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Philly Paper Slams Friends Central School: “Lacks Integrity”

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 02/15/2017 - 9:08am

The Philadelphia Daily News is out today with a searing editorial about the ongoing flap involving Friends Central School, a cancelled speech about Middle East issues by a professor of Palestinian heritage, and the suspension of two teachers who supported his appearance.

The headline is biting:

DN editorial: Friends’ Central lacks integrity in shunning controversial speaker

“ANOTHER WEEK, another hit delivered to free speech, this one coming from an unexpected source – a Quaker school.

Last week, the head of Friends’ Central School, a Quaker private school in Wynnewood, uninvited a Palestinian who had been asked to speak by a student club. Students protested that decision, in part by walking out of an all-school gathering. This week, head of school Craig N. Sellers suspended two faculty advisers to the student group, saying – in effect – that they were inside agitators who had whipped up the student protest.

Or, as Sellers put it in a statement, the teachers disregarded “our guiding testimonies, which include community, peace and integrity.”

We see it differently. In our view, it was Sellers who disrupted the peace of the Friends’ Central community. And you can hardly call the muzzling of an invited speaker an example of integrity.”

Ouch. That hurts. It’s the kind of report that makes Quakers of all stripes cringe.

Back in the day, “integrity” was a key linchpin of the “Quaker way.” Maybe some of it was myth, magnified in the telling (there have definitely been some Quaker scoundrels; Richard Nixon?), but overall, the Society of Friends gained a kind of fame that money can’t buy, for being stubborn about the truth.

In practical ways, like Quaker shopkeepers setting fixed prices, rather than cheating uninformed customers.

In even comical ways, like carefully hedging their speech to be strictly factual (which this anecdote may not entirely be):

Hoover: a cautious Quaker talker

Once, it is said, Herbert Hoover (the Quaker president who wasn’t a crook) was riding across the prairie on a train, when another passenger spied some skinny-looking sheep in a nearby field.

“Looks like those sheep have all just been sheared,” said the passenger.

Hoover eyed them warily, paused, and then replied, “Yes, it does — at least on this side.”

Those were also the days when going bankrupt was not just a  misfortune, but an infraction that would get a Friend “disowned.” That’s because it marred the Quaker “Reputation of Truth,” one item of which was that Friends always paid their debts.

Well, the  Friends’ “Reputation of Truth” is pretty tattered in the eyes of this editorialist:

“The Quakers have always embraced free speech and espoused many unpopular causes. They opposed slavery and war at a time when you could get shot over those beliefs. William Penn went to jail in England because he would not give up his beliefs.

It would sadden Penn to see a school founded on his principles cowering in the corner, afraid to let students hear another viewpoint.”

They’ve got a point there. Who remembers Philadelphia 1838, when Quakers and other early abolitionists erected their own building, Pennsylvania Hall, because other groups wouldn’t let them speak or hold meetings? It opened in May, for a meeting of antislavery women: and was burned down the next night. The fires were set while Quaker Angelina Grimke was speaking.

Did this arson and attempted murder silence the women, or their movement? No.

But that’s not all. The editorial goes on:

“[Sa’ed] Atshan [the Swarthmore College professor whose talk was squashed] hasn’t spoken publicly about the controversy, but let’s assume that he is fervently pro-Palestinian, does favor economic sanctions against Israel and that he expressed those views before a group of high school students. So what? Would the students rush out of the room waving PLO flags? Would he convert them into rabid anti-Zionists? We think not.

Consider such a speech either food for thought or a foolish viewpoint, but it hardly represents a danger to the minds of these students. Being a student means being exposed to conflicting facts, theories and beliefs. It’s called learning.”

Yes it is. And here’s hoping the FCS leadership finishes this lesson in a hurry and fixes this mess, before their reputation, that of Friends Central School, and that of Quakers at large, suffer more harmful, unnecessary hits.

 

The post Philly Paper Slams Friends Central School: “Lacks Integrity” appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Breaking: Friends Central School Officials Issue New Statement; Backpedaling?

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 02/14/2017 - 3:33pm

The Head of Friends Central School (FCS) & its Board Clerk issued a statement this afternoon (Feb. 14) on the building controversy about cancellation of a talk by a Palestinian professor from Swarthmore College. (The full text is below. The initial post on this controversy is here.)

As is often the case in Quaker controversies, the officials blame “a fundamental breakdown in process,” adding “We simply did not approach this very sensitive topic with adequate community dialogue.”

In a departure from what has been earlier reported, the  statement says “To be clear, our intention has always been to pause – not cancel – any speaker engagement on this topic.”

This “pause” was needed, the statement says, because “We felt it was important that more facts and input from community members be gathered to develop a thoughtful, respectful, and intellectual approach.”

However, “During this period of pause, two teachers were given explicit directives, which they ignored. As a result of their actions and their expressed intentions, these teachers have been placed on paid leave while we continue a more thorough review.”

[Note: I am not aware of any public comments by the two suspended teachers. And with their jobs hanging in the balance, they are likely being advised to keep quiet.]

The FCS Board held a called meeting yesterday to address this situation. And as Quaker bodies do in the face of almost all emergencies, they formed a committee,  here called a “Task Force” tasked “to determine how we move forward.” Pledging to be “proactive,” further updates are promised. The rest of the statement is a set of broad generalities, concluding with:

“Our challenges reflect the world we live in. This moment presents an opportunity to demonstrate what defines Friends’ Central as a Quaker school.”

Indeed.

Full text of the statement:

Important Message from the Head of School and Clerk of the Board
Posted 02/14/2017 02:59PM
 
Dear Friends,

As Head of School and Board Clerk, we write to you today with an update on recent events within the Friends’ Central community involving students’ learning about the Middle East, campus speakers, and our path forward. While many have expressed concern, we believe this is an opportunity to live our Mission and emerge a stronger community.

We understand these are delicate issues and want to assure you that the physical and emotional safety of our community is our first priority.

There was a fundamental breakdown in process. We simply did not approach this very sensitive topic with adequate community dialogue. To be clear, our intention has always been to pause – not cancel – any speaker engagement on this topic. We felt it was important that more facts and input from community members be gathered to develop a thoughtful, respectful, and intellectual approach. During this period of pause, two teachers were given explicit directives, which they ignored. As a result of their actions and their expressed intentions, these teachers have been placed on paid leave while we continue a more thorough review.

Members of our community have reached out to share their views, while offering suggestions on how to proceed. To those individuals, we have heard you and we will invite participation shortly. At last night’s called meeting, the Board of Trustees began forming a Task Force to determine how we move forward. To lead this effort, Board members and current parents Fariha Khan and Elizabeth Cohen ’83 will serve as Clerks. The Task Force will broadly engage our community – including students, parents, faculty, administration, and alumni/ae – and bring together a wide variety of viewpoints. Our goal is to move toward and embrace the challenges of intellectual discourse with respect and empathy.

We commit to communicating more proactively. In the days and weeks ahead, you will receive more information about our Task Force and opportunities available to participate. Some may still have concerns and issues you would like to address directly with the School. Craig is available to meet with any member of our community who would like time to discuss these issues in further detail. This is a priority, and Craig is available in the coming days.

Our challenges reflect the world we live in. This moment presents an opportunity to demonstrate what defines Friends’ Central as a Quaker school. We must come together on how we teach our children, to ensure they meet challenges from a place of knowledge and constructive engagement.

Sincerely,

Craig N. Sellers
Head of School

Philip Scott ’73
Clerk, Board of Trustees

The post Breaking: Friends Central School Officials Issue New Statement; Backpedaling? appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Esther & The Heathens: A Quaker Valentine Romance

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 02/14/2017 - 8:43am

Esther & The Heathens: A Quaker Valentine Romance

A story by
Chuck Fager

Illustrations by Charlotte Lewis

Note: While this story is fiction, it is built around actual history. Nothing described below is beyond the range of real events of the time among Quakers.

I: One Committee Too Many

Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, 1828

When the Committee from the Women’s Meeting emerged from the parlor, they stopped to collect their long shawls and say goodbye to Esther Swain’s mother before leaving the house. Esther followed the two older women out, then went toward the stairs to go up to her room.

As she turned she saw a slice of grey skirt sticking out of the closet under the stairway. No dresses were hung there, and at once Esther knew it was her sister Piety, trying to hide. Piety, the little brat, had been listening to her interview with the committee!

Bristling, she stepped off the stairs, whirled around the bannister and pulled the closet door open. “All right, Magpie,” she muttered using the nickname her sister disliked most, “what does thee think thee’s doing?”

With a muffled squeal, thirteen-year old Piety slipped past her, followed by a brown-clad bundle of arms and legs topped with a curly red fringe, brother Jonah, eleven.

The pair raced behind the parlor, through the corner of the kitchen to the back stairs, then thumped frantically up its winding flight; but Esther, lifting her long skirts with one hand, was close behind, and followed them to Piety’s room. Jonah tried to slam the door behind him, but Esther forced it open, pushed through the doorway, then shut and stood blocking it as she confronted her puffing, red-faced siblings.

“What did you two think you were doing,” she demanded, “listening at the door down there to what was none of your business?” The fury in her voice was more than the offense warranted, but these two smaller Quakers were convenient targets for her first reaction to the Committee’s message, which was just beginning to sink in.

Jonah, who had yet to assume the sprouting bravado of adolescence, shrank away from his eldest sister, who at twenty-one and brimming with anger looked very imposing and grownup to him. But Piety was too full of what she had heard downstairs to be intimidated.

“Oh, Esther, we couldn’t help it, we had to know what was happening,” she admitted. Then, ignoring her sister’s ire completely, she stepped up and caught Esther’s hands in her smaller ones. “Esther,” she said, looking up at her gravely, “they can’t make thee do it, can they? They can’t make thee refuse to marry Will Macy just because of the trouble in Meeting. They wouldn’t dare. I won’t let them.” Her tone was as firm as her declaration was irrelevant.

This unexpected expression of support and affection caught Esther completely off guard, and instantly dissipated her wrath. She moved away from the door and sat down on Piety’s bed, staring at the floor.

“I wish thee could stop them, Piety,” she replied weakly, “but thee can’t. They are right, I suppose. To marry an Orthodox would be the same as marrying a Presbyterian, or even a Catholic.” She was now speaking as she had in the parlor with the Committee, flatly and submissively, overwhelmed by the authority they represented.

Jonah, emboldened by the sudden change of atmosphere, spoke up, imitating their father’s most solemn tone, the one he used for discussing weighty matters in Meeting for Business. “Yes, Esther, I’m sure thee will find true peace in resignation to the Divine leading,” he affirmed soberly. “Besides, as they told thee downstairs, thee must think of the reputation of Truth and the Meeting.”

Now Piety flared. “Oh hush, Jonah,” she snapped, “thee doesn’t know what thee’s talking about.” She mimicked his tone: “‘The reputation of Truth’, ‘Resignation to the Divine leading.’ Thee doesn’t even know what the word resignation means.”

Jonah, who was vain of his wide reading and vocabulary at such a young age, and especially his familiarity with Quaker history, retorted quickly. “I do so know what resignation means. It’s when you quit something, like when many Friends in the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1756 resigned rather than vote to support a war against the Indians.”

Piety rolled her eyes elaborately at his misconstruction. “Oh, please, that isn’t the meaning here at all, Jonah. And spare us thy sermons. Thee isn’t old enough to be a recorded minister yet.”

Esther looked up at them, her voice still soft. “It is all right, Jonah,” she said. “Thee was partly right about the word; but it also means, in this religious sense, to submit or yield to a higher power.”

Now she sounded as well like the friendly but precise schoolmistress she was during the day. “And thee is also correct that we must weigh our impulses according to their effect on the Meeting and the Society of Friends in the world. Our own creaturely desires will often tempt us to do things that would injure ourselves or others.”

Piety, scowling under her plain white bonnet, took her sister’s hand again and stared into her face. “Thee said it, but I don’t think thee believes it,” she whispered. “What’s that got to do with getting married, anyway? It isn’t as if thee was trafficking in slaves or joining an army at war.”

“Joining an army?” scoffed her brother. “A girl?”

“Thee hush!” Piety exclaimed, cutting off his snicker. “Thee understands what I mean, doesn’t thee, Esther? We have known the Macys all our lives. They have been Friends on Nantucket for a hundred years. And now just because of tiresome notional arguments in Meeting, some old women want thee to treat Will, thy own true love, like he was some heathen stranger.”

“‘Her own true love,’” Jonah now mimicked. “Talk about tiresome notions, that’s one for sure.”

Piety simply glared a response to his boyish cynicism. But Esther smiled wanly at it, then spoke to her sister. “I am afraid that however airy and notional the arguments have been, their effects have been very real. Most of the elders are Orthodox, and it is said they plan to disown everyone like us in Meeting who will not join them. They even want to keep us out of the Meetinghouse and force us to worship elsewhere.”

She stopped and sighed. “And Will’s father Thomas Macy is one of the hottest heads among them. To him and the other elders it is we, the ones they call Hicksites, who are the heathen.”

Now it was Jonah’s turn to be shocked. “Put us out?” he questioned. Unlike many other boys his age, he liked Meeting, and the big old Meetinghouse had been part of his life for as long as he could remember. “Could they really do that, Esther?”

“I don’t know, Jonah,” she replied. “But I believe they are going to try. It is said they are even ready to go to law to get rid of us if they have to.”

Jonah’s eyes widened, as if his soft-spoken sister had suddenly blasphemed. “Go to law? They wouldn’t, would they?” He had not suspected that this silly dispute over someone’s “true love” could possibly end up with Quakers, especially elders, dragging other Quakers into a worldly court. That would be a public violation of one of their oldest, most honored customs. That prospect suddenly made this discussion a much more serious matter than it had been to him.

“I don’t know if it will actually come to that,” Esther replied, “but the Orthodox in Philadelphia have already gone to the law. They even had some of the other Friends arrested in a quarrel over use of a burial ground.”

She shook her head. “It is an ugly business. That’s why the Committee came. A separation here is now certain. Our elders are already setting up another Meeting, and the women came tonight to say they are simply not comfortable with a marriage between members of the two groups. They say the Orthodox have shown themselves to be no longer really Friends at all, so it would be the same as marrying out.”

She paused again. “There is a session tomorrow night of the two sets of elders to see if they can agree to divide the Meeting property without going to court. Thomas Macy is sure to be there, and Will too most likely. You probably heard that they want me to go and tell him privately that under the circumstances our plan to marry is no longer wise. They are sure his father has said as much to him.”

“What about mother and father?” Piety asked. “do they agree with the Committee?”

