Articles & News

Simple Living Beyond the Thrift Store

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 1:25am

How many times at Quaker gatherings have you seen this bumper sticker? “Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live.”

That message seems ready-made for Quakers, with our thrift-store wardrobes, our decluttered homes, and our plain meetinghouses. When we practice simple living, we collectively say a resounding no to the consumerism, materialism, and waste of modern industrial society.

But how often do we ask ourselves whether our simple living actually does enable other people to live? By living simply, do we really touch the lives of other people in the places where they hurt the most? And how attainable is a simple lifestyle for most Americans today?

Friends are well aware of the heavy environmental strain that consumerism puts on our planet, and we know that materialism has fed a rat-race culture of dissatisfaction and craving. But even those of us familiar with the failures of our economic system can recognize its successes. Clearly, vast numbers of Americans live comfortable, vibrant lives full of opportunities that could scarcely have been imagined by their own grandparents.

In his recent book The Wisdom of Frugality, Emrys Westacott turns a sympathetic eye toward simple living and its virtues. But he also explores the counterarguments put forward by informed and sincere people who value the longer and healthier lives, the greater social mobility, and the wider vocational options that economic growth has afforded them. He notes, for example, that simple living can descend into miserliness if penny-pinching and constant attention to prices, discounts, and bargains make us preoccupied with money. Or we may become intolerable zealots for a pious frugality. More importantly, Westacott raises the argument that simple living encourages people to accommodate themselves to the exploitations and inequalities of America’s economic system. Advocacy of frugality “could be seen as telling people not to ask for a bigger piece of the pie, but to learn instead the joys of living on crumbs.”

Some Quakers, too, have noted the limitations of simple living. In the December 2002 issue of Friends Journal, Friend Keith Helmuth wrote that simple living is not enough when it entails only “individually practicing incremental good works in the expectation that, cumulatively, they will result in significant, society-wide change.” He found “no convincing evidence that the kind and scale of change needed will emerge from an accumulation of incremental lifestyle changes.”

If nothing else, these perspectives can keep us humbly aware of the limitations of simple living, lest we become preoccupied with our personal purity. Our chosen practices may be sensible, satisfying, and even spiritually fruitful for us. But how might we move our simple living beyond the thrift store—beyond an individualized focus on decluttering, downsizing, and personal frugality?

Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, used to say that he wanted to build a society “where it is easier for people to be good.” Perhaps we Quakers can move beyond a thrift store mindset by shifting our focus toward building a society where it is easier for people to live simply.


In his book Graceful Simplicity, Jerome M. Segal takes a fascinating position that may surprise—and even irritate—some Quakers. He contends that sometimes simple living advocates “take as their starting point a dubious thesis: that we Americans have more money than we need, and that we are the victims of ‘artificial desires’ inculcated by advertising and the general press of our consumerist culture.” Segal believes that “this characterization of American life, while perhaps accurate for the top 10 or 15 percent of the population, largely misreads the life situation of most American families.”

He continues:

Contrary to those who offer advertising, consumer culture, or even human nature as an explanation of why we never feel we have enough, I argue that we have created a very inefficient society—one in which our very real and legitimate economic needs can be met only with high levels of income.

Segal’s perspective may come as a jolt to those of us who see affluence, overindulgence, and materialism as the problem and simple living as the solution. He argues that by focusing our attention on personal consumption—trying to convince ourselves and others that we do not need all that “stuff”—we mistakenly suggest that a comfortable life is readily attainable if people would just buy less. But fixating on personal consumption in this way overlooks the larger reality that certain basic needs—such as transportation, housing, and education—are disproportionately expensive in America. These expenses present major obstacles to living simply, especially for low- and middle-income families.

Segal is saying, in effect, that people will be convinced to live a more simple life, not by our bumper stickers, but only when certain legitimate needs are within reach of a modest income. He maintains that the high cost of basic necessities in America has given us a society where it is harder for people to live simply.


One of the heavier burdens of modern American life is transportation. In 2014, it represented 17 percent of household consumer expenditures, second only to housing. Transportation also provides a good illustration of what Jerome Segal calls a decline in the “social efficiency of money” in our society:

[An] economic system operates most gracefully when it satisfies the needs of the population with the least expenditure of income. The social efficiency of money, the ratio of need satisfaction to income, is a measure of such gracefulness, and it tells us the extent to which a society makes simple living feasible. When it is high, then with modest incomes, needs can be met; when it is low, needs can be met only if income is high.

Segal points out that the money we now must spend on certain categories, such as transportation, will not buy us nearly as much as it once did. That money is “inefficient,” partly due to various social transformations. For example, it did not cost much for my grandmother to walk to her local fish market or green grocer or shoe cobbler. But today most of those neighborhood stores have disappeared, so I must drive to the mall or the supermarket for my shoes and groceries.

For most Americans outside of urban areas, automobiles are now a necessity, not a luxury. In two-income families, even a second car may be needed. These expenses are not necessarily the result of a greedy impulse to keep up with the Joneses. In fact, they may be caused by changes we applaud: Women are no longer confined to the home; they have their own careers and need their own transportation.

Because of such social transformations, I must devote more of my budget to transportation than my grandmother did, even though my household earns a lot more money than hers. A small proportion of her dollars paid all her transportation needs; it takes a larger proportion of my dollars to meet my transportation needs. So even though I have more money, it does not stretch as far. When it comes to transportation, my money is not as “efficient” as hers was.

Social transformations have played a role in this change but so have legislative priorities and economic policies. For example, our dependence on the automobile came about partly because, beginning in the 1930s, leaders of the nation’s auto, oil, and tire industries lobbied relentlessly for highway funding from state and federal governments. Meanwhile our nascent public transportation system stagnated. Today the burden of buying, maintaining, insuring, fueling, repairing, and driving our own individual vehicles falls on each of us. In terms of transportation, we have inherited a society where it is harder for people to live simply.


By far the heaviest economic burden on mainstream American households today is housing. Research by Pew Charitable Trusts found that in 2014 the typical middle-income homeowner household spent 25 percent of its income on housing. Renters had it even worse, with lower-income renter households spending close to half of their pretax income on rent. Besides that, the threat of eviction hangs over these renters, who typically have no cash reserve to pay the rent when unexpected emergencies arise.

In “Forced Out,” his 2016 article in the New Yorker, Matthew Desmond wrote about the eviction of renters in Milwaukee: “There are sheriff squads whose full-time job is to carry out eviction and foreclosure orders. Some moving companies specialize in evictions, their crews working all day long, five days a week.” Desmond found that, in Milwaukee’s poorest black neighborhoods, twice as many female renters get evicted as male—and nine times as many women get evicted in the poorest black neighborhoods as do women in the poorest white neighborhoods. In the same way that incarceration is defining the lives of black men, eviction is shaping the lives of black women. Poor black men get locked up, says Desmond; poor black women get locked out.

Matthew Desmond has helped build affordable houses with Habitat for Humanity, and he calls such efforts “incredibly important.” But he cautions that addressing the housing shortage with volunteer carpentry alone has limitations: “I don’t think we can build our way out of this problem totally.”

Some Friends have, like Matthew Desmond, generously devoted time to building Habitat houses, sometimes using skills honed by simple living. But the breadth of the problem calls us to move beyond hammers and nails to also become advocates for legislation and public policies that will effect widespread change. Habitat’s own CEO, Jonathan T.M. Reckford,  has addressed the importance of such advocacy work: “The housing need is far too great to build one house at a time. But that need can be met if we use our voices and not just our hammers.”

A number of Friends meetings around the country are already involved in issues of affordable housing, with several operating their own low-rent housing units. In addition, we have individual Quakers with backgrounds in housing advocacy. The experience of these knowledgeable Friends can draw us into the work of building, not just individual houses, but also building a society where it is easier for people to live simply in affordable, comfortable homes.


