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

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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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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 monthly 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. Provision of sanctuary has been a movement embraced by U.S. faith organizations since the 1980’s. At that time, churches and faith communities would offer shelter and hospitality to people fleeing violence in Central America.

Today, sanctuary has come to mean providing shelter on a church or meeting property. Although legally churches can be raided by immigration officers, it has long been practice that people taking sanctuary on the grounds of a faith community are not taken into custody. Mountain View Friends Meeting took in a family seeking sanctuary in November. The meeting had been involved with the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition for two years before taking in the family. In a press release, David Poundstone of Mountain View Friends said of offering sanctuary, “we cannot stand idly by and let our government threaten the integrity of families. We feel called upon to engage in civil initiative to invoke the tradition of sanctuary to protect those under threat of harm.”

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.

Each of the entries was evaluated on its representation of the festival’s mission, which is to “provide[sic] a forum for dialog, learning, and exchange of ideas of commonality and diversity.”

A total of 19 films were submitted to the festival, from participants in three different countries. Judges evaluated the films across multiple criteria, including creativity, technical quality, and relevance to Friends. 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.

The winner of the documentary award, Being Other, was submitted by students at George School. The film features multiracial students talking about their experiences being part of multiple cultures and navigating feelings of belonging and otherness.

In the public service announcement category, the film Be a Friend, Not a Bully was chosen. This submission came from Friends School Mullica Hill. Be a Friend, Not a Bully is a short dialogue-free piece showcasing the power of students standing up to bullies and reaching out to each other.

An LD Student’s Educational Journey was recognized in the new media category. This film was submitted by Delaware Valley Friends School. It features a student speaking about her own experiences with dyslexia and ADHD.

The award in the narrative category went to the film Simply Sophie, submitted by Tandem Friends School. This short film looks at the pressure of being a young student, and the joy that can be found outside of the classroom. Students at Tandem Friends School also submitted the film Mannequin Challenge – Peace and Stewardship. This film addresses the concepts of peace and stewardship with frozen tableaus. Mannequin Challenge – Peace and Stewardship was chosen for the Spirit of the Festival award.

The Bridge Film Festival website features a short film that announces the winners in each category, as well as showcasing festival entries and judges’ evaluations. The site also features playlists of films based on the SPICES testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship).

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.”

EPIC began at Earlham in 2016, providing academic and career advisors to each student. EPIC aims to bring together liberal arts education with practical experiences, and to help students put their learning into practice. The EPIC program provides extensive advising and guidance. This guidance helps students find the right opportunities for their own goals. Through EPIC, students may participate in self-guided research, internships, or collaborative projects.

Earlham’s three interdisciplinary academic centers are housed in the campus’s CoLab. The three centers—global health, entrepreneurship and innovation, and social justice—promote EPIC internships and research that are focused on each center’s particular field.

The EPIC gift and the new Advantage program will offer internship and research opportunities to students who may not have had the opportunity before. With continually rising costs of tuition at colleges and universities, many students are unable to devote time to an unpaid internship, needing to spend the time at a paying job instead. The EPIC Advantage program scholarships, which can be applied toward travel and living expenses, will help students who need an active income to take full advantage of extended learning opportunities.

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, beloved member of Oread Meeting, and contributor to When the Rains Return: Toward Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel, published by American Friends Service Committee in 2004. 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.

Set beside a leafy trail next to the meetinghouse, the weatherproof wooden box is about the size of a dollhouse. 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.

The Little Free Library structure was crafted by Lawrence local Jo Anderson out of recycled materials, and roofed by a local roofer. Once the library was built, it was painted by the participants of Oread Friends’ First-day school. The children painted the structure in colors to match the outside of the meetinghouse. Adult members of the meeting completed the decoration by stenciling “Little Free Library” on the side of the house and attaching plaques. A plaque commemorating Misty Gerner states that she was “Friend, Scholar, Peacemaker, and Lover of Reading.” A second plaque was provided by the Little Free Library Association. The library is also registered with the Little Free Library Association, and is listed on the association’s website. The library was erected in March, and stands at a height easily accessible to children.

After the library was installed, each child in the First-day school class brought in at least one favorite book to share. They each took a turn telling the others why they chose the book they brought, and the books were all placed in the library. The library was also supplemented with additional books for adults from the meeting’s library. A guest book and pen were also placed in the library, for people to sign when they take or leave a book.

