Blogs

Quaker Jazz

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 04/12/2018 - 1:03pm

This week’s QuakerSpeak interviews musician Colton Weatherston. I love the way he relates the communication and collaboration of jazz musicians to Quaker worship:

Especially artists and musicians, we often don’t have the same point of view or even the same background. Each of us will bring a lot of baggage into the meeting of the musicians and we have to build trust with each other and people need to feel free to express their ideas as a soloist without feeling told by the leader how exactly to play—we have to work it out as an ensemble. And I think that’s very true with meetings also.

Those with long memories might remember that I interviewed Chad Stephenson after he made a comparison between new jazz traditionalists and Convergent Friends at the 2009 Ben Lomond conference (I believe he wrote an expanded version for the Spirit Rising Quaker anthology but I can’t find a link).



How Quaker Meeting is Like Jazz

As a jazz musician, Colton Weatherston finds solace in silent Quaker meeting, where he doesn’t have to to…

YouTube
Categories: Blogs

I’m not the only one who digs archives

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 04/12/2018 - 12:28pm

Philadelphia Friends are so modest that blog posts on Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s website don’t even have bylines. Or maybe someone forgot to fill out a field. Either way, here’s a first-person account by an anonymous Philadelphia-area Friend in their early 60s who started reading Friends Journal archives: Some Thoughts from the 1955 Friends Journal

I selected the issue closest to my birth date and began reading. The discussion of the Korean conflict, of the arms race, of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, could all have been written today. And for a lunch-time meditation, this article, on preparing for meeting, was just the right size for reading over my soup and sandwich.

Categories: Blogs

BLESSINGS

Quaker Mystics - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 10:36pm

For uncounted generations
priest told congregation

Dominus vobiscum
God be with you

They replied

Ed cum spiritu tuo
And also with you

Marvelous blessings to share
Grant one another

What a change
if instead

We blessed
May you know that God is with you

Responded with
And may you know as well

The difference between
Uncertainty
Fear
Loneliness
Shame
Anxiety
Longing

and

Joy
Companionship
Serenity
Peace
Love
Gratitude

How to let people know
God lives
tucked warmly behind
each person’s heart

Waiting to be found

Categories: Blogs

Does this need to be said?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 6:21am

A great piece from newish Quaker blogger Josh Talbot on the personal struggle to follow the peace testimony: Not Falling Into the Fire of My Own Ire.

Losing yourself to anger is possible even with anger focused against injustice and cruelty. You can become so focused on the target of your rage. That you do not notice when you have lost sight of your goals and are only in it for the fight. Even following the Peace Testimony of Non-Violence we need to recognize when we are no longer being Non-Aggressive.

Like many convinced Friends, I came to the society through activism. I had met plenty of people who let righteous anger serve as cover for more visceral hatred. One eye-opening protest in the 90s was in a rural part of Pennsylvania. When one of the locals screamed the cliche of the era—“Go get a job!”—a protestor shouted back, “I’ve got a job and I make more than you.” It was true even as it was cruel and irrelevant and braggy.

I didn’t see this kind of behavior as much with the Friends I saw at various protests, which is largely why I started gravitating toward them whenever possible. I could see that there was something in the Quaker culture and value system that was able to navigate between righteous and personal anger and draw the line in difficult situations. I love Josh’s description of the “Craig Ferguson” method:

I ask myself. “Does this need to be said?” “Does this need to be said by me?” “Does this need to be said by me right now?” Doing this cuts down on moments of spontaneous anger.

This could also describe the Quaker discernment method for ministry. Maybe there’s something to the care we take (or at least aim for) in that process that gives us a little more self-discipline in the heat of protest or that helps us sort through thorny ethical issues that run through our own community.



Not Falling Into the Fire of My Own Ire.

The hardest of the Quaker testimonies for me to personally follow is the Peace Testimony. I’m positive that…

quakerreturns.blogspot.com
Categories: Blogs

"Between the Lies" -- a Book Review

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 1:13pm
Between the Lies is Cynthia Graham's newest book, a contemporary Southern Gothic mystery set in the 1950s.

It tells the story of how Sheriff Hick Blackburn of Cherokee Crossing, Arkansas finds himself enmeshed in a case of a young Black man being railroaded for a crime that Blackburn's pretty sure the boy didn't commit -- but is in a town outside his jurisdiction. This is set in a few hot, humid July days in 1954. And more than the weather is hot and sticky. Graham's story deals with small town corruption and racism, the power and abuse of white privilege, political expediency, Jim Crow, family loyalty, and more.  She weaves all these together into a compelling tale well told.

The landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court declaring state laws that established "separate but equal" public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional figures prominently in Between the Lies. So does the burgeoning role of the U.S. Department of Justice in the field of civil rights (though the Department of Justice did not have a full division addressing civil rights until 1957).


