Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Me And God"

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Wed, 04/12/2017 - 8:41am
I have stumbled a bit on my "hymnal" project in conjunction with my "Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker" book. This suggestion comes from Lauren Miller. She suggested "Me and God" by the Avett Brothers.  It's a perfect addition to this "hymnal."

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

You can listen to the who list on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.
"Me And God"

Well I know a preacher he's a real good man
He speaks from The Good Book and his hand
And helps all people when he can
But me and God don't need a middle man

Well I found God in a soft woman's hair
A long days work and a good sittin' chair
The ups and downs of the treble clef lines
And five miles ago on an interstate sign
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man

Now I don't doubt that The Good Book is true
What's right for me may not be right for you
To church on Sunday I'll stand beside
All the hurtin' people with the fear in their eyes
And I thank the Lord for the country land
Just like Paul I thank him for my hands
And I don't know if my soul is safe
Sometimes I use curse words when I pray

My God, my God and I don't need a middle man
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man

Writer(s): Robert William Crawford, Scott Yancey Avett, Timothy Seth Avett 

The Avett Brother's website is
Categories: Blogs

So What I Said Was: It's Already Late

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Mon, 04/10/2017 - 6:54am
"When Jesus sent two disciples to fetch a donkey’s colt on Palm Sunday, they had no other task in the whole world more important than fetching it. If someone had said to them, “You are called to greater things; anyone can fetch a donkey,” and they had not done it, they would have been disobedient. But there was nothing greater for them at that moment than to fetch the donkey for Christ. I wish that we all might do every task, great or small, in this obedience." -- J. Heinrich Arnold

The roads approaching Jerusalem were jammed, as were the suburbs. After all, the main city, the site of the pilgrims’ travels for high holy days, was only about 1,200 yards wide by 1,500 yards.. Traveling the same roads as Jesus and his of disciples almost 2 million other pilgrims, coming to celebrate Passover in the holy city. Passover was one of three high holy times in the Jewish faith and the entire nation of Israel tried to squeeze within the walls surrounding the Temple. Some came from faraway lands, where the previous year they celebrated Passover with the words “This year here, next year in Jerusalem.” This year they were in Jerusalem.

Along the way Jesus continued his teaching. His opponents continued their plotting. By this time Jesus is a marked man. There’s a bounty on his head placed by those who fear him. They are afraid of him for any number of reasons. The religious leaders fear his heresy; they find his words blasphemous. The politicians worry that he has the people worked up into such a state that they will riot – thereby leading Rome to send in more soldiers to put down the ensuing insurrection. Still others just find Jesus unsettling to their comfortable way of living. All of them agree – it’s better than one man die than an entire nation.

At this time, Jesus still has the support of the populace, though. However, that support was like it is for all popular causes – it may have run the seventeen miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, but it was only about an inch deep.

He sends two disciples ahead to a village by the Mount of Olives. The Mount is in sight of the gates through the Temple walls. The two men are instructed to find a colt, whose owners will let them have it when they say the pre-arranged words “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”

They bring the colt back to Jesus. Instead of sneaking safely into the city, certainly the most prudent move a man in his position should make, he, a marked man, an outlaw, climbs upon it and begins his ride to the city – prominent visible to all, supporters and enemies alike. What a courageous act!

The people respond to this. They cheer and call out the words of the Psalms – praising God for sending the Messiah, the one they assume will free them from the power of Rome and restore Israel to its rightful place as premier among the nations. They chant the equivalent of “God save the King,” their words coming directly from Psalms used in Passover rituals. The specific Psalm they use is the 118th, which is known as the conqueror’s Psalm and signifies their hope that it will only be a matter of time until Jesus sounds the trumpet and their victorious battle against the infidels is joined. They wave their palm branches before him and shout their support.

His shallow supporters see in him the fulfillment of all their personal ideas about the Messiah. His disciples are feeling that, at long last, their time has arrived. Everyone is shouting, except Jesus.

He heads for the temple. Evidently he goes there with just his disciples – there is no mention of the crowd that had been hailing him. And then, “since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

That phrase, “since it was already late,” is fraught with meaning. Of the surface, of course, it merely means it was late in the day. The sun was setting and lamps would be lit all over Jerusalem. The time for work was over.

And, as we now know from 2000 years of hindsight, it was “already late” at another level – the end of Jesus’ life, as the end of the day, was fast approaching. His earthly ministry was about over. The end of his personal appeal to the masses was about over. The end to the plotting was about over. The angel of death was about to steal over the city as the sun set – “it was already late.”

On Palm Sunday we celebrate what is known as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. Yet, as we examine the text, we see that triumphant, as the world understands it, is hardly the right word. Yes, Jesus may have rode into Jerusalem hailed as the conquering hero, but it was a triumph that would be of the most unexpected kind. Part of the challenge of this Lenten season and Palm Sunday is for us to re-examine our own views of who Jesus is. If we believe, as the Bible and our own experience tell us, that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then his message is unchanging also. The question is what might that message be for us today? Do we take time to do that, or will we, as the morning ends, and the noon hour approaches, decide that “it is already late” and head for our comfortable lunches and afternoon activities.

The message that Jesus was showing to those who had eyes and hearts to see that Palm Sunday long ago, was that, while he claimed his royal nature, his kingdom was one of spiritual peace and love. He rode into strife-riven Jerusalem as the Prince of Peace.

He rides on today – son of the high king of Heaven, with the armies of that kingdom riding behind him and his banner of peace. He rides on today to bring peace to us – in our lives, our families and in our world.

The world was not ready for the message that day almost two thousand years ago. Nor were his disciples. It may not be ready for the message today. The question for us is, are we? As a people who call ourselves his “Friends,” are we ready to lay down our notions about who our friend Jesus is and what his message is about? Dare we take a fresh look, with newly opened spiritual eyes, at what this son of God has to say to us? Are we willing to open our ears and hear? Or is it “already late.”

What a mixture of pain and sorrow that day must have been for Jesus. The tumult of popular acclaim had to feel good at first, and yet the closer he rode to Jerusalem, the more he must have realized how shallow that popular acclaim was. By the time he reaches the temple, he is alone with his fearful band of disciples. Instead of reigning in royal purple with a gold crown upon his head, he knows he will wear a crown of thorns and blood soaked purple robe. The hardest part must have been knowing that the very ones who acclaim him this day will call for his crucifixion by the end of the week. All because “it was already late.”

As we celebrate this day, let us pray that, though it is “already late,” we will have our spirits opened. Let us see this one who we call our Friend with new eyes and spiritual depth. Let us pledge anew our devotion to him and his cause – while realizing that to follow him will lead us ultimately to the foot of a cross.

It is already late.
Categories: Blogs

There Will Be No Tomahawk Missiles in the Kingdom of God

Micah Bales - Mon, 04/10/2017 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 4/9/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Philippians 2:5-11 & Matthew 21:1-11. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs significantly from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

Our gospel reading this morning is about Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, just days before he would be arrested and executed.

Jesus is riding on a donkey, and the people are all around him. There were massive crowds in town for Passover, and Jesus’ arrival in the city is perfectly time to cause a stir. The thousands of pilgrims are waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

The crowd was hopeful that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The prophet Zechariah had foretold that the king of Israel would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. As Jesus enters this city, this is a royal procession. He is the Messiah, coming king of Israel! The crowds welcome him, waving palm branches and laying them down on the ground before Jesus.

It wasn’t an accident that the crowds were waving palm branches. I know most of us grew up seeing palm branches as part of Palm Sunday, but Jesus didn’t invent palms as a religious symbol. In fact, palm branches were a very potent political symbol throughout the ancient world. Think about the wreaths and garlands that ancient athletes and rulers would wear. Think of the laurels of Olympic champions. The palm was a similar symbol for the ancients. The palm was a symbol of victory.

It was also a sign of resistance. The palm branch was a major symbol in the Macabeean revolt (167-160 BC) that freed Israel from the rule of the Seleucid Greeks. Waving palm branches was a symbol of power, resistance, and Messianic expectations. It was a big middle finger to Rome. It expressed the hope that this this Jesus of Nazareth might be the one who would finally throw off the yoke of the Roman oppressor. Would Jesus finally establish the long-awaited Jewish kingdom in the mold of king David? That was the burning hope and desire of thousands of Jews that day.

Our other reading this morning is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This passage provides us a deeper understanding of what Jesus is going through during his entry into Jerusalem. Paul talks about how Jesus rejected the way of power and domination. He writes about how Jesus was willing to be humbled and take on the form of a slave to serve others. Because of this humility and self-emptying, God highly exalts Jesus. He went as low as you can go, and God lifted him up. The one who suffered and died was given the name that is above every name. Absolute power, joy, triumph.

With Paul’s words as background, I want to take us back to the Passover crowds in Jerusalem. Hear their cheers. Feel the hope they have for Jesus. The desire to see Israel become a great nation again. To have a king, a military ruler who can end the Roman oppression and bring justice to the land. That’s what the crowds are expecting from Jesus.

But God never desired his people to have a king like the nations. God has always wanted to lead his people himself. For generations, the Hebrews wandered with God in the wilderness. He lived in a tent – no temple built by human hands could contain him. He was a mobile God. A mysterious God. A God who dwelt among his people and guided them directly.

It was only after Israel got a king that God “settled down.” It was only during the time of Solomon that God moved from the tent to the temple. And it was never clear that God was entirely willing to make that move. The God who says, “I AM what I AM,” will not be contained, immobilized, and idolized.

Before Israel had a king, the people got their marching orders directly from God. They listened to God together – when they were still in the desert, it says that Moses would speak to God at the Tent of Meeting, and everyone else in the camp would stand at the entrance to their tents and look on as Moses spoke with God. He spoke with God like one speaks to a friend.

When Israel became a monarchy, there was no more speaking among friends. Instead, one man would call the shots, according to his own judgments. One man would be exalted above all the others, and Jewish society would begin to take on the pyramid shape of the social order that God had liberated them from in Egypt.

When Israel instituted a kingship, the prophet Samuel warned them: “OK, you can do this. But this new king you’re asking for, he’s going to take your daughters for his harem and servants. He’s going to take your sons for military service, and get them killed in foreign wars. He’s going to demand huge taxes and tributes to feed his royal court. By the time this is all over, you’re going to wish you’d never asked for a king. This isn’t what I want. It’s definitely not God wants. But if you insist on going this way, he’s not going to stop you.”

Despite his warnings, Israel decided to anoint a king anyway. This was really depressing for Samuel, who know what this decision represented. But God told Samuel, “Don’t make this personal. This isn’t about you. They’re not rejecting you, Samuel. They’re rejecting me.”

To have a king is to reject God.

But when the people of Israel looked at Jesus, a king is what they wanted to see. They saw a military leader. They saw a strong man. They dreamed of a new King David, someone who would fit into this kingship model that so displeases God. They all knew the story. They knew that kingship was, at best, a compromise solution. And yet it was the best outcome they could imagine.