On April 30, Oread Meeting held a grand opening and reception ceremony for their new Little Free Library. The meeting invited the neighborhood through the local neighborhood association to join in celebrating the new community resource.

The post News, June/July 2017 appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Envisioning Broader Quaker Membership

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:30am

via Flickr/anyjazz65


The Alternate Pathways to Membership Working Group was formed semi-spontaneously in New York Yearly Meeting, and was formally taken under the care of the Ministry Coordinating Committee in November 2016. We have seven active members.

Our work is to discern whether we may be led to recommend one or more alternate pathways to membership within the Religious Society of Friends—and if so, what those recommendations might be. As we’ve explored the membership process, it’s become obvious that the question, “How do we approve and accept new members?” is inseparable from other questions, such as, “What does membership mean?,” “What is a monthly meeting for?,” and “How do Friends care for one another?”

We’ve discovered a need to begin with stories—the personal stories of Friends, plus the historical stories surrounding our current membership practices. In deep listening to all of these pieces, we begin to understand our collective story and how Spirit might guide us next.

Here we present two of our own stories. What common themes do you hear? Where do the stories diverge? What questions rise up in you?

Emily’s story

My yearly meeting has gathered in the same place every summer for the past 60 years. In 2014, I discovered that if I slipped into the auditorium after breakfast, but before worship sharing, I could have the space to myself for ten whole minutes. I used this time to stand on the stage and look out over the empty wooden seats. I’d imagine all the generations of Friends who came before me, and I’d envision all the generations of Friends still to come. It felt like holding hands across time. It felt like communing with family.

I was not born a Friend, but I knew as a child that my parents’ faith wasn’t mine. I started seeking at age ten and found Quakers at 27. When I finally found Friends, the sensation was one of finding home.

That’s why I applied for membership so quickly. It took ten months, and only that long because I couldn’t figure out who to ask. I wanted to claim my people and to be counted among them.

I always thought of membership as joining the worldwide body of Friends. I had a nice local meeting, and I loved the people there, but this was more, a big thing we were doing around the world all together. After I’d been a Friend awhile, somebody gave me historical language to describe that thing. We were a covenant community, given to one another by God, charged with establishing the kingdom of God on earth. And that moment that I remembered so vividly—October 10, 2010, when the clerk had asked, “Do we accept Emily into membership?” and the body had chorused, “APPROVED!”—that was the moment I had joined the covenant, and the moment the meeting had reaffirmed it.

Or had they?

Shortly after becoming a member, I threw myself into travel and study. I attended conferences, asked questions, worshiped with Friends from far away, and read everything I could find. I began to know more about traditional Quaker understandings. More importantly, I began to experience all that came from the practice of traditional Quakerism.

For example, I began to learn what it meant to “establish the kingdom of God on earth.” I learned that it wasn’t just about protesting wars and advocating for climate justice, though of course Friends’ witness in the world was imperative. It was also about practicing long-term mutual commitments, about learning the sorts of skills required to coexist in a meeting with the most annoying person you’ve ever met—not just to coexist, but to voluntarily enter into a process, again and again, in which you and that person mutually seek to discern the will of God. Only by practicing these skills among ourselves can we ever hope to help bring them to the world.

Still later, I learned about spiritual accountability. “Have you established a daily spiritual practice?” elders asked me. “Are you being faithful to Spirit’s call?” When I found myself doing more work among Friends, some of those same elders said, “Have you asked your meeting for a support committee?” and “Do you carry a travel minute?” They explained that ministry must be rooted in your meeting, and that this is why we have local meetings—for mutual support and accountability.

When I first became a Friend, I’d assumed that we had monthly meetings because we needed geographically convenient groups to worship with. But now I understood that my membership within my local meeting was an important part of the covenant, equal to marriage in solemnity and level of commitment. I was responsible for the other members of my meeting, responsible for helping them to be faithful—and they were equally responsible for me.

And this is why I can have the traditional-membership-versus-alternate-membership argument all by myself, internally. Because nobody in my meeting ever told me these things—not about the covenant, not about practicing the establishment of the kingdom of God, and certainly not about mutual spiritual accountability. They didn’t tell me because most of them didn’t know. They themselves had never been taught these things. So how is it possible, when they accepted me as a member of the meeting, that they were reaffirming the covenant, if neither they nor I knew that was what we were doing?