“I’ll bet they do,” Jonah put in. “I have often heard father tell other grownups how much he dislikes the Orthodox notions and their high-handed ways. Just last month he told Reuben Starbuck that he figured there was trouble coming because of them and it had been coming for a long time. I didn’t understand what he meant then.”

He smacked his lips in anticipation of an exciting fight. “Don’t worry, father won’t let them turn us out of the Meetinghouse.”

“I hope not,” Esther said, “but Jonah is right about our parents, Piety. They met with the Committee last First Day informally, and are in unity with them. They have been doubtful about Will anyway for awhile, and not only because of the separation.”

“Then what about thee?” Piety wondered. “After all this, does thee still think the two of you could be happy together?” Now the younger girl was beginning to see how complicated the situation was.

“I-I don’t know anymore,” Esther confessed. She frowned, put her hand to her forehead, and looked at the floor again.

“We have talked about this more than once,” she said from behind her hand. “While Will agrees with his father on matters of belief, he has often told me that love among Christians is more important than uniformity of doctrine among Friends, as Jesus taught. And he assures me that he loves me, whatever my own notions might be. He says he feels it is God’s will that we should marry.”

“Does thee think so too?” Jonah inquired curiously. He was less interested in the marrying than the part about God’s will. He had not, in truth, ever felt much of anything that he could identify specifically with that mysterious supernatural motion which was supposed to provide a Friend with clarity and energy. To him it was like the hidden mechanism of a grandfather clock, and held much the same technical fascination.

Before Esther could answer, there was a knock at the door. “Esther?” came her mother’s voice. “Is thee in here?” She opened the door. “Come out now, Esther, it is time thy brother and sister went to bed.” Both Piety and Jonah started to protest, but she waved their complaints aside and ushered Jonah and Esther out into the narrow, candlelit hallway. “Go on now, Jonah,” she coaxed, shoving him gently toward his room.

“But mother,” the boy objected, “it’s not that late.”

“Go on,” she repeated firmly.

“Oh, all right,” he murmured reluctantly. “Goodnight.”

When the door to Jonah’s room had closed behind him, her mother turned to Esther and said, “I know this must be hard for thee, dear. Would thee like to share a cup of chamomile tea with me and talk about it before thee retires?”

Esther looked at her: the greying hair neatly tucked under the creases of her bonnet, the lines of worry and love that rayed out from the corners of her eyes and lower down framed her mouth from nostrils to chin.

It was probably the most familiar face in her world; yet when her mother spoke, Esther suddenly realized that the evening’s events had left her feeling distanced from her mother, guarded, as if the offer of tea and counsel came from a stranger, or someone she once trusted but could no longer. The awareness made her afraid, but it was inescapable.

“Thank thee, mother,” she heard herself saying carefully, “but I think I would rather think about this alone for awhile and then go to bed.” She turned toward her room to avoid the disappointment that began to cross her mother’s features. “Goodnight,” she said quickly.

“Goodnight, Esther,” her mother said.

In her room, Esther sat down at her desk, opened a wooden drawer and pulled out a large ruled ledger marked Journal. Jonah’s last question still rang in her mind. Opening the book, she read quickly over a few entries, then marked the date: “Tenth Month, 7th, 1828.” with a pen and began to write:

“Tonight I was asked to break off with Will because of the separation in Meeting, which is now underway. I told the Committee I would tomorrow evening.” Here she stopped, the pen still poised in her hand, unable to go on. Again she looked back at several previous entries, then pulled down from the shelf above her desk a copy of the New Testament. It had been given her by the same Meeting which was now splitting apart over, among other things, the meaning of that little book. But after leafing through it restlessly, she still found nothing that spoke to her.

Finally an impulse came. Putting back the New Testament, she picked up the pen and resumed writing, this time with more energy:

“O God and Father of us all,” she wrote, “can it really be that the following of Thy leadings by Friends has brought us, and me, into this confusion? If so, then what will lead us out of it? Amid the contentions and even hatred, how am I supposed to find the right path for me? Yet I am told I must now leave the path I had chosen for my life, and take another one, and be on that strange new path before I sleep again tomorrow. I have agreed to do it. but is that really Thy will for me?”

She hesitated here a moment more, and then continued: “I have been taught all my life to seek out Thy will for me, and then to follow it as early Friends did, no matter what the cost or hardship. I want to know that will tonight. My parents and the elders think they know it, but I have no real clearness in my heart about it. Am I simply to accept their word, as I always have? I am not a child any more. Will Thee not guide me now Thyself? Let me know thy will and give me the strength–”

She weighed the next phrase, then decided to put it down:

“–And the resignation to do what thee bids me, disregarding any obstacle, including my own will. I ask this in the name of Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

She underlined the last “Thee,” then laid the pen down and closed the book. For a moment she felt an impulse to cry, but she quelled it. Now was not a time to give way to emotion, she told herself; she would need all her composure for the day to come. There was school to face, and her parents at dinner before the meeting, and Will after that. And then?

She rose, and turned down the counterpane on her bed. Once tomorrow was finished, she concluded, then there would be time enough to grieve, if she must.

II: The Dangers of The Unseemly Practice of Mirth

Dinner the following evening was a somber and largely silent affair. Esther’s parents seemed ill at ease and said little, never mentioning the evening’s plans. Jonah wolfed down his food as usual, but punctuated his gulps with significant glances at Esther. Piety had developed an unspecified stomach distress and stayed upstairs.

Afterward, her father offered to drive her to Meeting in the wagon, but Esther declined, saying she preferred to walk. She threw her long knitted shawl over her cap and went out quickly, before her parents had a chance to say anything further.

It was autumn on Nantucket. Out on the island’s moors the heather and scrub oak had carpeted the low hills with deep red, magenta and brown. In town, the street Esther walked up was flecked with the fallen yellow and orange leaves of the young maple trees that line it. The evening was cool and still, and the dusk gave a purple tint to the grey cedar shingles on the plain houses.

Two blocks from home a lane cut across to the next street, on which the Meetinghouse stood several blocks further down. The lane was quiet and shaded by thick bundles of shrubbery that climbed over the back fences of the houses along it. Esther liked this lane, and she often walked it when going to town or to her school, which was a few blocks beyond the Meetinghouse. She and Will had taken it many times too on their way home.

She took it now, thankful for its secluded course. It fit her frame of mind; she was still deep in thought, waiting for clarity about the task before her.

At its far end, the lane rambled past the new Unitarian church. As she approached the corner, Esther heard singing, and the clean white clapboard building was made brilliant by the many glowing candles reflected off the brass chandeliers and shining through the big clear windows. The Unitarians were just beginning their midweek Meeting; by the doorway she saw the minister, her own cousin Seth Coffin, greeting people as they entered.

Something about the scene made her stop. She stepped to the side of the lane, near a large clump of ivy overhanging a fence, from which she could observe the church unseen. What drew her was not the music, though she had always, somewhat guiltily, enjoyed hearing the hymns that so often filled the air around Nantucket town’s other churches. Rather it was the people who were walking up the street and turning into the gate, pausing at the door to shake hands with Seth Coffin and let the men take off their hats.

Esther had suddenly put together two incongruous pieces of awareness about the figures in this scene: first, they were heathens; both parties in her Meeting, Thomas Macy and her father Micah Swain alike, agreed on that. But second, she, Esther Swain, was personally acquainted with many of them, and was related to most. This combination was what made them suddenly fascinating to
her.

As she watched, another feature of the group struck her: many of these people had been raised as Friends. Some still wore a modified but recognizable version of the plain dress. It must be hard, Esther mused, to change suddenly from three or four generations of Quaker grey, brown and white to the gaudy and sinful colors of the world.

Hard, yes, but perhaps exciting as well. Seth Coffin’s congregation was growing steadily, that much was evident. Maybe the singing made the transition easier.

The minister went inside, closing the door behind him. The singing swelled to a final chorus, then died away. Esther waited another moment in the ivy until she heard Coffin’s deep voice begin to speak to the group; then she stepped out and turned past the church toward the Meetinghouse.

At that point a man emerged from the shadows across the street and came toward her. “Esther,” he called. It was Will.

Without thinking, she raised one fist in a gesture of mock anger. “Will Macy, was thee spying on me?” she demanded.

The tall, slender man, his face shadowed by a wide-brimmed hat, grinned broadly. “I most certainly was,” he affirmed. “I had a leading thee would come this way, and waited for thee.”

“And as usual, thee was rightly led,” Esther said.

He fell in step beside her, still smiling. “As usual,” he agreed with feigned modesty. “How is thee, Friend Esther?”

This would not do at all, Esther told herself, even as she smiled back. All he had to do was say her name, and at once she was giggling and wanting to play, forgetting why she was on that darkening street. But then, it was Will’s ability to be playful with her, without neglecting the serious parts of life, that had as much as anything drawn them together in the first place. “After all,” he had said when they first talked of marriage, “what good is a husband who thinks that all of life should be like Meeting for Worship?”

“Or a wife,” she had added, and they both had laughed.

Indeed, from the looks her mother sometimes gave her, it seemed they spent altogether too much of their time together laughing. If there was nothing in the Discipline specifically warning against the practice of mirth, still there seemed to be an unspoken limit to how much it might properly be engaged in, a limit they seemed regularly to transgress. But, she realized, I haven’t laughed since I last saw Will.

Esther put out her hand to take his arm; but then she hesitated and drew it back, instead catching the bottom of her shawl and twisting it between her fingers.

Will understood the nervous gesture, and with only a slight change in tone spoke her thoughts. “A committee visited thee, did they?”

She looked at him, startled. “How did thee know?”

He grinned again. “Ah, our Orthodox spies are everywhere,” he bantered. Then, more soberly, he said, “It’s a small island, Esther. Besides, father has spoken to me, too. And that is Committee enough for us Orthodox.”

Esther’s stomach suddenly felt hollow. The lightness and pleasure of their meeting vanished, blown away by Will’s last words like a scud of cloud in a gale. She walked in silence for a moment, her thoughts tumbling over themselves and blocking her words inside her. Finally she forced some out, in barely more than a whisper: “What is thee led to do, Will?”

They had arrived at the Meetinghouse gate. Will swung it open for her, then followed her through. “I have prayed on the matter,” he said, “and my leading has not changed, Esther.” He opened the big oak door, and she moved past him.

Inside, the unadorned Meeting room seemed more severe than usual in the yellow light of the spermaceti candles. Esther was unsure at first where she should sit; the two groups of elders had each taken one side of the aisle, with the Orthodox, which Will joined on the women’s side.

Esther felt strange sitting down in the section which had, all her life, been a male preserve. But that was where the Hicksites were clustered. It was evidence of how deeply the group was split that they were now divided by faction rather than by gender.

The meeting was already underway, and the tension was tangible. She slid onto a bench behind her father and Reuben Starbuck. Reuben was just rising to speak.

III: Not Within The Walls of This Meetinghouse

“I don’t think we need to waste any more time on formalities,” Reuben Starbuck declared in a deep gravelly bass. “Our canvass of the members shows that at least two-thirds are among those that have been called ‘Hicksites,’ although that name is not one we choose. The fairest settlement, in our view, would be to sell the Meetinghouse and the surrounding property, except the burial ground, and divide the proceeds according to the numbers in each party. The burial ground could be transferred to a separate corporation, which interested people would join and maintain through their own contributions. What say you to that?”

Thomas Macy stood to answer. The proposal did not seem new to him, and his reply also seemed prepared. “Thee is right, Reuben Starbuck,” he said coolly, “we should not waste time. So I will say plainly that among the world’s people such proposals might make some sense. But among Friends, who are charged with preaching and preserving the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world of darkness, they carry little weight. The Meeting’s property is in the charge of the elders. And it is our duty to see that it is kept for use in Christian worship and service. We have no intention of selling it to anyone for any other purpose.” Beside him the wide hats of the other elders were now nodding; and under their brims, their faces were set and stern.

Esther’s father got to his feet, anger showing in his cheeks and in the way his hands gripped the bench in front of him. “Do the beliefs and feelings of more than half the members of this Meeting carry no weight, either?” he demanded. “Who appointed thee pope over us, Thomas Macy?”

Obed Gifford, an aged elder, answered him curtly. “There are no popes here, Micah Swain. Thomas Macy speaks for the body of elders, according to the practice that has long been used among us. This Meetinghouse will not be sold. Nor will it be made over into a platform for the unsound and unbiblical doctrines of freethinkers like Elias Hicks and others so misguided as to be taken in by him.”

A Hicksite woman, Mary White, was now standing. “By that last remark, I assume thee is referring to us?” she fumed.

“‘Thou hast said it,’” Gifford answered sourly, quoting the Scriptural text with satisfaction.

“If you are not willing to sell the Meetinghouse,” asked Reuben Starbuck, “then what do you propose to do with it? Share it with us, as a few divided Meetings are doing?”

Obed Gifford smirked. “We will be more than happy to welcome into the Meetings of Friends convinced and faithful Christians. We will also unite with any Hicksites who admit the error of his obnoxious notions and are ready to accept the blood of Christ. But we will have neither unity nor fellowship with any others.”

Reuben Starbuck had flushed red as Gifford spoke, and his voice in retort was even deeper.

“The Society of Friends never had a creed, or any ruler besides the Light of Christ within its members,” he said loudly. “George Fox could see that Light in everyone, Catholics, Jews and Mohammedans, as well as other sorts of Christians. I daresay he could even see it in us so-called Hicksites, Obed Gifford, which is more than thee is able to do. And anyway, who set thee up to decide what and who is worthy of sharing fellowship with thee in this Meetinghouse?”

He pointed at the shuttered window. “I have been a member here since birth, and my parents and grandparents before me. They are all buried in our cemetery, without even a stone to mark their graves. I have contributed to the Meeting’s stock as I have been able, and borne its Testimonies as faithfully as I could.”

He thumped the top of the bench with a big, gnarled hand. “Am I now simply to give up my Christian liberty to a group which uses the cross of my Saviour as a cover for nothing more than their own pride and love of power?” He raised a shaking finger at Gifford. “I say no, I will not!”

Micah Swain was now up again, and Esther could see his lips pulled thin and tight. The fury in his expression was greater than she had ever seen, and it frightened her. “I have sat here silently long enough,” he shouted, “in meeting after meeting for many years now, listening to such as thee condemning innocent faithful Friends as infidels and freethinkers.”

He shook a fist. “It is not Elias Hicks who is changing the ancient doctrines of this Society. It is thee, Obed Gifford, and the rest of you who have yielded to the spirit of domination and division. If you have your way, there will no longer be a Friends Meeting here, but a church with creed and bishops and an inquisition to enforce it. Fox and Penn would not even be welcome, because they preached and suffered against just such powers.”