A third burden on American households involves education. Along with housing, education is our biggest source of debt today, with mortgages and student loans dwarfing auto loans or credit card debt. We may be tempted to blame personal debt on what Rebecca J. Rosen calls the “earn-and-consume hamster wheel” that seems to trap so many Americans. But in “The Circles of American Financial Hell,” published in The Atlantic, Rosen explains:

At its core, this relentless drive to spend any money available comes not from a desire to consume more lattes and own nicer cars, but, largely, from the pressure people feel to provide their kids with access to the best schools they can afford (purchased, in most cases, not via tuition but via real estate in a specific public-school district).

Seen this way, Rosen says, housing and education merge into the same spending spiral: “For the most part, where a family lives determines where their kids go to school, and as a result, where schools are better, houses are more costly.”

After the housing bubble burst in 2007, the buyers who lost their homes were sometimes disparaged for unwisely trying to purchase houses costing well beyond their means. Overlooked in this analysis were the parents who were seeking, not prestige and luxury, but better schools for their kids. Writes Rosen:

It’s all too clear why parents will spend their last dollar (and their last borrowed dollar) on their kids’ education: In a society with dramatic income inequality and dramatic educational inequality, the cost of missing out on the best society has to offer. . . is unfathomable.

As Rosen puts it, “Breaking the bank for your kids’ education is, to an extent, perfectly reasonable: In a deeply unequal society, the gains to be made by being among the elite are enormous, and the consequences of not being among them are dire.”

Echoing what Jerome Segal has written about the social inefficiency of money in our society, Rosen concludes:

In a sense, the people who say rising wages would help are onto something, but the key is not getting households more money—it’s about building a different system. . . . That would require systemic changes—changes to the tax code, changes to corporate-governance practices, changes to antitrust law, changes to how schools are funded, to name a few.

This is the sort of systemic change needed to build a society where it is easier to live simply.


Transportation, housing, education—these are three of the heaviest burdens pressing down on Americans today. Does our simple living provide a practical way of relieving these burdens? Let’s consider again the questions raised by our bumper sticker “Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live.”

First, by living simply do we really touch the lives of other people in the ways that we imagine? How much do our simple lifestyles lift the burdens that most encumber hard-pressed Americans? The honest answer seems to be: Not much. It is difficult to see how my decluttered house helps a person without any house at all, or how by riding a bike I could improve the life of someone dependent on a rickety car to get to work. Our simple lifestyles by themselves do not have much impact on the lives of these people.

Despite the many virtues and rewards that we individual Quakers find in living simply, we must recognize that our efforts—when only personal and apolitical—fall short of helping others to “simply live.” As Jerome Segal put it, to “change the lived experience of mainstream life in this country, we have to go well beyond personal economies.” We will have to take our commitments beyond the thrift store.

Second, how attainable is a simple lifestyle today? Can most ordinary Americans live on less? The surprising answer: Not really. As damaging as our consumerist culture can be, acquisitiveness alone may not be what has trapped so many Americans in the “earn-and-consume hamster wheel.” As we have seen, what burdens Americans most is the high cost of essentials such as transportation, housing, and education. The seductions of materialism and the lures of Madison Avenue may not be the chief forces that keep Americans from embracing the simple life. In our profoundly unequal and financially inefficient society, it takes a lot of income to obtain dependable transportation, secure housing, and quality education.


For Quakers in America today, finding a balance between personal and political strategies means looking beyond the thrift store to merge our personal simple living practices with collective work for wider systemic change. Without abandoning our simple living commitments, we can together move beyond their limitations and turn our attention toward enacting economic policies and social priorities that will build a society where it is easier for all of us to live simply.

Maybe someday we’ll even have a bumper sticker for that.

The post Simple Living Beyond the Thrift Store appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Releasing One Another for Faithfulness

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 1:20am

Evergreen Worship Group circa 2006. Photo courtesy of the author.


People who feel called to dedicate their lives to loving and serving God in radical ways have often found it necessary to live together. Roman Catholics created monasteries and convents for celibate renunciates, while the first Quakers demonstrated a way to live God-focused lives while maintaining a family and carrying on occupations in the world. They supported those called to ministry through extensive home hospitality for travelers and by raising funds. Our society is not nearly as communal as theirs was, and today most people live in isolated family units. Young people still share houses while engaging in studies or beginning their professional lives, but most Quakers in our time maintain the individualistic norms of the culture regarding living arrangements. Some Friends, however, have continued to explore alternatives.

Quakers in the Philadelphia area established Bryn Gweled and Tanguy Homesteads in 1939 and 1945 as housing communities where people of “different backgrounds and heritage” could live together cooperatively. In 1971, a group of Quakers with an even more radical aim established Movement for a New Society (MNS), “a nationwide network of groups working for fundamental social change through nonviolent action.” They created a cluster of communal households in a low-income neighborhood in West Philadelphia.

When I moved to the same neighborhood in 1989, however, MNS had mostly dispersed. I came seeking a way to live that would allow me to follow a spiritual calling. It had become clear to me that I must take only part-time paid work and learn to live frugally. I saw a clear relationship between my lifestyle choices and the amount of work I had to do to pay for each choice. For many years, I lived in small apartments in low-income neighborhoods. I chose not to own a car and did not buy health insurance. In my free time, I engaged in study and practice to eventually become a teacher of Quaker spirituality. Along with other Friends, I became convinced that many treasures of Quaker faith and corporate practice are gifts that the world urgently needs, and that in order to fully give our gifts, Quaker meetings need to deepen spiritually.

Fired with a sense of being called to teach and write, in 1996 I experienced an inner call to give up even my very modest but regular income from teaching college classes, in order to dedicate more of my time and energy to teaching and writing about the spiritual life. To release myself for ministry, I needed to give up my own apartment and find a less expensive way to live. This would require support from others. Embarrassed to ask for help, I wrestled for months before finally giving notice that I was leaving my job. Although not having this job has not always been easy, in the past two decades I have experienced God’s providence in many ways, and in particular through the generous community of Friends. I am one of an increasing number of Friends who have heard a call to release ourselves and be released by our community for God’s service, in the myriad forms that service takes.

Evergreen neighborhood (Google Earth).

Shared Households

The communal living arrangements I’ve experienced have fallen into three general categories. The first is shared households located in low-income neighborhoods. Dividing up the modest living expenses in such places has enabled members of the household to free themselves and each other from much or most of their salaried work in order to follow leadings or carry a ministry. At times, some Friends have felt called to invite me and others into a second kind of living arrangement: sharing their homes and offering a spare bedroom. In such situations, the homeowner does not expect to receive an equal share of housing and utility costs. Sometimes no rent is charged at all. At other times, the one following a leading or carrying a ministry pays a modest rent. A third alternative has been to live as a house-sitter in someone’s home while the owners are away for an extended period of time. House-sitters pay for the utilities they use, and sometimes also a modest rent.

In 1997 I moved to Casa Amistad/Friendship House in an inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood called Fairhill. Jorge Arauz had bought a house facing a small park that was the turf of drug dealers. He felt led to what he called “a ministry of presence” to the neighbors. As one of them, he nurtured the community to reclaim the park as a safe place for children. A Quaker committee called Fairhill Friends Ministry met twice a month to provide spiritual and practical support, and they called for other Friends to live in the house. I was the second Friend to respond to the invitation, and soon, in addition to teaching and writing, I was helping to organize community events and efforts to make Fairhill Square beautiful and safe again. At Casa Amistad, three of us shared household expenses, including the mortgage and utilities. Jorge and I also shared food expenses and cooked together. On the weekends, we were joined by the young daughters of my two housemates.

After two and a half years, for health reasons, I needed another place to live, and Hollister Knowlton invited me to live in her house for a time. At first, she charged me no rent. Then she began to acknowledge that she, too, was called to reduce her full-time employment and devote more time to her leadings, which were related to protecting the environment. As her financial situation changed, I took part-time jobs to contribute more to household costs. Then she sold the house to move to a smaller one down the block. When another Friend bought the house, I stayed on for a while. After I left, other Friends needing to be released from ministry and for witness followed me in this house of hospitality, a center of community sometimes referred to as Angels Landing.

For seven years, I was the summer house-sitter for two Quaker schoolteachers. In June they went to their summer home in Vermont, and I moved into their old stone house. I lived alone and did research and writing six days a week. I paid for the utilities, mowed the lawn, watered the plants, and gave attention to occasional maintenance needs.

