Free Library structure.

Decorated by the children in First-day school, the Little Free Library is meant to entice strollers to take a book, and later return the book or leave another one.

Read more about Oread Meeting’s new Little Free Library at

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Categories: Articles & News

A Letter from James: Essays in Quaker History

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:10am
By John Lampen. The Hope Project, 2016. 107 pages. Free digital download available at Free digital download at Hope Project

Many Friends will be familiar with Friend John Lampen as one of the most thoughtful, and readable, Quakers writing today. This collection of essays ranges broadly over Quaker history. But the history has applications that Lampen wants contemporary Friends to understand.

Aside from the introduction and conclusion, this little book has nine chapters: “George Fox and the Child,” “John Woolman’s Dreams, “The Witness of Job Scott,” “Speaking Truth to Power (1),” “The Grimke Sisters,” “Tolstoy’s Last Novel,” “Schooling & the Peace Testimony,” “Speaking Truth to Power (2),” and “A Letter from James,” which deals with James Nayler. Some are more original and provocative than others, although all are well worth the time needed for a close reading.

Lampen is quite willing to take up awkward topics. The opening essay, on George Fox, notes the accounts Fox left in which he claimed to have been the instrument of miraculous divine healings. Friend John is particularly incisive in his reading of the journal of the eighteenth-century New England Friend Job Scott, which he sees as the record of the life of a Friend devoted to utter self-abnegation, convinced that he could do no good thing, even offer a prayer, unless it was in obedience to clear divine guidance. Probably the most piquant essay deals with the role that English Friends played in the publication of Leo Tolstoy’s last novel, Resurrection. Banned in Russia, it was issued by Headley Brothers, the London Quaker publishing house. Friends greatly admired Tolstoy as a pacifist and great Christian soul. They were appalled, however, when they actually read the novel and discovered that at the heart of its narrative was the seduction of a servant girl and her subsequent life in prostitution. (There is much more to Resurrection than this. But these facts were enough to cause uniformly prim Friends to distance themselves.)

For me, the two most meaningful essays deal with peacemaking. Many contemporary Friends will be disturbed to learn that corporal punishment was once widely used in Friends schools. But Lampen also tells a moving story of innovative Quaker teachers who introduced methods of peacemaking into their schools in the past half-century. Particularly relevant today is Lampen’s account of the work of Corder and Gwen Catchpool in Berlin in the 1930s. Their commitment to seeking the Light in all meant that they befriended Nazis and even Gestapo officials, using those contacts to win occasional release of a political prisoner. Their experiences taught them the dangers of unrelenting moral indignation: “If you allow yourself to remain in it, it is a sort of selfish luxury. You may come to rejoice in hearing more evil of the wrong-doer.” That is an exhortation Friends may want to ponder in the next few years.

Lampen worries that Friends are losing sight of their history. His stories remind us how precious that history is.

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Categories: Articles & News

A Lenape among the Quakers: The Life of Hannah Freeman

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:00am
By Dawn G. Marsh. University of Nebraska Press, 2014. 240 pages. $27.95/hardcover; $17.95/paperback or eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

William Penn’s Peaceable Kingdom is a keystone of the Quaker myth. Made most memorable in Benjamin West’s famous painting Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, it projects the comfortable notion that colonial Quakers had a benign, harmonious, and mutually respectful relationship with the Lenape/Delaware indigenous peoples of what eventually became Chester County, Pa.

In her book A Lenape among the Quakers, historian Dawn G. Marsh contends that things weren’t that clean and simple. In essence, Marsh sets out to demonstrate that the Quakers dispossessed the natives of their land just as surely as every other European group that came to the New World. The difference, Marsh suggests, is that the Quakers were nicer about it.