Primarily, though, this is the story of one man and two towns coming to grips with insidious racism and corruption engendered by it. Broken Creek, Arkansas is not Mayberry, North Carolina. And Sheriff Earl Brewster is no Sheriff Andy Taylor. Broken Creek and Brewster are both dark -- even in the light of day. Perhaps even more so in the light of day.

Graham's story-line is tight and her characters are well-written and believable. Hick is a good guy who's flawed, Brewster is a baddie who you love to hate but who has some (hard to find) redeeming motivations, there's a Pulitzer seeking small town newspaper man, befuddled mostly good-hearted deputies, an earnest young female lawyer, parents trying to do their best for their children, moonshiners, compromised clergy, and more. Each character is integral to the story. There's not a wasted bit of dialogue and the story moves at a good pace.


I won't say more about the story-line. To do so would, I fear, ruin it for readers. Let me just say that this was a book that kept me reading. Though set in 1954, it has a lot to say to us today (without being preachy -- which it could have easily become). It held my interest all the way through. There were a number of things that I didn't see coming (always good in a mystery). And the ending was a mixture of relief, wondering, and sadness.

I am looking forward to reading more about Hick Blackburn. I like this man who struggles with his past and grows into his future.
Categories: Blogs

Profiting on empire

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 6:23am

We think of slavery as issue that tore Friends apart as the consensus on its acceptability shifted in our religious society. A review of a book shows that in the U.K., gun manufacturing underwent this shift: Review: ‘Empire of Guns’ Challenges the Role of War in Industrialization

On its face, the decision by the Society of Friends to censure a flagrant arms merchant in its ranks may not seem surprising. Pacifist principles were central to Quaker ideology, as was opposition to slavery. Guns fueled not just war but the slave trade. Yet Mr. Galton’s father, and his father before him — and indeed many other Quakers who long dominated Birmingham’s arms industry — had been unapologetic gunmakers for 70 years without attracting rebuke. What had changed in the interim, in ways that are deeply interrelated, were society and the guns themselves.

Today the debate on guns in the U.S. is focused on assault weapons being used by individuals but the Galton debate is more about the role of a Quaker-produced product in war. Britain of course was an empire, an empire held together by force of weapons. Some percentage of the industrial revolution in Britain was financed by war and its products often were employed overseas in the maintenance and extension of the empire (I’m thinking for example of trains).

When I first read John Woolman I was struck by his calling slavery a product of war. I usually think of it as a human rights and dignity issue (and of course it was and Woolman was particularly sensitive to the human dimension) but it was also a type of highly organized warfare. Seeing the systemic nature of the trade as a whole let Friends better see the unacceptability of slavery—and imperial weapons manufacturing.



Review: ‘Empire of Guns’ Challenges the Role of War in Industrialization

In her new book, Professor Priya Satia aims to overturn the conventional wisdom about the role of guns…

www.nytimes.com
Categories: Blogs

Is “Christian Democracy” Possible in the U.S.?

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 9:36pm

The Guardian: “Christian democracy, a political ideology embodied by figures like Germany’s Angela Merkel, contributed to establishing stable democracies in Europe in the aftermath of the second world war. The US was often deeply supportive of this process, yet never cultivated an analogous political movement at home. Now that it is facing a serious institutional threat of its own, it can perhaps learn from what it has long preached abroad.

The role of Christian democratic parties and agents in the creation of the United Nations, the European Union and the international human rights regime was decisive.

Given how different all this is from the direction taken by the American right of late, is there any chance that something of the sort might actually take hold in the US? Far from a fanciful speculation, there is a clear constituency for a political movement founded on such premises in this country. As George W Bush’s former speechwriter Michael Gerson notes in the Atlantic’s latest cover piece: “One of the most extraordinary things about current politics … is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump.” It’s so extraordinary, in fact, that it is hard to imagine Christian voters remaining loyal to Trump if faced with a better alternative.

Well, maybe. But finding “a better alternative” won’t be easy.

Still, there’s plenty  of wisdom here. American evangelical Christianity COULD in theory move way from the current regime, which mocks almost every aspect of its core.

But I see four BIG hazards that will need to be overcome on the way to becoming a better option:

1. The Mormon hegemony. While most evangelicals supposedly condemn Mormonism as a “cult,” it has become a major power center in their political world (cf. Mitt Romney), one which is organized behind a solidly reactionary social-economic agenda, and it will not yield the floor easily.

2. Christian Zionism: a tenacious, well-funded crusade, with a wide following, firmly allied with most of the most dangerous & reactionary elements of the Israeli government, and panting for its chance to bring on Armageddon.

Christian Zionism

 3. “Christian Dominionism.” These are the cadres who firmly believe that their sort should rule like Old Testament Kings, enforcing the most brutal Old Testament strictures (i. e., death to LGBTs & others). Roy Moore is their kind of guy.