After four years of full-time employment as a teacher of Quaker spirituality, I wanted to stretch my savings as long as possible so I could finish a book. I entered another house-sitting arrangement, staying in the apartment of a couple who had taken a one-year appointment to work in another city. They came home a few weekends a month. I used their guest bedroom and paid them a modest rent.

Next I moved to Richmond, Indiana. For three years, I lived in a rich community of people knowledgeable about Quaker faith and practice, with access to the Earlham College library’s Quaker collection. I audited some courses at Earlham School of Religion and received support there for my research and writing project. Housing costs in Richmond are about 30 percent cheaper than housing in the Philadelphia area. Through several different living arrangements and by taking a part-time job, I was able to make my savings last longer in Richmond.

Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Ind. @Matthisrish/

Spiritual Community

In addition to financial and communal benefits, there are equally important spiritual benefits to living with others who are also seeking to be faithful. Conversations at meals, while doing chores, and during leisure time can be rich opportunities for mutual spiritual sharing, learning, encouragement, and inspiration. Being led into such household arrangements, in whatever role, can provide a new lens for the challenges that inevitably arise in every sort of living arrangement. Understanding that we are together in service to God’s work in the world can help ease the challenges of living together. Such frictions can become part of the spiritual process of becoming a more faithful instrument of God’s love.

From the beginning of my journey as a Quaker, Pendle Hill retreat and study center in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, was a crucial hub for experiencing and learning about Quaker spirituality. As soon as I discovered it, I began signing up for weekend workshops and an occasional five-day course. Pendle Hill had a policy of matching any scholarship given by meetings, which made their programs affordable to me. I lived near enough to attend the free lectures and enroll in some resident student classes. I loved the daily morning meetings for worship; lasting just 30 minutes, they often had a charged, holy quality that was rare at the Quaker meeting I attended on Sunday mornings. I learned experientially that a meeting for worship can be about something even more powerful and transforming than the quiet centering, wise spoken messages, and loving community I experienced on Sunday mornings.

At its creation, Pendle Hill borrowed from the Benedictine monastic model to create a rhythm of community life conducive to a deeper immersion in the experience of God and supportive of those called to live in a radically faithful way. In addition to the morning meeting for worship, the resident community of staff and students also shared a rhythm of shared work, study, and leisure. Pendle Hill was created, in part, to allow those called to some form of spiritual nurture or teaching ministry to deeply explore their spiritual life and Quaker faith. It was also created to provide preparation and spiritual renewal for those called to lives of service or social action. Those who came as resident students for one or more ten-week terms ranged in age from 18 to 85. Their experience was often life altering.

In 2005, I enrolled for two terms as a resident student. Later I returned to serve for four years as the resident Quaker studies teacher. At Pendle Hill, I witnessed how community can encourage deep acquaintance with the presence of God and with divine guidance. A community can also support its members in making faithful lifestyle choices that are different from the culture, offering encouragement to take risks and step out in faith.

For me and for many others, the way of life there inspired efforts to create spiritual community elsewhere. Before living at Pendle Hill, I spent a year in a group house in the Endless Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania with two other women, recent Pendle Hill staff members called to write books. The three of us gathered for a half-hour meeting for worship each morning, and then we went to our separate rooms to write. We shared some of the cooking and household chores. A small insurance settlement from a car accident provided enough money for me to write for a year without paid employment; my housemates each took local part-time work. On Sunday mornings, we gathered with two others who had recently lived at Pendle Hill. An hour-long meeting for worship was followed by a time of spiritual sharing and reflection, then brunch. We were joined occasionally by Friends who came to partake of the community experience and the fresh country air.

Evergreen Worship Group in 2015. © Miyo Moriuchi.


Years later, I participated in another effort to create daily community rhythms of spiritual practice. In the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, five Quakers lived on a street called Evergreen Avenue. We often shared meals in each others’ homes, had occasional meetings for worship in a backyard or living room, stood together in peace vigils, and participated together on committees. After Laura Melly bought a house on the street, with the intention to foster spiritual community, we began to hold daily weekday morning meetings for worship. A half hour of worship was followed either by a half hour of study of scripture or other readings, or else half an hour of spiritual sharing and prayer requests. We called ourselves the Evergreens and took turns meeting in each others’ houses. Soon we were joined by Friends from other streets and neighborhoods, and also by neighbors who were not Quaker. Eventually a large community formed, out of which a group of three to ten people—on average—might meet for worship each morning. Those whose work schedules made it difficult to participate in the morning began to hold an evening meeting for worship one day each week, followed by a potluck dinner. The community held special events to celebrate holidays and birthdays; helped meet each other’s practical life needs; prayed for each other; and came out in support of one another’s ministries, creative projects, and witness. Several peer groups were formed to meet on a regular basis for mutual spiritual support and accountability. Some participants moved away, but other people joined. More than a decade later, the Evergreens are still meeting regularly.

A few years ago, I married Terry Hauger, a retired social worker. In order for me to continue to follow my leadings, we needed to find an economical way to live. We were led to buy a duplex on the edge of Chester, a city southwest of Philadelphia. We live in a multiracial neighborhood near a beautiful park and midway between some leafy, affluent suburbs and the struggling inner city of Chester. Our house is a 12 minute drive from Pendle Hill, and the same distance from Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting.

There are several Quaker households in our neighborhood. After the recent presidential election, a multiracial community group was formed of local Quakers and other neighbors concerned about caring for the least advantaged in our society. The group has focused its efforts on supporting refugees who are being settled in Chester. In addition, some local Quakers, from both Chester and Swarthmore, have been holding a monthly meeting for prayer and healing at Chester Meeting. When I see houses for sale on my street, I dream of community forming here, a community of Friends sharing one another’s inner lives and practical needs, and engaging together in the community, in spiritual nurture, and in social action. If those who live in more affluent neighborhoods sold their homes and bought a house on our street, they could free up hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in their real estate.

My dream is not only for my own community but a vision of faithful communities blossoming all over the world. Wherever Friends live, if we seek communal ways to support and release each other, we can free up time, money, and resources for greater faithfulness, service, witness, social action, and ministry. We can learn to know and support each other more intimately and become more radical in dedicating ourselves to God’s work of healing and transforming the world.

The post Releasing One Another for Faithfulness appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

So Far So Safe

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 1:15am

I thought I had a can of pineapple
but it’s only apricots
in the cabinet, apricots in syrup. Still,
what wealth. So far from my fellow citizens
eating in the dark, petitioning the monster
for water. So far and so safe
that an appetite for pineapple
can rise up in me this oddly warm
October morning like a trout in a lake,
like a trout the color of days-old bruises, jaw
aglint with a spiral witness of hooks:
All we all want
is to live.

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Categories: Articles & News


Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 1:10am

I remember him as a child remembers:
he was my Papaw.
He rocked me to sleep in his arms, singing
“Precious memories, how they linger.”

I remember him in his uniform.
He was a conductor for the Southern Railway.
A farm boy, he had grown up learning
to love chickens and mules.

At 16 he went to work for the railroad.
Later on, he lent his two boys to the U.S. Army
and one came back wounded, and
both came back with PTSD.

Papaw grew old very quickly. Was it
the worry? Was it the odd hours?
The soot he inhaled in the railyards?
At 55, he lost his life to cancer.

I have only a picture of him to remember
him by, the grandfather who loved me,
who sang to me, who brought me candy.
His life went by like a train passing,

too fast, in the nighttime hours,
the lonely whistle fading in the wind.

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Categories: Articles & News

Life Saving Quaker Practice

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 1:09am

Mississippi River near Fridley, Minn. (c) Gabriel Vanslette/Wikimedia

Although I’ve participated in Quaker worship for 25 years, it took a diagnosis of brain cancer for me to take on a wholehearted commitment to daily waiting worship.

I was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive kind of brain cancer, in 2015. After a year of surgeries, chemo, radiation, and experimental treatments, I completed all of the available medical treatment in 2016. My prognosis was still not good. Average survival after this diagnosis is a year and a half. I knew that I wanted to continue some kind of treatment.

