The inside story of The Jersey Shutdown, 2017

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 07/07/2017 - 7:23am

The Chris Christie beach memes are funny of course but I talked to more than a few local residents who wondered what the state shutdown was about. The Star Ledger has gone deep and interviewed the players to find out just what happened earlier this week:

When it ended early on the fourth day, New Jersey had been treated to a remarkable political spectacle, even by Trenton standards, complete with dueling press conferences, nasty backroom shouting matches, and even propaganda posters.  Some of it played out publicly — very publicly. What didn’t is told here, the inside story of what caused — and what finally settled — the New Jersey government shutdown of 2017.

It’s especially depressing to read the kind of horse trading that was going on behind the scenes: other measures floated to end the standoff. It was a game to see which constituency the politicians might all be able to agree to screw over. I presume this is normal Trenton politics but it’s not good governing and the ramifications are felt throughout the state.

Read: The inside story of The Jersey Shutdown, 2017
Categories: Blogs

Early “photo of summer” candidate

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 07/06/2017 - 4:06pm

I written many times before that I like to find family photos that encapsulate a feeling—a time and place, a moment in our collective lives. A few weeks ago I caught this shot, which I think will be one of my favorite photos of this summer.

Technical note: this was only possible with a water resistant phone, as I would not have dared wade out into a pool with previous phones. The 3D bokeh effect is courtesy of the iPhone 7 Plus “Portrait” mode. It’s not perfect: zoom in and there’s some distortion around his left arm, both at the top where it fuzzes around the mid background of the slide and on bottom where there are artifacts in the contrast with the far background of the fence line. But I’m still pleased and amazed at how well the 3D imaging works.

Categories: Blogs

Chris Christie, meme muse

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 6:11pm

Chris Christie is always good for inspiring memes but he outdid himself this week when NJ Advanced Media staked him out and found him enjoying a empty beach on a closed state park with his family. The story behind the get is wonderful and all kudos to Andrew Mills and the team.

Here in no order and with no attribution (sorry future meme researchers) are some of my favorite re-workings. The Birdcage version made us laugh out loud so much that we knew we had to rewatch it that night.

And finally, a sand sculpture made on Island Beach State Park after the budget standoff ended and the beach reopened: 

Categories: Blogs

Hammonton 2017 Fourth of July

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 5:57pm

We didn’t see much of the Hammonton Fourth of July parade this year because once again the kids were in the bike parade portion (all except Francis, who had a bad meltdown in the morning and stayed home with mom).

The bike parade was again sponsored by Toy Market, the independent toy store in town (supplier of much of our household’s Santa delivery). They had a table full of red, white, and blue bunting that we could apply to the bikes. We all had a lot of fun.

Notes for next year: a tandem extension on a adult bike looked like fun and then 7-yo Gregory will be a good age for this (we should dig ours out from the back of the garage). Also: the parade has a dog contingent so maybe a much-calmer Francis will be able to be part of that next year (we’re due to pick up the service dog in 12 days!, eeek!!!)

Categories: Blogs

“The Sword of Peace” — 44th Season Opens Thursday

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 9:43am

“The Sword of Peace” — Now, More Than Ever

Thursday July 6 is Opening Night for the 44th season of the Snow Camp NC Historical Drama series.

The “curtain” will rise at 8 PM, for “The Sword of Peace.” This gripping outdoor drama is based on actual events related to the American Revolution, in which many Quakers were involved. Convictions of patriotism, Quaker religious devotion to peace, courage, suffering and mercy all clashed in the historic Battle of Guilford Court House in 1781. This will be its 44th season.
Then on Thursday July 13th, “Pathway to Freedom” begins its 23rd year at Snow Camp. This is the exciting saga of the Underground Railroad, when courageous black men and women risked life itself to escape slavery, aided by NC Quakers and other daring whites.
These original plays have thrilled thousands of visitors from all over America and beyond.
These shows will alternate until August 19th. The full schedule, including Wednesday & Saturday children’s shows, is below.

Here are some  photos from the recent dress rehearsal of “The Sword of Peace.” An album with more photos is here. An album of “Pathway to Freedom” will be posted soon.

Getting into costume: back to the 1770s and 1780s.

Yes, even in 1781, a lad wouldn’t want to face a revolution without his gecko.