And last but hardly least—

4. Racism. Sure, racism is everywhere in American religion. But major chunks of evangelicalism  long ago abandoned its initial reformist notions and retreated into a segregated nativist ghetto, which made it the seedbed for the second rising of the Ku Klux Klan, the host for many less well-known pillars of Jim Crow, the key to the GOP’s “Southern Strategy,” and now shelter the most loyal legions of the 45 regime. A few voices are crying out in that wilderness, but they are still lonely & mostly scorned.

I’m no expert on how their European counterparts overcame their own obstacles, which were the opposite of trivial, but for two generations they’ve done well enough to produce leaders of the caliber of Angela Merkel. Yet Merkel’s hold is slipping there, and the alternatives look grim. 

Considering the state of American evangelicalism in 2018, it’s hard to imagine this movement evolving and spawning a resurgence of humane “Christian Democracy” here, or shoring up its beleaguered outposts across the Atlantic.

Germany’s Angela Merkel: the last Christian Democratic leader standing in Europe?

The post Is “Christian Democracy” Possible in the U.S.? appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

The Kingdom of God is Freedom – Why Are We So Busy and Anxious?

Micah Bales - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 5:54pm


When I first moved to Washington, DC, one of the first things I noticed was how busy everyone was. The capital of the United States is a place where people come to fight for their dreams. This city draws ambitious, well-educated, high-achieving people from all over the world.

Few other cities offer the kind of intellectual stimulation and challenge that our city does. Living here, we think fast and talk fast. We work hard to achieve a more positive and prosperous social order through business, science, and government.

But there’s a dark side to living in a land of such high expectations. Our culture leads to high performance and innovation, yes – but also to stress, workaholism, burnout, and even despair. When work becomes an all-consuming identity, all our other relationships – family, friends, hobbies, faith community – risk being diminished. Work and career success becomes the bright center of our universe, and all else must find its place in orbit.

For those of us who want to follow Jesus, this is an especially challenging dynamic. Jesus calls us to surrender our whole lives to loving God and neighbor. He commands us not to worry, and to give away what we have to those who are in need. He says, “don’t concern yourself with tomorrow, but show love to others – even your enemies – today.”

Our collective focus on career success is at odds with the life of gospel simplicity that Jesus teaches us. The unceasing treadmill of achievement threatens to overwhelm the joy and rest that Jesus offers us. The peace of Christ is swallowed up by the demands of sixty hour work weeks, networking, and an endless parade of goal-oriented tasks.

In this environment, even our faith can feel like just another task to be completed. Sunday morning worship – check. Spiritual disciplines – check. Grace before dinner – check. Prayer is yet another conference call we need to fit in before dinner.

But that’s not the gospel. The good news of Jesus is abundant life – freedom from fear, hatred, and the tyranny of busyness. As we learn to follow him, Jesus becomes the center – not another task to perform, but the unitive meaning and foundation of our lives. He liberates us from our task-oriented, success-dominated culture. He relativizes all those other demands in our lives. He reminds us that there is only one thing that is needful – his life, his presence, his love.

In Jesus we can find rest, relief from the burden of busyness. This is good news. Yet few of us are willing to walk this path, because it demands that we surrender our need to be important, be productive, be affirmed by our culture, colleagues, and bosses. It means giving up the security that this world offers in order to inherit the peace that the world cannot give.

What does this look like for you and me? How is Jesus calling us to embrace the bold and courageous spirit of the gospel in our daily lives? What would it mean to reject the culture of anxiety and overwork? How can we support one another in living as friends of Jesus, and inviting others to join us?

Related Posts: Is My Life Too Busy for Contemplation? What Does it Mean for Me To Believe In the Resurrection?

The post The Kingdom of God is Freedom – Why Are We So Busy and Anxious? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Do Friends Query?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 1:45pm

Doug Gwyn is next up on QuakerSpeak, this time answering What is a Quaker Query?

The Quaker Queries are a wonderful invention of asking ourselves some simple questions… I’ve heard it said that throughout much of our history, we were shopkeepers and business people, and we were used to doing inventory all the time. And the queries are a kind of spiritual and moral inventory that Friends do well to keep track of.

It’s become kind of easy to make fun of queries. The classic use was as questions formally asked and formally answered in Quaker meetings for business. As Gwyn says they were a form of accounting. Local congregations would go though a set list and send them to quarter meetings to sift and answer so they could in turn send it up to yearly meeting sessions. I’ve seen this process followed at Ohio Yearly Meeting. It’s fascinating if a bit tedious.

I could imagine the process being useful if for no other reason that it gave Friends a chance to pry a bit into one another’s lives. Do all the members of our community have their alcohol use under control? Are we really committed to peace in our communities?

These days a form of over-simplistic query is are written on the fly, with an implicit “or” that I don’t always find particularly helpful. “Do Friends avoid the use of styrofoam cups?” [or do you all hate the Earth?]. Used this way, queries risk becoming a list of busybody norms to followed. We congratulate ourselves for not using paper napkins at a conference we flew to.