I live close to the Mississippi River, and before that time, I had occasionally gone to the river to pray. When my medical treatment ended, I decided to make daily Quaker worship next to the river my ongoing treatment. For the past year, I’ve been sitting silently next to the river every day, with the intention of listening for and following the Spirit’s movements. I see the trees, birds, and river next to me as fellow worshippers in community with me. I take this treatment as seriously as I took chemo and  radiation.

Like in meeting for worship, most thoughts that arise during my treatment are from a shallow place in my busy mind and not something with spiritual power. The river keeps inviting me to place those in the river and let them pass.

When messages with spiritual power do arise, I jot them down and ask if the message is just for me, for another particular person, or for a group. Occasionally, the messages turn into an article, like this. Mostly, though, I sit and watch the river go past.

Many messages have become letters of gratitude or reconciliation to people in my life—such as acknowledging what I learned of God’s love from my pre-school teacher, or apologizing for my misuse of power in a past job. Some messages lead to conversations. Many days, like in meeting, there aren’t any messages, just sitting in waiting worship. Other days, a great blue heron will have a message delivered through a graceful flight above the water in front of me. Sometimes a turtle walks slowly across my path, eldering me in the ways of patience and persistence. The 100-year-old cottonwood trees around me season what I think is ministry, helping me test if it is a message with weight, or one to return to the river.

Research is increasingly showing the health benefits of being in beautiful natural places, especially in contemplative ways. Even more than the health benefits, my commitment to the river continues to grow because of how I experience it opening me more fully to the sacred river that is the foundation of our worship.  

I’m now six months past the average survival for my diagnosis, and one year into my daily worship at the river.  I don’t assume my worship at the river will cure me, but I continue to trust that this treatment is an essential part of my healing.  When I now sit in worship with other humans, I feel my friends at the river holding us in the sunlight, grounding us in generative soil, and cleansing us in the watershed.

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Categories: Articles & News

Forum, January 2018

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 1:08am
Disagreement isn’t aggression I am grateful for the December 2017 issue’s theme of  “Conflict and Controversy.”  The personal stories and reflections have inspired my own thoughts on this matter. Especially noteworthy was Chris Morrissey’s comment in “The Heart of This Crazy Commitment”: “It feels particularly jarring in a Quaker community where peace can be defined so expansively that the slightest disagreement feels like an act of aggression.” When a slight disagreement feels like an act of aggression, meaningful communication is discouraged, and consequently, the truth🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

We Are Pilgrims on a Journey

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 1:05am

© Ionescu Begdan


Friends across the country are grappling with finding a faithful response to the immensity of the climate crisis, and faithful responses have taken many forms. This is the story of a year of faithful seeking and acting by New England Yearly Meeting Prophetic Climate Action Working Group (PCAWG). Our year together provided much spiritual fruit and action. We pray that God is illuminating a path to faithful action in these times of crisis, and we share this journey in hope that others may find light and hope within it.

At New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) Annual Sessions in 2016, Friends returning from Friends World Committee for Consultation World Plenary in Pisac, Peru, delivered a challenge to us: commit to two concrete steps addressing global climate change within the year. By the end of our sessions, Friends had recognized a group that was led towards prophetic action on climate as one of those concrete steps. That group coalesced to become PCAWG (pronounced pea-cog), which worked faithfully through 2016 to discern God’s will among us and enact it in the world. Looking back now, we see much in our journey which illuminates the Quaker way to powerful action.

We met first September 5, 2016, at Mount Toby Meeting in Leverett, Massachusetts. After the rush of energy during sessions, which included large gatherings brainstorming what the yearly meeting could do, we began with an investigation into prophecy. Prophecy isn’t about telling the future but about breaking through the numbness of our routines and calling our community to greater faithfulness and deeper relation with God. We were clearly called to a kind of prophetic action and witness that springs from our authentic Quaker existence.

But we did not know what to do.

So we gathered a larger group. Over 30 Friends gathered October 28 for a weekend retreat in Framingham, Massachusetts. We worshiped and felt moved to prepare the ground for helping the Religious Society of Friends listen for and respond to the leadings of Spirit. We thought of our work as being that of mycelium, which invisibly work through soil and nurture plants and trees. Only at some late stage, do they blossom into visible mushrooms. Grieving emerged as a central theme. A group that coalesced in Maine planned gatherings on climate grief, which were first held at NEYM’s mid-year gathering in Providence, Rhode Island.

But we still did not know what to do.

Over the winter, we felt abandoned by the Spirit; our way was lost, and no clarity arose. We waited and continued to meet.

In March, we gathered at Worcester, Massachusetts, and many sensed that this would be our last meeting, if some way did not open. But open it did. New life arose, and through brainstorming, we became clear that our witness was to the transforming power of God to re-prioritize our lives and reorder the world. What resulted was a pilgrimage. We set off on July 9 on a seven-day, 60-mile pilgrimage between the two coal plants in New Hampshire. With radical hospitality from Dover, West Epping, and Concord Meetings and participation by many other Friends meetings and churches, as well as Friends from across our yearly meeting and beyond, it was a powerful experience. This was a journey made by many more than the dozen people who walked every day; it was a corporate witness.

The pilgrimage concluded with a meeting for worship appointed by Concord Meeting in Canterbury, New Hampshire, which gathered over 50 people at the gates of the coal plant in Bow, New Hampshire. Following worship, in an act of civil disobedience, a smaller group set up an encampment, which blocked the train tracks that feed coal to the power plant.

Six days of walking and worship prepared the ground for us, allowing time to center in Spirit and connect. The fruits of that centering were love and trust, which invited many into the bold work of the direct action on the coal tracks. We were invited to live up to the teaching of Jesus, and found deep within ourselves the willingness to give over our lives to whatever was to come—whether arrest, condemnation, or transformation.

The police never arrived, and our time on the tracks was spent in Bible study, worship, and deepening relationships. Let us be honest: there were rough edges. Disagreement arose in the group Sunday morning following worship, stemming from a lack of a clear decision-making process as well as issues of patriarchy and power. Taking the time to address the hurt was where we found the true work: the holy struggle of living into the beloved community.

Honor Woodrow wrote a reflection following the final weekend:

I chose to join the pilgrimage because it was clear to me that it was not a “protest” but rather an opportunity to gather in the manner of Friends with a common concern, and to listen for how the Spirit might be leading us into transformation, both as individuals and as a group.

On Saturday evening, there were several Friends who heard a clear calling to sleep on the tracks in the encampment that they had built earlier in the day. Several others (myself included) had not found their way clear to risk arrest at that time…. What I needed was to sleep in my own bed, and I was eager to take a shower. (After accumulating six days worth of sweat, bug spray, sunscreen, and pond water, I felt long overdue.) So I made my way home, where I showered and slept (which was glorious). When I woke up the next morning, I returned to the tracks for a final time of worship before helping to dismantle the encampment.

During this worship, it became clear to me that while it is nice to sleep in a comfortable bed, to have a clean body, and to be in my own space, the rest and comfort I am yearning for is actually found in worship with those who share a common expectation that the Holy Spirit might just show up among us at any moment with all that we need.

I am bringing this insight with me out of that time, and thinking about what it means for how I choose to orient my life and decide to spend my time. Should I prioritize what feels most within my comfort zone or risk being uncomfortable, knowing that there is a possibility that I might find greater peace, connection, and rightness there?

George Fox’s words, written  to his parents in 1652, resonate:

“To that of God in you….I speak, to beseech you…to return within, and wait to hear the voice of the Lord there; and waiting there, and keeping close to the Lord, a discerning will grow…. Oh! be faithful! Look not back, nor be too forward, further than ye have attained; for ye have no time, but this present time: therefore prize your time for your souls’ sake.”

Friends, we believe we are discovering new vessels for God’s work. We offer this as a story of our experiment—an experiment of a small group with a commitment to following Spirit—in hope that it may inspire others to do their own experiments. We have felt the love and support of many Friends across the country this past year, and we ask for your continued prayers as we discern where God is calling us. And we long for you to “Go and do likewise,” taking up your own experiments in what God may be asking of you in this time.