Marsh tells this unsettling story through the eyes of the Lenape woman Hannah Freeman, also known as “Indian Hannah,” whom many considered “the last of her race” when she died at an advanced age in the county poorhouse in 1802. Throughout, Marsh discusses in detail the relationship between the Quakers and the Lenape, represented by Freeman, and shows that it was ambivalent at best. While unquestioningly assuming their own cultural superiority, like Europeans generally, the Quakers were indeed kinder to their indigenous neighbors, paying them fair wages for work they performed, for example, and not giving them blankets infused with smallpox. But when the Lenape, a migratory people like most Native Americans, moved in the fall from the fertile bottomlands of the Brandywine River and other watercourses to upstream woodlands with their shelter and game, Quaker landowners, following European common law, decided the natives had abandoned the rich soil, and claimed it as their own. Yes, they paid for it, but only after announcing that it was now theirs.

Issues like this, Marsh shows us, contributed to the disintegration of the Peaceable Kingdom ideal in the generations following Penn’s. His “haven for religious tolerance and good governance unraveled under the forces of rapid expansion and colonialism,” she writes. It was not just Quakers who were responsible, of course, yet she presents evidence that indicts some Friends.

Marsh develops “Indian Hannah’s” story as best she can, given a lack of documentation except for her final few years of virtual incarceration in the county home for the indigent, deprived of her ancestral lands and her way of life. As for the overarching attitude toward native peoples, Marsh proves that Freeman was not in fact “the last of her race,” pointing out that Lenape still live as close by as New Jersey. The Quakers and others constructed that meme to justify their land claims and to mythologize both the Lenape and their own benevolence toward them, she contends.

Marsh, at the time of publication an assistant professor of history at Purdue University, does not indicate whether she is a Friend, but regardless, she displays an adequate understanding of Quakerism and its practices, and treats the Quakers of the eighteenth century thoroughly, accurately, and forthrightly. My one concern here is that she twice identifies Philadelphia Yearly Meeting as “the central governing body of the Society of Friends.” For a mostly non-Quaker readership, that may be the simplest way to explain Quaker organization.

The content of this book is good, but its execution is weak. It’s addressed primarily to a scholarly audience, so clumsy academic jargon like “problematize” slips in. There is extensive repetition; we are told over and over that “we cannot know” what Hannah did or felt. Paragraphing and sentence sequencing are poor, punctuation is inconsistent, and errors like “statue” for “statute” and “principals” for “principles” intrude. In short, the book needed an editor.

That shortcoming aside, Marsh challenges Quakers to rethink with an unvarnished lens their fraught relationship with native peoples. Were we as considerate as we could have been, and believe we were? Are we smugly content that we did the right thing? Are we willing now, some 325 years after first contact, to consider the “pay the rent” movement, through which in locations such as Australia and Manitoba surviving indigenous populations are being compensated for Caucasians’ occupation of their historic lands? It may not be easy, but this book forces us to look to ourselves.

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Categories: Articles & News

By Law of Grace: A Journey with the People of the Streets, a Personal Experience

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:55pm
By Heidi Blocher. Apprenticeship to Jesus, 2016. 120 pages. $7 suggested donation/paperback. Free PDF available

Heidi Blocher, a New England Friend who has traveled widely in America and Europe (and the 2010 Richard Cary lecturer at German Yearly Meeting), takes us on a journey few of us would undertake on our own. As I read this book, I recalled those famous words of John Woolman’s, as he thought about why he was on his way to visit the Indians in 1763:

Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of truth among them.

The experimental daring of this statement is powerful and challenging to anyone moved by the Spirit to visit someone. By Law of Grace is an account of such an experiment, and in its very different setting mounts its own challenges to the reader. Among many other things, the book is a faithful account of someone growing into a leading, and continuing to grow as she follows it.

The author tells us, “This wish had started in me years before, building slowly: A desire to live among the poor in a neighborly relationship.” She is not moved to “go and help,” but to live among people whose needs, imperatives, and experiences are very different from her own—I would say, accepting what they know about human life, and seeking how God is present among the poor—that she might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in.