What I know now, experientially, is that membership in a meeting exists because God gives us to a specific community of people so that we might worship with one another, commit to one another, care for one another, and know one another in that which is eternal so that we can have the conversations about personal faithfulness and accountability—the kinds of conversations that we simply don’t have with occasional acquaintances. And I cannot imagine how Quakers who are not fully committed—covenanted—to a local community could have this vital, long-term, mutual relationship.

Yet here’s the question I find myself asking: when many, perhaps most, local meetings are not fully engaging in the meaning and practice of membership and covenant community, when many or most Friends don’t even know about these traditional concepts, or else reject them, and when Friends I love are telling me that traditional membership is either not possible or not relevant in their circumstances, then is God really asking me to hold to traditional membership?

I do not know the answer yet.

Jennifer’s story

I have always identified Quaker. I have not, however, felt true connection with a monthly meeting. As a twelfth-generation Friend born into a family that moved frequently, I was never in a meeting long enough to gain a true sense of connection. My spiritual home became New England Yearly Meeting. I attended every year, became deeply involved in junior young Friends and young Friends, and by high school never missed a monthly retreat. I also attended Friends Camp in Maine during summers. The community gained within those circles is incredibly transformative and will last my lifetime.

Some of my family had, at one time, strong connections with monthly meetings. Over the generations they even helped establish some. By the last three generations, my family lived internationally, and membership in a monthly meeting meant accommodating to what was available in places that often had very few monthly meetings, far apart. My mother attended seven monthly meetings before she married. I attended four by the time I was nine.

After finishing my undergraduate work I began a career that placed me in an office most Sunday mornings. My family did not express concern over this, as they had faced challenges of their own regarding attendance. I kept my faith strong in other ways through volunteer work, mediations, assisting others in exploring connection to source, and activism. I witnessed and was witnessed to in the ways my life could accommodate.

Throughout these times I retained membership at a monthly meeting—one I had not attended in many years. I did so not because of a connection to the meeting itself, but because I could not imagine the loss of card-carrying Quaker membership. I struggled with that choice and the discord within. Attending a Quaker function often meant this monthly meeting boldly displayed on my nametag. In conversation, the introductory question was often which meeting I attended.

It was a difficult position to be in. I felt my connection points lay elsewhere, and this label did not adequately express my relation to, nor my understanding of, being a Quaker in the world. After reconnecting with more childhood young Friends at a retreat in 2015, I realized my circumstances were not unique. Many of us felt a tug-of-war surrounding our identification with membership. We understood that today’s society is often one of frequent travel and relocation. We often live far from the places to which we identify, and we yearn for a way to feel properly represented as the Quakers we are.

Joining the Alternative Pathways to Membership Working Group was something I was deeply led to do, and I am grateful for the opportunity. Through this work I am reminded that Quakerism means we adjust and change as times and perspectives become clearer. Hearing a wide variety of experiences has been grounding. I can more clearly understand not only the reasons for my situation, but also how connection to a monthly meeting can provide many people with a spiritually grounding, uplifting, and supportive base.

This new lens gave me appreciation for the space provided within monthly meetings, and I began the process to move my membership to the meeting I attend when able—Fifteenth Street Meeting in Manhattan. Yet I am still operating within the one path available to me. I wish for others.

There are great struggles associated with having just one seated connection. I know my core identity within Quakerism is not the loving spot in which I corporeally worship when I am able. I see Quakerism’s boundaries, and they worry me. Many in my generation have moved on from membership due to the struggle of being mislabeled and misunderstood. I want those voices heard.

Ask yourself; does anything within this resonate for you? Could a loved one be experiencing this? Perhaps an oft-missing member of your meeting? Think about other Quaker entities you connect with. What sense of relation do you feel to them? Could you imagine other gateways to Quakerism? What would happen if you lived too far away from a monthly meeting? What if you’d stepped into a few local meetings but none felt right? What if you attended many a Quaker conference, session, and workshop but never felt a leading to connect with a meeting. What if you were too overloaded with work and child-rearing to attend a meeting with any regularity? How else might you connect to source and communion with others?

As Friends we seek. As seekers we have a duty to give all those who seek a connection that sits right within them. We must find these ways.

The Alternative Pathways to Membership Working Group needs your story. What has membership meant, or not meant, in your journey as a Friend?