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Categories: Articles & News


Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 1:00am
School to Peace Pipeline Conference held at Duke Keynote speakers Dr Renee Prillaman (left) and William Jackson (right). Photos by Satsuki “Sunshine” Scoville of Scoville Photography. On Saturday, October 28, 2017, the School to Peace Pipeline conference was held at Duke University in Durham, N.C. The event was hosted by Peaceful🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:30am
By Richard Rothstein. Liveright, 2017. 368 pages. $27.95/hardcover; $17.95/paperback (May 2018); $26.23/eBook.

The title of this fascinating analysis of racialized public policy is a double entendre that refers to  the appearance of legality for a policy or legislative act (the very implementation of which undermines human dignity and value) and which points out that U.S. law has been used in the service of racial segregation. Legal status cannot make morally right that which is not. In The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute meticulously explores a nexus of local, state, and federal public policy as the origin of hostility between distinct ethnic communities. Rothstein challenges the misconception that laws reflect already existing biases in a given community. Instead, Rothstein argues that housing policies created racial hostilities in communities where they hadn’t previously existed. The premise for such policies was that an African American presence in formerly white neighborhoods would inevitably devalue property prices.

Rothstein persuasively argues that the federal government served as the oxygen that both lit and kept burning these racially charged flames. This book explores a wide canvas of institutional actors—the Veterans Administration, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and the U.S. military—that acted explicitly to prevent housing developments from being accessible to African Americans. The federal government also excluded African Americans from wartime skilled labor and denied African American veterans the educational advancement that they were promised upon entering military service. The background for these twentieth-century policies is historical law of the United States, which economically benefited some through devaluing African Americans as less than human beings. Rothstein sets the scene for where this leaves us: the current median household wealth is $134,000 for whites and $11,000 for African Americans.

Policies following wartime also evidence economic injustice. These include the traditional, multi-decade, amortized mortgage and requisite FHA insurance. Rothstein points out that home ownership was deployed by the administration of President Wilson after the 1917 Russian Revolution as a mechanism to suture Americans to the capitalist (as opposed to communist) system. To this end, the federal government of the 1930s, through the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation Act, actually purchased existing home mortgages that were in danger of default. The underwriting guidelines which directed the financing decisions of real estate agents were explicitly constructed to maintain current (read all-white) neighborhood social compositions.

At the local level, many practices deliberately worked to socially engineer all-white neighborhoods. These included changing zoning ordinances, inserting restrictive covenants into deeds, changing minimum lot size for developments, altering property assessment practices, and organizing mass protests as reprisals should an African American family move into a neighborhood. Rothstein cites several examples of local housing projects from which African Americans were barred. In Levittown, Pennsylvania, 17,500 homes were sold for $8,000 with no down payment required. The project did not have a single African American buyer.

An underwhelming element in this book is Rothstein’s acceptance of various normative frameworks. This is troubling given that he explicitly states that policies to remedy housing discrimination are far more challenging than are those that alter other discriminatory practices, such as preventing access to the ballot box or lunch counter. Rothstein mentions in passing that it is hard to argue against the idea that all other considerations–including racial equality–needed to be subordinated to winning World War II. Is it not true that such an express policy limits support for a host of other public policies, including housing? Are we not currently at war? How would such an argument impact the needed support for any forthcoming housing policy suggestions? Rothstein also seems reluctant to move beyond the role of critic in order to offer a restorative housing policy blueprint. Rothstein tentatively suggests (as “recovery” rather than “reparations”) below-market sales of houses to African Americans. He seems so firmly attached to market-based doctrine that he offers a prescription that would very likely do exactly what anxious whites feared: lower property values. Such depressed prices would then lead to white flight and ultimately foster the growth of additional black ghettos. Rothstein’s views of housing as an individually owned, accumulative commodity seem particularly unsuited to challenging contemporary economic doctrine (as it implies fiduciary decision making) if and when needed. This contrast is particularly glaring given the systemic imbalances so evident after the Great Recession. Rothstein is quite satisfying as an investigative critic but not nearly as convincing as a prophetic voice calling for a housing policy that leads to restorative social justice. This book would benefit greatly from an expanded epilogue that included a more wide-ranging exploration of proposals such as those laid out in The Resilience Imperative by Michael L. Lewis and Pat Conaty.


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Categories: Articles & News

Lucretia Mott Speaks: The Essential Speeches and Sermons

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:25am
Edited by Christopher Densmore, Carol Faulkner, Nancy Hewitt, and Beverly Wilson Palmer. University of Illinois Press, 2017. 304 pages. $75/hardcover; $30/eBook.

For those who want to delve deeply into the thinking of Lucretia Mott, this book offers an excellent look into her interrelated causes. Since she did not prepare written speeches but depended on the Spirit to give her the words in the moment—both for political speeches and for messages in meetings for worship—this collection shows how she managed to mention so many of her favorite topics in her talks. The editors have done a thorough job of ferreting out approximately 190 of her lectures, taken down verbatim or summarized, and printed in a wide variety of publications. The list of her venues is wide, geographically and institutionally, including the usual Friends meetings; women’s rights, anti-slavery, and peace associations; and conventions, but also including talks to medical students; the Free Religious Association; several funerals; and the opening of Swarthmore College, which she helped found.

Most Friends are aware of Mott’s tireless advocacy for abolition and women’s rights, and may also be aware of her work for temperance, peace and nonviolence, and education for formerly enslaved people. She supported feminism, prison reform, international cooperation, economic equality, religious freedom, and respectful treatment of Native Americans, while opposing capital punishment. She read widely and often noted current news or opinions such as an 1868 mention of labor’s demand for an eight-hour day. The editors have done authoritative work supplying frequent and very helpful notes.

What might not be so widely understood is how frequently Mott’s strongly held religious views colored and were explicitly stated in so many of her speeches. She demanded, “Bring your religion right into your politics, right into your commerce.” She spoke frequently against laws enforcing the Sabbath, and against the “priesthood” that misused the Bible to oppress blacks and women. She had no patience for the theology of atonement, thus earning her the labels of heretic and infidel, which she wore with pride. Yet, like others of her age, she was very familiar with the Bible, and its phrases and stories found their way, unlabelled, into her speech.

Mott characterized her religion as “practical Christianity.” She distrusted theology, preferring the intersection of individual conscience, human equality, and direct action to guide her own life. She refused to follow the custom in a meeting for worship of rising when anyone knelt to offer a prayer. Although she regarded Friends Book of Discipline as perhaps the most advanced such document of its time, she held out the possibility that it might contain “peculiar passages and obligations which ought to be removed.” Her mantra was to “take truth for our authority, and not authority for truth.” She advocated applying religion to this life, “to every-day practice and every-day necessity, and uprightness and goodness, and to enter into our heaven here.” She believed “free-thinking to be a religious duty,” that proving and trying all things “and holding fast only to that which is good is the great religious duty of our age.” She became increasingly liberal in her religious views through the course of her life. Despite being somewhat of a theological outsider in her Hicksite branch of Friends, she avoided disownment and resignation.

Because this is a collection of speeches, there is necessarily a fair amount of repetition of not only her main themes but also of favorite phrases. Her sermons in meetings for worship differed surprisingly little from her platform speeches. Thus the reader gains a good sense of what it would have been like to hear Lucretia speak. This is the public Mott, not the personal family friend, wife, and mother, who is revealed in personal letters. She was unwavering in her critiques of “priests” or ministers, politicians, and slaveholders. She surprises with sarcasm, always somewhat gently stated. Yet she remained optimistic that ordinary citizens (female and male) could create a more just, egalitarian society. She would probably feel at home among liberal unprogrammed Friends today, while continuing to see the need for unrelenting labor against racism, inequality, injustice, and war.

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Categories: Articles & News

Race & Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:20am
By David P. Leong, IVP Books, 2017. 208 pages. $16/paperback; $15.99/eBook.

I couldn’t put down David Leong’s guide because it is so full of hope that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice can redeem the most oppressed people in the most neglected places. He channels the Martin Luther King Jr. of Where Do we Go From Here: Chaos or Community? and the Jane Jacobs of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, with Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society added for good measure.