In the winter of 2013–14, Blocher lived in an area of Phoenix, Ariz., occupied by the homeless, the displaced, the aged poor, the mentally ill, and people living through a bad patch in their lives, hoping for better fortune. This little book presents vignettes and meditations from across these months.

Blocher is very aware of the obvious differences in history and circumstance between herself and her neighbors, and that they must be seen or felt through, if an actual accompaniment is to be possible: she is white, of middle-class extraction, highly literate and self-aware, a slight accent marking her European background. She knows the value of community and the transactional values of the white middle class—attention to time, hygiene, personal space, the niceties of exchange and the kinds of mutual respectfulness that are embedded in rituals of greeting, thanking, and so on. But in the living out of her concern, these resources, unavailable to many of her neighbors, become barriers to overcome. The author, no stranger to such encounters, says, “To cope with this intense experience of a ‘world’ new to me, I needed to journal daily . . . [about] observations, encounters and dialogues with the homeless and other street folks.” She writes directly about times of anxiety, confusion, clarity, grace, and spiritual openings. The account feels honest and vivid in the way that these elements and others are jumbled together, as they are in life as it is lived daily.

In this review so far I have spoken about the author’s experience. I suppose that makes it easiest for myself—or you—to put ourselves in the author’s shoes, and thus to make her voice and her experience the main story. But I believe that this betrays an unavoidable bias. Of course the author’s journey and rich meditations upon it are nourishing and educating. For readers like me (and perhaps like you), however, it is all too easy to stay in that point of view, looking at the scene with a “middle-class gaze,” and avoiding the opportunity for closer encounter with the people whom we meet in these pages.

Blocher writes an unadorned but eloquent prose, and she introduces us to many people whom we would otherwise never know: the mysterious and charismatic Fred; the sweet, diminutive, deluded person we only know as “Squirrel Woman”; the destitute, needy souls; hungry, hopeless people whose names we never know; the volunteers and social workers who help these vulnerable people. For them, even well-meaning agencies have only impersonal caring and no true knowledge of the individuals standing before them, or of those excluded from their service, invisible to the safety net.

It is such encounters that give this book its depth and searching value—searching for the author and searching for the reader. As Blocher writes, “I desire that these people and the lives in which they move be seen—ultimately, not as something horrible we should avoid or ‘get rid’ of, but as a part of the population at present, and a condition in which, it turns out, Life moves, Light shines, Grace works.” The book, both comforting and uncomfortable, has served individual readers as a devotional and meetings as material for group learning; it is fitting that its distribution is from hand to hand, or heart to heart.

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Categories: Articles & News

Gospel—The Book of Matthew: A New Translation with Commentary—Jesus Spirituality for Everyone

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:50pm
Translated by Thomas Moore. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2016. 224 pages. $29.99/hardcover; $19.99/paperback; $19.95/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

The other day over lunch, I told a friend that I had been asked to review the Gospel of Matthew. He promptly snorted his soup and started laughing. “What? Are you going to say ‘It’ll never sell’?”

He has a point. Even if I’m really reviewing a new translation of the Gospel of Matthew, there’s 2,000 years of history crowding into the room. What can we say that’s truly fresh and new?

Thomas Moore, former monk, psychotherapist, and author of Care of the Soul, hopes to revive the gospels for an age of spirit (though not religion). Jesus, says Moore, “wanted to raise human awareness and behavior to another level.” His Gospel—The Book of Matthew attempts to transmit this “Jesus spirituality for everyone.”

Let’s just admit right away that a “spirituality for everyone” won’t appeal to everyone. In his commentary, Moore unmoors the Gospel from its historical and religious anchors, recasting Jesus into a timeless “spiritual poet,” God into “the secret ways of the cosmos,” and “The Holy Spirit” into “a holy spirit” (which, by the way, is quite correct as an alternate translation). Specific messianic hopes and apocalyptic fears in Roman-occupied Judea are eclipsed by a universal personal psychology.