The post Envisioning Broader Quaker Membership appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

It Breaks My Heart

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:30am

Via Flickr/revdave


I recently watched a QuakerSpeak video by Colin Saxton, the general secretary of Friends United Meeting (an international organization of the Religious Society of Friends) and was struck again by the wonderful explanation of the Friends’ belief that Christ dwells within each of us and is our spiritual teacher and guide if we allow it.

The fractured nature of the Quaker community breaks my heart. If we truly believe that Christ is our teacher and guide why are we not listening to that inner voice? Why are we not living the testimonies that we claim?

Fear and anger are the two most destructive forces within the human lexicon of emotion. The Bible says over and over again, “do not fear,” yet that is where we constantly take ourselves. Fear creates the feeling of being threatened by “the other” and human nature creates an overwhelming need to defend ourselves. This need to prove that we are right and the other is wrong has created the most damage the world has ever experienced.

I have been a deeply spiritual person from my earliest memories as a child. My personal journey is marked with dissatisfaction with organized church; raised Lutheran, a short foray into a Full Gospel Student Fellowship, many years outside church, Methodist, and finally Quaker. Every time I have embraced a group and felt it might be a place to seek spiritual truth and find comfort and support, I have been disappointed, yet have never wavered in my knowledge that God is One. I know that people who attend church are sinners and flawed but I long—no, yearn—for a spiritual community that accepts and loves each other for who each person is, and for and where they are in their journey.

I thought I had found that in a Quaker meeting. The writings of the early Quakers George Fox, Isaac Penington, Margaret Fell, and John Woolman spoke truth to me, and later writers did as well: Caroline Stephen, Thomas Kelly, and Rufus Jones caused my heart to soar. The people of this meeting greeted my family warmly and drew us into their embrace. We felt loved and wanted. We participated gladly in all activities and got involved at the yearly meeting level as well. I thought I had at last found my spiritual community and home. I knew I was more liberal politically and in some of my interpretations of scripture than the majority in this rural meeting but I did not get the sense of being an outsider. I respected their opinions and spoke what was being revealed to me from my meditations and spiritual explorations as it seemed appropriate.

Then things began to change.

I felt restless when the open (silent) worship portion of the service was often cut short to accommodate all the other things: special music, a guest speaker, youth skits, announcements. That space of quiet seemed to become shorter and shorter. But I loved these people and if that made them happy, I would spend more time in silent listening at home. I sensed that sometimes when I asked earnest questions to learn why others believed made them uncomfortable.

With a new pastor who was not from a Quaker background, things changed even more. The fear of the world and the way things are was emphasized and encouraged. The “end times” were discussed often and with great drama. I heard more negative tone in what was said about that awful world “out there” and how we must guard against it and keep our children insulated and isolated from its evil influence. We began to teach them to fear the world rather than to walk within the inner light of Christ with as perfect a love as we can muster. All educators were portrayed as secular humanists intent on tearing our children away from our belief in God (not necessarily the child’s; it was about preserving what “we” believe) and we must fear it and fight against this influence. It was insisted upon that the Bible must be taken literally (including the creation story which made evolution impossible and a lie instead of a wondrous work of God) and the interpretation of scripture must be the one preached from the pulpit and not from the ultimate teacher, the inner light of Christ (hence even the pastor doesn’t believe the Bible can be taken literally).

I saw people change, become more judgmental, critical, angry, and fearful. They laughed at jokes made from the pulpit at the expense of those not exactly like “us.”

The loss of my community came when I asked this pastor if there was room for me at this meeting if I did not agree with everything being taught. I was told I could stay if I kept silent. I was crushed.

It broke my heart and still breaks my heart that so many Quaker meetings have either gone down this path and lost the original intent of what George Fox had revealed to him or have taken a path totally eliminating Christ in favor of political activism. Losing the corporate, silent listening to God left me isolated and alone, unable to be in this meeting any longer. I grieved mightily. And I grieve for our yearly meeting that is being torn apart, weakened beyond repair because the two versions of Quakerism appear to be irreconcilable, both sides digging in with intractable positions. This leaves me with no Quaker or spiritual home since I cannot participate in either option.

I still have not found a spiritual community yet I still yearn for one. I may never find it and I am at peace with that. I am willing to continue my journey to experience Christ personally and honor the inner seed alone until way opens and God brings me into community again if that is what I need.

I still read historic Quaker writings with awe at the authentic joy and peace experienced when centered in Christ and find inspiration there but the reality of the Quaker meetings where I live do not reflect the depth of spiritual understanding of these wise elders.