David Leong is less a literary stylist than a plain old storyteller. He weaves together biblical parables, urban history, and personal anecdotes, traveling back and forth in time and space. His voice is learned yet down to earth. And Leong helps us retread the holy ground on which Jesus walked—from race to place, whether Gentile or Jew, Galilee or Jerusalem.

This remarkable story of joining with a cultural other is rightfully woven into the genealogy of Jesus, whose life was marked by all the same surprising transgressions of racial logic and cultural order that defined his day and age….Simply identifying with those at the bottom of the societal ladder as your people is an urgent…challenge for the parish church [to incarnate Jesus Christ] in the city.

For example, long before Detroit went bust, the county fathers built a barrier in the north end to demarcate the city from the suburbs. Having lived in Detroit, Leung is all about tearing down walls between people. If, as he writes, “Jesus is the bridge between the particularity of Jerusalem and the universality of God’s presence in all the places where God’s people dwell,” we need divine intervention to straighten out real estate cycles and level income inequality.

As a city planner who’s devoted his life to uplifting those “down in the dumps,” whether they like it or not, I was challenged by Leong, a Chinese American teacher of urban missionaries, to look at my middle-class whiteness in the mirror of entitlement.

An Asian American caught between discrimination and opportunity, Leong sees the world in shades of gray rather than black and white. He’s all for prayer before taking action but sometimes fails to follow his own advice, or, as he quotes singer Johnny Cash, it’s possible to become “so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good.” Unfortunately, he spends more time addressing his own shortcomings and those of his evangelical brethren than engaging in honest dialogue with folks on the outside of those walls. This is the challenge he identifies so well and struggles to undertake.

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Categories: Articles & News

Rhythms of Grace / An Unhurried Leader

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:15am
Rhythms of Grace: Life-Saving Disciplines for Spiritual Leaders. By David O. Williams. Barclay Press, 2017. 138 pages. $14/paperback. An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence. By Alan Fadling. IVP Books, 2017. 174 pages. $20/hardcover; $15.99/eBook.

Many clergy and spiritual leaders in the United States suffer from burnout. Friends serving in leadership and ministry roles, whether in unprogrammed meetings or pastoral Friends churches, can also experience stress and overcommitment.

Two recent books offer help for spiritual leaders in long-term service. Both are interesting and potentially valuable to Friends. Both books offer a combination of statistics, personal testimony, contemporary and Bible stories, and suggested practices to improve the situation for spiritual leaders.

The first is An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence by Alan Fadling, a longtime pastor and more recently the founder of an organization in California called Unhurried Living. The other is by a Friend, David O. Williams: Rhythms of Grace: Life-Saving Disciplines for Spiritual Leaders. Williams serves as general superintendent of Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. The book is published by Barclay Press, the Evangelical Friends publishing house in Newberg, Ore., which has taken on interesting new directions under the recent leadership of Eric Muhr.

Williams’s book is brief and to the point, and flows with a graceful rhythm in keeping with the book’s title. He details the perils of “spiritual heroism,” which many Friends in leadership or ministry roles may be tempted by. It is comforting to be reminded that Biblical leaders, such as Elijah, were imperfect yet were able to reconnect with God and continue the work to which they were called. Williams also tells his own powerful story of how he came to realize God is always present with us, which transformed his loneliness into an appreciation for solitude.

Williams reorients the reader to a more grace-filled rhythm of life, starting in solitude with God, moving into action and back to solitude, as modeled by Jesus. Life-transforming disciplines he recommends include physical refreshment, spiritual renewal, and vocational realignment to stay grounded and vital in the work.

Fadling offers a variety of techniques to slow leaders down, so they can take time to commune with God before moving into action. Friends are often aware of the power of contemplation plus action. Fadling’s unhurried approach serves as a timely reminder for Friends today to reconnect with the Source of that life and power we seek. Even as life in the United States today often lends urgency to taking action on any number of issues, this unhurried approach is timeless. For example, Fadling frequently quotes Quaker authors Thomas Kelly and Douglas Steere, who addressed similar urgencies in the twentieth century.

Of particular note to me was the chapter “Prayer as Primary Influence.” Fadling admits he used to pray for specific outcomes for people, and now he prays for the people themselves to cooperate with what God may already be doing in their lives. As a result, “I experience holy energy rising up from within me to do good work.” Friends serving as meeting or committee clerks would benefit from such holy energy rising up within them, too.

Readers should be aware that both books are written for a Christian audience. I believe they have valid insights and advice for individuals who do not identify as Christian as well.

If the issue of overcommitment speaks to your condition, I highly recommend reading Williams’s book and, if you have time for a deeper dive, Fadling’s as well.

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Categories: Articles & News

Solutionary Rail: A people-powered campaign to electrify America’s railroads and open corridors to a clean energy future

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:10am
By Bill Moyer, Patrick Mazza and the Solutionary Rail Team. Backbone Campaign, 2016. 107 pages. $19.95/paperback.

Many years ago, as my husband, Louis Cox, and I were attempting to lower our carbon footprint, we committed to avoiding domestic air travel, except in an emergency. Out of that decision, we have come to love rail travel. Over the last 20 years we’ve traveled on almost all of the routes in the United States. Yes, it takes longer to get to your destination than does flying, and often the trains are late, but the relaxed atmosphere, the community seating in the dining car, and the great chance to meet interesting people from around the world far outweigh some of the inconveniences.

So, when asked to review the book Solutionary Rail about electrifying the U.S. system’s rail lines, I jumped at the chance. We’ve traveled on the electric trains in Europe and between Boston and Washington, D.C., and have experienced the rapid travel and smooth rails. We know this is a great solution for passenger rail. Electric trains generate no CO2, and when the electricity comes from renewable sources, the result is a clean energy rail system.

Solutionary Rail is a nonprofit organization made up of an incredible team of professionals who have formulated a plan for the electrification and upgrading of the rail system, starting with the Seattle to Chicago northern transcontinental route. They chose that route because the states along the route rely heavily on rail to transport their farm and manufactured goods. Although the major focus of Solutionary Rail’s work is freight transport, the benefits to passenger trains are obvious. The book makes an excellent case for the ultimate profitability and sustainability of an electric rail system. Friends will be interested to know that the organization places much emphasis on healthy and safe working environments for train staff, including better compensation, support of farmers, support of indigenous people’s rights to their land, as well as safety in urban and rural communities.

Their proposal is to use renewable energy generated along the lines and (using the railways as major transmission corridors of that electricity from rural areas to urban centers) to bring new jobs and income opportunities to small towns. This will also result in decreased pollution from the diesel engines now in use. The author writes:

Today train freight transport is at a financial disadvantage compared to truck transport.

The public extensively subsidized railroads in the nineteenth century with grants of land and money…but by the twentieth century railroads were on their own. They had to own and maintain their rails and roadbed, and pay property taxes on those assets. Meanwhile, trucks gained through the twentieth century with the spread of publicly financed roads.

With the development of the Interstate Highway System, access to most of America was made readily available to truck transport. Trucks cause much highway wear and tear for which the trucking companies are not sufficiently charged.

I was impressed with the thorough history of U.S. rail shared in the book and the care with which the team has researched the many issues facing the conversion to electrification. I also appreciated the wonderful illustrations of rural and urban clean rail centers. If you’re interested in following or supporting the progress of Solutionary Rail, go to

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Categories: Articles & News

The Spirit of Dialogue: Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:05am
By Aaron T. Wolf. Island Press, 2017. 205 pages. $30/paperback; $29.99/eBook.

Island Press publishes books on environmental issues, often involving water. Aaron Wolf directs the Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation at Oregon State University. He came to the field of conflict resolution from mediating disputes about water in many regions, often across national and cultural boundaries. This work has given him experience with the problem solving practices of many faiths and cultures. He found both diverse approaches and surprising confluences among these traditions. In The Spirit of Dialogue, Wolf explores them with respect and insight, and shares his discoveries of transformative moments in the midst of difficult negotiations.

Wolf identifies “four worlds” and foundational needs, all of which must be considered in conflict resolution: (1) The Physical World expressed in Positions, (2) The Emotional World expressed in Interests, (3) The Perceptual World expressed in Values, and (4) The Spiritual World expressed in Harmony.