For example, for Moore, the apocalyptic day of judgment happens “right now [when] you are judged by your own decisions. No one else is condemning or rewarding you.” Likewise, when Jesus says he has come not to get rid of the law (i.e. the Torah) but to complete it (Matt. 5:17), Moore notes that “the Gospels can help you find deeper meaning in your traditions, whatever they are.”

Moore’s book is two books in one—Gospel translation on right-hand pages, commentary on the left. In the commentary, Gospel passages trigger free associations with anything from Carl Jung to Leonard Cohen. Some footnotes range beyond eclectic to odd. I’m still trying to figure out how Moore relates Jesus’s sensuality to the beheading of John the Baptist.

However, in the Gospel itself, many of Moore’s translation choices illuminate and enliven what has become, for many, a brittle, faded manuscript. Moore replaces time-worn and doctrine-laden phrases like “heaven,” “faith,” “sin,” and “repentance” with stripped down (but faithful) translations. For example, “sin” becomes “tragic mistakes,” and “repentance” becomes the kind of deep change that averts these tragic mistakes. “Faith” is rendered as “trust.” “Trust more” becomes Jesus’s persistent refrain for entering life in the kingdom.

Moore also emphasizes concrete symbols at the core of the Gospel—“bread,” for example, as symbol of what is truly essential. More startlingly, Moore replaces “heaven” (an increasingly abstract concept) with its most basic translation, “sky.”

“Turn your life around,” proclaims John the Baptist, “The era of the sky father is drawing near!” (Matt. 3:2).

Recovering the word “sky” works well in Matthew 16. The Pharisees and Sadducees demand a sign from heaven—literally “from the sky.” Jesus replies that they know perfectly well how to interpret the literal sky but seem blind to signs from the symbolic sky.

“It is my conviction,” writes Moore, “that the less literally you take most passages, the more you will be inspired to live an altogether different kind of life.” And later on, “You have to think in layers and metaphors.”

There are occasional strange missteps in the translation. For example, Moore inexplicably substitutes five thousand, two thousand, and one thousand dollars for ten, five, and one talent in Jesus’s parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30). This converts 200 years of wages to $5,000. It doesn’t get across Jesus’s sense of exaggeration, or the idea that the master entrusted his servants with a whole lot o’ wealth.

And although Moore calls Jesus a spiritual poet, some of Moore’s folksy phrases fall flat, as when angels “showed up” in Joseph’s dream or the Sadducees “came to check Jesus out.” And why, oh why, Mr. Moore, after noting that the phrase usually translated “blessed” refers to a place of bliss, “like being in the presence of God,” do you still translate it as “happy”—as in the nonsensical “Happy are the grieving . . .”?

However, most of the text and all of the parables flow in a very accessible style. And some of Moore’s insights sing. Instead of emphasizing how Jesus “cured” or “healed,” he chooses “tended.” (The underlying Greek word, therapeia, gives us our word “therapy.”) The resulting translation is accurate, inviting, and instructive—showing a Jesus who models the kingdom by spending a great deal of his time “tending” people. Yes, there are miraculous healings, but the healings feel less capricious in the context of continual care. And when Jesus invites us to enter the kingdom, we know what we are called to do.

Moore’s Gospel does provide a faithful, readable, and mostly Quaker-friendly rendering of the text with some compelling insights and a few idiosyncratic quirks. Moore sees Matthew 10:7–8 as the heart of Jesus’s call to the kingdom:

The kingdom is drawing near.
Care for those who are suffering.
Wake up those who are unconscious.
Refresh those who have suffered.
Get rid of daimonic tendencies.

If this intrigues you, then this “Jesus spirituality for everyone” may be for you.

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Categories: Articles & News

The Peace Class: A Study of Effective Cheek-turning, Neighbor-loving and Sword-to-plowshare Conversion

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:45pm
By Diana Hadley and David Weatherspoon. Self-published, 2015. 220 pages. $12.99/paperback; $5.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Both Diana Hadley and David Weatherspoon write well, and each brings a different background and experience to teaching a semester course in peace studies. The book is not a course outline or curriculum for would-be emulators of their project. What it does offer is a conversation in 38 short essays on the issues explored and the experience of broaching peace topics with college students over several semesters.