Gifford was shaking a fist now. “George Fox and William Penn and all the First Publishers of Truth affirmed the blood of Christ as the purchase of salvation,” he cried. “It is you Hicksites, with your rationalistic and freethinking notions who would deny Christ and the Scriptures any value for Friends.”

In his agitation his raised arm knocked the broadbrim hat from his hear. There was sweat gleaming on his temples. “ If these corruptions are not stopped now,” he said, “there will be nothing left of our religious profession but an empty shell, open to all the atheist and heathen doctrines that are now undermining our Christian civilization.”

He stooped to retrieve his hat. “And stop them we are determined to do,” he said more quietly, “at least within the walls of this Meetinghouse.”

IV: Where Such Damnable Trash Belongs

Micah Swain turned to Thomas Macy. “Does thee have the papers?” he asked. Macy nodded, and pulled from a folder on the bench a sheaf of thick vellum sheets.

“What are those?” demanded Mary White. “Your new creed for us to kneel and swear to? Does thee have a ring for us to kiss as well?”

“We neither have nor need any creed but the blood of Christ,” Gifford insisted. “These certificates only help us determine who else has received it.”

He took one from Macy. “Mary White,” he intoned, “is thee ready to affirm thy unity with us through the atonement of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Scriptures and testified to by Friends?”

“What is thee asking me?” the woman retorted. “Does thy inquisition begin now? I will not answer any such examination.”

Gifford looked down at Macy and nodded; Macy, who had a pen ready, scribbled something on the top sheet, then stood up with it.

“Mary White,” he announced in a loud voice, “by refusing to answer our query, thee shows thy lack of unity with the Meeting, and it is my sad duty to inform thee of our Testimony against thee, recorded in this Minute, disowning any further religious fellowship with thee in our Monthly Meeting.”

He walked slowly over and extended his hand toward her, the vellum sheet protruding from his fingers like a weapon.

Mary White hesitated, then took the sheet. She looked at it for a moment, scanning it quickly, her mouth open in disbelief. “Well I never,” she said finally, “I never thought it would ever come to this, that I would be served with a Minute of disownment in the Meetinghouse where I have worshipped all my life.” Shaking her head, she sat down, uncertain what more to say or do.

Obed Gifford was not listening to her. He was now facing Reuben Starbuck. Esther heard him begin repeating the query about unity, then she glanced around at Will. The young man was staring fixedly at his father, who was again scribbling on the vellum. Will’s face was pale, and Esther could see a corona of perspiration on his forehead, just under the crown of his hat. He looked even more disturbed than Mary White. Esther felt an impulse to go to him, but before she could even reprove herself for the thought, Reuben Starbuck’s angry rejoinder pulled her attention unwillingly back to the front of the room.

“What does thee think thee is doing, Macy?” he shouted. “Thee has no authority to write up a disownment Minute against me or anyone else without the approval of a Business Meeting. This procedure is completely un-Quakerly and spurious. It will never stand up on appeal to Yearly Meeting.”

“Oh, yes it will stand up at Yearly Meeting,” Gifford said grimly, shoving the sheet at him. “Has thee forgotten that I am a member of Yearly Meeting’s Committee of Elders? So is Thomas. This Minute is signed by a majority of the elders of this Meeting, and that is sufficient. It will stand up at Yearly Meeting, and it will stand up in court too, if necessary.”

“In court!” Starbuck shouted hoarsely. “I knew it would come to this. You are so determined to steal our property from us that you’ll stop at nothing, not even taking other Friends to law. Thee won’t get away with this, Gifford. Nor will thee, Macy, thou scribbling snake.”

Thomas Macy’s head snapped up from his writing. “Thee’ll curb thy heathenish tongue if thee knows what’s good for thee,” he said coldly.

Esther’s hand came involuntarily to her mouth and she shut her eyes. She had never seen her seniors behave this way, especially in the open setting of a Friends Meetinghouse. Her head hurt. She wanted the words and anger to stop, or at least slow down.

But they didn’t. In fact, Obed Gifford was reciting his unity query to her father. She heard him rise and opened her eyes to see him, his cheeks crimson and his lips drawn even thinner.

“Damn thee, Obed Gifford,” came his voice between clenched jaws, interrupting his interrogator in mid-sentence. Esther saw that he was trembling as he spoke, and his words made her shake as well; she had never heard him curse before.

“Damn thee,” he repeated, even more venomously, “I will not let thee defile me with that filthy document before God and my own daughter!”

His voice rose to a bellow: “Get away from me with it! Get away I said!”

Gifford finished his recital, but faltered on the last sentence. Esther could see that the intensity of her father’s rage had momentarily daunted him. But he recovered almost immediately, took the paper from Thomas Macy and proffered it to her father with a gesture of triumph.

Micah Swain took the minute of disownment from Obed Gifford with a slow, deliberate motion, held it in both hands and looked down at it. Then, just as deliberately he pursed his lips and spat on it, crumpled it up, and threw it on the floor.

“That is where such damnable trash belongs,” he said more quietly. “There or in hell, and thee with it.”

The yellow wad bounced against Thomas Macy’s shoe. Macy leaned over and picked it up. “Profanity and blasphemy are poor substitutes for the gospel, Swain,” he said, unfolding the paper. “This Minute still stands, regardless of what thee does to this sheet.” He stood up and carried it across to Micah Swain again.

Esther’s eyes widened as her father suddenly reached up, jerked off his hat and, throwing it down on the bench beside him, put up his two fists, the fingers clenched so tightly that the knuckles were pale. “If thee touches me with that vile sheet, Macy,” he hissed, “so help me God, I’ll break thy jaw.”

The elder took two more steps toward him. “Try it,” he breathed. He let go of the paper with a slight push, so that it brushed Swain’s coat as it fell to the bench.

Micah Swain grabbed both Macy’s lapels and wrenched him forward and off balance, til their red faces were but two inches apart.

“Thou bastard,” Swain swore, “I will do it, too.”

Esther let out a muffled cry and buried her face in her hands. As the two men scuffled noisily, the room seemed to reel around her; she felt almost as if the ground beneath the floor was moving, splitting open, ready to plunge them all into some horrible dark pit.

Into her anguish, the next voice came only dimly. “Stop it!” someone cried. “Stop it, both of you!” The voice was closer now and louder.

“For God’s sake, stop it!”

It was Will.

V: Away With All Thy Rantings

Esther lowered her hands. Will had left his seat, moved around behind his father and pulled him roughly out of her father’s grasp, and now stood between them. His hat had been knocked off and his black hair tousled. Sweat stood out more boldly on his forehead. But he was no longer pale; there was passion in his face, and in his voice as well.

“What is happening here?” he cried, looking from one older man to the other. “What are you doing to each other? Will it be knives and pistols next?”

“Get out of my way, Will,” muttered his father, breathing hard. His eyes were still fixed on Micah Swain’s now ashen face. But Will only pushed him back further.

“No, father, I won’t,” he insisted. “I won’t let thee brawl like a drunken sailor, not here in this Meetinghouse over some words on a piece of paper. It is not worthy of either of you.”

His father looked at him now. “Who is thee to judge that?” he demanded, and pushed forward again.

Will shoved him back once more. “I have to judge for myself, father,” he grunted. “And I can’t abide this stupid meaningless quarrel another minute. You are all making a bad joke out of everything you ever tried to teach me in this building, everything I ever heard preached about here. You make me ashamed of you and myself for being here.”

“Curb thy tongue, young man,” Thomas Macy snapped. But he quit pressing toward Micah Swain and refocussed his anger on this unanticipated challenge from his son. “This is God’s work we are about here,” he went on. “However unpleasant it may sometimes be, especially in this time of trial. It is not thy place to interfere.”

“The Lord’s work?” Will repeated incredulously. “Thee calls this tavern brawl the Lord’s work? Once I believed it was, father. What I have seen here tonight has changed my mind; I don’t believe it anymore. If anyone is working here, it is Satan.”

“Will!” roared his father. “What is thee saying? Has thee been taken in by their false doctrines now too?”

“Stand up to him, Will,” called Micah Swain, wondering if he had made a convert. “Maybe thee can show him that we are right.”

Will whirled to face his fiance’s parent. “But I don’t agree with thee either,” he exclaimed. “Thee and thy rantings about popes and inquisitions and damning people to hell! They disgust me just as much. All of you here are destroying everything that the Society of Friends has meant to me, right here before my eyes, with your hate and your meanness and your plague of disowning.”

The two fathers were now fully diverted from their physical confrontation to this unexpected one. Will bent down and picked up his hat. Dusting off the brim, he spoke again. “I don’t know which side here, Orthodox or Hicksite, will win this shameful squabble,” he said slowly, “but whichever faction gains control of this Meetinghouse need not expect to see me in it again, disownment or not.”

He put his hat on his head and walked down the aisle to the big oak door, opened it and went out.

As the door swung to, Esther sprang up. “Will!” she cried out. “Will, wait!”

“Esther, sit down!” commanded her father. But she ignored him. She was going down the aisle too, faster, pulling on the door, then striding through its arch.

“Esther!” her father called again. “come back here! I won’t–”

The rest of his words were cut off by the door’s closing.

VI: Conclusion – Clearness & Chamomile

The night was cold now, and her breath billowed faintly over her shoulders as she hurried after the dark figure walking ahead up the quiet street. “Will!” she called again. “Wait for me!”

He stopped and turned. “Esther?” he called. “Is it thee?” He clasped her hands in his as she came up to him. “Esther, I–” he began. “Thee is shivering,” he interrupted himself. “It is cold. Thee has no coat.”

Esther shook her head. “I am not cold, Will. Let’s walk.” She took his arm now, firmly. They went on in silence for a few moments. Then Esther heard singing.

They were approaching the Unitarian Church again. The service was concluding with another hymn. Esther stopped a few houses away, and motioned for Will to listen with her. She couldn’t make out the words, but the rise and fall of the melody was enough.

They stood there, breathing out vague cones of mist, for only a few minutes, through no more than two verses of the hymn. But in that brief span of time, clarity came to Esther.

In her careful schoolteacher’s way, she observed the process with a certain professional detachment, making mental note of how to describe it to her brother Jonah, in answer to his last question of the evening before, as well as for recording in her Journal.

It was nothing spectacular or miraculous, she realized: more like seeing a glass full of muddy water become transparent as the sediment settled to the bottom, or watching a distant ship change suddenly from a hazy blur to a sharply-defined image as she refocussed her father’s old spyglass. There was no new thought or impulse in her mind; rather, she was now able to pull what was already there together in a new way, a way that made new and compelling sense.

“Esther, what is it?” Will perceived that something was happening; she had stopped trembling and was standing quite still, staring into the night. At his question she seemed to return from far away, but then she looked at him intently and tightened her grip on his arm.

“Will,” she began, “I have seen that thy leading was true. It is God’s will that we should marry, no matter what any elders may think of it. I have also seen,” she continued, “that thee was speaking to my condition in the Meetinghouse. It is no longer a spiritual home for me either, regardless of which party ultimately takes control of it. Their contention has driven me, has driven us, out.”

She was speaking very calmly. “Yet in another way, Will, I see that we have been led out of the Society, though for what purpose I don’t yet understand. We will find a new home, perhaps here in Seth Coffin’s church, perhaps in some other. And we will have work to do there, concerns to witness for, children to instruct, a community to join and build. We will be heathens, Will, at least in our parents’ eyes, but life will go on anyway, we will still worship God, and we will be happy.”

Will was slow to respond. “Esther,” he said at last, “is thee–is thee sure of this?”

She nodded firmly. “I am sure of it,” she answered.

“What thee says frightens me,” he admitted. “I am not used to the idea of being anything but a Quaker. But I can feel that thee is right. I could not go back there, not even if it meant losing thee.”

She squeezed his arm. “Thee needn’t worry about that anymore. What we have to figure out now is how to deal with our parents about this. That will take some skill, and doubtless some persistence.”

The door of the Unitarian Church swung open. Seth Coffin stepped out and turned to begin his farewells to those who were leaving early as the hymn swung into its closing Amen. Esther began walking again, toward the church. As she passed the doorway she called out, “Good evening to thee, Seth Coffin.”

The minister smiled down at the pair, but could not conceal his surprise. Friends rarely spoke to him, particularly in public. “Why, good evening to you, Esther,” he replied. “And is that Will Macy? Hello, Will, cool night, isn’t it?”

They nodded and passed on, not stopping to watch the parade of cousins, uncles and old schoolmates that was now emerging from the church. Esther turned and went down her leafy lane again, walking slowly as she talked with Will about how to handle the arrangements for a secular wedding, and what to do in the event of various possible parental stratagems to prevent it. Of the two, Esther was still the more calm and inventive.

By the time they turned the final corner near her home, they had agreed on a series of options, down to eloping to the mainland if necessary. As they approached the house, Will suddenly stopped and announced, “Esther, I must tell thee that I have had another leading.”

She paused and turned to him. “What is it, Will?”

“This,” he said, and drew her to him for a kiss.

After a moment, she pulled away a little, and stroked his stubbly chin with her finger. “As usual,” she whispered, “thee was rightly led.”

“As usual,” he murmured, and tried to kiss her again.

She drew away coyly. “But also as usual, Will Macy, thee needs a shave. Or is it true what they say, that the beard, like the theology, grows thicker and tougher on Orthodox men?”

He laughed and stole a kiss. “No, my love,” he parried, “it is as they told me–the cheeks of Hicksite women are like their beliefs: too soft and fuzzy to abide any chafing at all.”

Again she raised her hand in mock anger, but he stepped lightly away, just out of range. “Now, now,” he admonished, “there has been enough fighting among Friends for this night already. Besides, I just saw a curtain move on the upstairs window which makes me think thy sister Piety has been watching us. If so, she has seen plenty by now, so let’s not give her more to gossip about. Goodnight, Esther. I will see thee tomorrow.”

She blew a final kiss at him and turned to the door. When she opened it, her mother was standing in the hallway, clearly waiting for her.

Esther came in and took off her shawl and outdoor bonnet.

The sense of clarity was still with her. It overcame the sense of distance she had felt the night before, brought back her affection without diluting her determination. When she finished hanging up her wraps, she turned and faced the older woman.

“Mother,” she said, “I think I am ready to share that cup of chamomile tea with thee now.”

Copyright (c) by Chuck Fager

Esther & The Heathens: A Quaker Valentine Romance

This story and 18 others are included in the book Posies For Peg: Collected  Stories. Ordering information here.

 

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Categories: Blogs

A Letter to Students at Friends Central School: Resist!