But Jesus isn’t the Messiah they’re looking for. Jesus isn’t a messiah at all, according to the Davidic model. If anything, he’s an anti-messiah. Rather than doing the killing, he’s going to be the one getting killed. Rather than doing the humiliating and torturing, he’s going to be the one being humiliated and tortured. Instead of being in a position of strength, he’ll be in a position of weakness. He’s not going to be the master, he’s going to be the slave – the slave of all.

Things haven’t changed that much in two thousand years. We’re still looking for a king. A military messiah. A strongman who can shout orders, sit on top of the pyramid, and bring order to a hierarchical, unequal society. What was true for the Jews is true for all of us: Even in our dreams of liberation, we sow the seeds of tyranny and oppression.

We were reminded of this reality last week, when the president ordered missile strikes on another country. This was a revealing moment – not in what the president did, but in how our country reacted. We all know that American presidents wield almost godlike destructive power without any apparent checks and balances. They can drop high explosives on another country without most of us even considering it an act of war.

We know this. We know that America is the most powerful empire in human history. It’s not surprising that the president can throw his weight around and attack weaker nations with impunity. What is remarkable, is the way the American elites view this kind of violent action. As Donald Trump rained millions of dollars in high explosives on Syria, the news media and virtually the entire US political establishment praised his actions as “presidential.”

Politicians on both sides of the aisle who had long been pushing for military strikes in Syria cheered the president for dropping the bombs. News outlets that are normally critical of the president lined up to endorse this new war. The New York Times praised Trump for “following his instinct.” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said that, with this attack on Syria, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States.” MSNBC’s Brian Williams waxed poetic about the beauty of Tomahawk missiles. He quoted Leonard Cohen’s lyrics, “I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

“I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

Those crowds waving palm branches 2,000 years ago – they were guided by the beauty of their weapons. The Romans with their legions were most definitely guided by the beauty of their weapons. By the beauty of their weapons, they nailed the prince of peace to a cross. By the beauty of their weapons, they embraced the kingship of Caesar and rejected the living presence of God. By the beauty of our weapons, America is embracing the broad way of death. By the beauty of our weapons, we will inherit the legacy of Assyria, Babylon, and Rome.

The kingdom of God is different from the kingdoms of this world. As followers of Jesus, we know this. Yet it’s so hard to break away from the mentality of death that grips our society. God has called us to be his people in this world. But just like the ancient Israelites, we’d rather have a king. A winner. A champion who will deliver us from suffering, even if it means forcing others to endure it.

I’ll be honest, I’m more comfortable with the way of Caesar than with the way of Jesus. Most of the time when I’m looking for salvation, I don’t want someone who’s going to be humbled. I’m not looking for someone who’s going to be put to death.

When I’m picking my leader, I want someone who’s going to triumph. I want someone who’s going to defeat my enemies. I want someone who’s going to establish a new kingdom, a new political order based on coercion and violence. Because that’s the only way I really know how to deal with human beings.

“But from the beginning it was not so.” That’s not the way God wants to deal with us. The God we serve is not a violent God – though we have often imagined him to be so. Our God is a creative intelligence. He wants to build and grow and cause life to flourish, not to break down and destroy.

The way of kingship is built on aggression, coercion, violence, and threats. It’s built on the unequal distribution of wealth and power. It’s founded on the beauty of our weapons and the arrogance of our intellect.

But God’s intention is for us to live together as one family, with one Father and Mother. God calls us to become humble servants to one another, to put the interests of others beyond our own. God calls us to lower ourselves, so that we all might be lifted up. Not by the beauty of our weapons, but by the life of the Spirit.

True greatness in the kingdom of God doesn’t look like triumph in the eyes of the world. It doesn’t look like being a billionaire. It doesn’t look like launching Tomahawk missiles on distant lands whose refugees you have denied hospitality. It doesn’t look like becoming popular with politicians and having the corporate news media singing your praises.

Greatness in the kingdom of God looks like being willing to receive suffering out of love for others. It’s being willing to lay down your own prerogatives so that others can get what they need. The kingdom of God doesn’t always feel like joy and light. Sometimes, it can seem like darkness.

We’re in the midst of that darkness this morning, together with Jesus. We’re with him as he marches into Jerusalem, marching into this city that will put him to death in the most terrible way. We also know that, because of his humility and yieldedness to the Spirit, God will exalt Jesus and give him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

Jesus has the victory. It’s not a victory that the world understands. It’s a victory that comes through compassion, service, and emptiness before God. We can share in this victory. When we reject the pyramid scheme of Empire and embrace Jesus’ upside down kingdom, we experience the triumph of the resurrection.

In the midst of all the darkness this morning, I want to celebrate. I want to celebrate the victory of Jesus. Even though the world misunderstands him. Even as our nation’s leaders insist that they want a King David rather than a King Jesus. Even as Jesus marches into this city that will be his judge, jury, torturer, and executioner. Jesus is victorious.

We can participate in this victory. We can embrace his humble way of self-emptying. We can be set free by his fearless love, without regard for the consequences. Despite this world’s bombs, lies, and terror, we can be God’s bold, peaceful, and triumphant people.

Related Posts: Is America Headed Towards Theocracy? What if my Religion is just Self Help?

The post There Will Be No Tomahawk Missiles in the Kingdom of God appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Remembering Christine Greenland

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 04/06/2017 - 3:07pm

Over email, the news that Christine Manville Greenland has passed. In recent times I worked with Christine mostly through the Tract Association of Friends but I’ve known her for so long I don’t know when I first met her.

Whenever she said something it was well worth listening to. On online forums from Soc.religion.quaker to Facebook she was always encouraging to what Samuel Bownas had called “infant ministers.” She had the rare ability to slice through thorny Quaker issues with unexpected observation and wisdom. She had a long view of recent Quaker history that put things in context and she would pull metaphors from her training as a botanist to explain mystifying behaviors in our coreligionists.

She also had a wealth of institutional memory. There’s incredible value in this. Friends, like most humans, give a lot of value to the ways we’re doing things right now. It only takes a few years before a process feels timeless and essential. We forget that things once worked differently or that other Friends have a different methods. By being involved with Friends in different areas—Canada and Colorado—Christine brought geographic awareness and by being involved in Philadelphia so long she brought a modern historical awareness. That dysfunctional meeting everyone’s talking about? She’ll remember that everyone was talking about it thirty years ago for another controversy and point out the similarities. That doubt you’ll have about a path? Christine will tell you how others have felt the leading and assure you that it’s genuine.

She did all this with such gentleness and modesty that it’s only now that she’s gone that I’m realizing the debt I owe her. More than anything perhaps, she showed how to live a life as a Friend of integrity through the politics and foibles of our Religious Society.

I used Google to find precious gems of wisdom she left on comment threads. It’s a long trail. She was active on soc.religion.quaker back in the day, commented on most Convergent Friends blogs and was active on Facebook. She took the time to write many enlightening and warm commentary. Here is a random sample.

Comment on my post “Vision and Leadership”

Yesterday, I  clerked a small quarterly meeting working group — I’m co-clerk, since it  isn’t my quarter… and the other co-clerk is, which works well. We keep asking the questions and seeing the potentials … but when it comes down to being faithful (a term I use instead of “accountable”) that needs consistent testing. It is important to center in worship, no matter what we are doing.

I had the experience of being chair of a group of biologists, and found that, even then, I conducted business in the same way… one of seeking guidance from other members of the group — even though the group of which we were a small part used Robert’s rules of order. I felt our group was too small to make that approach workable… Occasionally, I forgot I wasn’t among Friends until another member of the group (a United Church graduate of Swarthmore College) reminded me… Church of the Brethren folks just grinned and allowed as how they preferred the approach; we were, after all, both friends and biologists.  For most of us, the work had both a scientific and a spiritual basis.

To Micah Bales’s “Is It Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings?”

I checked in with Friends at our Quarterly Meeting picnic yesterday; responses were mixed for a variety of reasons, some having to do with resistance to changing the ways in which we are Friends, and other responses that I can only describe as “institutional cheer-leading”.

Some of this has to do with expected tensions as we grapple with matters of both race and class; still other matters have to do with the fact that our structures have changed at least twice in 30 years, as has the outline of our faith and practice. The question I have (of myself and others) is “How do we — individually and corporately — show that we truly love one another as Christ has loved us?” By that, I mean all others.

The most hopeful exchange was speaking with a dear Friend in my former meeting who had gone for the first time in decades, and feels strongly led to encourage her meeting to assist in work going on at both the quarter and yearly meeting level; this will cross boundaries. I was hopeful in part because this Friend exudes consistent love. … and has in the 25 years I’ve known her. Love of God/neighbor are inseparable. She lives that better than I do.

It seems I have much to learn.

Comment on my “What Does it Mean to be a Quaker?” (on an old site)

I cringe when I hear the word “Quakerism” or “the Quaker Way”… I find the two terms interchangeable — both can lack substance. It seems we have finally become the “bureaucratic association of distant acquantances” rather than the Religious Society of Friends. Some years ago, an experienced Friend wrote that Integrity (saying what one means, meaning what one says) was at the heart of Quaker Practice — as a testimony.

If we’re just going for PR, that lacks integrity.

The question — for me — becomes “How can I live as a Friend?”

Comment on Eric Moon’s “Categorically Not the Testimonies”

When I first came to Friends, it was the way of life — not the intellectual construct — that drew me to meeting week after week (a university meeting in what later became Intermountain Yearly Meeting). When I applied for membership, my committee of clearness questioned more whether I could live into a way of life, into the community of that particular meeting. Friends felt that wrestling with the understanding of the faith tradition was a part of my education. Only after I moved to Philadelphia did I begin hearing of the “parsing” of the faith tradition. It seemed too pat.

Still, the overlapping categories are still as useful by way of explanation, but it isn’t the whole story.

As with many matters of faith, for those who possess it, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible. Howard Brinton did his best by way of explanation, but faith-wrestling is a task we all have.

Comment on Ashley Wilcox’s The Cost of Traveling Ministry

My question about younger Friends serving as traveling ministers is somewhat more serious: Are their meetings attentive to both the spiritual gifts and the needs (cost of travel, etc.)as well as the spiritual need for support. If not, is the Friend with a concern for travel, teaching, or any other ministry) humble enough to ask the questions Jon is asking. In my experience (as an older adult Friend)there is little communication among age groups so that gifts of ministry are fully recognized… Young Friends are often left to their own devices. It may be that lack of spiritual support that is the “last door out.”

For instance, I would not travel without the full consent of my past committee of care, all of whom know me well. They have generously supported me this year (as well as my co-leader).

What concerns me is the energy it takes (spiritual and physical), and that it most often takes an elder to attend to the mundane things — as well as to keep the minister on track.

She was also always one to think of the kids. Here she is commenting on Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby’s “Bringing Children to Worship: Trusting God to Take Over from There”

I recall one parent of a small meeting in Ontario at Canadian Yearly Meeting sessions trying to encourage his daughter to sit quietly during worship… Her very reasonable response was “but Daddy, I can pray standing on my head!” Her ministry caused me to reflect on whether I could indeed pray/worship in all circumstances, and from whatever position I was in at the time. I still reflect on that…

At another meeting, when Friends noticed the power struggles between children and their parents, we asked elder Friends to serve as “adoptive” grandparents, with whom the children could sit… That defused the power struggles, and members of meeting who had no children of their own were very helpful to parents in that meeting.