Hadley is Quaker and Weatherspoon a Baptist minister, so they both come to peace studies from a Christian perspective. They quickly realized that they needed to remove religious recruitment from their classroom, which opened them to the variety of spiritual experiences of their students. The authors feel that they learned as much if not more than the students.

Hadley and Weatherspoon’s course content included nonviolent communication, the history of nonviolent resistance from Gandhi to contemporary leaders, the uses of the death penalty, “just war” theory, and the “just following orders” excuse among other topics. When the issue was gun ownership, they divided the class by where students grew up. Urban, suburban, and rural childhoods generated different views on this topic.

What the instructors discovered was that many students were not prepared for critical thinking. They were at sea in a class with no right answers, where they were expected to offer opinions and be open to opposing or varying points of view. The class became a course in how to evaluate propaganda and discover the validity that may simultaneously exist in apparently opposing points of view. Anyone teaching these days needs to include these critical thinking skills. (For which we also recommend Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman, reviewed in FJ May 2015.)

Who should read The Peace Class? We doubt that it will be a bestseller or a classic text. Yet anyone venturing into teaching a high school or college level class in history, social science, politics, peace, or nonviolence would find it useful. Many of the short essays could easily spark discussions at a meeting retreat or adult study session.

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Categories: Articles & News

War No More: Three Centuries of American Antiwar and Peace Writing

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:40pm
Edited by Lawrence Rosenwald. The Library of America, 2016. 850 pages. $40/hardcover; $17.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

This is an ambitious book, and it looks it. Elegantly bound, complete with a satin ribbon bookmark attached, War No More intends to be a reference as well as a guide through the more than three centuries of Europeans in America—and before—starting with the pre-colonial preface of the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. This book is an anthology and more.

What War No More is and is not is best understood when compared with Staughton Lynd and Alice Lynd’s Nonviolence in America published in 1995, if for no other reason than it is an anthology for much of the same time period. Rosenwald, in fact, often refers to the Lynd book in his introductions, and there are 13 identical essays included, as well as different essays from many of the same writers. The Lynds have two of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, for example, and Rosenwald only one, but, in my opinion, the one outweighs the two by far. Rosenwald provides historical context for King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in New York City about one year before his assassination—a critical moment in his career and life. Personally I have difficulty quoting this speech because every word is so important, and it still brings tears to my eyes to read it.

Looking at these two books helps clarify the difference between the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement and the peace movement. They often overlap, but are not the same. The Lynd book describes itself as a documentary history, using historical vignettes to frame the chosen essays. It is essentially political and is framed by the views of the Left. It skips the antiwar work done between World Wars I and II to make forays into workers’ rights and other social issues.

The Rosenwald book, on the other hand, makes clear connections between the antiwar movement in the United States that predated its founding and the peace movement today, carefully drawing lines from one author to another in often lengthy introductions, weaving with these essays a tapestry of a movement with a focus on peace and an understanding of justice.

Rosenwald has the advantage of 21 additional years to explore his themes using new voices such as Camilo Mejia, an Iraq War veteran and conscientious objector. Rosenwald includes some who did not stand conscientiously for peace as much as were “skeptical, sharp-eyed journalists.” In some of these later essays, while no position is taken on war, “war’s horrors are so unsparingly depicted that they seem to become exhibits in a case against war itself.”

It also contains a great deal of poetry and music and not just sentimental verses. It includes Mark Twain’s satirical take on the “Battle Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date)” from the Spanish–American War period, which, with his “The War Prayer,” is familiar to many in the peace movement, though he could not get them published in his lifetime. Twain wrote “he expected as much, because ‘[n]one but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.’” You can also find one of my favorite Vietnam era songs from Country Joe and the Fish: “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag.”