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 02/14/2017 - 7:14am

NOTE: This report has been updated as of late Feb. 14. The update is here.

News background:

Wynnewood (Philadelphia) PA, February 13, 2017: “Two Friends’ Central School teachers who supervised a club that invited a Palestinian speaker to the Wynnewood campus — an appearance the school canceled after some parents and students complained — were placed on administrative leave Monday morning.

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor. 

English teacher Ariel Eure, 25, and history teacher Layla Helwa, 26, were called to an off-campus meeting with Craig Sellers, the head of school, and a human resources manager, and informed they were suspended indefinitely, said Mark D. Schwartz, a lawyer and former parent at the school who is representing the women.

Schwartz said that he tried to attend the 7:30 a.m. meeting at the Llanerch Diner in Upper Darby, but that school officials turned him away. The teachers were told they were being suspended for disobeying a supervisor and for having a “single-minded approach to a complicated issue for the community,” he said.

“This was done in a non-Quaker fashion,” Schwartz said. “It was more like storm trooper fashion.”

Late Monday afternoon, the administration released a statement: “As a Quaker school, we have long-standing expectations for all members of our community – especially for our teachers, who have the responsibility of guiding young minds. There are very real concerns about the conduct of Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa for their disregard of our guiding testimonies, which include community, peace, and integrity. As of today, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa are on indefinite paid administrative leave while a more extensive review is conducted.”

The controversy has stirred passions at the school and shone a light on a thorny issue for many Quaker schools: While the American Friends Service Committee supports putting economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories, many students at Quaker schools are Jewish.

Sa’ed Atshan, a Swarthmore College professor and a Quaker, had been invited to speak Friday by the school’s Peace and Equality in Palestine Club, which formed last April. After parents complained about Atshan’s ties to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates punitive measures against Israel, the school rescinded the invitation.

About 65 students walked out of a weekly Meeting for Sharing on Wednesday to protest the cancellation, while others stood and read a statement. Eure and Helwa walked out with the students. . . .”

Cathy Bocella, Staff Reporter, phillynews.com

A Message to students at Friends Central School:

From Chuck Fager

A few weeks ago I visited Friends Central School (FCS) and shared a story with you, about getting arrested in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and spending the night in jail with Dr. King.

I told you that for almost 50 years, that true story had a happy ending: from the black struggle in Selma came the Voting Rights Act, which had advanced freedom, elected presidents, and made America better.

But then starting a few years back, that happy ending was snatched away. In its place came massive vote suppression, and following that,  continuing attacks on the other freedoms that democracy protects. So my story about a fight for freedom was not over after all.

At my age, I said, passing on these stories is my main contribution. It’s a passing of the torch. As for the real activism, as for the new leadership demanded by our times, — and these were my final words:
“It’s your turn.”

Now it looks as if your turn has come already.

I don’t know Sa’ed Atshan; but people I respect (like former FCS teacher Max Carter) say he’s well-informed & reasonable. Yet I gather some of his views are controversial.

I’m no expert on those issues. So maybe Atshad’s views are right, or maybe they’re mistaken; that’s not for me to say.

Instead, that’s for you to say, by hearing his views, and those of others, studying & debating them & making up your own minds.

That’s what we call education. In FCS fundraising materials, like for the “Vision2020,” it’s called “Educating for Excellence.”
We also call it freedom.


But somebody doesn’t seem to want you to exercise that freedom, or get that education.

So now the line is drawn: not only in Alabama, but right there in Wynnewood, on your campus. Not just for students, but for staff, whose jobs are on the line.

So the question now becomes: are you ready to claim and defend your freedom, as part of your education?

Or will you let an unnamed few chop off this piece of it– this important piece?

The message being sent is clear:  you may not hear these views here. That topic is verboten on this campus. Teachers who stood up for that are paying the price. 

Just so you know, all this makes a mockery of the claims about “excellence.” And if you accept this, there are more pieces of freedom waiting to be chopped off, like limbs from a tree, and others ready to give similar orders. 

But here’s something I learned in Selma, and not only from Dr. King:
You don’t have to comply.

An order not to hear, not to consider, not to think and debate about matters of this importance –such an order may be technically legal, but it defies the higher law that we were all given minds to be used, freely and fully, for knowledge, and for seeking justice.

 One of my Quaker heroes, Philadelphia’s own Lucretia Mott, put it as well as anyone: “Truth for Authority, not Authority for Truth.” For her this was a Quaker Testimony, a central one.

Dr. King put it another way:

But you don’t have to be silenced.

In 2017, it’s easy to imagine alternatives: check your social media, you’ll see that resistance to similar attacks is rising all around you.

Some of the 50000+ close friends I joined with at the Resistance rally in Raleigh NC last weekend. It’s their turn too.

Spring will be here soon, and then you, students, could invite Atshan to speak on the edge of campus, to a flash mob (but since this is school, let’s call it a flash assembly). Same for his critics. Or you can think of another way to listen, study & debate: to take charge of this piece of your education.

But, some may say, what if we get in trouble? Will it cut our chances of getting into an elite college?

Who knows? Freedom, as they say in the army, isn’t free. It takes organization, and it takes courage. In Selma it led Dr. King and me to jail; a few years later it led him to a bullet in Memphis.

But chill: chances are no one will be in mortal danger insisting on real educational excellence and freedom at FCS. If you haven’t noticed, it’s a pretty cushioned, advantaged place.

So put these advantages to work, for your benefit now, and as training in “education for excellence” in the not-so advantaged world that awaits beyond the campus.

That’s a world in which the struggles for freedom are heating up on every side. Looks like they won’t leave you alone even now.

Which means, my parting words to you last month weren’t a prophecy, and not even a prediction, but simply an announcement. Brothers & sisters:
“It’s your turn.”

This is the Selma, Alabama jail cell Dr. King and I were put in. It was still there in 2015, fifty years later. But this time, I wasn’t in it.

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Categories: Blogs

Charlotte Lewis: A Fine African American Artist

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 02/13/2017 - 11:40am

Tomorrow I’ll  be posting a Quaker tale for Valentine’s Day, our version of Romeo & Juliet. There are several original illustrations in the story, by an African American artist who deserves much more recognition than she has received.

After much searching on the net, I was able to ferret out enough data for this tribute, to the late Charlotte Lewis.

Note: Much of this material was copied and adapted from a webpage that can no longer be found.

From “Women City Builders: Honoring Women’s Civic Contributions to Portland, Oregon”

“Children of Humanity” – a mural by Charlotte Lewis, in Portland, Oregon

Charlotte Lewis (1934-1999)

An artist, activist, teacher and tireless community worker, Charlotte LaVerne Graves Lewis was born on May 1, 1934 in Prescott, Arizona to Lillian and Charles Graves. In 1937, the family moved to Portland, where Charlotte grew up, showing artistic and academic precocity at an early age. After graduating from the Portland Art Museum School in 1955, she pursued a career as a graphic designer, then lived in San Francisco and Philadelphia for several years before returning permanently to Portland.

[It was while she was living on a communal far west of Philadelphia that I (Chuck Fager) met Charlotte, in 1977. Her art work immediately impressed me, and it was then mostly in a style very different, almost pointillist. Later, when I was able to (i.e., working fulltime), I commissioned Charlotte to do a number of illustrations for me and for some of my writings. Her work was always striking and distinctive. Three examples are below.]

Charlotte Lewis

In the late seventies, Lewis decided to devote the rest of her life to community work. She began creating art for groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, the Urban League and the Rainbow Coalition, among others. “More and more her art began to reflect her community and the dreams, beauty and history she found there,” recalls longtime friend Susan Bloom. “Once she moved in the direction of creating community art and art about the African-American community, the world community she didn’t waver—it was her true path.”

Lewis’s large-scale public projects include the African-American history mural on the side of the Irvington Covenant Church building at Northeast Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Shaver Street. Another mural, Struggle and Hope, was a collaborative effort with other artist-members of the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, depicting the history of U.S. involvement in Central America. Next came a mural at Outside In, a drug treatment center for youth. “You can always recognize one of Charlotte’s paintings—her people, especially the women, have a very beautiful and unique life-force.”

A Portland mural, “Now is the Time – The Time Is Now,” which Charlotte created in collaboration with Portland artist Isaka Shamsud-Din. It was taken down in 2009.

In 1992, Lewis contributed to We Speak, a portable teaching mural that exposed the hegemonic bias of the Columbus myth while offering a positive vision for social change. Lewis’s uncompromising view was that art should be for the people; her mission was to use art, not only as decoration, but also as a tool to inform, teach and call attention to the often overlooked achievements of African-Americans.

In 1992, Lewis invited fellow artist Adriene Cruz to exhibit with her at the Graystone Gallery. In preparation, the two artists made several retreats to the home of a friend in Yakima, Washington, a time Cruz recalls as magical: “Everything was in our favor from the beauty of the landscape to the agreeable weather. We worked outside until the sun went down and continued inside until the sun came up again. We were children discovering something new every day . . . and our work was forever changed from that experience.” During this time Lewis created her first “fabric painting,” the vibrantly colored triptych Isis, permanently on display at the North Portland Branch of Multnomah County Library.

Lewis is especially remembered for her work with children. For many years she taught at the Black Educational Center in Portland and in Portland public schools. At the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, she curated an exhibition of found-object art collected and crafted by community children. She also used art as a means of bridging cultures and allowing African-American students to reconnect with their heritage, introducing them, for example, to the Senegalese dignitary Cheik Ibrahim Niang, a world expert on AIDS.

In the 1990s she also made quilts, this one featuring Harriet Tubman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although she had no children of her own, “her true love for children and their accomplishments was a powerful part of her,” Bloom relates. “Her joy and excitement when she could move someone to explore their unexplored artistry was profound and I always felt enriched to witness it,” Bloom relates. To the students in Lolita Darby’s fifth-grade class, Lewis was, literally, a hero, a “Local Hero,” identified by the children as someone from their own community who had made a difference in their lives. Her involvement in the “Local Heroes” project developed into a long-term mentoring relationship with Darby’s students.

One of Lewis’s last accomplishments was a series of beautifully illustrated brochures for the Healthy Birth Initiative, a program designed to teach young mothers and fathers how to take care of their infants and children. According to Bloom, “If you saw the brochure you would feel that you had to go to this program—that’s just how her art was, it made you feel like you wanted to be there, whatever the event.”

In December of 1993, Lewis organized her first exhibition celebrating the African-American holiday Kwanzaa at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, an event which became her annual gift to the community. Adriene Cruz joined her for the next four celebrations. Bringing individuals and organized groups together, they orchestrated a magical presentation of colors, textures, tastes and smells—with candles, traditional African foods, artwork, and always their own handcrafted quilts.

Her last Kwanzaa celebration was held at the North Portland Library in 1998, an amazing testament of her strength and perseverance during her battle with cancer. She died months later surrounded by family and friends on August 17, 1999. She was sixty-five.

Thanks to:
 Susan Bloom, 
Adriene Cruz.
Author: Sandra Hoff
2003

Sources:

Personal interviews with Susan Bloom and Adriene Cruz, June, 2002. 
“Death of an Arts Angel” in The Oregonian, 8-20-99. 
Asante, Charlotte memorial service brochure, Ash Creek Press, Portland, Oregon.

Three images Charlotte created on commission from Chuck Fager

 

 

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Categories: Blogs

Shock and awe and pushback

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 01/31/2017 - 7:04am

Shock and awe is the tactic of a bullying invader who wants to demoralize a country into surrendering before a defense has been mounted. It a strategy you choose if you don’t think you can win in a long, drawn-out battle.

Trump has surrounded himself by a protective scrum of advisors who spend much of their time keeping him steady and massaging his ego to assure him the people are all behind him. I don’t think he knows how to deal with the size of the opposition so far. He turns to conspiracy theory to try to convince himself that what he wants to be true really would be except for evil “dudes” out there—George Soros hiring actors to protest, millions of undocumented aliens voting, etc., and of course the original Trump conspiracy that refused to think a black American could be a legitimate president.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_and_awe

Categories: Blogs

North Carolina YM Welcomes the “Autonomites”

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 01/26/2017 - 8:01pm

Friends, welcome to Carolina Quaker Vocabulary 201.
Today’s new words are: “Autonomy” and “Autonomites.”
First we’ll go over the words themselves, then we’ll have some exercises.

Here are the standard definitions for “autonomy,” from the basic online dictionary:

au·ton·o·my — noun – definitions:

The right or condition of self-government, especially in a
a self-governing country or region.
Freedom from external control or influence; independence.
Synonyms: self-government, self-rule, home rule, self-determination, independence, sovereignty, freedom.

And an “autonomite” is one who conducts their religious life, in their community, on an autonomous basis, associating freely with others,  following leadings of the Spirit rather than directives of human authorities.

Now for the exercises, getting familiar with the words and their meaning:

A North Carolina YM Committee clerk has given the name “Autonomy” to a new grouping of local meetings, as part of a NCYM reorganization plan. Does this name mean anything?

We will soon find out. On Saturday, January 28, at Quaker lake Camp, beginning at 10 AM there will be a gathering of Friends interested in the Autonomy grouping. Welcome the Carolina Autonomites.

Attendance at the session does not require committing to the grouping, though the convenor, Mark Farlow, hopes some meetings which have been uncertain may wish to do that.

No doubt many questions will come up. One near the top of my list is, How truly “autonomous” will these “Autonomites” be?

We’ve already heard from the Clerk of the Quarter reorganization Committee, rumbles about what the Autonomites must do henceforth, in two particular areas:
First,

The two Faith and Practice Development/Revision Committees, comprised of representatives from the member quarters/regions and acting on behalf of their respective groups, will need to begin immediately to address the development/revision of their respective Faith and Practice to reflect each group’s beliefs and behaviors. Obviously, depending on the degree of departure from the 2012 Edition of the NCYM Faith and Practice, this could be a very time consuming process. Ideally, this work would be concluded by 2017 Annual Sessions.

(The complete text of this letter is here.) This could be “very” time-consuming?

I guess. Consider: when the two branches of Baltimore Yearly Meeting came together in 1968, it took them, not eight months, but twenty years to write and adopt a new Faith & Practice –and that was with the process moving forward without major contention. But in the meantime, the yearly meeting held its sessions, adopted budgets, hired staff, built some programs, welcomed new meetings, worshiped; life went on.

So why should the Carolina Autonomites be rushed along like passengers being herded into lifeboats from a sinking ship? There’s lots to think about in this process, and plenty of time to examine it.

As for the work of writing a Faith & Practice, here’s a stopgap suggestion: the Autonomites could agree to regard the 2012 (uncontaminated) edition of the NCYM F&P as a provisional document for reference and counsel, paying special heed to its numerous statements that it is NOT a creed. Then move on with further F&P revision as they are collectively led, in God’s time.