As Doug points out, it helps to have a little humility when it comes to queries. They’re one of the more useful items in the Quaker toolbox. A good query will have something to say to each of us, no matter where we individually are in our spiritual journey.



What is a Quaker Query?

What is a Quaker query? As shopkeepers and businesspeople, Quakers developed queries as a way of taking “moral…

YouTube
Categories: Blogs

"Eva": Peace. Humanity. Forgiveness. A Film You Must See

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 8:51am
I went to a film premiere last evening. That's not something I often do. Peggy Tierney, a good friend and fellow Quaker, gave Nancy and me tickets to the premiere of "Eva," the story of a remarkable woman.

Nancy and I knew some of Eva Mozes Kor's story. We had visited her CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana where she met with us. And I'd read (and blurbed) her book Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of A Mengele Twin in Auschwitz published by my friend Peggy's Tanglewood Publishing. It's a powerful book for readers from 6th grade on through adult.

Despite this I was not prepared for the effect being at the premiere had on me.

At one level it was a very nice evening. I enjoyed seeing friends and learning more about the production of the film. And as the film progressed it was grand to see Peggy and her son Gabriel featured in the film, along with my rabbi friends Sandy and Dennis Sasso.

Peggy had told me that Gabriel's going with Eva to Auschwitz changed his life. It was good to hear him tell that story himself.  Gabriel was a natural on screen -- so composed, well-spoken, and passionate. My favorite line of his was, "Eva's a 4'9" badass!"

The Sassos both talked about how forgiveness is at the heart of Judaism (other theologians/rabbis in the film disagreed), citing the opening prayer of Yom Kippur. Sandy, though, noted that not everyone can pray it or forgive others of the sins committed against themselves. I especially appreciated her comments (as I recall them) about how criticizing others who can't forgive is not helpful or good. I certainly can understand why some of the victims feel unable to forgive. While I hope that I could, flawed as I am, I'm not certain I could.

The film, though certainly presenting Eva as a heroic figure, pulled no punches. She is portrayed not as a saint but as a real life woman who suffered horribly (her parents and two of her sisters were killed in the camp and her twin died as a result of Nazi "experiments" performed on her) and who eventually learned the power of forgiveness. The film shows Eva's life as an angry activist, pushing countries and media to search for Dr. Mengele, disrupting the "nice" Holocaust memorials (she was arrested at one in the US Capitol rotunda), and more. It tells how she came to forgive and why. The film also interviews other survivors who vehemently disapprove of her forgiveness stance. It showed Eva's work since to promote forgiveness, healing, and peace as the way this world needs to go. The film shows her moving from anger to love, all the while never forgetting what she and the others interred in those camps endured. She bears witness both to the evils and horrors of Nazi brutality and to the power of forgiveness.

This film shows how Eva models the truth of Quaker William Penn's statement, "Force may subdue, but love gains, and he that forgives first wins the laurel", the laurel, in Eva's case, being a release of the anger and bitterness that was consuming her. It is a story of triumph of the human spirit when it's empowered by reconciliation and forgiveness -- even in the face of the unforgivable.

Eva is a powerhouse -- and a scamp. She has a delightful sense of humor, speaks her mind (often without a filter), and feels she has lots of work still do (at 84). She gave remarks after the film and our Governor, Eric Holcomb, who also appears in the film presented her with a bouquet and a big hug (he's 6'6" -- so quite a contrast between the two).

This powerful film deserves a wide viewership. It will be in film festivals around the US and world and hopefully distributed to movie theaters and PBS stations (the producers and sponsor are working on distribution deals). It will be on WFYI-TV in Indianapolis on October 25.



The film's website says:
Eva Mozes Kor
At 10, she survived experiments by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. At 50, she helped launch the biggest manhunt in history.
Now 83, after decades of pain and anger, she travels the world to promote what her life journey has taught:
Peace. Humanity. Forgiveness.

Peace. Humanity. Forgiveness. Three things this world so desperately needs. Thank you, Eva.
Categories: Blogs

CONSOLATION

Quaker Mystics - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 7:15pm

Slowly
I learn to forgive myself

Human needs
overlaid with
inconsolable aches

You made this
human animal

So must bless
hungers

Acquired emotional voids
are mine to bear

and no fault of yours

Indeed, blessings

For they drove me
to despair

Where I found You

waiting

Categories: Blogs

None of us is a volunteer

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 12:55pm

Sam Barnett-Cormack is a prolific non-theist British Friend. His latest post, Doing It Ourselves, has some thoughts on community discernment that I find interesting.

Quakerism “done right” is not “do it yourself” in either sense… No task is done by one person alone; it is always the work and responsibility of the community, though we might not always clearly see the support and assistance we are given. Some would say that we are “upheld in prayer,” a term that does not speak to my experience, but we are certainly upheld by the love and nurture of our community – unless our community is failing.