The play opens with Business Meeting at Cane Creek Friends Meeting. It is a solemn time, especially during “outward commotions” — i.e., war. (And yes, Virginia, there really is a Cane Creek, and a Cane Creek Meeting. But they’re in North Carolina.)

Thomas Hadley, raised a Quaker at Cane Creek, commits a grave infraction — “marrying out” of meeting.

Soon Hadley, at left below, becomes a reluctant, conflicted ex-Quaker soldier with the Continental “rebel” forces.

He has been taught not to join “wars and fightings.” But he loves his new country. Is it right to kill for it?

Don’t miss these plays! Tickets can be ordered online from:

Private Hadley seeks spiritual & practical counsel from General Nathanael Greene, who George Washington said was his best war-fighting commander.

Greene was raised a Quaker, disowned when he joined the revolutionary forces & took up arms. Greene has words of wisdom for the troubled recruit.

The royal troops fire on rebels.

Fighting rages. Many fall. Soon Thomas Hadley, ex-Quaker soldier, comes to his moment of truth: will he now kill his “enemy”?

To find out, order tickets online at:

After the Battle of Guilford Court House, mourning one of the many casualties.

Area Quakers, including some from Cane Creek, tended the wounded, and helped bury the dead, of both armies.

“Wars and rumors of war.” A somber, yet quietly hopeful candlelit close for the show.

“The Sword of Peace” will have ten performances, through August 19.

An album with more photos is here.  A schedule is below.

SOP = Sword of Peace
PTF = Pathway to Freedom
ENC= Emperor’s new Clothes
B&B = Beauty & the Beast

Tickets on sale at the Box Office. Or from:




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Categories: Blogs

Four for the Fourth: Holiday Ruminations

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 11:08am

For thirty years or so, I was shielded from most July 4th festivities by attending a big Quaker Gathering which is always held the week of the holiday.

Going about our multifarious business there (as the saying goes, “We liberal Quakers don’t believe in hell — we have committees instead.”), we didn’t take much notice. Once in awhile we’d see some local fireworks, but there was no patriotic speechifying, flag-draped parades, or wreaths laid on war monuments. (Thank goodness.)

I remember one year, the college where we were assembled was perched at the brow of a ridge, overlooking several small towns scattered across the valley below.

Pressed by some kids who felt pyrotechnically-deprived, several of us gathered just before bedtime in a peripheral parking lot; from its edge  the view downhill was clear. Soon a bright dotted line rose in a curve and mushroomed into colored sparks. Then another lit up, well to the south. These were followed by others.

All were so far away that the sound didn’t carry, and the scene became like a kind of subdued and scattered northern lights display. The kids were disappointed, but I liked it. Far away, small-screen, and quiet; it felt like the right frame for our patriotic outbursts.

But this year I’m not at the big gathering; too busy at home. So right now, the radio is off, the house is quiet, and my daily online newspaper-reading was soon  derailed into several non-journalistic pathways, strewn with the debris of the day. Here are a few pieces I picked up there, for recycling . . . .

Frederick Douglass, from “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” 1852

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July.
It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day.
This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young.
Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood.
I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon.
The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny?
Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young.
Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever.
But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory.
As with rivers so with nations. . . .

The full address is here.

Resistance Poetry, by Meg:

The Picnic

‘Neath a haze of charcoal fumes
And sparkling summer sky,
They gathered round the sickbed
And ate an apple pie.

They reminisced and pondered
The speed of her decline,
Fingers crossed that better days
Were not now all behind.

Despite alarming symptoms,
To hope they held on fast.
This wasn’t her first illness.
It might not be her last.

One by one, as light grew long,
They said their fare-thee-wells,
Each willing there’d be next year,
But you can never tell.

4th of July, 2017

More Resistance Poetry.



In the Other News . . .

Inspired By Patriotic Church Service, Man To Study All Biblical Passages About America

“GRAND PRAIRIE, TX—“Truly inspired and deeply moved” by his church’s patriotic 4th of July service, and particularly his pastor’s message, titled “The Shining City Upon A Hill,” local man Jim Radcliffe announced Monday his intention to launch into a comprehensive study of every mention of the United States of America in the entire Bible.

“From God’s covenant with America in the Old Testament, all the way through to America’s ultimate victory over our enemies in Revelation—I’m going to study every single verse about God’s chosen nation,” read his announcement on Facebook. “There are a ton of them, I know. But I am committed.”