Further, the Clerk’s letter insists that the Autonomites establish “adequate separation” from the other association — or else.

And just what is “adequate separation”? The Clerk will decide that. 

This is a diktat that should be quickly dispensed with. If this association is indeed to be “self-governing, independent, and free from external control,” this autonomy can start right there:

Thank thee very much, Clerk, but we shall be what we are led to be, autonomously. If others can’t bear who we are, that is their problem and they must follow their leadings. So much for that.

Then there’s the stickier matter of committees. Evidently the Quarterly Alignment Committee expects that the Autonomites will build a structure that’s essentially a clone of the existing NCYM:

The Nominating Committee for each group . . should begin immediately to recommend members of the respective groups to populate key committees and boards for that group. Existing key committees and boards may be found in Faith and Practice, but certainly include Committee on Clerks, Ministry and Counsel, Missions, Church Extension, Stewardship-Finance, Trustees, etc. These committees will need to be in place, familiar with the transition process, and ready to assume the responsibility of their roles for their group, formerly performed by their counterparts on behalf of what has been the entire Yearly Meeting — effective with the conclusion of the 2017 Annual Sessions.

Well, here again I see no need to rush, and lots of reasons to be deliberate and take their time. For starters, a genuinely autonomous group might well choose not to be a clone of what already exists, and with good reason.

For instance, there are committees on the existing roster which, in my view ought to be re-evaluated and dumped, as a waste of time & money, and sources of pointless conflict and trouble. The Recording Committee, for one; why not leave that function to local meetings, and be done with the stream of heresy hunts it has inflicted on the body? And what about Church Extension? After thirty years of abject failure in its efforts, it is way overdue for retirement. And there are others.

But that is not all. The Committee letter also directs that

These restructured quarterly meetings/regions should also begin to meet together in their respective groups to discuss and consider the ministries and missions their group would like to undertake. A somewhat complete list of these ministries and missions can be gleaned from the line items in the approved 2017 Budget.

Yet again, there is good reason to pause, move deliberately, and not be a clone.

After all, I predict that some in attendance may have noted major changes in the outside world of late, changes that will affect those in the body as well as outside it. I hear many voices calling for various urgent responses.

What if, in response, some among the Autonomites want, in their independent and self-governing way, to rethink and perhaps redirect their ministry involvements and resources in new and different directions? If so, why shouldn’t they?

Nor, for that matter, do all Autonomites have to march to a single drummer. They could autonomously opt to collaborate informally in task groups, with others of like mind, but perhaps not for the entire association, as their discernment develops.

No doubt there will be a need for a committee to handle funds, plus a Clerk or two to sign formal papers and keep minutes and records. But many yearly meetings today operate well enough on very minimal structures, both to save money and to free up Spirit energy for other concerns besides running a creaky traditional machinery.

So I hope for a successful launch for the Autonomites, as an authentically free group, at this Seventh Day assembly at Quaker Lake.

And not least because, as Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more . . . 13For you, brothers (and sisters), were called to freedom.” And as 2 Corinthians, 3:17 reaffirms, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

And autonomy too.

The post North Carolina YM Welcomes the “Autonomites” appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Another Day, Another Split Attempt– The New Target: North Carolina YM

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 01/25/2017 - 7:44am

I suppose it was just too good to last.

In August, after two years of turmoil, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM, or NCYM) considered and rejected a plan to split the yearly meeting.

Instead, it decided to reorganize, offering two sub-associations for meetings to align with, within a revised and shrunken Yearly Meeting. NCYM would become a kind of umbrella holding company, mainly concerned with managing endowment funds and real estate. The sketch below is an approximation.

This decision was challenged at the November Representative session: the pastor of New Hope Friends called for reviving the split plan. But there was no interest in, or discussion of that idea. (A week later, New Hope chose to leave NCYM.)

That same day, plans for revising and managing the reorganized finances & YM structure were approved, without contention.

So far, so good. The fetid stench of heresy-hunting and attempted purges which had fouled the air in NCYM’s sessions for two long  years seemed to have dissipated.

But . . . .

Now one YM official has decided to revive the scheme, overturn the YM decision, and enact the split anyway.

Really? On whose authority? And with whose approval?

His own, evidently. 

The official is Hugh Spaulding, who was named Clerk of a committee to rearrange NCYM’s Quarterly Meetings to fit the reorganized YM.

This committee’s work hasn’t exactly been heavy lifting. After five months of consideration, it has moved precisely four of forty-plus meetings from one quarter to another.

But along this not-so-arduous way, Spaulding has convinced himself that NCYM was wrong in August, that it must split after all, and has announced his decision in a letter dated January 5, but not distributed widely until two weeks later.

The full text of the letter is below. The key paragraph is here:

Effectively [Spaulding writes], members of meetings will become members of one group or the other. Members will not be in common membership under an entity named North Carolina Yearly Meeting. While not in unity, the preponderance of those on the Quarter Alignment Committee fully recognize that, without adequate separation into two groups, what has been North Carolina Yearly Meeting will continue to splinter, with little thought or support for the current missions and ministries of North Carolina Yearly Meeting as we move forward.

Now let’s parse this declaration out a bit: “Members will not be in common membership under an entity named [NCYM].”

They won’t? But that’s the opposite of what the YM decided and reaffirmed.

And–what does this drastic reversal have to do with moving a few meetings from one quarter to another? (Hint: the correct answer is “Nothing.”)

That is, such matters were not the purview of either Spaulding or the committee. (Plain speech: it was none of their doggone business.)

Nevertheless, Spaulding baldly continues, “While not in unity, the preponderance of those on the Quarter Alignment Committee fully recognize that, without adequate separation into two groups –“

Hold it right there. The committee, Spaulding concedes, is “not in unity” with his diktat.

What?

Well, unity schmunity, who cares? — he’s declaring it a done deal anyway.

I know of a church that makes decisions that way. Its head is called the Pope. Quakers don’t have popes. Or at least we didn’t.

Furthermore, Spaulding asserts, “without adequate separation” NCYM “will continue to splinter,” et cetera.

That is to say, he hints that some unnamed meetings will possibly leave unless the YM’s reorganization is turned back into a split.

How does he know that? Spaulding refers to “feedback at Representative Body, correspondence from a few meetings and verbal clarification with others . . . .”

But wait: the feedback at November’s Representative session was just the opposite of what he says; and letters from “a few [unnamed] meetings” and a scattering of “verbal clarification” from [unnamed] others are second and third-hand reports, which didn’t even convince Spaulding’s committee.

Yet after two years of turning back such bullying and blackmail, now we’re supposed to let Spaulding roll over the committee, and then the yearly meeting action too?

No. Not a chance.

In short, the Spaulding letter is a load of baloney, a blatant try at an end-run around a clear & reaffirmed YM decision. It’s an attempted putsch by one who has no warrant & no credibility.

Hugh Spaulding does not seem to understand that the yearly meeting has spoken on this. Twice. And his committee didn’t.

So it’s time for him to accept the decision, finish the committee work in proper order, and pipe down.

NCYM still does not have a pope.
– – – – – – – –

The Committee Letter:

To: NCYM Friends
From: Hugh Spaulding, Quarter Alignment Committee Chair and NCYM Ministry and Counsel Clerk Subject: Quarter Alignment Committee Update and Requested Actions
Date: January 5, 2017

Dear Friends,

The Quarter Alignment Committee, consisting of a representative from each quarterly meeting and chaired by Hugh Spaulding, Clerk of NCYM Ministry and Counsel, has continued its work following our Representative Body meeting in November. Based on feedback at Representative Body, correspondence from a few meetings and verbal clarification with others, enclosed is our latest proposed alignment of meetings into quarters/regions and those quarters/regions into two groups. Again, we invite your feedback if your meeting would like to be included in a quarter other than the one designated on the enclosed document.

Effectively, members of meetings will become members of one group or the other. Members will not be in common membership under an entity named North Carolina Yearly Meeting. While not in unity, the preponderance of those on the Quarter Alignment Committee fully recognize that, without adequate separation into two groups, what has been North Carolina Yearly Meeting will continue to splinter, with little thought or support for the current missions and ministries of North Carolina Yearly Meeting as we move forward.

With the future ministries and missions of what has been North Carolina Yearly Meeting in mind, the Procedural Plan for Reorganization into Two Groups, as approved at annual sessions in August 2016, calls for the proposed, restructured quarterly meetings within each group (currently referred to as “Authority” and “Autonomy”) to appoint members to serve on two committees within each group, a Faith and Practice Development/Revision Committee and a Nominating Committee. Quarterly Meeting Clerks should submit these appointees to Hugh Spaulding by February 1, 2017. Quarterly Meeting Clerks can accomplish this through “called” Quarterly Meetings or by appointment by the Quarterly Meeting Clerk. Hugh will then name conveners for each committee to initiate their committee work.

With the future ministries and missions of what has been North Carolina Yearly Meeting in mind, the Procedural Plan for Reorganization into Two Groups, as approved at annual sessions in August 2016, calls for the proposed, restructured quarterly meetings within each group (currently referred to as “Authority” and “Autonomy”) to appoint members to serve on two committees within each group, a Faith and Practice Development/Revision Committee and a Nominating Committee. Quarterly Meeting Clerks should submit these appointees to Hugh Spaulding by February 1, 2017. Quarterly Meeting Clerks can accomplish this through “called” Quarterly Meetings or by appointment by the Quarterly Meeting Clerk. Hugh will then name conveners for each committee to initiate their committee work.

The two Faith and Practice Development/Revision Committees, comprised of representatives from the member quarters/regions and acting on behalf of their respective groups, will need to begin immediately to address the development/revision of their respective Faith and Practice to reflect each group’s beliefs and behaviors. Obviously, depending on the degree of departure from the 2012 Edition of the NCYM Faith and Practice, this could be a very time consuming process. Ideally, this work would be concluded by 2017 Annual Sessions.

The Nominating Committee for each group, comprised of representatives from the member quarters/regions and acting on behalf of their respective groups, should begin immediately to recommend members of the respective groups to populate key committees and boards for that group. Existing key committees and boards may be found in Faith and Practice, but certainly include Committee on Clerks, Ministry and Counsel, Missions, Church Extension, Stewardship-Finance, Trustees, etc. These committees will need to be in place, familiar with the transition process, and ready to assume the responsibility of their roles for their group, formerly performed by their counterparts on behalf of what has been the entire Yearly Meeting — effective with the conclusion of the 2017 Annual Sessions.

These restructured quarterly meetings/regions should also begin to meet together in their respective groups to discuss and consider the ministries and missions their group would like to undertake. A somewhat complete list of these ministries and missions can be gleaned from the line items in the approved 2017 Budget.

Obviously, much work lies before us as we seek to be good stewards of all the present and future missions and ministries with which we are entrusted. I encourage each quarterly meeting/region to begin this process with your first meeting of 2017. As noted above, appointing members to serve on two committees within each group, a Faith and Practice Development/Revision Committee and a Nominating Committee, is critical to being prepared for the envisioned reorganization into two separate groups at the conclusion of 2017 Annual Sessions. Please contact Hugh Spaulding with the names of your appointees and any questions you might have — Telephone: 336.498.2350; Email: hughspaulding@nullhotmail.com.

The post Another Day, Another Split Attempt– The New Target: North Carolina YM appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

BREAKING: Split Over LGBT Said Imminent for Northwest Yearly Meeting

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 01/23/2017 - 12:21pm

NOTE UPDATE BELOW: From sources in the Northwest, we have been sent the text of a draft plan to split Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM), over the issue of affirmation of LGBT persons.

This issue of affirming meetings has been intensely debated across NWYM since the summer of 2015, when the yearly meeting elders announced a decision to expel West Hills Friends in Portland from NWYM because of its openly affirming stance. But after several meetings & many young Friends appealed, the power players in the yearly meeting were unable to agree to carry out that decision until now.

The document below is a draft plan for the split. It reportedly was considered, tweaked, and agreed to at secret meetings in the past several days. It is expected to be announced to NWYM generally soon, perhaps this coming weekend (Jan. 28-29).

We are seeking comment on this report from NWYM officials. However, they are normally unresponsive to outside inquiries, so we are posting this draft Split proposal as we have it. Watch for updates as more information becomes available.

UPDATE 3:00 PM EST: FROM RETHA MCCUTCHEN, NWYM SUPERINTENDENT:

Chuck… This document is not from Northwest Yearly Meeting in any official capacity. It is most likely someone’s idea as many such ideas have been put forth and are circulating. It will not be presented in any setting of Yearly Meeting Representatives or on the floor.

Retha McCutchen

COMMENT: This response seems carefully phrased. It says nothing about the idea of a split contained in the draft. And as our sources indicate that the draft had been “modified,” it was unlikely to appear in this form.  The important content, “the Split Idea,” still hangs in the air. Watch for further updates.

Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church
“Split” Option
If NWYM were to split into two Yearly Meetings,
here is a scenario of how that might look:

Yearly Meeting #1
“Agree to Disagree” and “Affirming” Churches

This Yearly Meeting would embrace a revised Faith & Practice which leaves open the possibility for some churches to promote monogamous same-sex relationships.

This group would be composed of meetings which have recorded an affirming stance on LGBTQ (West Hills, Eugene, Camas, Klamath Falls, etc.), plus “Agree to Disagree” congregations which feel that the LGBTQ issue is not worthy of division (likely North Valley, Newberg, Reedwood, North Seattle, Olympic View, etc.)

A very rough analysis (based upon statements from their Representatives) puts this group at about 40% of NWYM’s typical Sunday attendance, and 35% of its local meetings.

Yearly Meeting #2
“Welcoming, But Not Able to Affirm” Churches

This Yearly Meeting would embrace Faith & Practice as it currently exists (possibly rephrasing its Human Sexuality statement without changing its stance).

This group would be composed of meetings which have recorded an opposition to West Hills remaining in good standing within NWYM (such as Clackamas Park, Lynwood, Rosedale, Scotts Mills, most Idaho churches, City’s Edge, Peninsula, Netarts, etc.)

A very rough analysis (based upon statements from their Representatives) puts this group at about 50% of NWYM’s typical Sunday attendance, and 50% of its local meetings.

PRO’s
A logjam would be broken. Both Yearly Meetings would have a renewed sense of direction. Issues like who is “recorded,” what kinds of new churches are planted, who is sent overseas as Friends Serving Abroad, what classes are taught at camp, etc. are no longer cloudy. Progress ensues for both Yearly Meetings. More money is given by donors, as they are able to fully embrace the mission/vision of their respective Yearly Meetings.