I do not see a middle ground in North Carolina. Our yearly meeting is dissolving. It is one of the oldest yearly meetings in the United States. We are as polarized as the political environment thus unable to help heal the divides and demonstrate the peace testimony.

I am at a loss for where those of us displaced by this contentious battle are to go and unable right now to keep seeking. As I meet others in this situation, I pray that the light within will find a way to reach out, connect and form new community even as the established community dissolves around me.

The post It Breaks My Heart appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

We Need a YAF

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:30am

Creative commons from Flickr/zach_a

What four words do I not ever want to hear a member of a nominating committee say to me? “We need a YAF.” YAF stands for “young adult Friend” and is usually defined as ages 18 to 35 or 40, depending on the yearly meeting. Yes, I am a Friend under age 35. Yes, age is one type of diversity it’d be good to have on your committee. That doesn’t mean you skip discernment.

I remember a friend answering her phone while we were hanging out. She was angry when she hung up. She had served two terms on a committee and had reached its term limit. She could take a year off from committee service to recharge, or she could move to another committee. The person on the phone had told her, “We need a YAF for ____ committee, so we thought you could do that instead.”

I’ve heard from other folks my age that they feel the same half dozen YAFs are asked to sit on many committees at once. Beyond that being a recipe for burnout, they feel frustrated and tokenized.

Why do efforts at increasing the diversity of a committee easily devolve into tokenization? I believe it is because we have abandoned our theology of gifts. Faith and Practice of Baltimore Yearly Meeting says, “each of us has God-given gifts or talents, which we are obliged to develop and use to the glory of God. . . . We are obliged also to recognize the gifts of other Friends.” In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” Hint: the answer he’s pointing toward is “no.”

Faith vs. Practice

When I found Quakers in 2009, I did a lot of reading and made friends with the clerk of a nearby meeting. My understanding of the nominations process was that I should expect someone from nominating committee to approach me at some point, having prayerfully discerned that God has a plan with a part for me in it, based on their recognition of my particular spiritual gifts. This turns out to be more of a theory. We have a disconnect between faith and practice.

Instead, what I found at one meeting was a “committee fair” like the student organization fairs on college campus. At each table, a representative of a committee pitched people passing by on why we should sign up for their committee. At others, I found that emailing a committee resulted in the clerk of the committee approaching and asking, “Hey, can I refer nominating committee to you about my committee?” The optimistic view here is “Oh good, you’re interested in what we’re doing!” The cynical view is “That’ll teach you to speak up.” I do prefer the optimistic view.

In either case, this is not a nominating committee full of people who have put in a particular effort to get to know everyone in the meeting so that they can properly discern who God is calling to what service. This is nominating committee matching up a list of names given to them to a list of job openings.

Last year I asked a Friend on the yearly meeting nominating committee why it was that I hadn’t been tapped until the clerk of the Advancement and Outreach Committee went to them and asked that I be nominated. I’d served on committees in two local meetings over the last five or six years. I thought this made it clear I was willing to serve. The answer was that they typically only bother to ask people who are already involved in some way with the yearly meeting—already on a committee or at least attending annual sessions. I only visited annual sessions that evening because I was coming to my first committee meeting with a yearly meeting level committee. Friends, I’m not sure whether the committee or the committee member is the chicken or the egg, but in any case, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem here. The pool of potential nominees has been artificially restricted to people whose employment situation can support taking several days off from work and paying several hundred dollars for the privilege of doing so. Given all that has been written about my generation’s employment difficulties, I think it should be obvious why the half-dozen YAFs present at YAF business meeting said they feel there are a half-dozen YAFs asked to fill far too many committee slots.

Even without economic barriers, limiting the pool to mostly people who are already serving means never getting a break and being asked to serve more than might be sustainable. That problem isn’t limited demographically. Overwork is a problem.

Getting at the Roots

There are several contributing factors. The most talked about is the pressure to staff an ever-increasing number of committees. Another is about welcome and timing. And then there are the good-intentioned diversity efforts.

Quantity and Quality

Over time, as new concerns arise, meetings add new committees. Those committees hang around. They must all be fully staffed. They are rarely laid down, even as the meeting’s membership and attendance shrink. Instead, individual Friends are asked to serve on two or three committees, to ensure each committee gets its full headcount. This is a recipe for burnout.