Radcliffe also announced that he hopes to complete this daunting task within one calendar year.

“By this time next year I hope to have exhaustively studied the Scriptures’ entire treatment of the United States, even if it takes several hours each day,” he said in his online missive, noting his confidence that God will bless him as he endeavors to honor the U.S., quoting Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless [America].”

[Reader advisory: the website on which this piece was found is widely suspected of publishing truth disguised as fake news.]


And finally, thanks to Scott Horton for passing along this poem, which fits my mood on this date just about every year:

 On the 4th, am reading William Stafford’s “Every War Has Two Losers,” a lovely book of writings and poems about being peace in a world desperate for war, like this poem celebrating a non-4th 4th at an un-monument “remembering the unknown good in everything”… 

At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.


The post Four for the Fourth: Holiday Ruminations appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Did God Really Ask Abraham to Sacrifice His Own Child?

Micah Bales - Mon, 07/03/2017 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 7/2/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Genesis 22:1-14 & Romans 6:12-23. 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

This is a tough passage to preach on. It’s one of the most iconic stories of the Bible – the time that Abraham and Isaac went up to that mountain, and Abraham only thought only one of them was coming back.

God told Abraham to take his son up to the mountain top. He told Abraham to take wood, and fire. He told him to kill Isaac and burn his body as an offering. This was the command of the Lord, and it’s clear that Abraham would have gone through with it.

If you google “Isaac and Abraham sacrifice” and do an image search, there’s no shortage of paintings and drawings. Renaissance art is full of paintings depicting this scene, the moment that Abraham lifted the knife to take the life of his son, only to have God intervene.

Some of this art is better than others. The best of these images focus on the drama unfolding between Abraham and his son. Isaac, laid out on the pyre. Abraham, holding the knife and gripping his son by the back of the neck. There must have been a struggle.

Our text this morning leaves a lot to the imagination. It’s not very detailed, and you can read it a lot of different ways. It’s possible to read this story and imagine Isaac as innocently confused, but obedient. His father told him to lay down on the wood, so he did. His father pulled out the knife to take his life, and Isaac accepted it. Abraham, for his part, conducted himself with simple obedience and calm. He didn’t start crying, he didn’t lose control. He didn’t shout or lay hands on Isaac. He just obeyed the command of God, and so did his son.

But I know that’s a lie. Or, at least, I hope it is. Because if that were true, if Abraham was psychologically prepared to murder his son with no displays of emotional conflict, that would make him something less than human. And Isaac – what young man, what human being accepts a violent death at the hands of a loved one without a struggle? Without horror? Without desperate cries for mercy and tears of disbelief?

There are images that present Isaac and Abraham as dutiful pawns in God’s strange chess game. In these paintings, the two of them are placid, serene, looking only to God.

I know that these images must be false. I can feel it in my bones. When I look at these peaceful depictions of this violent event, there’s no soul, no humanity. Abraham becomes a monster, and Isaac a bovine creature with no real human spark. Lost is the Abraham who argued with God over the fate of Sodom. He convinced God to spare the city for the sake of just ten righteous people. Couldn’t he be bothered to argue for the life of his own child?

And not just any child. The heir of the promise. This was the child that God had promised Abraham for decades. The miraculous boy who was born when his parents were far beyond the age of child-bearing. Isaac was the living proof of God’s faithfulness – his intention to make Abraham into a great nation, to make his offspring as numerous as the stars. Isaac was the tangible substance of God’s relationship with Abraham and Sarah.

But more important than any of this, Isaac was Abraham’s little boy. He wasn’t just a means to an end. He was a real person, a child. And Abraham loved him.

I think of my son, George. I think of what it would mean to me if I thought God was asking me to kill my son and burn his body. Forget the promise. Forget great nations and offspring as numerous as the stars. This is my son, whom I love. I’d rather die than do to George what God told Abraham to do to Isaac.

What kind of psychopath says “yes” to a request like that? But more importantly, what kind of God would ever make such a request?

And for what? To test Abraham’s faith? To be sure that he was really committed? What kind of friend would test a relationship like that, much less the most high God, creator of the universe?

There’s a long tradition of not taking this story literally. And that’s good. Because honestly, it’s just too horrifying. Who could worship a God like that?

So this morning, I want to continue in that tradition. I want to invite us to experience this story as an allegory, as a narrative that opens up a moral dimension to us that is simply not accessible through anything less than a shocking but true story.