To me, the most interesting entry was the “Book of Alma” from the Book of Mormon. The story is about a country under attack in which the king tells his army to “go into battle without weapons, refrain from self-defense, and [they] are slaughtered.” Their enemies “are so moved by the example of their opponents’ nonresistance that they are converted by it.” Who’d have thought? Not even the World War II Mormon conscientious objector I met many years ago (one of only ten) told me or his draft board that story in support of his status.

Rosenwald expertly chose and framed his choices for the reader to finish the anthology with a better understanding of what makes the peace movement unique among progressive movements. More than an anthology, this book resonates with songs and words over the years that will leave many asking, as Country Joe and the Fish did, “What are we fighting for?”

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Categories: Articles & News

The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:35pm
By Michael McCarthy. New York Review Books, 2016. 273 pages. $24.95/hardcover; $14.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” —Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat

The Moth Snowstorm is not about moths, but instead is part autobiography, part nature journal, and mostly about finding joy in nature. The author begins by remembering outings with his family as a young child when, in the evening when the headlights were turned on, so many moths appeared that it was like a snowstorm, and his father had to get out several times to wipe their bodies off the lights. McCarthy writes that the phenomenon no longer exists due to the “great thinning” of so many small creatures in the years since. In this book, McCarthy shares much about his youth and discovery of incredible natural places that sparked a love of nature and secured for him the outdoors as a place of nurture.

Although he spends a considerable amount of time reminding us of the crisis we face in a world subjected to agricultural pesticides and herbicides and other follies of humankind, McCarthy also shares many wonderful stories of joy and wonder about butterflies, birds, flowers, and so much more. As he takes us through the annual calendar of events on his island home of England, he shares, “I can think of nothing more extraordinary and exceptional than the annual rebirth of the world: and in fact, there are a number of specific markers of the rebirth, of the earth’s reawakening after winter . . . which I celebrate in my heart.”

McCarthy shares a story about an encounter with woodland bluebells, an encounter that was a “sort of ecstasy” because of the intensity of the blue color. He kept returning to those woods, five days in a row, to revel in them, until they began to fade. And he shares his experience of the dazzling blue of the morpho butterflies in South America. I know that dazzle. The summer I turned 12, I lived in Panama, where an aunt and uncle of mine lived. The freedom we children had, exploring the nearby jungles and traipsing to the Panama Canal, just couldn’t be replicated today. I remember walking into the dense growth and feeling such awe at those giant butterflies. It’s still a vibrant memory some 58 years later.

The last three chapters are titled, “Joy in the Beauty of the Earth,” “Wonder,” and “A New Kind of Love.” They focus on the importance of the relationship we can have with the natural world and how we can feel such delightful renewal when we take the time to explore, walk, appreciate, and revel in what the world has to offer. His stories of joy, awe, and wonder are inspiring.

I can’t really portray in such a short space the importance of this book. If you’re a birder, hiker, explorer, or just love to be surrounded by natural beauty, this is a book for you. But just beware that McCarthy does give us cause for concern for the planet’s future. And isn’t that important for us to know? Might it inspire us to try to protect what is so wonderful?

I’ll close with McCarthy’s words:

That the natural world can bring us peace; that the natural world can give us joy: these are the confirmations of what many people may instinctively feel but have not been able to articulate; that nature is not an extra, a luxury, but on the contrary is indispensable, part of our essence. And now that knowledge needs to be brought to nature’s defence.

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Categories: Articles & News

Just Living

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:30pm
By Meredith Egan. Amity Publishers, 2016. 446 pages. $17.99/paperback; $5.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Meredith Egan’s debut novel, Just Living, explores the ideas embedded within its rich title in various ways. Beth Hill, the young narrator and protagonist studying to become an Anglican priest, is searching in her own life both for her vocation and a simple life of service in love. In the process of accompanying her through a very significant period in her life journey, the reader confronts a series of questions that the novel poses about what justice—in the context of crime and punishment—means and could mean differently were we to take a different approach to treating those who break established laws. And since the title also refers to a place—Just Living is the halfway house for criminal offenders where Beth works as an intern—its meanings reverberate even further in the novel, keeping questions of justice and living in right order in the forefront of the reader’s consciousness.