Less infighting would occur. Both Yearly Meetings would feel free to bless one another to head unabated into the future.

CON’s
Initially, two smaller Yearly Meetings may prove less able to fund Yearly Meeting staffs and programs.
Some individuals within local congregations would likely find themselves in disagreement with the Yearly Meeting chosen by their local congregation. A reshuffling would thus ensue, with people feeling forced to choose a new local church that aligns more fully with their beliefs.
Splitting shared assets would prove difficult. While each local congregation could be “given” their own local church building/property unencumbered, the shared assets of camps, schools, etc. would get messy (see below).

Who Likes the “Split” Idea?
A two-YM split likely appeals to individuals and congregations who most strongly believe in affirming or not affirming LGBTQ same-sex sexual relationships, feeling that this allows the “pure” Gospel to be preached. (Example: At the recent Representatives meeting, Clyde Parker and Beth Banham, representatives of Eugene and City’s Edge, shared that they have disparate views on LGBTQ, but agree together that an amiable split would now prove best for all.)

Who Dislikes the “Split” Idea?
A split is least liked by individuals and churches who have previously decided that the LGBTQ issue is one for which they are willing to agree to disagree, feeling that God’s call to unity among believers should exceed minor differences among us. (Example: At the recent Representatives meeting, Paul Anderson and Anna Baker, both representatives of North Valley, shared that they have disparate views on LGBTQ, but feel comfortable agreeing to disagree within North Valley and similarly within the entire NWYM.)

Possible Division of Shared Assets (schools, camps, etc.):

Organizations such as George Fox University, Quaker Hill Camp, Friendsview Retirement Community, Twin Rocks Friends Camp, etc. typically make formal reference to their relationship with Northwest Yearly Meeting in their bylaws. If Northwest Yearly Meeting ceased to exist, each organization would need to revise its bylaws.
Each of these organizations could maintain their existing boards of directors, and these boards could devise new bylaws for their entity. Possible outcomes
George Fox University’s board of trustees seems likely to embrace a more traditional “welcoming, but not affirming” theology, as this would be consistent with GFU’s existing policy, and because GFU is closely connected to many “welcoming, but not affirming” evangelical denominations. (However, there are some GFU board members who would likely argue against this stance.) It is quite possible that GFU’s revised bylaws would remove GFU’s formal, systemic connection to any Yearly Meeting.
Greenleaf Friends Academy, Quaker Hill Camp, and Twin Lakes Friends Camp would most likely adopt a “welcoming, but not affirming” stance, as it appears that the vast majority of nearby (Idaho) Friends churches would align themselves with that Yearly Meeting.
At first glance, it appears that an entity likely to suffer stress in the event of a Yearly Meeting split would be Twin Rocks Friends Camp. Located in a region of the Yearly Meeting relatively evenly divided between the two Yearly Meetings, its current board of directors might find themselves similarly divided on the issue of whether or not to ” agree to disagree” on the LGBTQ issue. A possibly equitable solution (though difficult to implement) would be a sharing of the camp between the two Yearly Meetings, where each Yearly Meeting would be given part of the camp’s calendar from which to conduct its own set of camp and conference sessions. The difficulty would come in determining the hiring expectations for year-round staff, as well as for members of the camp’s extended-stay leadership development programs.

 

 

 

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Categories: Blogs

Mixing it up

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 01/20/2017 - 9:50am

Back in November I started a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was reacting to the progressive debates about safety pins as a symbol but it seems we’re are in another round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and other initiatives. As I find myself frequently saying, we need lots of different kinds of people organizing in lots of different styles. So maybe this blog posts’s time has come again.

Maybe this is just another stages of grief but I’ve been noticing a number of online discussions in which progressives are shutting down other progressives for not being progressive enough. Every time I see a positive post, I can predict there’s going to be about three enthusiastic “yes!” comments, followed by a 500-word comment explaining why the idea isn’t radical enough.

Folks, we’ve got bigger problems than trying to figure out who’s the most woke person on our Facebook feed.

Successful social change movements are always a spectrum of more or less politically-correct and radical voices. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrating on different frequencies sound better together. Sometimes in politics you need the crazy radicals to stir things up and sometimes you need the too-cautious liberals to legitimize the protest message.

Some years ago I was part of an campaign in Philly that targeted what many of us felt was a propaganda push around Columbus Day. An attempt by all of the concerned activists to come together predictably went nowhere. There were too many differences in style and tactics and language and culture. But that breakdown in coordination allowed each subculture to pick a tactic that worked best for them.

The Quakers did their visible agitprop leading and got detained. The anarchists made creative posters and set off surreptitious stink devices. Some anonymous pranksters sent out fake press releases to disrupt media coverage. The resultant news coverage focused on the sheer diversity of the protests.

If protest had indeed come from a single group following a single tactic, the dissent would have been buried in the fourth paragraph of the coverage. But the creativity made it the focus of the coverage. Diversity of tactics works. Mistakes will be made. Some progressives will be clueless–maybe even some of the ones considering themselves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wearing safety pins was effective–or we might wonder why we ever thought it was meaningless symbol. Whatever happens, let’s just encourage witness wherever and whenever it’s happening. Let’s be gentler on each other.

Categories: Blogs

John Lewis vs. Little Hands: Talk vs. Action

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sun, 01/15/2017 - 6:43am

In light of recent events, permit me to share a photograph or two.

Selma, Alabama, March 1965. I stood on the church steps behind John Lewis, Hosea Williams & Andrew Young.

Then John & Hosea marched over the Pettus Bridge & were beaten & teargassed; John got his head busted, was almost killed. I got off easy.

John Lewis got up from his hospital bed and helped win voting rights for millions of Americans. He’s still fighting for those voting rights, which those who scoff & tweet are busy undermining.

John Lewis, foreground, after crossing the bridge, March 7, 1965.

And on that day, when hundreds including John & Hosea walked their talk through Selma, across the Pettus Bridge into the teeth of hate, where was the fool with the little hands who now says John Lewis was “all talk”?

He has said he was avoiding the draft & STDs. Is there any reason to doubt him?

But it all looks different from the bridge.

if you share the view, please share this message.

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Categories: Blogs

For MLK Day: Stories from Selma, January 16

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 01/10/2017 - 10:40pm

Two Nights & a Lifetime with Dr. King

Next Monday will be devoted to the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It was my good fortune to work under Dr. King in the great voting rights campaign he led with others in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Besides being historic for America, that experience was formative for me. It led me to jail, to a repudiation of war, and even to Quakers.

Monday evening at Pendle Hill, starting at 7:30 PM, as part of this remembrance, I’ll be talking about that experience, and you’re invited. Details are here, and it’s free.

In December 1964, I joined the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta. Shortly thereafter I was sent by SCLC to Selma, Alabama, where I worked in the Voting Rights Movement organized by Dr. King and SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

During that time I was arrested three times and spent one night in a jail cell with Dr. King, as told in my book, Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.

The Selma campaign resulted in passage of the Voting Rights Act, which changed politics in the South and across America for fifty years. That legacy has been under severe attack in recent years, and the struggle is continuing.

Remembering this history is part of renewing and extending it. In the photo above, that’s me at the far right (beardless!), behind Andrew Young, John Lewis and Hosea Williams. They were sharing details of the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery (led by Williams and Lewis) on what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965.  

On this Monday I’ll describe two nights in Selma that were important for the movement and me personally. And we’ll talk about
how far we’ve come, and where we need to go.

I hope you can join in the evening.

 

 

The post For MLK Day: Stories from Selma, January 16 appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Push & Pushback in the Northwest “Showdown”

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 10:42pm

Northwest Yearly Meeting is notorious for its institutional culture of secrecy; indeed, I think they could teach the CIA some tricks.

So imagine my surprise when a clandestine collective which can be  called “Quaki-Leaks” passed along some emails hacked from the listserve for NWYM pastors. There were other posts,but these offer an illuminating glimpse of what goes on behind one of the numerous veils that shroud much (too much, in my view) of NWYM’s proceedings.  It is a useful followup to yesterday’s post regarding the ‘Way Forward” ultimatum letter.

The posts dealt with the impending midyear sessions that begin this weekend, and the hot issue of what to do about LGBT-friendly meetings. The samples presented here offer three distinct views of the situation, with some qualifying comments by the NWYM Superintendent. We’ll finish with some brief comments of our own.

First up is a Friend who dislikes the petition, because he hopes to avoid the purge it seeks. We’ll let him explain:

Phil Smith:

As a representative of Newberg Friends, I want to voice my sincere appreciation for the work done at the reps meeting in December. The clerks were right to say that we did not reach agreement. Perhaps we didn’t even make progress toward agreement. But we listened to each other. We expressed respect and love for each other. We affirmed our commitment to Jesus.

I have to face a hard truth: there are Quaker Christians who love Jesus and who disagree with me about gay marriage. Those Christians who disagree with me are God’s people. They are God’s gift to me, to challenge me to think and listen more carefully.

I do not think the arguments for gay marriage are sound. I think those arguments contain two interlocking philosophical errors.

But experience shows that I can be wrong. I probably will not discover that I am wrong unless I am in loving conversation with Christians who disagree with me. If it turns out that I am right, those who approve of gay marriage are not likely to discover they are wrong unless we have loving conversation. So my desire is for the YM to stay together. A painful conversation is better than a church split.

We are, of course, human beings. We are susceptible to sin and error. Maybe we will split. If that happens I pledge to those who affirm gay marriage that I will continue to love you and listen to you. 

Second in line here is Kevin Davis, an Idaho pastor who supports the petition. His posting was rather lengthy, and we’ve trimmed it, as noted by ellipses:

 

Kevin Davis, Pastor, Woodland Friends, Kamiah, Idaho:

It seems that we have done a disservice to our Yearly Meeting Elders who did the task first handed to them, and they did provide a way forward through their original intent to release West Hills Friends. I felt that this decision on part of the Elders:

(A) Upheld Faith & Practice . . .

(B) Was gracious in its tone . . .

(C) Was a reasonable exercise of our Elders . . .

3 – Was their authoritative decision that people within the NWYM rejected

With all that being said. Though things like, “We respect all the hard work our Elders have done around this decision,” were said while rejecting the product of their hard work seems a bit disingenuous to me. Rather, I wonder if Friends ought to uphold and practice in faith the methods and abide by the spiritual authority they at one point in time entrusted in their Elders (and have obviously since rejected). . . .

The Elders made a decision, and the Gathered YM rejected it.

The A&C [Administrative Committee]  failed to make a decision, and fell back on accepting the decision the Elders already made.

The Gathered Yearly Meeting failed to make a decision, and again rejected the Elders’ first decision.

The gathered YM Representatives failed to make a decision, and again rejected the Elders’ first decision.

The A&C are back with this problem under slightly different terms. Call me cynical, but I have an idea as to what will happen.

It seems to me that the only people who have made a decision, regardless of how hard it was to make it, was our Elders, who were tasked with in the first place to make a decision, and they did make a decision. I personally hear the Voice of the Shepherd in their decision, and wonder why we Friends in the Yearly Meeting aren’t able to set aside our feelings and submit to the authority God has entrusted to the Yearly Meeting. . . .

Probably because we’re all sinners, with our own thoughts, and our own tendencies to remove from God what He has told us to do, and instead fall back on our own intelligence, our own sophisticated thoughts, and our own feelings.

Which brings me to this letter that I have signed my name to about the “way forward.”

It was said, and I’m not attacking the person, but I’m commenting on the comment, “This letter is a variant of a previous letter from a group with no official capacity other than their own convictions.” I chewed on this phrase all day. I thought, and i could be wrong, but the heart of NWYM is supposed to be a a group of Christians with no official capacity than our own convictions. The reason I signed this document, is because I feel like, like any denomination, NWYM has lost the Gospel.

Point-in-case, the entire Yearly Meeting is on the edge of their seats looking at what? Looking at what we’re all going to do about homosexuality. Humans are to find their identity in Christ, not in their sexuality. In Christ, we are directed to who we are to be sexually. And Christ lays it out quite clearly to me, but that’s beside the point. And that’s my point, that’s beside the point. The point is Christ, and Him crucified! The point is Christ, period.

So yes, this way forward was produced by a group of people with convictions. Convicted, I dare say, by the Gospel. I know Quakers have a history of social justice. That social justice, if I’m not mistaken, was propelled by a deep conviction of Christ and the Scriptures which directed us to act. Some people, I fear and wonder have said, “Oh, I’m a Quaker, that means I need to do social justice things.” Or still others, not being Christian, have said, “I’m socially active, and I think I’m spiritual, so I’ll shop religions until I find one that fits me. Oh look, Quakers.”

If that is the case, give me Christ and Him crucified, and allow Him to direct my social activity. I come to Christ with all my religiosity, with all my sins, with all my failures, flaws, dogmas, and opinions, and say to Him, “I don’t want to be first a Quaker. I don’t want to be first a social agent of justice. I first want to realize what I am: a sinner bound on the train to hell save the Cross of Christ, save Your righteousness given to me.”

. . . I see this quite vividly, Christ’s Word (on sexuality) is separating chaff from wheat right now. . . .

Christ has declared His stance on sexuality. He affirms the entirety of Scripture, and has called Paul to His service in Acts 4, and Paul has made abundantly clear the Christian ethic of sexuality in Romans 1, 1 Timothy 6, etc. Gospel-centered Christians must abide in the teaching of Christ. . . .

Just as Satan did in the garden, does he not come to sinful saints now to say, “Did Christ really say this about sexuality? Don’t we not know better now in our culture and society today?”

. . . I personally, can no longer in the name of “love,” “grace,” and a general feel-good “unity,” ignore what Christ commands in my life, in this culture, to say, “Oh look, we stick together.” I must obey God rather than man. And Christ redeems sin, He doesn’t condone it. Christ produces change on the willing heart, not compromise on the hard heart.

Quakers have historically emphasized and upheld the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2). As such, I have signed my name on a document, comprised by convicted priests in our midst and given to our leaders who have agreed to consider it.

This has been a large part, if you’ve read, probably more general thoughts about all of this entire situation, and not just the Way Forward letter.

Perhaps it gives a snap shot of many of the signers of this document. . . .

Kev Davis

Woodland Friends

And last in the line of opinion, here is one who rejects the “Way Forward” document, not because it is too harsh, but because for him it is not nearly harsh enough: meetings put out must pay “a high price.” It’s from Paul Anderson, longtime professor of Biblical and Quaker studies at George Fox University.