Categories: Blogs

Review of Traditional Quaker Christianity

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 12:55pm

Patricia Dallmann reviews a 2004 book by Friends of Ohio Yearly Meeting, Traditional Quaker Christianity:

Though Traditional Quaker Christianity is intended to convey the tradition among Conservative Friends, it may find readers among Liberals and Evangelicals. Should another generation of Quakers come forth and undertake the restoration of “the desolations of many generations,” they could find this book a resource for building up a Quaker Christian society.

I must admit that after spending my work days reading manuscripts and my commutes reading blog posts, the enjoyment of books has gotten a bit squeezed out. This looks like a useful one to try to fit it. Friend Marty Grundy reviewed this title for Friends Journal a few years ago. After posting the link to Patricia’s post, Mackenzie reminded me that Quaker Faith and Podcast has also been going through the book in recent episodes.



Review of Traditional Quaker Christianity

As I read and re-read Traditional Quaker Christianity, I felt a spirit of humble diligence intent upon conveying the core substance…

Abiding Quaker
Categories: Blogs

Quakers shake things up

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 12:55pm

Rhonda Pfaltzgraff-Carlson is back with another reflection on light and truth and love, Why Quakers Inspire Social Change. It’s a good reminder that change also needs to come from within and that the Light is also meant for us:

If Friends can see new truth from the Light as coming in love, we will be emboldened to act on our leadings and live lives worthy of our callings. We will also be more open to conflict in our meetings and yearly meetings.

Categories: Blogs

Norval Reece interviewed on MLK Jr anniversary

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 8:10am

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Philadelphia TV station interviewed Quaker Norval Reece: Bucks County Quaker, Civil Rights Activist Reflects On Time With MLK

Reece is a proud Quaker and believes it’s his Quaker roots that sent him to Dr. King’s side. “I was raised to believe all people are equal, are born equal, created equal,” he said. Reece met King in 1967 at the old Robert Morris Hotel in Philadelphia. He spent several hours with the civil rights icon. Reece says that night he, King and a few others planned a poverty march for the following spring, but King never made it.

Norval was an activist with AFSC back in his youth, served as a Pennsylvania secretary of commerce, and became a cable television entrepreneur. He’s pretty ubiquitous in Quaker circles these days, linking the activist and entrepreneurial in interesting ways. My favorite part of the video is when they casually redisplay a picture they had blurred out near the beginning (the one in the preview) and don’t bother naming the guy walking just ahead of him.



Civil Rights Activist Norval Reece Recalls Impact Of Martin Luther King Jr.

David Spunt reports.

YouTube
Categories: Blogs

Selma, the Day before Memphis

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 04/04/2018 - 2:20am

On Wednesday April 4, many eyes will be on Memphis, Tennessee, remembering what happened there 50 years ago,

Room 306, Lorraine Motel, Memphis.

I’ll be among  those, But I’ll be doing it from Alabama, just down the street from the still blindingly all-white state capital in Montgomery. That’s where the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church still stands. There in 1955 Dr. King  began the career which ended, at least in embodied form, with a bullet fired  in Memphis.

At Dexter Street, Alabama State University will conduct a day-long program on the anniversary, and they invited me to join a panel.

The “Queen City” of the Black Belt? If so. It reigns over a crumbling domain.

My route to Montgomery is not straightforward. It takes a detour 50 miles west, to Selma. If I get this close, Selma is a place of pilgrimage for me. Regular readers should recall that I spent 1965 here, working with the civil rights campaign that resulted in the  passage of the Voting Rights Act

Andy Grace, left, & Chip Brantley (headphones).

This time, I joined up with two exceptionally knowledgeable guides, Andy Grace & Chip Brantley, scholarly journalists & filmmakers, at work on a major radio documentary, in association with NPR. They shared many new facts about the city, NC exchange for my recollections & reflections of my time there.

Wake up delicacies at Mr. Waffle. Mr. Waffle runs a respectable establishment . . .

After a very southern breakfast at “Mr. Waffle,” we headed for the first of two visits with the dead. Selma’s main cemetery is home to a new, very large, and controversial Confederate memorial complex. Besides a host of actual Confederate graves, it features a new statue honoring the memory of rebel general Nathan Bedford Forrest (also from Memphis), who tried & failed to defend Selma from a Union  force in the last days of the Civil War.

This statue was the target of vigorous protests by local black activists. They pointed out that Forrest’s war record included involvement in a wanton massacre of black Union troops at Fort  Pillow, Tennessee, and before that, he had built a fortune running the biggest slavetrading operation in his region. Then when the official war ended he was a key figure in founding the first Ku Klux Kla’s terrorist campaigns.

But the protests failed to stop the monument’s installation, and all I could do was shake my fist at his brooding brass visage. (He was unmoved.)