I also recall learning to sink deeply into worship — and hearing a younger Friend’s grandmother giggle. I looked down and there was the 1–2 year old peering up in wonder at why/how I could sit so quietly when he was busy crawling under the benches. it was just fine. He became a part of my prayers that day, and still is a part of them.

And this one has to be the last I’ll share, from a QuakerQuaker discussion started by Richard B Miller and titled “Elders’ Corner”

Like you, I learned about the role of elders from Conservative Friends (in Canada and Ohio).  In the context of my own meeting (and quarter), however, there are Friends who can and do serve as guides and sounding boards — offering corrections as may be required.  Ideally, elders should arise from the monthly meetings, and then be recognized in larger bodies of Friends, not necessarily being named by a yearly meeting nominating committee.

I was asked to serve as an elder for Yearly Meeting/Interim Meeting… but because I was also on the nominating committee, had a “stop” about whether that was rightly ordered. I consulted some North Carolina Friends, who agreed with the “stop”.

One difficulty that you raised is that many of the conservative Friends who held that tradition are no longer available as guides… One effect is that the role elders once played is diminishing among conservative Friends.

I’m feeling pretty broken up right now. And I’m feeling the weight of this loss. I’ve found myself more and more to be the one giving out advice and giving historical context that newer Friends might not have. It’s the kind of perch that Christine had. I’m only starting to appreciate that she formed a gentle mentoring role for me—and I’m sure for many others.

A few years ago my wife and I lost our remaining parents (her dad, my mom) and we had the unescapable recognition that we were now the oldest generation. I know there are older Friends around still and some have bits of Christine’s wit and wisdom. But one of our human guides have left us.

Categories: Blogs

Gorsuch Defended Torture: That should END His Nomination

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 04/04/2017 - 10:57am

Today I sent the following FAX to the U.S. Senators from North Carolina:

Dear Senators,

Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech denouncing the Vietnam War at the Riverside Church in New York City. I was honored to be present then. In the speech, Dr. King prophesied a future of continuing immoral American wars. That prophecy has alas come true, in spades.

In the Iraq War which was launched in 2003, one of the worst of its many horrors was the use of torture. I have protested that practice for more than ten years, calling for ACCOUNTABILITY for those who created, justified and/or carried out that program.

(During the early years of the Iraq war, I gave away hundreds of these bumperstickers.) 

This week you have the chance to HOLD ACCOUNTABLE one of those who justified official torture: NEIL GORSUCH. As reported by your colleague Senator Dianne Feinstein, as a white House lawyer Gorsuch justified torture and advised on ways officials could evade accountability for it. (Details here: )


This is but one of many reasons to oppose his nomination to the Supreme Court. For me, and no doubt it would be for Dr. King, this shameful record is a major one. VOTE NO ON GORSUCH.

Thank you.

Charles Fager

Durham NC

This FAX is online here in PDF form.


The post Gorsuch Defended Torture: That should END His Nomination appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

What if my Religion is just Self Help?

Micah Bales - Tue, 04/04/2017 - 2:00am

I came to religion for selfish reasons. I was often depressed. I felt empty. I couldn’t find meaning in life. I explored faith because I wanted to receive, not to give. I was looking for a spiritual solution to my lack of direction and purpose. I wanted a faith that would make me feel good.

I did a lot of religious exploration before I became a Christian. I engaged with philosophical movements like existentialism. I went deep with political ideologies like democratic socialism and anarchism. I even explored Buddhism, Islam, and other non-western faiths.

My motivations were very human and self-centered. I wanted a faith that would fix me, that would make me happy and fulfilled. I wanted a system that could give me the right answers and make my life easier.

If I’m honest with myself, most of my faith journey has been a path of self help. My religion was like those books that promise rapid weight loss, financial prosperity, or success in love. Everything was about what I needed, wanted, and craved.

Even my experience of God was a product to be sought after. Buddhist books written for westerners promised me inner peace and clarity. Quakerism offered me ecstatic, mystical experiences that took place in meetings for worship. That sense of presence and power made me feel special, purposeful, and loved. I wanted more of that.

I felt like these religious experiences were making me better. Throughout my twenties I would say, “every day is better than the last.” And it was true. The more I got into spiritual practices and religious devotion – meditation, Bible reading, worship, prayer – the more mature and grounded I felt. Other people seemed to think so, too. I had objective evidence that religion was making me a better person!

My faith was fun and gratifying. It was fantastic to feel successful. My life was filled with meaning and purpose in a way that I had never experienced before. I still had periods of darkness and struggle, but I came out of each one feeling more triumphant than before.

Until I didn’t.

My thirties have been a hard decade. I had my whole sense of mission and purpose called into question. The ministry that I’d been focusing my whole life on fell apart. It was hard to know what to do. I felt so clear about what God had called me to do. And then there was nothing left. Where was God in all this?

At the same time, my life turned upside down. After years of ministry, I started working full-time in non-church-related jobs. We also had our first child, which changed my life and outlook in ways that I never imagined. Life got busy. Full with comings and goings, work and responsibilities. I didn’t feel able to be present to God in the way I used to. I felt that emptiness again.

This new dry season is very different from the one I experienced in my teens and early twenties. This time, I’ve already committed to a religious path. I know that I want to follow Jesus. I’ve met him. I’ve seen that he is the Messiah. For me, he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

And yet I’m so burned out on religion. I’m so exhausted by church, theology, and all the human stuff that goes with being in faith community. Religion doesn’t feed me in the way it used to.

As hard as this is, I’m wondering whether this might be a good sign.

What if I’ve been mis-using religion this whole time? What if my relationship with God isn’t about making me a better person? What if it’s not about giving me purpose, identity, or comfort? What if my faith in Jesus isn’t about me at all?

Maybe these questions seem obvious to you. “Of course, Micah. What, you thought it was all about you?” In truth, I’d have to answer in the affirmative. That’s the whole narrative I’ve received about faith. It’s about self-improvement. Growing in maturity. Becoming a better man, able to help and teach others because I’ve got it together. That’s what I thought “sanctification” was all about.

But now I’m thinking there might be a different story. To put it in Paul’s language, what if I’ve been a baby drinking milk this whole time? What if God gave me what I needed in my very immature state, but it’s not the main course? What if the meat and potatoes of discipleship is less about improving myself and more about forgetting myself? Could it be that, by seeking life improvement – even by desiring to be “a better person” – I’m avoiding the real journey that Jesus wants to take me on?

What is that journey?

Honestly, I don’t know. I think it has to do with looking at Jesus rather than myself. I suspect it’s about learning to focus on the needs of those around me rather than my own dreams and desires. Even good dreams and desires. It might be that the kingdom of God isn’t about what I experience. It’s not focused on how I grow, or what I do. Instead, it’s unlocked when I lose track of myself. When I become yielded to the light of Christ. Even when that light feels like darkness.

This is a scary path. It’s frightening because I have no idea where it leads. To walk down it is to surrender my ability to steer. This is what it means to get past “self-help religion.” When I get into the strong meat of faith, the overwhelming sensation is that of being out of control.

Yet there is also the hope here. Hope that, in the midst of it all, I am loved and guided. There is a presence and power beyond my narrow understanding and selfish desires. She will direct me.

I want to trust this Spirit. I want to trust that this path will lead me through green pastures and beside still waters. Even if I’m thirsty most of the time.

Related Posts: Do You Think You’ll Age Like Wine? What If This Is The End of the World?

The post What if my Religion is just Self Help? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Interviewing the next head of AFSC

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Mon, 04/03/2017 - 4:35pm

This week’s Friends Journal feature is my interview with Joyce Ajlouny, who is leaving her role as head of the Ramallah Friends School to become the next general secretary for American Friends Service Committee.

I interviewed her by phone from my back porch on a snowy day and very much enjoyed conversation. I’m fascinated by the challenges of an organization like AFSC—one that has to balance strong roots in a religious tradition while largely working outside of it. How do you balancing the conflicting identities? It’s not unlike the challenge of a Friends school like Ramallah’s.

I was also particularly moved by the genuine enthusiasm in her voice as she talked about engaging in honest conversations with people with whom we have strong disagreements. In this polarized age, it’s tempting to try to stay in the safety our bubbles. Joyce seems to thrive stepping out of that comfort zone:

I think we’ve learned from this last U.S. election that we need to listen more. This can often be a challenge for people who are very passionate about the positions they take. Sometimes the passion is so overwhelming that it sort of overrides that willingness to listen to other narratives. This is something that we really need to work much harder on. Truth is always incomplete. We always have to look for other truths. We need to break through some of these boundaries that we’ve put around ourselves and seek a wider spectrum of perspectives.

I think AFSC will be in good hands with Ajlouny.

An interview with Joyce Ajlouny

Meet AFSC’s incoming general secretary.

Friends Journal

Categories: Blogs

The demise of online subcultures?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 03/31/2017 - 5:15pm

An interesting profile of a niche community affected by the shift of attention from community-led sites to Facebook, “How Facebook – the Wal-Mart of the internet – dismantled online subcultures.”

Over time, these challenges to the BME community became increasingly problematic. Members deleted accounts or stopped posting. By 2015, the main community forum – which used to have hundreds of posts a day – went without a single comment for over six months.

Having predicted many of the web’s functions and features, BME failed to anticipate its own demise.

It’s definitely something I’ve seen in my niche world of Quakers. I started QuakerQuaker as an independent site in part because I didn’t want Google and Facebook and Beliefnet to determine who we are. There’s the obvious problems—Beliefnet hiring a programmer to make a “What Religion Are You?” test based on a few books picked up the library one afternoon.

But there’s also more subtle problems. On Facebook anyone can start or join a group and start talking authoritatively about Quakers without actually being an active community member. I can think of a number of online characters who had never even visiting a Friends meeting or church.

Our tradition built up ways of defining our spokespeople though the practices of recorded ministers and elders, and of clarifying shared beliefs though documents like Faith and Practice. I’ll be the first to argue that this process has produced mixed results. But if it is to be adapted or reformed, I’d like the work to be done by us in a thoughtful, inclusive manner. Instead, the form of our discussions are now invisibly imposed by an outside algorithm that is optimized for obsessive engagement and advertising delivery. Facebook process is not Quaker process, yet it is largely what we use when we talk about Quakers outside of Sunday morning.

I think Facebook has helped alternative communities form. I’m grateful for the pop-up communities of interest I’m part of. And there are sites with more user generated content like Wikipedia and Reddit that hold an interesting middle-ground and where information is generally more accurate. But there’s still a critical role for self-organized independent publications, a niche that I think is continuing to be overshadowed in our current attention ecosystem.