The following exercise including well-phrased queries comes from Chapter Six, Box 6.3:

Think deeply about most of the issues that trigger your own ire, and see whether you can identify the internal need that is being threatened, whether physical, emotional, perceptual, or spiritual. (Please do not use issues that are the result of any real trauma in your life or in the lives of your loved ones.)

When somebody cuts into your line in traffic far ahead of you while you are waiting patiently, does that irk you? Why, when it does not threaten your physical safety? Is it more an emotional sense of justice? Do you feel you are following the rules, and so should others?

Think of a political position that really bothers you and try to figure out why. Instead of trying to analyze the views of proponents that you feel are misguided, check in with your internal trigger. Is it a perceptual threat? This means: Is it threatening the way you see the world? A physical threat to current or future generations?

Are there issues of faith or secularism that are irksome to you, even angering? What is threatened in your own spiritual worldview by the issue?

Wolf also offers techniques for groups to facilitate communication and mutual respect. Many of these remind us of activities used in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops. While no references to AVP appear in the book, the author does cite Compassionate Listening and works by Thich Nhat Hanh and Marshall Rosenberg. The book’s two references to Friends involve the power of collective silence and The Mediator’s Handbook, produced in 1982 by the Friends Conflict Resolution Programs.

Each of the eight chapters is academically footnoted. Photographs and charts illustrate the text, making it accessible to non-academic readers. There is an excellent bibliography and a helpful index. Since any of us may to be asked to mediate a dispute within our family, neighborhood, meeting, or business, if not between international bodies, these techniques and ways of looking at conflict belong in our toolbox.

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Categories: Articles & News

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

Friends Journal - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:00am
By Drew G. I. Hart. Herald Press, 2016. 157 pages. $29.99/hardcover; $16.99/paperback; $12.99/eBook.

A few months ago, I walked to the Festival Center in Washington, D.C., to hear a talk by a young Anabaptist theologian and blogger named Drew Hart. His topic was resisting racism, and his message was delivered with deep wisdom, passion, anger, and love. On my way out, I picked up a copy of Hart’s book Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, and I vowed to write a review of it for Friends Journal.

Hart calls all of us in the wider church to become more faithful friends and followers of Jesus in order to address racism. This might sound off topic or naive, but in his book, Hart speaks from the radical black liberation theology tradition and challenges us to see Jesus with new eyes. To start, he urges modern Christians to free themselves from the idol worship of the power-holder’s well-crafted white/apolitical/blond/sweet baby/Jesus/god-man holding out tickets to an otherworldly heaven that leaves so many believers conformed and complicit with an oppressive status quo.

Hart’s big request is for us to refocus on the brown-skinned, nonviolent revolutionary, Palestinian peasant in scripture who—inspired by the Jewish prophets of old—was directly in touch with the Divine and openly challenged the “powers and principalities” of his day. These  included the occupying Roman empire, its client kings, and the collaborationist religious elite in Jerusalem. He reminds us that Jesus preached and practiced a radical gospel of love, justice, simplicity, solidarity, and compassion “from below” among “the least of these”—the powerless, the outcast, the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned, the exploited, and the marginalized. Jesus urged his followers to repent and refuse to conform to the oppressive ways of domination, so rampant in our world. He asked instead for them to foster a beloved community shaped by the way and wisdom of a just and compassionate God.

Without this revolution in our faith commitments, Hart says most Christians will continue to “operate out of a naive and thin understanding of racism, which doesn’t factor in the depth and width of our racialized and hierarchical society.” To make his point, Hart opens the book with a personal story about sitting in a McDonald’s having sweet tea with a white clergy member he had recently met. During the conversation, the minister shared with Hart how important their conversation was to him. He said there is no other way to racial reconciliation except engaging in this kind of dialogue across the racial divide. The minister then pointed to a paper cup of tea on the table between them and said we can’t know about the whole cup unless you describe your side of the cup to me and I describe my side of the cup to you.

As Hart tells the story, he appreciated the minister’s good intentions and his wanting racial healing in the church and the wider world. At the same time, Hart felt that the minister, like most white Christians, misunderstood the problem of racism “as though it were a horizontal divide between two people of equal standing,” who just need to understand each other’s “cultural differences and quirks” and learn to be nicer to each other.

As a young black man in the United States, Hart believes that the crux of racism is not individual cultural ignorance or personal p­­rejudice on either side of what W.E.B. DuBois called “the color line.” The bigger—and too often ignored—problem is white supremacy, a deeply institutionalized and evolving racial hierarchy built over centuries that still privileges white people at the expense of other racial groups of people. It is this racialized system of imperial hierarchy, among other imperial hierarchies, in which we all still live, move, and breathe, which advantages and over values some and disadvantages and devalues others, that must be made visible, resisted, and transformed by the faithful friends and followers of Jesus.

Hart’s experience, however, is that when the issue of racism is raised in this more radical way, many nice, well-intentioned, white Christians tend to check out and change the subject, to get fragile and defensive, to even complain about reverse racism, or decry how people of color manipulatively “play the race card.” They ask, “If I don’t hate people of color, speak ill of them, or act violently towards them, how can I be complicit with white supremacy?” This is sometimes followed by, “Hell, I marched for integration…and things are not as bad as so many black people seem to believe. We have made so much progress!”

Much of Hart’s book is a careful and powerful presentation of personal stories, research findings, historical analysis, and scriptural interpretation that encourages white Christians to see the world beyond this limited vantage point. Hart asks well-meaning white folks to grasp that because of their social location as witting or unwitting beneficiaries of this ongoing system, there is a “log in their eye” that makes it hard for them to believe black people’s experiences about the still existing reality of white supremacy in the church and the wider world. He has a whole chapter called “Don’t Go With Your Gut” about how white people have a long history of minimizing or denying the full reality of racism. Black people have usually been much more insightful of these dynamics because of their social location as the oppressed and marginalized. Facing this reality is the first step toward anti-racist work within the church and the wider world.

Going further, Hart ends the book by offering “seven Jesus-shaped practices for the anti-racist church.” These advices and queries are meant to help us “follow Jesus and courageously break allegiances with white supremacist, classed, and patriarchal hierarchies.” They are also to help us actively and effectively join “in solidarity with the stigmatized.” Like the rest of the book, this chapter is a prophetic challenge to most mainstream and evangelical Christians. I believe it is also a challenge to the United States’s small, liberal, predominately white, well-adjusted, middle class, Quaker community that routinely benefits from white supremacy and has lost much of its mooring in the spiritual path of a radical Jesus who seeks justice, love, and liberation.

Steve Chase is a member of the Putney (Vt.) Friends Meeting and currently serves as the Manager of Academic Initiatives at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington, D.C. He is the author of the Pendle Hill pamphlets “Revelation and Revolution: Answering the Call to Radical Faithfulness” and “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions? A Quaker Zionist Rethinks Palestinian Rights.” He is also a regular contributor to “Minds of the Movement,” an ICNC blog on the people and power of civil resistance.

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Categories: Articles & News

Sue Powel Carnell

Friends Journal - Sun, 12/31/2017 - 11:30pm
Carnell—Sue Powel Carnell, 80, on August 19, 2017, at home at Broadmead Retirement Community in Cockeysville, Md. Sue was born on February 23, 1937, in Baltimore, Md., to Alice Klingelhofer and William Rodenbaugh Powel. A member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore since she was 13, when she was a teenager, she made an impassioned speech to the meeting urging Friends School of Baltimore to accept students of color, as it did shortly thereafter, following Brown v. Board of Education. She met John Evans Carnell in 1955 at a Quaker Youth🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Catherine Balderston Jones Gaskill

Friends Journal - Sun, 12/31/2017 - 11:25pm

GaskillCatherine Balderston Jones Gaskill, 90, of John Knox Village, Orange City, Fla., on July 27, 2017. Cathy was born on January 29, 1927, within the walls of a Civil War fort in Nashville, Tenn., to Quaker parents Esther B. and Thomas E. Jones.