None of this diminishes the horror of the story. What God asks of Abraham is unfathomable. But in this ancient horror, we are also given a mirror into our own spiritual condition. We can find ourselves in the experience of Abraham, and that of Isaac. We can recognize in them our own challenges, our doubts and fears. The existential dread that stalks us.

When I heard this story, I’m forced to ask myself: What does it mean to sacrifice my Isaac? Because again, for the purposes of this allegory, Isaac is not merely a beloved child. He is the instrument of God’s promise. He represents everything that Abraham understands about who God is and how he is in relationship with God. Isaac is the most fundamentally important thing in Abraham’s life. Without Isaac, Abraham has nothing to hold onto, nothing to assure him that God really cares for him and has a plan for him.

So for God to demand that Abraham sacrifice Isaac – well, it just doesn’t compute. It’s like a snake eating its own tail. How can God ask Abraham to end the very life that demonstrates their relationship? It’s as if a husband said to his wife, “if you really love me, you’ll throw away your wedding ring and move to another city.” This request doesn’t make any sense.

But the incomprehensibility of God’s request is exactly what makes it so important. When God tells Abraham to kill his son Isaac, he’s essentially asking Abraham this: “Do you trust me enough to let go of everything in this world that connects us? Do you love me more than my gifts, more than my promises, more than my presence in your life?”

That’s pretty deep. Because to be honest, most of the time, I want God for his gifts. I want him for his presence and power in my life. I want him because he helps give my life meaning and purpose, a sense of perspective beyond myself.

But that’s not what God wants. The kind of relationship that God desires with you and me doesn’t hinge on reasons or benefits, outcomes or external validation. The relationship that God is seek with you and me is one that stands beyond all incentives or proofs. It’s the relationship that Jesus demonstrated when he hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The story of Abraham and Isaac has often been taken as an analogy for Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross, in submission to God’s will. In this view, God is often seen as represented by Abraham – the sacrificer – while Jesus is represented by Isaac, the sacrificed. But this is a backwards view of things. During his struggle in Gethsemane, his torture by the religious and imperial authorities, and his death on the cross, Jesus found himself in the position of Abraham. Like Abraham, he was forced to abandon everything in this world that gave him assurance of God’s love. Jesus had to accept absolute risk.

On the cross, Jesus sacrificed the “Isaac” of his earthly ministry. He experienced terrible grief and failure. He experienced the absence of God, the loss of the promise. In that moment, all of his work was for nothing. It all ended on that nihilistic cross of suffering and shame.

In his Letter to a Young Activist, Thomas Merton writes about this journey into loss and unmooring, which is essential to the path of Christian discipleship. He speaks about how we often use our God-given work “to protect [ourselves] against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of [the] work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love.”

We’ve heard a terrible story this morning. It’s a story of a father’s love for his child – his hope, his future – being overcome by his greater desire to be in relationship with God. It’s a story of cutting loss and heartbreak. It’s a story about how each one of us must move beyond assurances and guarantees if we want to experience the full depth of relationship with God.

This is a story about Abraham seeking a truer, more authentic faith. Beyond pleading and promises. Beyond rewards. Abraham gives himself to God unconditionally – even if it means the loss of everything else, including his ideas about God.

Our scripture this morning is an invitation to self-examination. What are the ways that we have turned our faith in God into a transaction, rather than full submission? Do we love the gifts God gives us more than we love God himself? What are we being called to surrender, so that we can be more fully embraced by God?

What does it mean to be like Jesus, who let go of every guarantee, every promise – even the promise of God’s presence and protection – in order to live in the naked reality of God’s kingdom?

Related Posts: The Harvest is Plentiful – Why Are the Workers So Few? It’s Hard to Love When They’re Trying to Hurt You

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Categories: Blogs

“Cultural Appropriation” & “Pathway to Freedom”

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 07/03/2017 - 12:52am

Been hearing & reading a lot lately about “cultural appropriation” & how awful & widespread it is.
I’ve been musing about this all week, while sitting in on rehearsals for “Pathway to Freedom,” out in the woods of Alamance County NC.
Here, at the Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre, an interracial cast is preparing to perform the only ongoing play about the Underground Railroad. On July 13, “Pathway” will open its 23rd season. The cast has been working hard every day,

But by the standards I keep reading about from self-appointed foes of “cultural appropriation,” none of this should be happening: “Pathway to Freedom” was written by a white man, Mark Sumner.