Through Beth’s eyes, we get a first-person account of her internship at Just Living, a place where and because of which she meets a number of other characters. This panoply provides a rich warp upon which to weave the novel’s plot, and Beth experiences moments of great exhilaration (like when she helps with the construction of an outdoor walking labyrinth at the facility or participates in some deeply personal sharing there) as well as failure (like when she disregards the strict protocols at Just Living for visitors). While some of the characters could be more fully developed, there are great portraits here, like that of Cook, the warm and understanding halfway house chef and cookie baker who befriends Beth. At one point, the novel describes him, wryly I’d say, as having “meaty arms.”

In addition to the people she meets at Just Living, Beth’s friends and family form another set of characters within the novel’s wide scope. Her father, an Anglican priest who wants Beth to follow in the family business, presents as both demanding and understanding. Her friend Glenn, another priest, faces his own dilemmas within both his marriage and vocation. And there’s a burgeoning romance between Beth and a former monk, whose thoughtful approach to life and his attendance at Quaker meeting may make him particularly interesting for readers of Friends Journal.

In part because its narrative strategy clangs a bit—it jumps between Beth’s first-person point of view sections, which make up the bulk of the novel, and other third- and first-person accounts, which are limited in number and scope—and in part because the large cast of characters makes it difficult to provide fully rich portraits of everyone, the novel may not cohere as a work of fiction as well as it could. But if it might be found lacking on such fronts, the book’s focus on the key themes of vocation and justice provides much to consider regarding pressing issues of our day and how spiritually minded people might meet their challenges.

Set in British Columbia, both in Vancouver and remoter parts of the province, Just Living explores, in very tangible ways, the ups and downs of restorative justice work. Quakers will find this novel’s questions—often posed directly in prayers that begin or close chapters, but also raised more tangentially throughout the book—challenging, to say the least. Beth interacts with any number of characters whose lives have been torn apart by both their own deeds and the brutal legacies of colonialism, particularly the residential schools that forced indigenous peoples into devastating losses of self, family, and culture. There are never easy ways to pinpoint, therefore, responsibility for crimes, and the novel, especially through its climax (foreshadowed early on), places its reader in the difficult position of not being able to say clearly where good and bad ultimately lodge. Like Beth, whose vocational quest takes her through the ups and downs of the correctional system, we bounce about as readers in the face of the difficult queries the novel poses.

Reading the book, I felt a lot like the well-intentioned but dislocated Beth who, in the novel’s opening scene, ends up impersonating a real priest while trying to get someone released from police custody following a protest. It’s a book that, rightly, asks its reader to face the ways in which each of us is an impostor of sorts, especially as we view the issues of criminal justice from the relative comfort of our homes and meetings for worship. And I appreciate it when a book makes me feel uncomfortable in that way.

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Categories: Articles & News

Stephen Allen Hawk

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:20pm
Hawk—Stephen Allen Hawk, 73, on March 10, 2017, in Chicago, Ill., after a long illness. Steve was born on July 20, 1943, in Richmond, Ind., to Helen Louise Gluys and David Carlton Hawk. Over the course of his childhood he lived in Indiana, Ohio, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. He received a bachelor’s from Earlham College in 1966, meeting Inez Andrews, called Peggy, while he was there. He and Peggy married in 1967. Raised in a Quaker family, Steve embraced the values of many Friends. The🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Jeanne Ruth Ackley Lohmann

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:15pm

Listen to Jeanne Lohmann read “What Comes Next” from the Feb. 2015 issue of Friends Journal.