But I did find some consolation in one the place’s major ironies, that among its most “illustrious” rebel residents is Confederate General, reputed Alabama Klan leader, and U. S. Senator Edmund Pettus. Despite this record, Pettus has become a posthumous Civil Rights “hero,” by having his name attached to the famous nearby bridge which figured so centrally in the voting rights struggle of fifty-three years past.

Buried in irony: part of Edmund Pettus’s grave marker.

Yet in an effort to keep up with the current renaming frenzy, some local students have circulated a petition to drop Pettus from the bridge, and replace him with John Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture when voting rights marchers were attacked while attempting to cross it in March 1965. But Lewis, a large-souled fellow and now a senior congressman, has declined the nomination. I suspect Lewis enjoys a fine irony when he sees one, as he has helped organize many of the annual bridge-crossing commemorations which have cemented the Late senator’s unearned but enduring civil rights renown.

General, I think we’re stuck with you; and vice versa.

From there we drove thirty miles northwest, to a smaller burial ground near the town of Marion. In it we paid homage to the shade of Jimmie Lee Jackson. He was unarmed & trying to protect his grandfather when a state trooper shot him during an attack on a night march in February 1965; he died a few days later.

A sturdy memorial bouquet for Jimmie Lee.

Jackson’s  large and handsome headstone has been pocked and chipped by numerous bullet gouges & divots, But I took some comfort from the fact that there didn’t seem to be any new  strafing damage since my 2015 visit. (These days, one takes such bits of comfort where one finds them.)

Then it was back to Selma, to go to jail. The small city jail Is still there, on the second floor of what was City Hall then, but is police headquarters now.

In the first floor hallway there hangs a long row of framed photos of Selma’s police chiefs. One of them is in civilian clothes; that’s Wilson Baker, who insisted on being called Public Safety DIrector. It was Baker who arrested Dr. King and about 250 other voting rights marchers on February First, 1965; I was among them.

“Go on in,” said the jailer with a smirk, “you been here before, right?” Right.

We were taken to a large cell block on the third floor, but soon Dr. KIng and three others were moved to a small cell block one floor down. The sheriff picked me as one of the four.

I’ve written elsewhere of my adventures in that crowded cell, which centered on eating Dr. King’s dinner. I told Andy about this, but what  impressed us more was just the fact that 53 years later, that cell and the tiny block were visibly the same. 

Back in the hoosegow again. Briefly. Jail rules; we obeyed.

That aging did not seem to have eroded the rumbling, heavily painted, bars. But it was of a piece with large chunks of Selma’s surrounding downtown, except that many of the other buildings were much the worse for wear, and whole blocks were locked and boarded up. 

In fact downtown Selma looked like it was rapidly morphing into a ghost town.  The streets seemed bare, except for a trickle of tourists walking onto the bridge and taking pictures. It was the same elsewhere.

On Highland Avenue, about a mile north of downtown, there are some middling malls and a large WalMart. They were largely filled and busy in 2015, though the presence of more than a dozen predatory payday loan shops was worrisome.

But today these malls were mostly empty, surrounded by deserts of unfilled parking lots. The Walmart was teeming, but the decay that followed the crash of a decade ago has only spread and deepened.

Mrs. Boynton’s house, what’s left of it.

A personal symbol of this collapse still stands on Lapsley Street. It’s the long time home of Amelia Boynton,  a grande dame of the local movement, who lived to be 104.

She was my landlady.  I rented a room there. It seemed a solid middle class abode. By the time she died In 2015, there were  plans to turn it into a museum.

The sign announcing the museum plan stands forgotten on what’s left of the back porch.

But instead the house is now boarded up, abandoned and collapsing Scores of once-solid houses across the black neighborhoods are in similarly bad shape.

Taped to a desk in the police station, behind a thick plastic screen.

Overall, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that whatever gains were brought to Selma by 50-plus years of black voting rights have been all but taken away by a disintegrating economy. And this downward spiral seems likely to continue.

All of which leaves me in a somber mood as the panel in Montgomery approaches. What now remains of  the  seemingly great victory that was won in Selma? What remains of what Dr. King and others risked their lives for? What is left of what many, including Dr. King, gave their lives for?  Of what realm is Selma now the Queen CIty?

I wonder.

The post Selma, the Day before Memphis appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

What Does It Mean For Me To Believe in the Resurrection?

Micah Bales - Sun, 04/01/2018 - 7:33pm


This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 4/1/18, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Isaiah 25:6-9, Acts 10:34-43, and John 20:1-18. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And how did this world repay him? How did we respond to the love and prophetic challenge of Emmanuel, God-with-us? This dark and fallen world put Jesus to death by hanging him on a tree. Blinded by fear and violence, they crucified the Lord of glory.