Sumner was a Carolina native, who taught in segregated southern universities for twenty years, and built a successful, comfortable career as a professor, specializing in theater. He helped organize and produce outdoor dramas around North Carolina and in other states, as well as writing plays.

Mark Sumner: Dead white guy, yes. Cultural appropriator?

When Sumner was commissioned to write “Pathway” in 1992, what did he know of the lives and culture of the millions who were enslaved here for more than 200 years? What & who gave him permission to tell this story for them? By “cultural appropriation” logic, shouldn’t such exploitation be stopped, and the play shut down?

I wish I could ask Sumner his thoughts on these questions. Unfortunately, he died in late June, at 93.

But at least, we know who told him to do it: the Board of the Snow Camp Historical Drama, which was started by local whites, some of them Quakers. They’d been putting on another historical play, “The Sword of Peace,” since 1973, and thought it was time to expand.

Who authorized them? But those board members are all gone too.
What’s even more puzzling is that “Pathway,” despite all the strictures of ideology, is a darn good play. That’s not only my opinion, either. The Director, James Shields, knows about militant pride: he also performs as Frederick Douglass. Yet Shields is fiercely loyal to “Pathway”: he’s been in it for 16 years, and his teenage daughter has been part of the cast for a dozen years.

Shields explained one reason for his loyalty just last night, while setting up a crucial scene: Sumner, he told the cast, had used the scene to show the black characters as in charge of their own struggle for freedom. (Above & below) James Shields, “Pathway” Director & cast member

The whites in the story, while brave and committed, were allies, not white saviors. This was, Shields said, unusual in such stories.

How did Sumner come to do this? Another question he can’t answer. But I have two suspicions & two hints about the how, all of which are germane to the debate over culture and its “appropriation.”

The first suspicion is that, unlike far too many white people in, say, our reactionary NC legislature, Sumner in his long life got a clue or even two about the epically  brutal history of Southern slavery and segregation. While nothing in his obituaries suggested civil rights activism, he lived at close range through plenty of events that could change traditional racial attitudes, in southern whites ready for it, with eyes open and hearts not closed.

Maybe he was one of them; it did happen.

This first suspicion is strengthened by the second: that Sumner was deliberate and artistically shrewd, as shown by his intention to weave music through the play.

And not just any music but the traditional black spirituals and field songs. But more than merely a

                                                    Working on the music, with Micaela Bundy.

collection of excerpts: he worked with Ann Hunt Smith, a distinguished black music educator. 

Smith created a “sound track,” a stunning vocal suite that weaves this classic music of melancholy, stifled rage and dogged hope throughout. It’s sung by the cast, a capella, and a sign of its importance is that the cast has spent almost as much rehearsal time singing as they have speaking & acting. “Pathway’s” music director Micaela Bundy is demanding, skillful, thorough, and soulful.

Music DIrector Micaela Bundy also plays Mama Harris, a powerful black woman

This music acts both like a Greek chorus soaring over the action, and an anchor planting it firmly in a floor of battered but defiant faith (“My Lord delivered Daniel,” they almost shout at one low point, “Delivered Daniel –why not me??”)

And yes, this music should be recorded and a sound track album released; darn right

Now to the hints: the first came from another Snow Camp veteran, who had talked with Sumner when he visited the drama. Turns out that when he started, Sumner also didn’t know much about Quakers, who figure prominently in the story, as they did in the antislavery struggle here. They too were a self-consciously separatist subculture in those years (much more than now). So he went to the Quaker collection in the library of Quaker-founded Guilford College — and studied up on them.  And to judge from “Pathway,” he did a pretty good job.

The second hint is an inference from a fact: the fact is that Sumner wrote “Pathway to Freedom” when he was seventy. The inference is that this is not a youthful work. By that I mean the play reflects, besides research, and other book knowledge — an infusion of wisdom, conscious of how naive idealism can be humbled by historical ambiguity, yet emerge from the wreckage of years  in a chastened, more resolute form. “Pathway’s” climax brings a kind of catharsis, but it portends tragedy as well.

This leavening of wisdom brings me back to the matter of “cultural  appropriation.”

Certainly it is important for survivors of

Where slavery is, open violence is always close by.

oppression to find their own voices and tell their own stories.