How Facebook – the Wal-Mart of the internet – dismantled online subcultures

Even though Facebook claims to be a global community, its rise has come at the expense of online subcultures for…

The Conversation

Categories: Blogs

Finding Spiritual Support

What Canst Thou Say - Thu, 03/30/2017 - 9:54pm

by Pamela Richards

I have come to Quakers at the beginning of the twenty-first century, an age when the presence of traditional spiritual support is not as common as it once was. Spiritual support, like wisdom, rarely shows up when we are not looking for it. It is not that it does not exist; but the state of readiness to receive is prerequisite. There is a process of seeking, asking and knocking on doors that demands an openhearted curiosity. In seeking spiritual support, sometimes we learn to expand our community by traveling the paths of time. I have sought spiritual support in literature, in Scripture, with Friends who have passed on, from ancestors, and from Friends who have benefited from the wisdom of twentieth century elders.

In the story of Abraham, God takes Abraham to look at the night sky, and declares that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. If an individual is represented by one star, I suggest our spiritual support system is represented by a constellation. This is how humans of all cultures have viewed the night sky—as connected in meaningful patterns that tell a story.  Every culture has its own sense of the meaning of these stories. Even though I live in a hilly city, I admit I am still a skygazer: I am drawn to any visible patch of night sky again and again, scanning it like the pages of a book, expecting it to spell out a story that will bring me a message from God. A moon? What part of the sky, how long after dusk, what shape? Do I recognize a constellation nearby? Looking up into the dark at night reminds me that we have all been tossed into the same sky, but not without connections: not without context. Seeking spiritual support is much like seeking the sparks of light that have been cast into our constellation with us. It is not to our own credit that we have experienced certain relationships or learned from particular Friends. It is a matter of God’s design, and a declaration of his glory.

Surprisingly, I entered my first relationship of spiritual support after I left high school and met my first Friend on the campus of a fundamentalist Bible College founded by my grandfather. I had known no Quakers growing up, and my initial introduction to Quakers had been through the writing of Catherine Marshall in the novel Christy. I felt a certain respect for the character of Alice Henderson, a nurturing and spiritually mature woman who the author contrasted against the more rigid, legalistic evangelists portrayed in the mountain setting of the book. As the granddaughter of a preacher and teacher of preachers, I already knew everything I wanted to know about their practices. It was the Quaker who intrigued me.

This summer, while I was visiting my elder and spiritual supporter Maurine Pyle, we visited a library where we were invited to select books to donate to prisoners. There I came across Christy, and I knew I’d like to ask Maurine what she thought of it. I suggested the book to Maurine, who cheerfully made a donation in exchange for a used copy of the book.  More than forty years after I had first read the book, Maurine pointed out the narrative description of a clearness process between Christy, the main character, and Alice, the Quaker. And now I could see that when I first met Maurine three years previously, I already had a prototype for the nurturing presence of spiritual support we found in our friendship.

Back in 1974 when I met my first Quaker, Richard Mullins, I do not know whether my initial reading of Christy had influenced, or prepared me for the experience of spiritual support we both gained from our relationship. It became a complex and multi-faceted friendship, but for the moment I will focus on the spiritual dynamics.

What characterized the relationship as one of spiritual support? I knew it was spiritual support, but not until re-discovering Quakers thirty years later did I learn a vocabulary to describe it. I began to recognize underlying patterns in my friendship with Maurine that reminded me of Richard’s style of listening, and I asked, and sought, and knocked. A seasoned elder, Maurine reflected all of my questions as she modeled the clearness process. She helped me recognize the underlying process of spiritual support that, by God’s plan, has been unfolding throughout my life.

First, I learned that in spiritual support there is no judgement. In 1974, I was in a clear state of spiritual rebellion against my mother’s form of Christianity that had brought me to that place, but Richard considered me in all respects his spiritual equal. Frankly, I felt like everyone else on campus treated me like a freak. They were being kind, but the underlying assumption was that I was the goat, and the rest of them were all sheep. I soon became irritated by the “salvation” scripts that some students resorted to when we were alone.

By contrast, in his actions and his conversations, Richard had even invited me to act as his spiritual support before I demonstrated a commitment to any sort of spiritual calling. It was such a relief not to face harsh judgement, I instantly relaxed in his presence. He simply believed that humans are spiritual beings, and that makes us all equal regardless of our stance toward spirituality. He modeled the kind of openness that showed me how to contemplate the possibility or, later, the reality of God without sensing the threat that triggered my rebelliousness.

During our deeper conversations, we were present for one another, but more than that, we were both in the presence of the Light. I sensed, as he told me the more difficult parts of his story, that he had more to bear than I could help him with. I began reaching out for a higher source of strength. I found myself praying for my friend as he spoke and in the silences, listening for God to speak his wisdom to us as well. I sensed Richard was doing the same for me. This is a practice of spiritual support some have called “deep listening.”

In the Jewish faith, ten members—called a minyan—are required to be in company to experience the presence of God in worship. By contrast, one of the teachings of Jesus says, “Whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I in your midst.” Of course, it cannot be denied that God touches us with His presence at times when we are otherwise alone—but that experience can be so overpowering that in the moment, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend the meaning or purpose of His presence. The value of processing such an experience with a supporting Friend in the light is that it gives our experience more depth, exposes more levels of meaning, opens more potential, and affects both of us in profound ways. The fact that it only takes two to usher in the presence renders the Light more accessible, more portable and more consistent in our lives. Sometimes it takes a fellow stargazer in our constellation to help us discern which way the cosmic wind is blowing.

Deep questions—about ourselves, about the nature of God, the meaning of suffering—surfaced, requiring a response not from the mind, but from the source of wisdom within. Sometimes the answers were incomplete, simple statements of not-knowing, but answers were not the point. The questions served as a gateway to a state of openness. In turn, dwelling in a state of openness suspended our expectations, opening the way for potential in any direction. I later learned that the process of opening to unexplored potential is sometimes called “clearing space.” It is an attitude essential to the path I am currently called to, the windblown state of responsiveness to Spirit which some call “As way opens.”

Pamela Richards is a member of Community Friends Monthly Meeting in Cincinnati, and Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting.  She joined the Society of Friends in 2013.  She has sought out experiences of mentoring practices of Friends such as deep listening and eldership. New to traveling ministry, she has also had the joy of supporting Friends in traveling and writing ministries. Like many of us who have undertaken a study of their ancestry, she has recently discovered long-forgotten family roots among Quakers.

Editors’ note: What Canst Thou Say? is happy to share this, the lead article in the May 2017 issue. It is published here as a teaser. There is much more in the print version which will be mailed in the next few weeks and in the web version, which will soon be available on the website <>.

Categories: Blogs

Can you help us get Francis a dog?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 03/30/2017 - 3:43pm
Wherever he goes, Francis finds a friend. Here he is at a Lancaster County B&B.

We love our Francis. Now 11, he can go from sweet and huggy to upset in a matter of moments. Autistic, sensory issues around sound can easily trigger an meltdown. With three siblings, sound is all pervasive in our house. We’ve read books, tried therapy, had him on anti-anxiety medications… While everything’s helped, nothing has helped enough.

It feels like a crucial time for him. He’s getting too big for angry outbursts. He needs to learn how to deal with his emotions and calm himself down. A teenager or young adult melting down in public won’t get the sympathetic glances—or even tsk-tsk judgements—that passersby display for toddlers. These next few years will largely determine whether he will be able to become a semi-independent adult.

What Francis does love is dogs. Anytime we run into a dog he befriends him within a matter of moments.  He shows a patience and calmness with them that is transformative. He’s started going on weekly dates with our uncle to walk around the marshes. And so it’s time to find Francis a therapy dog. The hope is that a trained dog would help him in times of stress. Those skills should then (fingers crossed) transfer over to dog-less times.

We’ve put together a fundraising page to help defray the considerable costs. Details at the link.

A Friend For Francis

Click here to support “A Friend For Francis” by Julie Heiland on FreeFunder!



Categories: Blogs

Is America Headed Towards Theocracy?

Micah Bales - Wed, 03/29/2017 - 2:00am

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve known that some Christians want the United States to become a theocracy. I was surrounded by this kind of Christian in middle school.

Many of them were lovely people; others were not. What they all had in common was this: They believed that America could – and should – become a “Christian nation.” They believed in a society where our leaders held the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other. They had faith that “godly men” in positions of power and influence could bring about the salvation of our nation.

These friends, teachers, and classmates were part of a very powerful movement. Since the 1980s, this ideological force – the Religious Right – has gained enormous power. At the heart of this movement is the ideology of dominionism, the idea that Christian leaders should dominate all areas of society.

Dominionism identifies seven spheres in our nation’s culture: religion, government, business, the arts, education, family, and the media. To bring about the kingdom of God, each of these must be captured by godly leaders.

From my childhood experiences among the Religious Right, I know that this movement runs deep. An extensive network of preachers, politicians, congregations, and think tanks are working nonstop to transform our country into a place where godly men rule and everyone else obeys. Yet I have often underestimated how widespread and powerful this movement actually is.

This article from – “How a Christian Movement is Growing Rapidly in the Midst of Religious Decline.” – helped remind me. It details a powerful dominionist network, rooted in the charismatic movement, that is intent on transforming American society. It differentiates itself from more traditional Christian movements in the following ways:

  • Rather than focusing on building congregations, it puts its energy into spreading beliefs and practices through conferences, ministry schools, and the media.
  • It focuses less on proselytizing non-believers and more on transforming society by placing like-minded leaders in powerful positions.
  • Rather than formally organized denominations, the movement is a network of independent leaders.

Reading this article my first thought was: “Hey, this sounds a lot like the Friends of Jesus Fellowship!” While Friends of Jesus does have a leadership core, we have a lot of freedom in how we organize ourselves. We don’t have a top-down structure. Instead, we encourage one another to explore what bold faithfulness looks like. When we take action, it is because the Holy Spirit directs us, not because a human leader ordered it.

We’re also not locked into building new congregations. Most of us attend a variety of churches – both Quaker and non-Quaker – that we did not start. We have gravitated towards building momentum through gatherings, teaching, and internet outreach.

And, like the dominionists, the Friends of Jesus Fellowship has not primarily aimed our message at non-believers. We’ve had a lot more success in energizing and encouraging folks who are already on the path.

So is Friends of Jesus a dominionist movement? No way! Here’s why:

Dominionism is obsessed with placing its leaders at the top of the pyramid. Friends of Jesus’ mission is to follow the homeless Messiah, the outcast, the forgotten one. We want to be friends of the Jesus, who became a slave and served others rather than placing himself over others.

Friends of Jesus is the complete opposite of dominionism. We’re a bottom-up community. We seek to follow Jesus’ example of self-emptying love.

The kingdom of God isn’t a domination system. It doesn’t look like our present world, except with better overlords. The way of Jesus doesn’t replace the rich, powerful people at the top with new elites. The Holy Spirit turns the whole social pyramid upside down!

It’s a huge challenge to think about what Jesus means when he says, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Because this isn’t a mysterious metaphor. It’s economic, social, and political reality. The kingdom of God is about the presence of real love and justice, not the authority of human rulers. The only “dominion” in God’s new order is that of a servant, a lover, a friend.