LohmannJeanne Ruth Ackley Lohmann, 93, on September 26, 2016, at home in Olympia, Wash., with family close by. Jeanne was born on May 9, 1923, in Arcanum, Ohio, the oldest of three children. She attended Otterbein College for a year studying French on a scholarship and graduated from Ohio State University in 1945 with a social sciences degree. During the summers she worked with American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Lisle Fellowship, and the Stuyvesant Neighborhood House in New York City. After a year’s Danforth Graduate Fellowship at University of Kansas, she worked for three years in Chicago as executive director of the University YMCA.

She married Henry Lohmann in 1947, and in 1948 they went to Germany with the National Student YMCA-YWCA, helping to clear rubble in Bremen and working in a local hospital and kindergarten. After that they lived for ten years in Denver, Colo., where Hank worked for the National Farmers Union and as editor of the Colorado Labor Advocate. They helped found Mountain View Meeting, directed an Interns-in-Agriculture project for AFSC, and led Lisle Fellowship units. In 1960 they moved to San Francisco, Calif., for Hank’s work for Northern California Friends Committee on Legislation, joining San Francisco Meeting in 1961.

She earned a master’s from San Francisco State University in 1979, and her work in creative writing nourished her lifelong love of literature and encouraged her to follow her vocation as poet, editor, mentor, and workshop leader. After Hank died in 1985, she continued their commitment to service and their love for the arts, camping, and travel, going on a Quaker study tour to the Soviet Union, to writers’ conferences in Italy, and to workshops in the United States. In 1993, she moved to Olympia and transferred her membership to Olympia Meeting, often sharing poems that came to her in the silence.

Poets and writers gathered in her home, and she published ten volumes of poetry and several volumes of prose. In honor of her eightieth birthday, the San Francisco writers’ community established the Jeanne Lohmann Poetry Award, given each spring under the auspices of the Olympia Poetry Network. Friends in Olympia and elsewhere remember her poetry readings with appreciation and affection. Six of her poems are displayed in the woods and walkways of Providence St. Peter Hospital, and Garrison Keillor read two of her poems on The Writer’s Almanac. Her 2015 poem “Autumn in the Fields of Language” conveys both her vocation and the autumn of her life: “Without wind the yellow leaves / hang slack. Maple, elm and oak / lift torches to the blue of heaven. / A scarlet burning bush ignites the air. / Evergreens comfort the eye, / relief from all that fire and gold. / When my last warm season’s done / and time’s come to leave this world / of words, bright fields of language / where I play and sing, / let flame in me some final brilliant work / like autumn leaves in changing light. / May I rejoice in having had my say.”

Jeanne is survived by four children, Stephen Lohmann (Isabelle Tabacot), David Lohmann (Margaret), Karen Lohmann (Joe Tougas), and Brian Lohmann (Kathleen); nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Memorial donations may be made to Olympia Meeting, the Olympia Poetry Network, Friendly Water for the World, AFSC, or a charity of your choice.


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Categories: Articles & News

Erika Muhlenberg

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:10pm
Muhlenberg—Erika Muhlenberg, 84, of Kennett Square, formerly of Swarthmore, Pa., on April 19, 2016, in Kennett Square, Pa. Erika was born on May 7, 1931, in Hamburg, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1950. She studied at Pendle Hill and University of Michigan, where she met her husband, Nicholas Muhlenberg. She and Nicholas later divorced. In addition to a homemaker and mother of four, she was a counselor and legal advocate for the Domestic Violence Project of Delaware County, Pa. Assistant clerk of Swarthmore (Pa🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Ann Richardson Stokes

Friends Journal - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 11:05pm
Stokes—Ann Richardson Stokes, 85, on November 20, 2016, at home in West Chesterfield, N.H. Ann was born on June 9, 1931, in Moorestown, N.J., to Lydia Babbott and S. Emlen Stokes. A lifelong Quaker, she grew up in Moorestown Meeting and graduated from Moorestown Friends School. She attended Goddard College, and in 1959 built a home on Welcome Hill in West Chesterfield. There, beginning in 1976, she and some of her women friends designed and built the first studio for women artists: Welcome Hill Studios. She told the story🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News
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