At the same time, it’s also true that artists can use study, empathy and imagination to cross cultural gaps, and tell stories that include experiences and cultures beyond their own.

Indeed, unless a play or a story or a novel is purely internal & subjective, what else can the author do but imaginatively “appropriate” & make use of the lives and culture of others?  

Just how different — no, mysterious — other people can be, even those from our own “culture,” and those we (think we) are closest to, is a point of learning more available (tho not guaranteed) to the mature. Crossing those gaps successfully, between persons and cultures, takes modesty, study, imagination and often enough courage.

Oh, and plenty of hard work.

Moreover, such efforts often fail, for reasons ranging from racism (which is indeed plentiful) to mere lack of talent.

Yet some succeed. I think “Pathway” is a shining example of that.

Now there’s more to be said about “cultural appropriation.”  But in the face of this achievement, cries of “appropriation” by self-appointed cultural gatekeepers sound hollow, myopic, and sanctimonious.

In any case, this show will go on, beginning July 13.  I recommend all who have interest in this issue come see it and make your own judgment.

And I say “Yes” to other artists, black & white, who are moved to follow its example, undertaking to cross these gaps in plays, novels, and other art forms. Use your brains, empathy, imagination & courage. — this is a yes, even to those who fail.

Part of an earlier cast of “Pathway to Freedom.”

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Categories: Blogs

The “Pathway to Freedom” Starts Here (For Friends & Others) — on July 13

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 06/28/2017 - 1:17pm

On June 27, 2017, Mark Sumner’s friends and family buried him in a quiet North Carolina cemetery.
But tonight, in a wooded grove some miles away, Keisha Little Eagle will resurrect Sumner. And she’ll do it by running away.

Mark Sumner was 93 when he died last week in Chapel Hill NC. In his long life he did many things: became an Eagle Scout; served in the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two; studied engineering in North Dakota; taught riflery for the NRA; and was a professor at several colleges.

Mark Sumner

As an academic, he settled in at UNC at Chapel Hill. There he pursued his overriding passion for community-based local theater, and helped build a network of community-based outdoor theatres that dot the Southeast.
Along the way, he wrote plays. His first play, The Scarlet Arrow, written while still in high school won him a prize in a statewide contest. One of his last was “Pathway to Freedom,” about the Underground Railroad.

“Pathway” premiered in 1994, at the Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre in Alamance County NC. It’s now being readied for its 23rd season, beginning on  July 13.

And that’s where Keisha Little Eagle enters. In Sumner’s script she plays Effie, who, along with her husband William and two children, is enslaved by the Bradley family.

The Quaker costumes are ready, but still waiting for their cues.


The Bradleys are relatively benign masters; but as the play opens, their daughter marries a Mississippi “gentleman”, Peter Stone.

“Pathway” starts with a wedding (and these rehearsal photos are not in costume!)

Effie and the other servants are relaxing after working the busy & festive wedding party, when Dr. Bradley, the bride’s father, abruptly appears, to announce he has given Effie to Elizabeth as a wedding present: Effie and her two children will go with her to Mississippi, while Effie’s husband William must stay with the Bradleys in Carolina.

Dr. Bradley shrugs off the couple’s protest about being separated, remarking that slave unions aren’t legal.

The bad news is delivered to Essie & her husband: Mississippi!

But Effie’s horror goes deeper: She reveals that she spent her childhood on that same Mississippi plantation, and is still traumatized by memories of the Stone family’s constant cruelty to slaves there.
Once Dr. Bradley leaves, Effie tells Will she would rather die than take her children to Mississippi, and that the family’s only chance go stay together is to try to escape.

Essie, second right, tells William that she’d rather she & her children die rather than face slavery conditions in the deepest South.

They first turn for help to Preacher John, the local black patriarch, and then appeal to nearby Quakers Levi and Katy Coffin. The Coffins raise money to hire a guide named Jeter Hatfield.
Hatfield’s charge is to lead the runaways northwest, through several hundred perilous miles of thick forests, steep mountains, and cold creeks, traveling only by night. Then if they can make it across the Ohio River, freedom beckons on the other side.

Jeter Hatfield, right, makes an impressive entrance, pistol first.

Hatfield warns them it will be an arduous, treacherous journey. They’ll have to dodge armed slave hunters all the way. No pacifist Quaker, Hatfield packs two pistols and is ready to use them. But he means to bring his charges to safety as peaceably as possible. He collects the family, and some supplies, then the group slips away into the nighttime forest . . .