Many Christians are chasing after political, social, and economic dominance. But we Friends of Jesus have another calling. To a more beautiful, joyful life. A life rooted in love, relationship, and reliance on God. An existence so free of anxiety that we are unafraid to lower ourselves and lift others up.

There’s room for you here. In the midst of all the confusion and hatred, come find the humble way of Jesus with us. Like any good network, we have a gathering coming up.

Related Posts: The Parable of the Two Investors What is the Life of the Spirit?

The post Is America Headed Towards Theocracy? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

So What I Said Was: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, Racism, Sexism, Empathy, and Lent

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 6:38am
The past two weeks, in two different places (Village Chapel of Bald Head Island and West Newton Friends) I spoke on the familiar story of Jesus and the Samaritan women. So what I said (sorta) was:

Compared to the width and breadth of the mighty Roman empire, Palestine at the time of Jesus was just a tiny speck. A mere 120 miles from its northern tip to its southern border. But even within this tiny plot of geography which Jesus and the disciples found themselves walking, were three major divisions of territory – and belief. In the north, where they started their journey, was Galilee.

The most direct route to Jerusalem from Galilee was through Samaria. However, many devout Jews arranged for extra travel time to skirt the whole territory. Those who didn’t, traveled at their own peril. Samaritans attacked pilgrims on their way to the holy city. Jews led assaults on Samaria, destroying their temple on their holy mount, where they held that Moses had received the 10 commandments.

It was into this that Jesus walked this day.

Now, most of the time when we hear this familiar story, we focus on the woman at the well. And her story is a fascinating one. But today I want us to look at what this story tells us about Jesus and his nature.

It’s noon. The middle of the Jewish day of that era, which runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s also the hottest time of the day. Jesus is weary and thirsty. The disciples go ahead to town to buy some food. Some major attitude change must be occurring in them, for them even to go buy food from Samaritans. A Jewish truism held that to eat with a Samaritan was as eating “swine’s flesh.”

As Jesus sits there, at a well on the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph, whose body had been buried there after the Exodus from Egypt, he’s approached by the familiar woman of the story. His dealings with her give us insight into three important aspects of Jesus’ personality.

The first is that it shows us, in its fullness, the humanity of Jesus. Here is no man free from the demands of our common life. He’s been walking a long way, he’s hungry, thirsty and tired. His life, his walk, was an effort for him, the same as it is for us. And so Jesus, in his humanity, shares in ours.

A second thing it shows is the depth of his empathy. From any other religious leader of the opposition of the day, the woman most likely would have fled. She would fear such a person as condemning and hostile – because of her race and her lifestyle. But she talks to Jesus and it is he who begins the conversation. We have only the barest record of what was said – the Bible never pretends to be a stenographer’s record. What we have is what the gospel writer thinks we need to know. One has to wonder what else was said. Whatever it was, the woman opens to Jesus – a friend who came not to criticize or condemn, even though many might say she deserved criticism and condemnation. Jesus does not even give her his quite common command to “go and sin no more.” He lets her be. In his empathy he sees she has need of his grace, not judgment, for the judgment she’s laid on herself over her lifetime has been probably almost more than she can bear. He lets her off “Scot free.”

That’s good news to us today. Not that it gives us license to behave any which way, but it shows us that God looks on the inner person and sees the heart. A person may act outwardly contrite and yet have a heart of stone. That’s what Jesus often got on the Pharisees about. Or a person may not seem to have “paid for his or her sins” and yet grieve over them in the very deepest part of his or her being. And that is the man or woman to whom Jesus extends his love and sympathy.

Finally, the story shows Jesus as a breaker of barriers. In this case the barriers of racism and sexism. The hatred between the Jews and Samaritans ran deep and wide. Jesus would have nothing to do with it. He made the Samaritans heroes of some of his stories and conversed freely with them – as he did the woman at the well. It’s no wonder, with the history of hatred, the woman was surprised he would speak to her – a Samaritan. But speak he did. And indeed he stayed with the Samaritans for two days after this encounter.

He also broke the barrier of sexism. Some of the Pharisees of this time were known as the bruised and bleeding Pharisees. That’s because their interpretation of the Law forbid them from speaking to a woman in public, even their sisters, mothers, or daughters. Yet Jesus sits and talks with this woman as if she was as capable of understanding as any Jewish man. This is highly unusual, for many Jews (as did other religions of the day) believed that a woman was incapable of understanding the things of God and so such talk would be wasted. Some doubted women even had souls.

Jesus dealings with this woman, as well as many others, show that the faith he established is one of equality of all people. Thus in Galatians, Paul can write, “I Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

If Jesus’ was a breaker of barriers, how can we, his followers, be any less? We need, as part of the gospel message, to show a church that welcomes all regardless of race, gender or any other distinction and to work to eliminate such distinctions in our community.

To a Jew of Jesus time, this encounter was an amazing one. It should be so for us today. Here came the Son of God dusty, thirsty, and tired. He breaks through the barriers of race, religion and gender to love everyone in his and their humanity. He invites us today, as he did that Samaritan woman 2,000 years ago, to drink from his well, a draught of water that will quench our every thirst.
Categories: Blogs

Ringing Spring’s Bell for Continued Quaker Resistance

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sun, 03/26/2017 - 2:04pm

When Friends pulled the rope on the bell atop Spring Friends Meeting, the ringing convened the Carolina Friends Emergency Consultation on March 25. And its session began with cheers & applause.

Pull the rope, ring the bell for victory over the AHCA, and to call for continued resistance.

That’s because there was a major success to celebrate: the abrupt, inglorious end of the so-called “American Health Care Act” the day before.

Not only that, practically all of the 50-plus Friends and friends of Friends present had been active in the tidal wave of citizen resistance to AHCA, in ways large and small, loud and quiet, public and private; they deserved that big round of applause.

Spring Friends Meeting NC. Photo by Scott Holmes.

After more than four months of distress, anxiety & even despair over the dangerous turns taken in American public life, this ovation marked the overdue return of an optimistic mood: Resistance can work!

Now to be sure, as was pointed out, fighting the repeal of health care for 24 million people had been like climbing a mountain, an uphill slog on a wilderness path. Finally at the summit, in the clear air after an arduous climb, the exhilaration at the accomplishment was well-earned, yet modulated by the vista it now opened — that of many more mountains waiting to be crested in turn.

Undaunted, we began preparing for the next trek by canvassing the group to identify concerns and issues whose weight they were under. The list was long!

Your self-effacing blogger, listening and making a list.

It spread across the front of the meetinghouse, and ranged from the Supreme Court to LGBTQ repression, erosion of public schooling, climate change, and lots more.

Indeed, one of the youngest present, Liam (lower right among the multi-generational team below), also had concerns to ring the bell about:

The session then heard from several resource people, representing a variety of groups and action perspectives, from the ACLU & NAACP & the National Black Justice Coalition,  AFSC’s immigration work,   

(Liam’s concerns: I suspect he had some help with the cursive.)

the ongoing peace witness of Quaker House near Fort Bragg,  and more.  The idea here was to begin to find openings, connections, and other like-minded Friends to join with.

Mandy Carter, in the red sweatshirt, brought long experience with work for LGBTQ rights and racial justice. And God brought perfect weather for talking about this outside.

The talk was lively and non-stop, even with breaks. The gathering moved almost seamlessly into broader issue discussion, with resource people as participants, to consider ways to keep moving and build cooperation and momentum.


Barrett Brown, left, President of the Alamance County NC chapter of the NAACP, describing local efforts and statewide aspirations.

The Consultation was not aimed at producing resolutions or a new organization, but to assist in encouraging and facilitating cooperation for continued resistance.  Encouragement also seemed in plentiful supply, and we closed with some music, from Scott Holmes, who doubles as an aggressive lawyer fighting mass incarceration  when he’s not writing songs. He’d written a new resistance song just for us.

Perhaps this model of locally-driven multi-issue and multi-group consultations would be of use to other Meetings. It is neither expensive nor complicated, and the organizing was done by a small cadre of volunteers, using social media as the main means of promotion.

And one of its most welcome outcomes, as these photos show, was a lift in spirits. We’ll all need more of those; there’s still much to ring the resistance bell about.



The post Ringing Spring’s Bell for Continued Quaker Resistance appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

The Carolina Friends Emergency Consultation – March 25, 2017

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 9:26pm

The Carolina Friends Emergency Consultation – March 25, 2017
Spring Friends Meeting, Snow Camp NC
(For Directions, click here)

The Consultation Schedule:

Noon – 1230: arrivals & lunch
1230 – 1:15: Welcome & small group intro, to get acquainted & identify major interests
1:15-1:30 – Break
1:30 – 2:30: briefings by resource persons (2 each, of 25 minutes, so attenders can take in two)
2:30-2:45 – Break
2:45 – 3:45: interest groups for intensive networking & testing ideas
3:45-4:00 – Break
4:00 – 4:45: reporting, evaluation & closing.
And when we’re finished, we’re not done: Head back home, Resist & Raise Heck!

Resource Persons

Scott Holmes: mass incarceration, police abuse
Clare Hanrahan & Coleman Smith, Asheville: Direct Action
Steve Woolford, Bill O’Connor, Quaker House: peace anti-war work
Lori Khamala, AFSC: Immigration work & resistance
Sarah Gillooly, NC ACLU staff: defending civil liberties
Mandy Carter, the National Black Justice Coalition: lgbtq issues & racial justice
Barrett Brown, President, Alamance chapter, NAACP
Joan Walsh, NC StopTortureNow: Torture Accountability, 
Karen Porter & Sion Dayson, Indivisible:  Chapel Hill

There is a Facebook Event page for the gathering, at:
Carolina Friends Emergency Consultation

(For Directions, click here)

The post The Carolina Friends Emergency Consultation – March 25, 2017 appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

The Quaker Art of Dying?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 5:36pm
Hopewell Cemetery, Winslow Township N.J. One of the many South Jersey Quaker burial grounds on long-bypassed country roads. The meetinghouse that was here is long gone.

We’re now casting about for articles for a Friends Journal issue on “The Art of Dying and the Afterlife.” I’m interested to see what we’ll get. Every so often someone will ask me about Quaker belief in the afterlife. I’ve always found it rather remarkable that I don’t have any satisfying canonical answer to give them. While individuals Friends might have various theories, I don’t see the issue come up all that often in early Friends theology.

As extremely attentive Christians they would have signed off on the idea of eternal life through Christ. Since they thought of themselves as living in end times, they totally emulated New Testament miracles. George Fox himself brought a man back from the dead in a town off Exit 109 of the Garden State Expressway. Strange things afoot at the Circle K!

Fox’s biographers quickly scaled back the whole miracle thing. Apparently that was an oddness too far. The cut-out parts of his biography have been republished but even the republishing now appears out of print (never fear: Amazon has it used for not too much).