I know this is not a unique problem for Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends. The other BYM (Britain Yearly Meeting) has it too! In his 2014 Swarthmore Lecture, Ben Pink Dandelion discusses many issues facing Quakers today, including recognizing gifts and the difficulty of staffing all open committee slots.

This pressure to come up with a list of names that is possibly longer than the list of adults in active attendance negatively impacts the discernment process. Perhaps a different stage of discernments needs to happen first. What is the meeting being led to do? Is it still being led to all the activities in which it has historically participated? You know the saying: if everything’s a priority, nothing is. And having such a long list of service positions to staff must be overwhelming and exhausting. How much energy does it leave for the important prerequisite of getting to know everyone in the meeting sufficiently well that their gifts can be discerned? I would submit the answer is “not enough,” since the task of finding people often is delegated to the committees themselves.

Welcome and Timing

We hear many jokes about committee service. A card game was made about committee service called “Unable, Unwilling,” where the aim is to dodge committee service. We joke about people being scared away by attempts to put them on a committee after their second visit.

By all means, wait more than two weeks to get someone on a committee. Don’t wait so long, though, that the person frustratedly goes to a committee saying, “Oh for crying out loud, will you just let me help?” Sound funny? I’m sure many meetings have experienced an IT professional saying, “Oh please, just let me fix the email/website/wifi” due to frustration about its insufficiency. Or perhaps their frustration is that they know how to fix the window that won’t stay up. Or they have a leading, and the social witness committee is too busy with other ones to look into it. Or they are led to do a book discussion around Thomas Kelly, but the religious education committee is dealing with curriculum. Yes, this frustration can bubble up as regards many committees.

It’s not uncommon to talk in other groups about how getting people plugged into service is a way to make them feel involved and really part of the community. Similarly, it can be hard for individuals to judge when their contributions will be viewed as coming from an invested part of the community versus an interloper. Letting them know their contributions are wanted and valid is part of welcoming. I submit that after three to six months of regular attendance, a person is likely to feel sufficiently committed to the meeting to entertain the suggestion of service.

If a regular practice was made of meeting with people in this category to discern their spiritual gifts, we might find we have more people willing to serve and a better idea of where their gifts are most needed. There is no reason why clearness committees should be saved only for membership, weddings, and when someone is having a hard time making a major life decision. Get someone from nominating committee (and perhaps one or two others Friends) to sit down with the not-so-newcomer over their favorite hot beverage and start discerning the person’s leadings. Maybe they’re not being called to service yet. Fine. Check back in a year. Maybe they actually have some leadings, though.

If your meeting has such a high rate of growth that sitting down with each new person who has managed to stick around for three months would be burdensome, I salute you and wish to know how you’ve managed that. You could teach the outreach committee of every other meeting a lesson.


I was pressured, as a YAF on a committee, to come up with names of other YAFs who could serve on this same committee. I tried to think about who I know whose regular occupations or hobbies suggested they had the talents needed by the committee. My list was far shorter than the list of all Quakers near my age I knew. One Friend told me her concern would be that she and I have the same weaknesses, and so she would not be rounding out the committee’s collection of gifts, but instead contributing to lopsidedness. I conveyed this sense to the clerk of the committee, who suggested I go back and tell her that’s fine since what we really need is a larger YAF presence on the committee, and so her perspective as a young person was enough. I did not do so. I did not wish to insult my friend that way. Being a warm body that has not yet walked this earth 40 years does not trump her gifts.

The same, of course, goes for any other type of diversity. Failing to look beyond someone’s age, race, sexual orientation, or any other demographic category to see their gifts is insulting.

The desire to be more intentional and inclusive about who is serving on committees is a good one. This means doing much more than adding a quota though. Individuals must be treated as individuals. Be ready to name the gifts a candidate brings. That means doing the hard work laid out above to really get to know people and their gifts.

I think we’re up to it.

The post We Need a YAF appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Membership as Commitment and Belonging

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:30am

Europe and Middle East Section annual meeting 2017. Photo by Kate McNally, courtesy of the author.


Membership has become an optional extra for many meetings in the Liberal tradition in Europe. No longer does it define identity—something inherited like one’s DNA, or absorbed growing up—yet there are still many yearly meetings that acknowledge birthright membership, including entitlement to burial in Quaker grounds!