But here the storyline, which carries me away every time, has to pause, because it’s teetering on the edge of spoilers. Suffice to say there’s plenty of breathless excitement and wrenching personal drama yet to come in “Pathway,” before it reaches a shattering, unforgettable conclusion.

Besides, my point was that in this memorable drama, the life and spirit of Mark Sumner will rise again, stay with us for eleven nights on the Snow Camp stage, and then linger long after in vivid memory.

The path to “Pathway” at the Snow Camp Outdoor Drama.

I wish Sumner was still here, though, so I could meet and interview him.
I’d want to explore one question in particular: how did he manage to write this story of interracial cooperation, without falling into the “white rescuer” narrative pattern so typical of many such stories by white writers?
In current argot, how did he manage to get so “woke” twenty-five years ago, at the age of seventy to boot?

I think there might be a clue to an answer in something Sumner said in 2008, at a conference on outdoor historical dramas. Those which had succeeded, he said, were those performed on “hallowed ground.” I
That is, in places where the drama recalls and re-enacts persons and events of great and continuing importance to the people there– and with wider resonance for theatregoers from afar. 
Sumner specifically mentioned the Snow Camp theatre as one such location; and for me, the description fits. Quakers and their religious struggles, through wars and persecution, figure prominently in both the theatre’s plays; and Quakers have been settled in the Snow Camp area for 250 years.
Further, while slavery was not “special” to Snow Camp, it was a pillar of its white economy, and shaped the lives of generations of blacks brought in chains and kept in bondage there, as elsewhere across the South.

Levi & Katy Coffin, dogged Quaker allies in the black freedom struggle.

Plus Levi Coffin did live nearby and began his work of aiding blacks fleeing toward freedom in this region, seeding much of what became a nationwide escape support network. “Pathway” is today the only continuing public drama about what soon became the Underground Railroad.
And not least, though the forms of injustice have changed since the days, almost 180 years ago, that the play dramatizes, many of the issues that “Pathway” evokes are still very much with us. This play is historic, but it’s far from antiquated.

Beginning July 13, readers will be able to form their own sense of whether Mark’s Sumner’s creative spirit is still present in the Snow Camp ampitheatre. “Pathway to Freedom” opens then, for the 11 performances of its 23rd season. 
The show schedule is here.
Advance tickets can be purchased online at

Or Call 336-376-6948.

Group rates (for 15 or more) are attractively discounted.

[NOTE: the other Snow Camp outdoor play, “The Sword of Peace,” will be described in another post here in a few days: watch for it.]

The post The “Pathway to Freedom” Starts Here (For Friends & Others) — on July 13 appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Philadelphia YM’s Racial Turmoil Continues: Ambushed by URG

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 3:55am

No wonder issues of race in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting are in a mess.

Spring ferns at Pendle Hill, in the calm before the . . .

I’d read and interviewed and blogged about this on March 23, 2017; but it was brought home to me directly in early June.

That’s a restrained way to put it.

More plainly, I was set upon, ambushed by two persons claiming to be part of the self-styled Philadelphia “Undoing Racism Group,” or URG, as they called it for short.

It began at Pendle Hill in early June, where I was visiting their Young Adult Friends conference, as a specimen Geezer Quaker, before  moving on to the Quaker History Roundtable later in the week. It came as a request to hear some “concerns” about my March blog post; I agreed.

It turned out, though, that the two URGers, a white male and female, wanted rather more than to “express concerns” about the post. In a session that stretched to three hours, they declared it was full of racist lies, had damaged their cause, and that it and I were thereby shown to be enablers, even pillars of racist white supremacy.

To set things right, they insisted I must retract the post, publicly apologize for both the text and its headline, and as a sign of real repentance, become a booster of their agenda.

I was unable to meet their demands. For one thing, there are no lies in the post; I stand behind it. For another, URG’s repeated rebuffs in PYM came well before it appeared, as did the turmoil and division that accompanied their efforts. The post may have echoed the questions of some others, for which I am not sorry; it was hardly their source. And I am not moved to become URG’s scapegoat.

While no doubt well-intentioned, I remain doubtful about URG & their work, but won’t repeat the points here, except to note that my own labor on what many call “anti-racism” is continuing, but has developed in other directions, and outside their claimed jurisdiction.