But Friends has folk customs and beliefs too. The deceased body wasn’t unduly venerated. They recycled grave plots without much concern. I can think of a couple of historic Quaker burial grounds in Philly that have been repurposed for activities deemed more practical to the living. The philosophy of green burial is catching up with Quakers’ practice, a fascinating coming-around.

It also seems there’s a strong old Quaker culture of face impeding death with equanimity. That makes sense given Friends’ modesty around individual achievements. There’s a practicality that I see in many older Friends as they age. I’d be curious to hear from Friends who have had insights on aging as they age and also caretakers and families and hospice chaplains who have accompanied Friends though death.

Writing submissions for our issue on “The Art of Dying and the Afterlife” are due May 8. You can learn about writing for us at:

How do Friends approach the end of life? We’re living longer and dying longer. How do we make decisions on end-of-life care for ourselves and our loved ones? Do Quakers have insight into what happens after we die? Submissions due 5/8/2017.

ps: But of course we’re not just a dead tradition. There are many healers who have revived ideas of Quaker healing. We have a high proportion of mainstream medical healers as well as those following more mystical healing paths. If that’s of interest to you, never fear: October 2017 will be an issue on healing!).

Categories: Blogs

"What a wonder I was/ when I was young..."

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Wed, 03/22/2017 - 6:51am
Ben and me in woods, 1977
by Wendell Berry

Listen Online

What a wonder I was
when I was young, as I learn
by the stern privilege
of being old: how regardlessly
I stepped the rough pathways
of the hillside woods,
treaded hardly thinking
the tumbled stairways
of the steep streams, and worked
unaching hard days
thoughtful only of the work,
the passing light, the heat, the cool
water I gladly drank.
"VII." by Wendell Berry from A Small Porch. © Counterpoint, 2016.  (buy now)
Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Race Riot In Philadelphia?

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 10:14pm

Three forces in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PHYM) are on a collision course, and unless there is a major new development they are due to meet head-on Saturday March 25, at the spring yearly meeting session.

On one track is the self-styled Undoing Racism Group (URG), which is determined to “hold accountable” the YM, its staff & structures in a drive to “decenter whiteness” & uproot what it sees as an entrenched culture of “white supremacy.”

On another track are those in the YM who are uneasy with the URG. Everyone insists they want to banish racism; but some question whether URG is the best vehicle for this work. Its assertive/aggressive style, some doubt the wisdom of its proposals, some are troubled by both.

This mix is volatile enough. Then on March 4, the third train hove into view in the form of the PYM General Secretary, Christie Duncan-Tessmer. She announced several staff changes, abolishing four job slots, and downgrading another.
[Photo below: Christie Duncan-Tessmer, General Secretary, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.]

Job cuts are always hard. As Zach Dutton, PHYM Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life, put it on March 6, 2017: 

Laying down the four coordinator positions that make up the Youth & Young Adult Programs Team allows us to create space for the expansion of the current set of programs we offer. I know that this seems counter-intuitive. It also hurts the Friends who work in these positions to lose their jobs. It hurts the communities they serve to lose relationships with their coordinators. This fact bears repeating and holding up. There is nothing about laying down the positions that isn’t painful and that doesn’t make life hard in the short term. We are doing everything we can to ensure that the coming transitions are as smooth and supportive as humanly possible.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has had to absorb many in recent years;at the turn of this century, it had over 50 full-time staff; after the changes it will be about 25. And this time the impact of the changes could be explosive, because they include a demotion for the one Friend of color on the YM staff. (There are several other staff of color, non-Friends.) Further, the person demoted, Marille Heallis, is Executive Assistant to General Secretary Duncan-Tessmer. And the reaction to this move among URG stalwarts has been harsh.

In 2015, the YM listed work against racism as one of its corporate goals. URG came together as an informal, volunteer group, to pursue this work. It has conducted numerous workshops and made various presentations.

It has also made proposals to become a formal ongoing part of the PHYM structure. Here it has hit a wall. It asked to be made a formal YM committee, but the idea was rejected. Then it prepared a detailed plan for incorporating its efforts across all PHYM structures. They took this plan to the Implementation Committee for the Strategic goals. The Implementation Committee turned down this plan also.

But the URG was not ready to take no for an answer. At last summer’s annual session, after the plan was read, described for information only, several URG supporters walked to the front and surrounded the Clerk’s table, and prevented the body from moving on to its next agenda item (revisions of Faith & Practice), insisting that the URG proposal be discussed and then acted upon.

They got their wish. Faith & Practice was set aside, and the URG plan was extensively debated (some Friends might object to the term “debate,” but I’ll let it stand.) And in the end, the URG got its wish, but didn’t reach its goal. When the Clerk asked for approval, there were also numerous voices raised in disapproval, and the Clerk properly noted that there was no unity and the plan was set aside.

Did the “blockade” of the Clerk’s table (some URG supporters called it “eldering”) & the disruption of the session spark this opposition? To some extent it seems likely. Even URG leader Lucy Duncan, who helped present the plan, later wrote that “Though it felt as though there was urgency and spirit moving, I can see how some would interpret this as pushing too hard, perhaps even bullying.” (Facebook August 4, 2016)

It would also hardly be a surprise if some resolved not to reward such behavior but to rebuke it.

Furthermore, the plan’s rhetoric reportedly alienated some. It spoke repeatedly of the YM as embodying & supporting “white supremacy” and “racism.” Yet, for me at least, trying to see PHYM in a larger social perspective makes this terminology problematic. As the PHYM session gathered, the larger society was in the midst of a turbulent political campaign in which avowedly white nationalist groups were being mainstreamed and openly bigoted attitudes were being articulated by leading candidates. (This “mainstreaming” has continued since the November election.)

“White supremacy” and “racism” seem quite correct applied to them and their agendas (& still do). But using the same terminology to describe PHYM? Certainly this nearly all-white Quaker body needs work. But to some at least, hearing it lumped into the same rhetorical category as those giving Nazi salutes, reviving the Klan, and vowing to rid the country of Muslims and Latinos (not to mention the ominous anti-semitic stirrings) would seem at least inaccurate if not downright offensive. After all, PHYM has many faults; but it is also the body that produced John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, and Bayard Rustin. It is not the Klan, or The Daily Stormer.

You want “white supremacy? They’ll show you white supremacy. You want racism? They got that, too. Plenty. And they’re not alone.

Yet there were also substantive objections, which to my mind deserve careful attention. Let’s look first at the URG proposal. The full text is here, but this excerpt and this diagram that came with it makes its thrust visible:

From URG Plan, submitted at PYM annual session 2016

“Proposed Structure and Leadership for the Undoing Racism Group of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting” (Excerpt)

In order for PYM to fully live out its commitment to ending racism in our midst, it will be essential for the body to understand that unless we are actively resisting racism, a majority white body will perpetuate the racism and white supremacy.

We believe it is essential that the Undoing Racism Group also be placed within the structure of PYM in such a way that it has the responsibility to hold the yearly meeting accountable to its corporate witness around racism.


Our primary purpose and goal is to eliminate racism and white supremacy in our Yearly Meeting. We will achieve our purpose by:

• forming a Care Committee, consisting of Friends of Color dedicated to the service of holding the Yearly Meeting and our clerks accountable in a loving and faithful manner


Sorry for the fuzzy image. The four vertical blue boxes are labeled (left to right): “Admin Council; Quaker Life Council; Nominating Council; & PYM Staff. These are now the principal departments of PHYM.

In sum, the plan would have given the URG an all-pervasive status, with a seat at every PHYM table, a finger in every pie, a voice in every deliberation & hiring choice, and the mandate to “hold accountable” all of it, according to standards they would define & set. Which frankly sounds like having a veto, though the term was not used. Further, the URG would be self-forming & autonomous, outside the established PHYM Nominating mechanisms. The arrangement would continue until URG felt its work was done.

Pondering this, I was not surprised that the Implementation Committee balked at it, followed by many at the 2016 annual session. And the reasons, while surrounded by layers of mushy talk, were pretty straightforward. The Committee wrote: 

Our sense is that the autonomous role proposed by URG for itself in the recent proposal is not in alignment with the expectation that the work of ending racism be the work of our entire community, nor with the manner of holding authority and accountability as envisioned in the Long Range Plan approved by PYM. This creates a conflict for a group that wants to exist within the structure of the Yearly Meeting.


The URG plan, some said, seemed less to “fit into” the PYM structure, but looked more like a takeover: it would have been similar to a receivership, when an outside authority takes control of a foundering body, and is empowered to take drastic steps to revive and rescue it. And even from the distance of several hundred miles, that’s how it reads.

It may be that the URG really believes PHYM is in just such desperate shape. Or perhaps they didn’t see all these troubling implications.

Whichever, others saw them, said so, and didn’t back off. Indeed, this session marked the third time by my count that the URG has made a proposal and been rebuffed.

From my outside standpoint, it seems that URG’s repeated failures are not so much proof of ineradicable racism in PHYM, but suggest rather that they have misunderstood some key elements of the body’s history & evolution.

To explain, let me call on one of PHYM’s patron saints, Lucretia Mott. When Lucretia came into PHYM, it was nothing like the oft-praised equalitarian “spiritual democracy” frequently evoked by today’s fuzzy liberals. To the contrary, it was a strict top-down hierarchy, run by “Select Meetings” of ministers, elders & overseers.

Yes, overseers –and however unfashionable that term is today, it described them well — their task was to “See-Over” the rank & file, from their elevated perch on the facing benches (& everywhere else too), and enforce many quite specific rules. [The photo below is of the three rows of elevated facing benches at the historic Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia. For many decades, they were more than simply decorative, but expressions of power & hierarchy.]
The overseers were appointed essentially for life, and did not answer to the meetings they oversaw.

Lucretia’s ability soon gave her entry into the PYM Select Meetings. But instead of climbing the ladder, she quickly began to chafe under their weight & pettifoggery, which involved disowning people left and right.
[The photo below is of the Longwood Progressive Friends Meetinghouse, next to Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, 1865.]

And not one to merely talk, Lucretia was soon a leading figure in a grassroots rebellion, which became visible in the Progressive Friends movement. Lucretia and other key Progressives worked from inside PHYM (& other YMs), demanding an end to the Select Meetings, abolition of recording & snoopy overseers, and replacement of the hierarchical pyramid with a flattened congregational structure. They wanted monthly meetings to be the “center” and Quarters and Yearly Meeting were to serve, and not rule them. [Photo below is of the earlier, hierarchical Quaker church structure, which lasted more than 200 years.]

Lucretia did not live to see the achievement of the Progressive reforms, but they were in place by the of the 1920s, and were ingrained in the PHYM ethos by the time of the reunification in 1955.

Few Friends today know this history. Yet for almost a century, this congregation-centered structure has continued. In Philadelphia some of this reality was obscured by the comparatively huge PHYM central staff (peaking at 50+ full-time at the turn of this century).