Membership is often seen as a sign of commitment. However, some already very engaged and active attenders who think of themselves as Quaker hesitate to apply for membership because they expect that it will bring new obligations and demands, often at a time in their lives when they feel already stretched and pulled in several different directions. Some say their own unworthiness holds them back from application: “I smoke and drink, how can I be a Quaker?”

Membership is also acknowledgement of an existing relationship within the community: “If it quacks, it’s a duck.” So why bother with elaborate membership processes, when all we need to say is, “Yes, this Friend is known to us, and we consider them to be part of our meeting”? After all, attenders are often included in the book of members.

Perhaps membership should allow the exercise of accountability, but how? Should we ensure applicants are well-versed in “Quaker ways”—at least as we understand and practice them? What of disownment, much used at various times in our history and still technically in our books of discipline? Would we use it today? In what circumstances?

Should membership be about explicit acceptance of a common religious practice? Or a shared understanding of what it means to be a community of faith? Have we become blessed with too much diversity to hope to establish any such common ground?

Membership has been compared to marriage, and I wonder what kind of marriage—a mutually supportive, contented companionship; a daily struggle for adjustment and compromise; or an all consuming passion to know and be known?

For some, membership is a lifeline connection that provides an anchor of stability in times and situations of personal challenge or isolation. This is the case for many international members who have no meeting to relate to, or the young woman who applied for membership of my area meeting just as she prepared to leave to take up a challenging job in a war zone.

For some Friends, formal membership is simply a divisive, un-Friendly, exclusive practice which places artificial barriers to people’s participation in the corporate life of our communities: an intrusive scrutiny of someone’s beliefs and way of life.

So, is membership a pragmatic arrangement to enable us to operate as a corporate body? Is it the culmination of a process of coming to belong in fellowship? Or, is it first and foremost a spiritual experience, the beginning of a new way of being and a new set of covenantal relationships? If it is primarily a spiritual experience, what bearing does “convincement”—or, dare I say it , “conversion”—have on the membership application process?

Considering the commitment aspect of membership, I hear the voice of Martha in the longing we express for more attenders to come into membership: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself—tell her to help me!” Jesus responded: “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:40–41). So perhaps, like Mary, attenders are indeed attending to what Love requires of them, focussing on the essentials, on the meeting for worship, on living a faithful life, whilst resisting the formality of membership—entanglement with elaborate committee structures that can, at times, be perceived as a hindrance, rather than a support, to the life of the spirit. Many attenders contribute as much as many members to the support of their meetings. So is the distinction between members and regular attenders a real one? In other yearly meetings people not in membership are called “Friends of Friends.” Would it be more helpful to describe both active formal members and regular attenders as participants in our meetings? Should we consider what is really essential, and prune our structures? Are we really open to the changes and challenges that new members bring?

Finally, to the question of convincement. We tend to think of it as a form of persuasion, or the discovery that the Quaker way suits us. This is not the meaning that earlier generations of Friends gave the word. Convincement was an experience of transformation, a sudden or unfolding realization of deep truths with life-changing significance. It can be an exhilarating experience of liberation, but also a terrifying ordeal that confronts us with the depths of our darkness, so that the Light can break through. Such convincement is no longer a requisite for membership. Yet it is a fundamental part of the Quaker insight that we are all called to live in holy orders; we have no separate priesthood to mediate the sacred to us, we are therefore the “royal priesthood,” and “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2.9). Living in holy orders means becoming aware of one’s unique place and purpose in the world, being the most authentic “me” I can be—and encouraging you to be fully and uniquely “you.” Living this truth changes us and makes us instruments of transformation: “They were changed men themselves before they went about to change others,” William Penn wrote.

Membership in the Religious Society or any religious or spiritual community is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. I was helped to see this by Evangelical Friends, who say they are Christian first and Quaker second. I initially found this disturbing: are we not an alternative to mainstream Christianity? Until I understood that, for them, being Christian means pledging loyalty to something greater than a human institution, however cherished, and connecting to others who express that loyalty in different ways.

I hope we can give thanks for all those Friends who have chosen to be in formal membership, for all those who are members in all but name, and perhaps should be recognized as such. We can rear and nurture them lovingly from an early age in our meetings, sowing seeds that will bear fruit that we cannot imagine. We can honor all who choose to participate in the life of our communities but whose sense of integrity holds them back from full membership for whatever reasons. May we sit lightly to the letter of any mechanism we choose to adopt, tending first to the Spirit always.

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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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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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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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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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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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