She grew up on the campus of Fisk University, a traditionally African American college of which her father was the last white president. Cathy experienced prejudice at her segregated grade school, where she was rejected by most of her classmates because of her African American friends. At Westtown School, she clerked the student committee on integrating the student body. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1948, she taught in a one-room school in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and then earned a nursing degree from Cornell University-New York Hospital School of Nursing, remaining for three years to teach.

She met Roger Gaskill in graduate school at the University of Michigan. They moved to Windermere, Fla., and became early members of Southeastern Yearly Meeting (SEYM). Cathy helped to write the yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice.

In 2005, several years after Roger’s death, Cathy moved to John Knox Village in Orange City, Fla., continuing her longtime activities as a member of Orlando Meeting, as a member of several choral groups, and as a storyteller. Her stories were almost entirely about Quakers, illustrating Friends values. She sewed herself a simple nineteenth-century Quaker outfit, including bonnet, to wear during performances. She also wrote about her experiences as a one-room school teacher and published the story of an ancestor, Ruth’s Gift. She was especially enthusiastic about sharing her concerns with children.

Cathy was predeceased by two brothers, T. Canby Jones and David Jones; and by her husband, Roger Gaskill. She is survived by two children, David Gaskill and Benjamin Gaskill; two daughters-in-law; three grandchildren; and nieces and nephews.

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Categories: Articles & News

Maria Barbara Lenz Ladd

Friends Journal - Sun, 12/31/2017 - 11:20pm

Ladd—Maria Barbara Lenz Ladd, 91, of Friends House in Sandy Spring, Md., on June 28, 2017. Maria was born on December 3, 1925, in Wittkow, Pomerania, Germany (now Witankowo, Poland). In 1945, she was the last to leave her family’s seed potato farm, where her parents, Martha Brose and Anton Lenz, had predeceased their nine children. Fleeing the Russians, she got a ride on the back of a truck to the local train station and eventually made her way to Bremen, where as a refugee she first encountered Quakers at a soup kitchen and clothing center. She attended college in Bremen to become a teacher and met and married Edward T. Ladd, a civilian working with the Allied Military Government. They moved to New Haven, Conn., in 1948, and to Atlanta, Ga., in 1958, when Edward became head of the Education Department at Emory University.

As an attender at Atlanta Meeting, she helped with work to integrate Atlanta public schools and beginning in 1978 worked part-time for the meeting coordinating outreach for social concerns with other community organizations, including the Christian Council. On behalf of the meeting, she acquired a film, War Without Winners, and showed it in many forums and workshops, including at the dedication of the King Center in Atlanta. She was also active in the southeast regional American Friends Service Committee, in local work for Friends Committee on National Legislation, and with the World Council of Churches. In 1984, with support from the meeting, Maria went to the Soviet Union as one of 262 church delegates in an exchange program between the World Council of Churches and the Russian Orthodox Church. When she offered her spiritual journey to Atlanta Friends she posed these questions: How do we meditate? How can we be still? For her, the answer was to let go of our attachments and our individualism. She remained active in the meeting until her move to Friends House in Sandy Spring, Md., for retirement.

A supporter of civil rights; a host for academic, political, and social gatherings; a potter; a graduate of Atlanta College of Art; a sculptor; an instructor of art history at Atlanta Area Technical School; an elegant dresser; and a gardener, she asked pointed questions and was committed to peace and justice.

Maria was predeceased by her husband, Edward Ladd, in 1973. She is survived by her children, Christopher Ladd (Christine) and Monica Ladd (Oliver Frederick Clark); and four grandchildren.

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Categories: Articles & News

Lee Margaret Steelman

Friends Journal - Sun, 12/31/2017 - 11:15pm

SteelmanLee Margaret Steelman, 91, on June 10, 2017, at home in San Clemente, Calif. Lee was born on November 10, 1925, in West Frankfort, Ill., to loving and musical parents Lee Margaret and Frank E. Trobaugh. She became an accomplished flutist, and after graduating from high school earned a bachelor’s from Curtis Institute of Music and a master’s in musicology from the University of Pennsylvania. At Curtis she met Ronald Steelman, a double bass player from California, and they married in 1950. Lee and Ron moved to Cambridge, Mass., so he could attend law school, and she continued to teach and perform. In Cambridge they first found Quakers and joined Cambridge Meeting. In 1963 they moved to San Clemente and were one of the founding families of Orange County Meeting in Irvine, Calif., when it became an independent meeting in 1970. Lee took part in Quaker activities at all levels in California, serving as clerk and on most committees. Members and attenders of Orange County Meeting remember her especially for her interest in and willingness to work with the meeting’s children. She was also a loving and wise source of advice for younger Friends trying to raise their families in a Quaker environment. Lee and Ron hosted the meeting’s annual Christmas party for years—a gathering that always included a Posada, carols, and Ron’s accordion accompaniment, and that for several years featured  a children’s orchestra that Lee coached. She was one of the last surviving founding members of Orange County Meeting, and Friends celebrate her legacy of love and service to Quaker organizations and the San Clemente community.

Active in Southern California Quarterly Meeting, Pacific Yearly Meeting, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), she served on the national Board of Governors of AFSC in 1983–1985, FCNL General Committee in 1990–2006, and the FCNL Development Committee in 1995–2001. An FCNL staffer remembers Lee as gracious, smart, and dedicated, always going beyond her assignments.

She was also a leading civic activist in San Clemente. In 1965, she co-founded the Serra Preschool, a cooperative school that still exists. She helped to establish many community service agencies. She served on the South Orange County Area Regional Mental Health Advisory Board and founded South Orange County Community Services (SOCCS) Council, a nonprofit agency that coordinates community services. Under her guidance SOCCS successfully launched the Mary Erickson Foundation (dedicated to providing low-income housing), Laura’s House (a domestic violence shelter), low-income medical and dental services, and a social services referral network. She is named on the San Clemente Wall of Recognition.

Lee’s husband, Ronald Steelman, died in 2014. She leaves her children, Joe Steelman (Melody), Marlee Mitchell (Mark), and Kory Steelman (Abby Bogomolny); her sister, Joan Snider; four grandchildren; a great-grandson; and four nieces and nephews.

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Categories: Articles & News

Mary Hodgson Albertson Thom

Friends Journal - Sun, 12/31/2017 - 11:10pm

ThomMary Hodgson Albertson Thom, 92, on June 24, 2017, in State College, Pa. Mary was born on October 5, 1924, near Burlington, N.J., the youngest of four daughters of Quakers Maria Moon and Henry H. Albertson, who ran Green Hill Farm and worked to heal the Hicksite and Orthodox split. She grew up attending tiny Burlington (N.J.) Meeting and Westfield Meeting in Riverton, N.J., where she attended First-day school. She loved outdoor sports; after she graduated from Westtown School in 1942, she went to Middlebury College, where she could ski the Vermont mountains and skate on the local ponds. Hope that promoting cultural understanding would make a more peaceful world led her to major in geography. After her bachelor’s in 1946, she earned a master’s in cultural geography from University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1948. She also studied teaching at Harvard University and taught at Abington Friends School.

Her love of adventure and foreign places inspired a youth hostel bicycle trip across the Canadian Rockies in 1947 and a trip around the world in 1950. After working in cartography, textbook publishing, and teaching, in 1959 she married William Thom, a child psychologist with the Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and worked at the Pennsylvania State University Wilkes-Barre campus library. In Wilkes-Barre she was instrumental in starting North Branch Meeting, and in the 1980s she helped to revise Faith and Practice. Known for her good cheer, warmth, and wit, she belonged to the League of Women Voters, rallied many times for peace and justice, and enjoyed artistic, educational, and outdoor activities. She privately shared that her motto for a Quaker motto calendar would be “God is here.”

In 1994, she and Bill moved to Foxdale Village in State College, where she volunteered at Schlow Library. She and Bill joined State College Meeting, and she served on the Worship and Ministry Committee and AFSC Clothing Committee. Bill passed away in 2004. Mary is survived by two daughters, Margaret Thom (O’Neill) and Rachel Thom Haverkos; 13 nephews and nieces; and dear friends. Memorial donations may be made to American Friends Service Committee or Foxdale Village.

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