The forces of death, chaos, and confusion thought that they had won. The evil spirits were laughing in delight. They had defeated truth and love once again. The rulers of this world were breathing a sigh of relief; they were finally rid of this trouble-maker, Jesus. Like so many prophets before and since, Jesus paid for his faithfulness with his life.

But we are here this morning, because we know that this was not the end of the story. Can I get an amen? I want to hear you this morning. This is our victory celebration!

The cross was not an end, but a beginning. Not a wall, but a window. Not defeat, but triumph. The kind of death that leads to new life, like a seed that falls on the ground and dies, so that it may grow into something new, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundred fold!

On the third day after Golgotha, God raised Jesus from the dead! Early that first Easter morning, Jesus appeared to Mary, the first apostle.

Mary had come to anoint Jesus’ body for burial – there hadn’t been time on Friday. She came to give Jesus’ the loving care that no one else had the courage to give. She came to care for the body of Christ.

But the body wasn’t there. The tomb was empty. Not knowing what to do, Mary ran and found Peter and another disciple. She told them what she had seen: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

The men went off running to the tomb. The leaned down inside and saw that the body was missing. And then they returned to their homes.

But Mary wasn’t ready to return home just yet. Mary was in shock. Where was the body of her lord, her teacher, her friend? She lingered outside the tomb and wept.

Through her eyes, blurry with tears, Mary Magdalene saw what the men disciples did not. As she waited, present with her grief, she witnessed the angels of God sitting in the tomb. And then, something even more amazing. Mary was waiting for Jesus, and he also was waiting for her. Just outside the tomb. In the garden. Calling her by name.

Have you heard him call you by name?

This is how Mary became the original apostle. Apostle to the apostles, to the ones who we now call the Twelve. Mary proclaimed the word of God, the light of the resurrection, to men who didn’t understand yet, didn’t believe yet, but would soon be transformed into leaders that Jesus would use to gather his church and proclaim his gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

Jesus didn’t appear to all the people, but he chose some to be eye-witnesses to the resurrection. Mary was first. Then Peter, then to the Twelve, and to others who especially needed his presence. Remember our brother Stephen, the first Christian martyr; he saw a vision of the Lord Jesus as he was being stoned to death for his faith. Brother Paul the apostle, who had been a notorious persecutor of the church; his life was transformed when met Jesus on the road to Damascus. To this very day, Jesus continues to appear to those who need him. Along with Mary, we can also say, “We have seen the Lord!”

John writes in his first epistle:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

For those of us who have seen, or heard, or tasted, smelled, touched with our hands the presence of Jesus – for those of us who have become his friends through the power of the resurrection – he has commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that Jesus is ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins in his name. The kingdom of God is within us and among us. Hallelujah!

Have you heard the voice of Jesus in your life? Have you seen with your eyes and touched with your hands? Have you experienced in your own body this Word of life, the resurrected Jesus?

Eleven Easters ago, I was in my first year of seminary at Earlham School of Religion and Bethany Theological Seminary out in Richmond, Indiana. When I had arrived the previous fall, I didn’t consider myself a Christian. I knew I liked Jesus a lot, but I wasn’t sure that I was ready to identify myself with the Christian tradition.

But by the time Easter rolled around, I had gotten to the place where I felt like I could take that step. I had begun calling myself a Christian. I got to that place after reading Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:3, where he says that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. I thought a lot about those words, “Jesus is Lord.” What did it mean to me, for Jesus to be Lord in my life?

By Easter that year, I knew that Jesus was my Lord. He was my friend, my teacher, my guide, and my example. He was master and commander of my life; where he led, I wanted to follow. I didn’t know what I believed about all the deep theological questions that great thinkers have been debating for the past two thousand years, but I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus wherever he would lead, to surrender my life to him. That was good enough for me.

That Easter, my first Easter as a Christian, I attended Sunday morning worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting. It was a really strange experience. It’s an atmosphere of celebration. Everyone is saying, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” And here I am, the new Christian in his first year of seminary, and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Of course, I knew the story of the resurrection. I was actively studying the New Testament at that time; I knew what the texts said. But reading stories is one thing. These people were talking like these things actually happened. I had been reading the resurrection story as metaphor, but these people seemed to be taking it literally!

I didn’t want to seem too sacrilegious, so I asked my questions quietly. But I did ask. “Do you really believe this? You think that Jesus really, literally, physically rose from the dead? What’s your basis for that? And if you don’t think that, isn’t it a little weird to go running around proclaiming “he is risen!”?

I can’t remember exactly what kind of answers I got in response to my questions. On the one hand, I suspect that the people I was asking wrestled with the same kind of doubts as me. When you really examine some of the stuff that we believe as Christians, it’s a little ridiculous. Bodily resurrection? Ascension into heaven? We’d never take these kinds of claims literally if any other religion made them.