But this top-heavy wheel-spinning (financed by the way, mainly with dead Quakers’ bequest income) did not replicate the old pyramid’s rule. One reason is that among the thousands of convinced Friends who joined during those decades, there were very many who had left other authoritarian churches. And they did not expect to bow to Philadelphia (well, unless they were looking for a job, a grant, or scholarships for their kids). Along the way, innocent of Friends’ history, they invented a new Testimony called Equality & inaccurately projected it back to Fox’s time.

Now comes the URG, whose plan called for setting up a new cohort of overseers in every nook and cranny of PHYM, with mysterious measuring rods and the power to call down the electric furies of “racism” on miscreants at their option.

Structurally, this would be a big step back toward a past which PHYM had long ago left behind, and many members had rejected in other settings, and were very hesitant to go through again.

Perhaps this description will be unwelcome to some in the URG. When the point was raised, according to the  minutes:

 Another Friend asked for clarity about what seems to be a hierarchical nature of the proposed structure. The response was that it is a relational body, not a supervisory body.

Nevertheless, the resemblances to that old order were more than a few, and all unsettling:

For one thing, the URG in the proposal was answerable only to itself, like the old Select Meetings. And like them, its jurisdiction and tenure were essentially unlimited. And there’s that freighted phrase, “hold accountable”.

Moreover, in the proposal, both “racism” and “resisting racism” are referred to in doctrinal terms: the URG asserted that it knows (best) what the one is, and how (best) to do the other. Expressing doubts about this is typically seen as evidence of racism (i. e., heresy). I don’t say the URG Friends all think this way, but that’s how it reads.

Now into this mix has been tossed the bombshell of staff changes: four positions dealing with children and young Friends are abolished. They’ll be replaced with contract workers hired by the event, overseen (there’s that word again) by one full-time office staff member.

And General Secretary Christy Duncan Tessmer’s Executive Assistant, Marille Heallis [photo at left], is being demoted: from full-time to 60 per cent time, and at a lower hourly rate. (She was also, she has written, offered a substantial severance package if she declined the demotion and left the staff.)

The youth staff cuts will be regretted and grumbled at; Marille Heallis’s demotion has already sparked outrage and calls for resistance.

Heallis has filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And she has gone public, with a lengthy blog post detailing her charges of being chronically discriminated against by her boss.

Her complaint was echoed by a former colleague, Jennie Sheeks, who was for several years PHYM’s fundraising staffer, until she left earlier this year. In a Facebook post on March 8, she was asked if she believed the demotion was an act of racist retaliation. She replied:

Jennie Sheeks [photo at left]: Yes, I’m so pained to say, that is my conclusion from what I’ve witnessed over many months and after much attempt by many people to quietly, with confidentiality, and with love help Christie. I do not say this lightly. I do not say it with any motive other than Marille’s protection from abuse. I do not say it without having exhausted other routes and means of addressing the injustice. And I didn’t want to say any of it. I’m tired of trying to fix what’s broken here. But there is no one else who had as close a vantage point as me who can speak without fear of loosing their job, so I feel bound to take on this uncomfortable and awkward role bringing the hidden to light.

(Christie Duncan-Tessmer did not return my call seeking comment.)

A key URG member, Lucy Duncan, said of this in a Facebook comment on March 20 that 

if the body [of PHYM] had approved the URG structure proposed [at annual session 2016], this decision would never have been made: the proposal was intended to guard against such overt abuses of power that arise from white assumptions of superiority.

While this was an individual comment in an obscure thread, it was still notable for contradicting the statement in annual session that the URG presence would not be “relational” and not “supervisory.” Stopping the CEO of the organization from changing the status of her own assistant is pretty straight-up supervisory.

So will anything come from all this at the PHYM session on March 25?

It isn’t supposed to. Such sessions are typically very much scripted and scheduled in advance, with little time or space for anything spontaneous to happen. And the published schedule indicates that there will be some time for questions about the staff changes.  But on the other hand, there have been disruptions at recent PHYM sessions, so sometime things don’t go according to plan.

But the changes will not be up for review; wise or not, fair or not, the General Secretary oversees (sic) the staff, and staffing decisions are her call. And with legal action in the offing, Duncan-Tessmer has all the more incentive to listen and say little beyond, “Thank thee Friend.”

Yet even if the lid stays on at this weekend’s session, these rumblings in PHYM are signs of a body in significant internal disarray. And frankly, with the burgeoning return of organized, high-power racism (not to mention numerous other plagues) all around it, this turmoil could not come at a more inopportune time.

The post A Quaker Race Riot In Philadelphia? appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

The Parable of the Two Investors

Micah Bales - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 2:00am

There were once two investors. One was wise, another was foolish.

One day, the stock market plummeted. For the next few weeks, prices were in free fall. Many were panicking. What if this was another Great Depression?

Early on in this crisis, each investor met with his financial advisor. Each received the same advice:

“Things look bad right now. Stocks are falling, and we don’t know when prices will stabilize. But don’t let fear get the best of you. The markets cycle. Prices will rise again. Hold onto what you have, and you’ll be OK.”

After the foolish investor heard this advice, he was calm for a day or two. But another week passed and the market was still falling fast. He was losing so much money, he couldn’t stand it any longer! The foolish investor sold his shares at a much reduced value and placed the money into a savings account.

The wise investor had a different reaction. He kept the stocks he already owned, but he didn’t stop there. He also immediately withdrew his savings and bought more stocks.

As the prices continued to fall, the wise investor continued to pour money into the market. The lower the prices fell, the more he invested. He risked everything. He even sold his house and his car so that he could buy more shares.

The stock market collapse was very severe. It was several years before the markets began to recover. During these terrible years, the wise investor had hardly anything to live on. It was hard times for everyone.

Finally, the words of the financial advisor did come true. The market began to inch back upwards. Within a few years it was stronger than ever. Unfortunately, the foolish investor didn’t gain from the rising stock market. All his money was still in the bank. He bought high and sold low. He risked little. He was left with little.

The wise investor saw a very different outcome. His investments did more than rebound. All the cheap stocks he bought during the crash multiplied several times. By the time the economy was strong again, he had become a rich man.

The kingdom of God is something like this.

Related Posts: What is the Life of the Spirit? What if This is the End of the World?

The post The Parable of the Two Investors appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Black with a capital B

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 03/17/2017 - 5:33pm

It’s been a long-running debate in editorial circles: whether to capitalize ‘black’ and ‘white’ in print publications when referring to groups of people. I remember discussions about it in the early 1990s when I worked as a graphic designer at a (largely White) progressive publishing house. My official, stylesheet-sanctioned answer has been consistent in every publications since then: lowercase. But I remain unsatisfied.

Capitalization has lots of built-in quirks. In general, we capitalize only when names come from proper nouns and don’t concern ourselves about mismatches. We can write about “frogs and salamanders and Fowler’s toads” or “diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s.” Religious terms are even trickier: there’s the Gospel of Luke that is part of the gospel of Christ. In my Quaker work, it’s surprising how often I have to go into a exegesis of intent over whether the writer is talking about a capital-L divine Light or a more generic lower-case lightness of being. “Black” and “white” are both clearly lowercased when they refer to colors and most style guides have kept it that way for race.

But seriously? We’re talking about more than color when we use it as a racial designation. This is also identity. Does it really make sense to write about South Central L.A. and talk about its “Koreans, Latinos, and blacks?” The counter-argument says that if capitalize Black, what then with White. Consistency is good and they should presumably match, except for the reality check: Whiteness in America has historically been a catch-all for non-coloredness. Different groups are considered white in different circumstances; many of the most-proudly White ethnicities now were colored a century ago. Much of the swampier side of American politics has been reinforcing racial identity so that out-of-work Whites (codename: “working class”) will vote for the interests of White billionaires rather than out-of-work people of color (codename: “poor”) who share everything but their melatonin level. All identities are incomplete and surprisingly fluid when applied at the individual level, but few are as non-specific as “White” as a racial designation.

Back in the 1990s we could dodge the question a bit. The style guide for my current publication notes “lc, but substitute ‘African American’ in most contexts.” Many progressive style sheets back in the day gave similar advice. In the ebb and flow of preferred identity nomenclature, African American was trending as the more politically correct designation, helped along by a strong endorsement from Jesse Jackson. Black wasn’t quite following the way of Negro into obsolescence, but the availability of an clearly capitalized alternative gave white progressives an easy dodge. The terms also subtly distinguished between those good African Americans who worked within in the system from those bad radicals talking about Black Power.

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought Black back as the politically bolder word. Today it feels sharper and less coy than African American. It’s the better punch line for a thousand voices shouting rising up outside the governor’s mansion. We’ve arrived at the point where African American feels kind of stilted. It’s as if we’ve been trying a bit too hard to normalize centuries of slavery. We’ve got our Irish Americans with their green St Paddy’s day beer, the Italian Americans with their pasta and the African Americans with their music and… oh yes, that unfortunate slavery thing. All of these identities scan the same in the big old melting pot of America. It’s fine for the broad sweep of history of a museum but feels coldly inadequate when we’re watching a hashtag trend for yet another Black person shot on the street. When the megaphone crackles out “Whose lives matter?!?” the answer is “Black Lives Matter!” and you know everyone in the crowd is shouting the first word with a capital B.

Turning to Google: The Columbia Journalism Review has a nice piece on the nuances involved in capitalization, “Black and white: why capitalization matters.” This 2000 lecture abstract by Robert S. Wachal flat-out states that “the failure to capitalize Black when it is synonymous with African American is a matter of unintended racism,” deliciously adding “to put the best possible face on it.” In 2014, The NYTimes published Temple University prof Lori L. Tharps ’s convincing argument, “The Case for Black With a Capital B.” If you want to go historical, this thread on shifting terms by Ken Greeenwald on a 2004 Wordwizard forum is pure gold.

And with that I’ll open up the comment thread.

Categories: Blogs

“Dilemma for Dr. King” – A 51st Anniversary Review

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 1:02pm

When I wrote to Dr. Martin Luther King’s office in the late fall of 1964, seeking a job in the civil rights movement, I claimed to be a writer, and that’s what they hired me to do.

It turned out my claim was mostly about the future: I was working toward becoming a writer.  But once on the staff, when confronted by my green rookie whiteness (yes: green whiteness was a thing; maybe still is), I was essentially struck dumb as a writer. I was overwhelmed by the weight of my utter ignorance about the South, the movement, about black and white — about myself.

(I am everlastingly grateful to Dr. King’s office manager, the late Randolph Blackwell, for indulging my failure, and not firing me; I think he could see I needed what Quakers call “seasoning” — a lot of it. And besides, I was only drawing $25 per week from the payroll, which was not much even then.)
For nearly a year, I was able to write only a few poems. (This period of internally-enforced silence is detailed in my memoir of that time –written 30-plus years later– Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.)

Selma, 1965. Hosea Williams, John Lewis & Andrew Young in front, I’m in the back, at right.

But then, late in 1965, after being part of the Selma voting rights campaign and its aftermath — after, as my veteran mentors in the movement explained, “paying my dues,” I finally began to recover a prose voice.

And by then, the seemingly sunny prospects for major progress toward racial justice were being increasingly clouded over by an external threat: the rapidly-escalating U. S. war in Vietnam.