 

Dear Friends,

In terms of a way forward, I concur with the importance of expecting our churches to uphold their commitment to Faith and Practice and not to break with it. This is our covenant as members of Northwest Yearly Meeting, and over the years we have maintained unity by waiting together and adhering to our agreements until we are led together in other directions. We have a deliberative process by which to change Faith and Practice, but until we do–and this was clearly stated when we did not adopt a first reading of proposed changes several years ago–we are to find ways to live with what stands until we make a change together, in Spirit-led unity. Again, the current statement does not judge orientation; it upholds standards of behavior.

mI also stated my strong conviction at the Representatives meeting in December that we should NOT make division or leaving the Yearly Meeting easier. Let’s stay together and extend grace to others perceived to hold different views–especially when we might be responding to fear of extremes rather than what are realities in our churches. I think we are far more united than we are divided; let’s celebrate that reality! I believe all of our churches are committed to being welcoming and loving places for all seekers, and I do not believe those advocating pastoral sensitivity to those with same-sex attraction are encouraging licentious behaviors. Our unity, though, is not in appeasing LGBTQ activists, or any other ideological movement; our unity is in Christ Jesus and living under his Lordship. So, let’s extend each other grace, and assume the best with one another, not the worst.

If, however, a church really cannot abide with our Christian witness to the world (which is what our doctrines and testimonies convey), it should perhaps consider withdrawing from the Yearly Meeting. They should, however, leave the building behind, as it was paid for and built by members of that church years ago that did in good faith uphold Faith and Practice. Monthly meetings have absolutely no right to expect current impatience with process should legitimate the Yearly Meetings forfeiting of properties that were purchased and built by previous members who were in good order with our covenants and committed to the convictions of Northwest Yearly Meeting. So, a church leaving Northwest Yearly Meeting could buy the building back–at full price, which is what Faith and Practice stipulates, all things being equal–or they should move to another building and allow the Yearly Meeting to start a new work in that area. Keeping the price high for leaving the Yearly Meeting also ensures that the monthly meeting decision is a factor of conscience and conviction rather than impatience or frustration. There is great wisdom in our Faith and Practice stance on these issues, and unless we change Faith and Practice on those matters, or come to a Yearly Meeting decision to do so, we are bound to uphold the high cost of abandoning our connectional covenants.

So, let’s weather this culture-wars storm together, and not make it easier for churches to leave Northwest Yearly Meeting. Let’s extend one another grace, and not assume the worst. Let’s work with Faith and Practice as it stands, being loving and generous in how we implement its values to which we testify. Most of all, let’s look to Christ to lead us in unity in ways that are biblically based, rationally sound, and experientially adequate.

I appreciate this proposal as a possible way forward, and I like the fact that it calls our churches to support Faith and Practice–an expectation that was clearly stated several years ago–but the cost should remain high instead of being made easier.

Praying for and seeking the Lord’s leading,

Paul Anderson
North Valley Friends Church

Finally here’s a comment and clarification by NWYM Superintendent, Retha McCutcheon, as to the status of the “Way Forward” petition, and its likely fate with the Administrative Council and at the midyear session.

 

The clerks and I spent the last two days in retreat praying and working toward possible ways for the yearly meeting to move forward. The Way Forward document was not given special consideration. It was one paper we had along with many other things we have read, people have suggested and ideas that have come to us over hours and hours of prayer and discernment. As leaders of this yearly meeting, we have carefully and very humbly taken all the information we have and drafted some ideas for the AC to consider at our retreat next weekend. At the end of the December called Reps meeting, direction was given for the AC to do this work prior to Mid Year Boards. It is our prayerful hope that the AC will have recommendations to bring to the Representatives at Mid Year Boards. And yes, Mid Year is the next time this subject will be considered by the yearly meeting. It will be a closed meeting for registered Reps only. The only documents we plan to consider at the AC retreat are those the Clerks will offer the AC. They AC will prayerfully consider, discern, edit and make decisions regarding what will go to the Reps at mid year.

We ask for your prayer and patience as we walk this unprecedented path. As leaders we feel a heavy burden, being conscious that every decision made as we move forward affects individuals and churches in more ways than we can imagine. Our goal is to be respectful and Christ-like in conversations and decision-making.

 

Comments: As McCutcheon indicates, proposals for the Midyear will be “double-filtered” & winnowed: first the AC will in retreat, consider ONLY what the Clerks choose to present to them. Then the AC will take that and further “edit” them and decide which if any will be presented to the Reps. After that much pre-digesting and “decisions,” an outside might wonder why they bother with the Reps at all.

But that’s the NWYM way. So it’s quite possible (and sounds even likely) that the “Way Forward” may hit a dead stop this weekend, and not even come to the floor of the midyear session. If it doesn’t, will that be because the leadership favors the much harder Anderson line, or the “live & work through it” approach of Phil Smith? Or will it write up something of its own to take the place of all others?

And what if, as Kevin Davis hints, the midyear reaches no more of a conclusion about expulsion than has the long list of earlier meetings?

In this case, the ‘Way Forward” ultimatum [“We believe that further delay in taking this necessary action will result in the disintegration of NWYM.”] would seem to become a gauntlet, thrown down not at NWYM but at the authors and their supporters: You did not get your “Way,” Friends.  So is it not time to put up or shut up?

Thanks again to “Quaki-Leaks.” Oh — and about that persistent rumbling in the distance? It seems to be getting closer, and louder.

Maybe somebody should check on it?

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Categories: Blogs

Ultimatum in Northwest Yearly Meeting?? (Yawn.)

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 8:08am

What a difference an earthquake makes.

Yes, on November 8th many foundations were shaken. Received  knowledge was proved ignorance: conventional wisdom unmasked as folly.

Now a great many of us are warily counting down the days til we  have answers to a set of unavoidable, unnerving questions:

— Which of the several wars called for by the new rulers will we be thrust into first? And then?

— How many millions of people will be seized off our streets and cast into what outer darkness?

— What can we expect from a “Justice” Department run by a relentless foe of every recent advance in civil rights, women’s and gender equality, voting protections and criminal justice reform?

— How much of the remaining health and social safety net for seniors, the poor, sick, and disabled, is to be shredded right before our eyes? 

The anxiety over these and more (a green light for global climate destruction?) is widespread, palpable, and constant.

But enough of such trivia.

Let’s get back to Topic A of the Good Old Days of a year ago, when the most burning question was (wait for it):

Will Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends (NWYM) expel its local meetings which have announced, or are inching toward, affirming LGBT folks? 

I mean, who gives a fig about blatant Russian hacking & corruption of a presidential election, when we can obsess some more over whether a Friends church or two in NWYM might actually marry a samesex couple, or even change a couple of restroom signs?

And in the nick of time, here it comes again — another Oregon ultimatum: pull the trigger to stop that, or else!

The occasion is the mid-year session of NWYM, set for this weekend (January 13-14, 2017), a conclave like unto the Roman college of cardinals, with attendance strictly limited to the properly-credentialed.

And high on its agenda will be the question that has smoldered and flared unbanked now through more than eighteen months, two yearly meeting sessions, several closed meetings in between, and yet another specially called, carefully vetted assembly last month: will NWYM carry out the decision to expel West Hills Friends in Portland. And then will it follow up by purging Camas Friends, which has recently adopted its own affirming stance? Plus impose firm order on any others who go wobbly?

The initial decision to expel West HIlls was made in midsummer 2015. But then appeals from it were filed formally by eight meetings, and via petition by more than 200, mostly younger Friends. Ever since, the NWYM Administrative Committee has been unable to agree to act on the appeals; the 2016 Annual Session couldn’t either. So West HIlls still is under sentence of expulsion, but the actual lever has yet to be pulled.

So next weekend will bring another try. And in the resumed debate, there will be a new petition, one demanding an end to the waffling, a purge of those who have “gone soft” on  the official homophobic policies, and the restoration of the petitioners’ sense of order.

This petition was emailed out selectively last week, encouraging signers to add names, for compilation and “mass” presentation to the YM authorities.

Then on Friday, on the listerve for NWYM pastors, it was mentioned by the Clerk, as if it were universally known. This was not so: many said they had not received it. But, cover blown, now they did. And discussion was, shall we say, both vigorous, and –as before — inconclusive.

The full text of this petition is copied below. Note that it is mostly phrased in the peculiar Orwellian New(berg)Speak of NWYM politics. That is, the authors write as if they are proposing to do the targeted meetings a great favor (the term here is “opportunity”) by pushing them out. 

However, the letter’s essentially abusive frame is evident in this passage: “some of our churches and their members are finding their ability to be fully functional in carrying out their mission has been damaged because of their present connection with other local churches.”

That is, it is the fault of the affirming groups that their presence is intolerable to  “some of our churches”; those who can’t bear the fact of difference thereby claim to have become the victims. They insist they can’t be the right kind of Christians unless the others they differ with are removed.

Read on to the end, and the ultimatum cat jumps out of  the glossy bag: “We believe that further delay in taking this necessary action,” they declare, “will result in the disintegration of NWYM.”  

These tropes and rhetorical frames are by now familiar from similar recent struggles in at least two other YMs, Indiana & North Carolina. (These have been reported on in the journal, Quaker Theology, and often on this blog.) Even the petition’s motto “Way forward” was used last year in one of the failed purge attempts in North Carolina. In Indiana, there was not much overt resistance to a similar homophobic putsch, yet in the end a campaign to purge a single affirming Meeting culminated in more than fifteen “voting with their feet” and joining it on the way out.

In North Carolina, the purge drive ran into stiff resistance: many of the targeted handful of “liberal” meetings pushed back and argued eloquently on their behalf. Only one of them left. Then, as the purge drive faltered, the meetings that couldn’t face the fact of difference peeled off, one or two at a time, opting for independent status.

Those that stayed are now subdividing into two sub-associations under the one North Carolina YM umbrella, with a handful of “wildcard” meetings declining to join either group. The YM will become a barebones “holding company” for YM real estate & designated endowment funds. Each sub-association will pursue its own programs in its own style. While the details are still being worked out, the rancor of the past two years seems to have faded; the Yearly Meeting persists, the hardliners have their turf, and the “liberal” meetings have not been purged.

These two cases don’t predict the outcome for Northwest, except perhaps in one respect. Much or even most of the struggle there can be summed up in a proverb: “There are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t.”

That is, for the pastors & churches that insist on their version of uniformity, the outcome is either victory & a purge, or exodus. Those willing to live through this struggle will likely stay, unless forced out. And if they stand firm for what they believe, as the Northwest record  shows til now, they are hard to get rid of.

In tomorrow’s post we’ll sample the pastors’ debate, to see what light it sheds on this possibly climactic moment.

But as we do so, those ominous rumblings you hear in the distance — yes, they do portend events that should and likely will overshadow whatever happens, or doesn’t, in Newberg, Oregon this weekend.

But never mind. For now.

The Petition & Cover Letter:

From: Friends of NWYM <2017wayforward@nullgmail.com>
Date: Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 10:04 AM
Subject: Friends of NWYM
To:

January 6, 2017

Dear Friends,

The future of our Friends churches in Idaho, Oregon and Washington is at risk. Several churches have decided that they can no longer support one or more sections of “What Friends Believe” in our Faith and Practice. Scripture and common sense teach us that an organization divided against itself cannot stand.

Below, you will find a proposed solution which we plan to present to NWYM’s Administrative Council on January 12, 2017. Please read it carefully and prayerfully.

If you agree that this approach does offer a “way forward,” all you need to do is click “REPLY” and copy “I give you permission to add my name to those who support “Way Forward” into the text box. Then add your name and the name of the local church where your membership is held and click “SEND”.

We will then add your name to the “Way Forward” document which will be presented to the NWYM Administrative Council members for consideration at their scheduled January 13-14, 2016 meeting.

Please encourage others at your meeting to join in this effort. If they didn’t receive this email, they can still join by sending their name and permission to 2017wayforward@nullgmail.com

Thanks for caring and praying about the future of NWYM!

Phil Lamm, member of Woodland Friends, in the Inland Area
Judy Woolsey, member of Newberg Friends, in the Newberg Area
Brian Morse, member of Clackamas Park Friends, in the Portland Area
Jon Fodge, member of Peninsula Friends, in the Puget Sound Area
Bill Kelly, member of Rosedale Friends, in the Salem Area
Don Brown, member of Caldwell Friends, in the Southern Idaho Area
Syd Wyncoop. member of Talent Friends, in the Southern Oregon Area
Arden Kinser, member of Cherry Grove Friends, in the Southwest Washington Area

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

January 12, 2016

TO: NWYM Administrative Council

FROM: Friends of NWYM

SUBJECT: Way Forward

Many of us left July’s Yearly Meeting discouraged by our inability to find agreement concerning biblical authority and how to apply its teaching in our decisions. There seemed to be no “way forward” which would allow us to resolve our differences and refocus on Kingdom work. Our concern has been increased by the inability of the December meeting of NWYM Representatives, which was called specifically to resolve one of the problems caused by this issue, to reach agreement.

As you evaluate the following suggested solution as a possible “way forward,” please understand that this is not a legal document which includes all the necessary details. It is simply an effort to provide a framework for moving forward.

First, consider how conjoined twins present unique and perplexing difficulties caused by their physical connection – a connection which inhibits their ability to be fully functioning individuals. Surgical separation is usually desired but often life-threatening to one or both of the twins.

NWYM finds itself in a somewhat similar situation, although one of a difficult social and spiritual connection rather than one which is physical. The result, however, is similar in that some of our churches and their members are finding their ability to be fully functional in carrying out their mission has been damaged because of their present connection with other local churches.

In contrast to the connection binding conjoined twins together, most Friends believe that our social and spiritual connection is designed to be life-giving rather than life-threatening. Sadly, our connection has become life-threatening due to crucially different understandings of biblical teaching which lead to disputes about such things as which behaviors are sins requiring repentance. A faith community which does not share basic beliefs is not a community which can maintain unity.

For example, it now quite clear that no Yearly Meeting-wide agreement will be reached concerning our Faith and Practice statement on Human Sexuality. Continued indecision on this matter will lead to further withdrawals from NWYM of both individual members and churches. This situation is proving to be spiritually damaging to individuals and churches as well as life-threatening to NWYM.

We believe that those individuals and churches which find NWYM’s beliefs unacceptable, as currently stated in our Faith and Practice, should be offered an opportunity to separate from NWYM with minimal financial cost. This will enable them to pursue their own understanding of God’s leading on these and other currently divisive issues.

We suggest that those churches which choose to act on this opportunity prior to January 1, 2018 (or some other appropriate date established by the A.C.), will gain title to their buildings and the grounds on which they are situated, if those titles are now held by NWYM, under the following conditions: payment to NWYM of ten percent (10%) of the appraised value of their building and grounds; settlement of any outstanding debts; forfeiture of any financial share in the resources of NWYM or related organizations, such as Quaker Hill and Twin Rocks camps.