And yet… And yet. Despite the doubt, in spite of the preposterous nature of the Christian faith, I didn’t walk away from that worship service disillusioned. I was intrigued. I still didn’t know if I could believe this whole story. I didn’t know if I could really accept the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. But some part of me wanted to. Even if my rational mind couldn’t readily accept it, my heart wanted to believe.

Why? What would make me want to believe in this kind of fairy tale?

Joy. In these fully-grown men and women celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, I sensed the joy of children. If you ask a young child why they love their parents, they’re not going to give you some kind of coherent philosophical answer. At best, you’re going to get something along the lines of, “because they’re my mommy and my daddy!” The love of children for parents is rooted in the established reality joy and trust.

The resurrection is like that. It’s not a set of facts to be known, but a relationship to experience. This is what Mary discovered in the pre-dawn light that first Easter morning. She was distraught; her love for Jesus was so strong, and she thought she had lost him forever. She was so upset, and the reality of the situation was so unexpected, that she didn’t even recognize Jesus when he was standing in front of her.

Then he said her name. “Mary.”

Then she knew who she was talking to. Jesus. Friend. Lord. Brother. Teacher. Her heart was filled with astonishment and joy to overflowing. “Rabbouni!” She couldn’t believe what was happening, but her heart and her spirit told her that it was the most real thing she would ever experience. Jesus is here. “I have seen the Lord.”

Like Mary, we don’t have a relationship with Jesus because we believe in the resurrection. We believe in the resurrection because of our lived experience of Jesus. The resurrection is not just a story that we tell one another once a year. It is a lived daily reality. Jesus shows up. Even when we don’t recognize him. He calls us by name.

We don’t all have to have spectacular visions of Jesus to know him. Through Jesus, all things on heaven and earth were created, and we can experience him in all things. He’s with us when the trees sway and the leaves move in the wind – because Jesus is like that. We experience the resurrection when the truth is spoken and love is shared – because Jesus is like that. We know that Jesus is alive and well and active in the world when we see people caring for one another, sacrificing for each other, even when they’ve got nothing to gain – because Jesus is like that.

We have seen the Lord. Can you say it with me? We have seen the Lord. Hallelujah.

I know that some of us probably feel just like I did eleven years ago. Let’s be honest: This whole resurrection story sounds totally insane. It defies everything we know about the way the universe works. Dead men don’t come back to life after three days. Angels don’t show up in tombs. People executed by the state don’t get the last word.

But what if our conception of how the world works is the problem? What if the resurrection – our faith that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead – reveals the way God’s universe really operates? We worship a God of impossible things, and we live in a mystery.

This world says, “money makes the world go round” – but the resurrected Jesus says, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Our culture says, “might makes right,” but Jesus says, “blessed are the peacemakers.” The world never tires of telling us that we need to be afraid, be prepared, be on guard, or we’ll get left behind. But the God of Jesus is the loving creator who has his eye on the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. In the face of fear, he has commanded us not to worry. In a world where nothing seems secure, Jesus teaches us to live in trust.

Maybe the resurrection isn’t crazy after all. Maybe it’s of one piece with everything that God is teaching us in Jesus.

The power of the resurrection is here this morning. Don’t just believe it. Live it.

We welcome you, Lord Jesus. We welcome you, Holy Spirit. We welcome you, God and Father of all. We see you.

We have seen the Lord.

Related Posts: What is the Faith that Makes Resurrection Possible? In the Ash Heap and By the River – There’s Only One Way Home

The post What Does It Mean For Me To Believe in the Resurrection? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

And when all my hopes in them and in

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 03/30/2018 - 7:30am

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. 

George Fox

Categories: Blogs

Quakers and Mental Health

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 2:58pm

Well this one hits home for me. The new QuanerSpeak talks to Oregon social worker Melody George in the topic of Quakers and Mental Health:

I really see mental diversity as a gift to a community, and that the folks that I serve and that I’ve worked with are very resilient. If they tell you their stories about how they’ve gotten through their traumatic situations and what’s helped them to keep going, faith is a huge part of that. And we have a lot to learn from their strength and resilience.

My family has had very avoidable and out-of-nowhere conflicts at two religious spaces—one a Friends meeting and the other a Presbyterian church—over easy accomodations for my son Francis. It seems like many of the dynamics that we’ve seen are not dissimilar to those that keep others out of meeting communities. Who are we willing to adapt for? Is comfort and familiarity our main goal?

Melody also wrote for Friends Journal a few years ago, Imagining a Trauma-informed Quaker Community.



Quakers and Mental Health

As a social worker, Melody George feels passionate about what she calls “mental diversity” in faith communities. Are…

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Categories: Blogs

The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 7:30am

The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers. This world is a form; our bodies are forms; and no visible acts of devotion can be without forms. But yet the less form in religion the better, since God is a Spirit; for the more mental our worship, the more adequate to the nature of God; the more silent, the more suitable to the language of a Spirit.

William Penn

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