And that’s what I was moved to write the first post-silence piece about: the problems posed by the war, not only to the country or the movement, but in particular to its putative leader, Dr. King. I finished the piece pretty quickly, then feeling bold, sent it off to a magazine — a real magazine, one I had reason to believe Dr. King read.

And they accepted it! The piece was published fifty-one years ago today: March 16, 1966. 

It was a first for me in two important respects: my first article published in a “real” national magazine. And it was the first article I was ever paid for: the grand sum of $35. (In a box somewhere in the house, or the storage shed out back, I still have the stub of that check, in a frame; at least I hope I still have it.)

Because it was the first, I have often thought of that piece in March, as this date rolls past. And from time to time, I have searched it out and looked it over. 

And it’s not so bad, for a debut article. Sure I was young and callow, and it shows. But maybe the piece was useful then. And maybe it’s worth looking at here. Much has changed since 1966. But much also seems to still be stuck, or even worse. Issues of progress toward racial justice are certainly still salient, and the draining of resources away from closing these gaps on behalf of an ever-greedy war machine are as timely as this morning’s headlines.

So as both a personal exercise, and a public offering, I have copied the full text here, interleaved with some current reflections.

The Christian Century – MARCH 16, 1966, pp 331-332

Dilemma for Dr. King

The Vietnam war is perhaps the greatest challenge of this Negro leader’s career and conceivably its culmination.

Charles E. Fager

(Mr. Fager, formerly on the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is now on the faculty of Friends World Institute in East Norwich, New York.)

AS THE LEADER of the Negro struggle for equality, Martin Luther King is faced with the perils of success. His movement, it is now clear, is going to bring America’s Negroes into the mainstream of national life. The job will not be done “NOW!” or even within a generation, but the forces set in motion by five years of mass nonviolent effort are too far-reaching to be reversed. The nation’s “white power structure” has come to realize not only that integration can be accomplished without major upheavals in the present American socioeconomic system but also that it will in the long run serve to enrich that system.

Reflections: How language has changed! The universal “he” leaps accusingly out at me; that was still standard discourse then. 
Also “Negro”: yet it was a respectful term at the time. Dr. King used it all his life.
But what is almost embarrassing is the presumptive tone of optimism: “we” (the movement) had won; all over but the shouting.

I wish.  But this was not merely my personal conceit. The 1960s civil rights movement had just reached its high-water mark in Selma: the new Voting Rights Act was registering black voters by the tens of thousands across the South; both President Lyndon Johnson and a progressive Congress seemed on board.

Sure it would take time to mop up the remaining pockets of resistance. But that year the movement had hit what looked like a home run, rounded third, and was striding confidently toward home plate. And Dr. King, who came to Selma with a Nobel Peace Prize fresh in his pocket, appeared to be at the apex of his prestige and influence.
Those were the days! And how soon they passed . . . . 

With victory on the horizon, the Negro leadership with Dr. King as its symbol seems uncertain about what to do next. There is a strong temptation to dig in, to consolidate and expand the gains already made; in short, to begin playing the political game for an ever larger piece of the nation- al pie, as did the labor movement at the end of its rise.
Such a feeling is natural. “Freedom Now!” translated into more specific terms means for most Negroes simply: “We want in!” Into the economy, into the political circuses, into all the currents and eddies of the American mainstream. This is why the Muslims and Black Nationalists failed to catch on with the Negro masses: they preached revolution and prepared for an Armageddon which would destroy the white world. But the average Negro doesn’t want to destroy anything; he wants to spread it around. He isn’t basically opposed to “the system”; he just doesn’t like being at its bottom.

Of course, Muslims and black nationalism, beginning with the cry of “Black Power,” were hardly fading, but about to become a major fixture of the news and the black community. Ah well; more that I and other white liberals never guessed about the future, though by mid-1967 my first book , White Reflections On Black Power, undertook to grapple with its first wave.

The way is not so clear for Dr. King, primarily because during his entire career his whole stance has been not merely an economic one but more basically a moral one. He opposed segregation not simply because it was economically debilitating but because it was evil and unchristian. Perhaps such a focus on ethical matters was but part of a strategy, a necessity if the conscience of the non-southern white community was to be stirred and drawn into the struggle. If so, it now stands revealed as a two-edged sword, because many of the moral issues which Dr. King and the movement have raised in the restricted context of the segregated south have national and international contexts and implications as well. With the entry of the civil rights movement into the level of full national participation, the leaders are no longer just confronting the nation with its regional sins but are themselves confronted as full-fledged citizens and moral spokesmen with the issues of overall national policy.

I think I was right about the moral foundation for the movement here. But economics did not go away. Dr King returned to focus on it in his last year, with the plans for what became his last effort, the Poor Peoples Campaign. I wrote about that in my book Uncertain Resurrection; but it’s another story.

The most unsettling context for these issues is, of course, the war in Vietnam. Negro leaders, even up to last spring in Selma, frequently told draft-age males in their audiences that they had no business fighting for anything abroad until things were straightened out at home. Now, faced with the realities of tripled draft calls and Negro bodies being shipped home from southeast Asia, many are wishing they had kept their mouths shut. When some worker in Mississippi (who apparently hadn’t got the word) seriously suggested that Negroes refuse the draft, the resulting flap reverberated all the way to Harlem and back. The traditional Uncle Tom leadership hastily scrambled aboard the Johnson escalator; the militants, and Dr. King as the most successful and ethically articulate of them all, were thrown into a public quandary.

Dr. King is not known as a man of vacillation, yet his statements on the war seem curiously circumspect, almost tame. His staff is said to be deeply, even bitterly divided over strategy regarding a response to the war. Some have reportedly urged him to begin immediately an all-out effort to challenge the surrounding smokescreen of official doubletalk. Others are convinced that such a course is suicide; they contend that Dr. King and his organization would be Red-baited into bankruptcy and oblivion even within the Negro community. The few mild protests he has made are said already to have cut substantially into the donations coming into his Atlanta office. Given the permanently precarious finances of civil rights organizations, this makes further ventures even more risky.

Here I get to the point and the piece begins to hit its stride: In fact, Dr. King was being very circumspect in comments about the Vietnam war in those months. But I had also heard him, at a closed staff retreat in late 1965, say that eventually he would have to face up to the war, and take whatever criticism a more public stance provoked. “Eventually” still seemed to be far off when I wrote this piece — and when it was published.

At present Dr. King seems to be trying to walk a tortuous middle path: opposing the war as a matter of form but doing so as quietly as possible. Speaking to a support rally for unseated Georgia representative-elect Julian Bond, a SNCC staffer, King concentrated on the issue of free speech, not the SNCC statement opposing the war which brought on the legislative move. Perhaps Dr. King is biding his time, hoping to get his campaign against northern slums off the ground before tackling the broader issues of the war. There is something to be said for this as a matter of tactics.

Julian Bond, left, with Dr. King.

Julian Bond, (1940-2015, educated in part at the Quaker George School in Pennsylvania), still young but a veteran civil rights activist, was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives soon after the Voting Rights Act was passed. But in January 1966, the Georgia House refused to seat him because he had endorsed a public anti-Vietnam War statement. Some months later the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ordered that he be seated, and he served in the Georgia legislature for twenty years.

It is also possible, however, that Dr. King simply doesn’t yet know what to do. Challenging the war would mean an open break with the administration and the loss of all the perquisites of membership in the “great consensus.” In any case it seems unlikely that he can continue to be quiet in the face of continuing escalation of the fighting without seriously compromising his acknowledged role as a man of principle.

Though going through motions of support, the nation is clearly uneasy about the war. This self-conscious, almost guilty attitude is new in the national consciousness, and Dr. King’s nonviolent campaigns can take much credit for its development. As the administration’s facade of “national honor” in Vietnam continues to be punctured by the responsible press, the underlying contradictions and moral evasions of our policy are brought home ever more forcefully to much of the informed public. Each new lapse of credibility, each new revelation of official immorality cries out the louder for rebuke and makes more critical the need for authentic moral challenge to the war.

Among all our truly national figures Dr. King is one of the few who are undeniably men of conscience.

Even now, I stand by that statement, while acknowledging that Dr. King had his flaws and sins: he  plagiarized much of his doctoral dissertation; he was serially unfaithful to his wife. On the matters of racial justice and war, he was indeed moved by conscience, lived bravely, and paid for his witness with his life.

If there is to be any significant national reassessment of the Vietnam war and the policies it exemplifies, he could do more than anyone else to bring this about and his implicit acquiescence in the war would do the most to prevent any such reassessment. He cannot escape these facts. No one thrust as Dr. King has been onto the stage of world attention and conflict can ever again find a refuge in the sectional or minority cause from which he sprang. When he accepted the Nobel peace prize he baptized all races into his congregation and confirmed the world as the battleground for his gospel of nonviolence and reconciliation. He is no longer and probably never again can be a spokesman for just an American Negro minority. Simply because of his position in the world limelight, he cannot avoid confrontation with the ethical implications of national and international events.

Other voices, much more influential, were delivering similar messages to Dr. King. And he was listening. At the end of 1966, he went on a month-long private retreat. At an airport enroute, he picked up a magazine which had on its cover the unforgettable photo of a young Vietnamese girl (Kim Phuc, who survived horrible burns and scarring and now lives in Canada) running down a road, her back seared with burning napalm from U.S. bombers. The image reportedly shook him (as it shook many others, including me.) When King returned from his retreat, at the beginning of 1967, he was ready to take on the war with the full blast of his eloquence.

This is why as the Johnson administration talks of escalating the war beyond 450,000 men, of bombing Hanoi-Haiphong and even of confronting China on the Asian mainland the virtual silence of the unchallenged spokesman of American conscience becomes ever louder and more painful to those who have followed him thus far. The war in Vietnam is perhaps the gravest challenge of Dr. King’s career and conceivably its culmination. Who among us today could blame him if, faced with this dilemma, he agonizes over his course of action? No one, surely; but Martin Luther King, Jr., is not only answerable to us of today: he must walk with history as well. And if in his agony he should fail to act, it must be asked: can history forgive him?

Dr. King not only made peace with history — he made history when he took on the Vietnam War. His finest address on the war, “Beyond Vietnam,” given at the Riverside Church in New York City, was initially blasted by white Establishment voices (and some more cautious black ones). The Washington Post was typical, declaring that he had thereby “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”

I was among the several thousand packed into the Riverside Church to hear this address — delivered April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, and it fulfilled every aspiration expressed in my article. And despite the initial cascade of criticism, Dr. King’s witness, reinforced by that of others, and events in the war, turned much of this Establishment in his direction within a couple of years.

Dr. King did not live to see his sacrificial witness bear fruit. I did, and its personal impact has has never diminished. All of which makes this article, and this personal anniversary #51, more important than simply marking the first toehold in public print. Despite its youthful limitations, it discerned themes and concerns that continue to this day, and seem (alas) undiminished in their urgency. 

The post “Dilemma for Dr. King” – A 51st Anniversary Review appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

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