To make this title transfer possible, the Section under “Organizational Transitions,” found on page 33 of our Faith and Practice, which states “Upon discontinuance of a church or the discontinuance of its association with Northwest Yearly Meeting any owned real or personal property shall be transferred to the Yearly Meeting.”, will have to be temporarily suspended or amended.

The relationship of these separated churches to NWYM will then be on the same basis as any other unrelated religious group. If, however, any of these separated churches cease to operate as a local church prior to January 1, 2023 (or some other appropriate date established by the A.C.), ownership of the buildings and grounds will return to NWYM.

Churches choosing to remain with NWYM by adhering to its Faith and Practice statement of beliefs will retain the sole use of the name Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church. Only individuals who are active members of these remaining churches will be eligible for appointment by NWYM to serve in any capacity with related organizations, such as George Fox University, Quaker Hill and Twin Rocks camps.

We believe that further delay in taking this necessary action will result in the disintegration of NWYM.

In His service,

[names added alphabetically, as permission received]

Please pass this message on.

 

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Categories: Blogs

Deep State vs. Dupe State: Round One

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sat, 01/07/2017 - 3:46pm

Thinking over the Friday “revelations” about how the big intel agencies (CIA, FBI, NSA) are agreed that Russia hacked the election to favor the President-elect (Or P-E), I’m recalling that African proverb about how when  elephants fight, it’s the grass & the mice that get trampled.

And I’m taking a mouse-eyed view of what just happened.
Here’s how I think it looks from there: those with eyes to see witnessed an opening round in what could be a death struggle between the Deep State and the Dupe State.


“Deep State” is a term borrowed from Turkish politics. It was applied to the American body politic by Mike Lofgren, a longtime congressional staffer, in his book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government. (A good summary is here. )

In Washington terms it refers to an unofficial but abiding coalition of the bigger intel agencies, some think tanks & major corporations, which he believes quietly but irresistibly keep US government policy in line with their values and agenda, regardless of the shifting party lineup in Congress & the White House. The idea makes a lot of sense to me.

The Deep State is not quite a conspiracy — but it’s not quite NOT a conspiracy either.

On the other side is the team being assembled by & under the president-elect, the P-E. And it is not mere partisan sneering to call this group the Dupe State.

Numerous reports by some of the most credible (but widely ignored) journalistic giants of our day had solidly established, well before the election and the recent hacking revelations, that Trump’s “empire” has recently been largely kept afloat via connections & money from Russian oligarchs & mobsters, who are often the same people.  (More on this here.)

 (That’s in addition to a long, long history of ties to U. S. Mobsters as well.)

Summing up this record, columnist Kathleen Parker, despite  describing herself as “conservative-leaning,” put it very bluntly in the Washington Post today, Jan. 7th, 2017:

“Trump would rather make common cause with our fiercest geopolitical adversary [Putin’s Russia] . . . than take the word of our best people. Moreover, he has said he won’t receive daily security briefings and reportedly plans to reduce our security agencies.
Pray tell, whose side is this man on? When was the last time you had to ask that question about a president-elect?
In sum, when the president-elect persists in a state of denial, siding with the enemy against his own country’s best interests, one is forced to consider that Trump himself poses a threat to national security.
In Russia, they’d just call it treason.”

(Actually, I suspect in Russia today they’re calling it a bigly great “win-win-win,” and the P-E a hugely “useful idiot”; but that’s just me.)

And Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo says it this way:

“Set aside all Donald Trump’s nonsense about disbelieving the intelligence agencies and insisting there’s no evidence against Russia. Set aside his amazingly public spat with those agencies. Set aside just why Russia did this. There’s the simple fact that just two weeks before a new President is sworn into office, the country’s intelligence agencies are publicly releasing a report claiming that the United States’ great 20th century rival, Russia, conspired to assist in that new President’s election. Step back and just absorb that. That is simply mind-boggling. Who could have imagined such a thing, such a confluence of events – – would ever happen.”

(Speaking of the Big Three’s mind-boggling Russian election-rigging report, you can read it here.)

Yeah, what’s coming is a Dupe State. And it’s facing off against the Deep State.

Josh is right: who could have imagined?

And how could such a struggle turn out?

I’m not making predictions here. But let’s note that undermining & overthrowing unwanted governments is basic to the skill set of the key, more shadowy sectors of the Deep State. The trail goes back to the late 1940s, and it’s strewn with fallen bodies as well as fallen regimes. Besides, their success rate is better at knocking stuff down than replacing it with something better. (See Tim Wiener’s searching dissection, aptly titled, “A Legacy of Ashes.” ) 

As for those behind the Dupe State? It’s easy to romanticize & overestimate their capabilities. But clearly they do subversion with skill, and their efforts seem to be spreading across Europe and gaining momentum. Big tests of their prowess will come in both German and French elections later this year.

But what about this side of the Atlantic? If the Dupes & the Deeps really get down to it, what’s to happen to us mice, caught in the grass between the wall (err, fence, or whatever) along the Mexican border, and the even more effective Winter Curtain maintained by those canny Canadians?

I admit that from day to day, my main worry is about the early grass-level fallout of the changes to come starting January 20: the shredding of the safety net, which will make life much harder down here in Mouse Country, not only for the poor, the nonwhite, the sick and many other unfortunates, but also for me, myself, your humble blogger.

This is followed closely by anxiety over Islamo- and homophobic crusades, which many on the new team seem eager to unleash. And various new wars the Dupe in Chief has been threatening. 

(So much anxiety; so little time.)

But what if all this is but secondary, lower-lever stuff, even a kind of sideshow to a monster main event? (After all, the CIA-FBI-NSA report didn’t have much to say about, you know, Social Security or Medicare; it didn’t even mention defunding Planned Parenthood.)

Furthermore, if this global pachydermic conflict breaks out in full thunder, I’m not even sure who to root for. I’ve been protesting Deep State coups for a long time, and their wreckage is still in plain view in many places.  But then — Russia!
Any anyway,  what’s a mouse to do? Write indignant letters to Congress? Sign Facebook petitions? (Says the cynic: start learning Russian?)

Deep State vs Dupe State. I don’t think there’s any help for the grass. But does anybody know some good nearby holes?

 

If you find this piece useful or provocative, please pass it on.

 

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Categories: Blogs

"They take Alfonso/ And no one stands up..." What Canst -- or Will -- Thou Say?

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Fri, 01/06/2017 - 8:26am

Today, after reading Kaminksy's poem below, I was thinking of Martin Niemöller. He was a prominent German Lutheran pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is perhaps best remembered for the quotation which seems timely to me:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I've been thinking:
First they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Mexican.

Then they came for the African Americans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a African American.

Then they came for the other non-Europeans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a non-European.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

While I am a Quaker who loves silence (and have even written a book about it's importance!), as the writer of Ecclesiastes says:
There is a time for everything,and a season for every activity under the heavens:...a time to be silent and a time to speak...
This is not the time for public silence. It is a time to -- with discernment, but not necessarily caution -- to speak.

Town Watches Them Take Alfonso

by Ilya Kaminsky

Now each of us is
a witness stand:

Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.

What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.

Across the street they wash him with fire hoses. First he screams,
then he stops.

So much sunlight—
a t-shirt falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks it up, presses it to his face.

Neighbors line up to watch him thrown on a sidewalk like a vaudeville act: Ta Da.
In so much sunlight—

how each of us
is a witness stand:

They take Alfonso
And no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.
"Our silence stands up for us."  What canst -- or will -- thou say?
Categories: Blogs

My Dark Reflection: Guest Post by Judith Dancy

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 01/04/2017 - 6:30am

Judith Dancy from Facebook:
It may have happened while Emma was sleeping so soundly last night, for surely she would have sounded the alarm as the Abyss, with its tank loaded with the fuel of Despair crept through the crack under the front door… the one I keep meaning to put another rubber strip on to keep out the cold wind. I’ve been meaning to do that for years, and now I wish it were only cold wind that crept through.

It’s not that it’s a gray and rainy day. It’s not the death of another precious friend. It’s not the pain that seems unwilling to leave. It’s a sensation I don’t remember ever experiencing ,even in the midst of long periods of deep depression.

I want to apologize, I think, for not recognizing the death of hope. Here I’ve been reassuring you that this is just a birthing process and that something beautiful will be born…not soon enough for some of us, but good will come of what seems like no-good. I’m pretty sure that is not true.

Despair may be the only sensible response to the new reality issued in by the election. I’m not afraid, certainly not for myself, but after more than a month of fooling myself and maybe you, I’ve joined the other side.

No. I am a little bit afraid, and I need you to hold me in the Light. I’m am not afraid of the new reality, but of my hopelessness. I can blame it a little bit on having turned TV and radio back on recently and hearing how deranged it seems our president-elect is, how absolutely untenably the NC legislature ended their term, how much hatred is affecting too many people’s lives.

Yet I know that while ignorance is bliss, it it not a responsible way to negotiate our common responsibility to the world and its inhabitants, human and otherwise. How can I know what’s happening and still keep even a tiny ray of hope?

I see the posts of people being loving and helpful and kind and I wonder how that can triumph over what is turning the Light into darkness. Can the Light overcome it? I’ve always believed and preached and lived as if it could. I don’t know any more… or worse, I fear I do know.

One of four important moments in 2016 was my learning about Henri Nouwen’s book, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. I have read his little essays from his own depth of the abyss, and have found so much hope from his writing. But he’s dead. He is not here to experience what we are facing, and I wonder what comfort he could offer me now. What avenue into hope.

No need to comment, but if you are of a mind to do so, maybe you can hold me in the Light in any way that is meaningful to you. I am not stuck in my pj’s lying in bed with the lights out, by the way, so don’t worry, I’m just moving into a reality that is darker than any I’ve ever known.

Unfamiliar territory used to feel like an adventure. The Abyss is more like a nightmare. I’m sorry I didn’t understand what some of you were going through.

A response to Judith Dancy by Chuck Fager- FB 01/02/2016:
Judith, I just finished re-reading Dark Night Journey,  by Sandra Cronk, which has been my Go-To text in times of darkness.
Previously these times were pretty much personal events, my own losses & setbacks, etc., and it was very useful then: straightforward, no cheery chucking me under the chin to buck up, no Darkest-Before-the-Dawn bromides.

But this time I came at it from a different angle–reeling from The Earthquake, having seen it crumble not only a candidacy but also all the structures of worldly & conventional wisdom, which had been assuring me no such event was remotely possible. And amid the wreckage, I too have been staring into what you aptly term the abyss — this time a collective one rather than simply an individual fate.

Did Cronk, whose book appeared in 1991, have something to offer for this situation? If not a “remedy,” then possibly something at least to hang on to, until things stop spinning? (They will stop, won’t they? Won’t they?)

Well, Cronk doesn’t say they will. And a prospect such as we currently face was only dimly visible on her horizon–nuclear war, which was after all a pretty respectable threat back in the day, but was seemingly receding as she finished the book. (Remember Gorbachev & glasnost? Heady, giddy days, those.)

Still, I was able to set aside passing judgment on her inability to see what was coming a quarter-century ahead, especially when virtually no one whose vision counted for me two months ago (including, mea culpa, myself) saw what was right in front of our noses. And in that momentary twitch of humility, I found some real value in her counsel.

The main points, I think, and I’ll skip quotes here, were two: first, to name things clearly, even if they are now no more (or no less) than Fear & Panic; and secondly, to stay in the darkness while it lasts, refusing to accept illusions as light & the flight into a private, shuttered false dawn.

She also cautioned that this discipline of acceptance does not exclude or excuse us from the work of lighting candles, grasping available respite, and struggling resolutely against injustice, even as all this may not not visibly alter the underlying reality, until and unless powers beyond our own horizon move to a dawn we quite possibly shall not be around to see.

All of which, as you likely suspect, can often be cold comfort. Nor does the book end with the five-item Action Agenda that in my experience virtually all liberal American audiences demand as the prescribed peroration for our preachers.

Nevertheless, cold comfort for me is better than no comfort at all. And with Cronk’s aid I now have reclaimed a small modicum of something almost like confidence (not to be confused with hope; that’s for another post) that with further dogged discernment, ways will open for actions that are at least constructive, and fitting for me as part of a people who at least once were moved by a vision of an ocean of light that may have been blocked and covered by its nemesis, but was not thereby permanently lost in a spinning vortex of darkness.

 

About herself, Judith writes:

I write to know what I think, and sometimes to understand what others think. As a novice painter I love rich color, and have no interest in a color wheel to tell me what goes best together. I am that way with words as well, and find that an unexpected and satisfying word or phrase will often draw a piece together.

Retired from public ministry for 7 years, retired from teaching a lot longer than that. Share my home with Emma, a terrier, and anticipate visits from my grandsons who live too far away to satisfy me.

The two poem paintings above were by Kenneth Patchen.

if you find this post of value, please pass it along.

The post My Dark Reflection: Guest Post by Judith Dancy appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Quaker news editor needed

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 01/03/2017 - 12:31pm

Here at Friends Journal, we're very lucky to have some very committed volunteers. Karie Firoozmand and Eileen Redden sends books out to dozens of volunteer readers and pull the results together into our monthly books column. Rosemary Zimmerman reads through all the poetry that comes in, carefully selecting pieces to appear in the magazine. Mary Julia Street reworks the birth notices and obituaries that come in to include more interesting details than you get in most newspaper listings.

Last year we won the "Best in Class" award from the Associated Church Press. We're proud, of course, but I was pleasantly. Compared to most denominational magazines, Friends Journal is crazily understaffed. Forgive the pugilistic metaphor, but these volunteer editors are a big reason we punch above our weight. Cutting through cultural static and the manufactured busyness of modern life and reach seekers is a never-ending challenge. Think about whether you might be led to work with us on this

The extended deadline is January 16th. MLK Day. Learn more at:



News Editor Search – Friends Journal

This is an unpaid volunteer position, and the candidate will work remotely. The time commitment is flexible.

Friends Journal

Categories: Blogs

Why didn't early Quakers celebrate Chriatmas?

Why didn't early Quakers celebrate Chriatmas?: In these questions is found the substance of the Quaker disapproval of not just celebrating Christmas, but all holidays.
Categories: Blogs

New Beginnings

New Beginnings: That blog was very much of its time: named after an obscure Quaker quote, on Blogspot, connected to the Quaker blogosphere. I started it at a time when Quaker bloggers all read each others’ blogs and commented on them, meeting new friends by reading their posts.
Categories: Blogs
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