A glimpse of my “anti-racist” work, February 2017. The photobombing was welcome, but only discovered afterward.

I soon began to sense that this acknowledged unorthodoxy might be my gravest infraction: they seemed to have little if any room for “diversity” of thought or approach; there was but one “side” to their issues, only one acceptable form of words to use about it, and dissent (diversity?) was racist treason.

Nevertheless, I suggested they write up their complaints about the post and send them to the blog’s Comment section –which already included several critical responses.

That offer still stands, but as of today has not been taken up.
This is sad, but not a surprise. They had scoffed, asserting it would be of no use, due to my unfair advantages of “power” and “privilege,” shown by the fact that the blog post had been widely read around PYM.

I challenged these terms: I have no “power” in PYM: I can’t hire or fire anyone; no projects depend on my donations; I’m not on any committees. If a blog post should be widely read there (& many are not), it may influence some readers, but this is never guaranteed.

As for “privilege,” which denotes grants of special advantages or immunities, it’s true this blog brings together forty years of study, reporting, and writing about Quakerism.

Such a body of work may be “special”; it is surely unusual. But nobody “granted” it to me, or thereby withheld it from anyone else. It was acquired one day, one page, one inquiry and experience at a time; and has been shared as widely as way opened. This work has been personally satisfying, but has neither brought wealth nor deterred sometimes loud criticism — as this confrontation, not the first, showed clearly enough. But if it has any influence, then good.

So anyway, when we parted I offered to continue the conversation the next day if they wished, before my departure.

There was no response then, and I left Pendle Hill on schedule, headed 400 miles west to convene the Quaker History Roundtable.

As I drove, the thought came that, if this was an  example of how URG dealt with adversity and critique, no wonder it had stirred opposition in PYM, and its prospects seemed cloudy. I also hoped this sad encounter was over.

It wasn’t.

I’d worked on the Roundtable project for almost two years, and now it was to happen, at the Earlham School of Religion. By June 8, all seemed ready: presenters checked in, the meeting room was in order, the opening dinner served on time. But I had butterflies.

That’s too mild: I was actually quite tense. There was trouble in the air.

When I arrived at ESR, a faculty member told me he’d had a strange call from a student, who had spoken about some upsetting talk with me, and saying she was preparing to “confront” me about it. What, he wondered, was going on?

Good grief. The young woman at Pendle Hill was the ESR student.
I filled him in on the background; he had read the blog post.

We considered possibilities: a picket line outside? I could hardly object to that; how many times had I picketed or vigiled? Hundreds.

But what if there was disruption inside, which has been happening often on college campuses (or so I have read)?

And in PYM sessions as well . . . . In that case, I figured I’d just have to wing it.

When Thursday’s dinner was finished; it was showtime for the opening session. I stacked my plate to be washed, and walked into the meeting room.

And there she was, making her move: putting flyers on all the chairs.
I picked one up. Here it is:

To its credit, the indictment was concise. A couple Friends & I collected them for recycling, but she slipped back in when our backs were turned and deposited another set.

There was nothing for it, I figured, but to go on with the program, not rising to the bait, and see what happened.

“UnFriendly Letter” flyers being distributed as the Roundtable opened.

This first panel featured two Quaker archivists, who talked avidly about some of the hot outside issues that have made their way into this field: who gets “remembered” in our collections and research? Who gets forgotten, marginalized or ignored? How do we detect our own biases and bring in the work and memory of those who have been left out?

If this sounds arcane, it was not to us. It was more like what politicians call “red meat” for a group of working historians, be they professional or amateur. As the archivists finished, I could sense lots of questions and comments straining to be voiced,

I carried the microphone and handed it first to Betsy Cazden, whose hand was raised.  Besides doing pioneering history, Betsy has also clerked a large yearly meeting and an international Friends group. One could fairly call her inclined to a “no-nonsense” approach.

She held up the flyer: “Who is doing this?” She asked, scanning the room. “There’s no name on this. That is not appropriate.”

I was standing next to Betsy, waiting to carry the mike. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Would this be the moment when my long-anticipated Roundtable blew up like a defective rocket on the launching pad?

When the URGer identified herself, Betsy admonished her again, said she would talk to her more later, then turned and asked the archivists a question.

The URGer had misjudged her audience. These were historians, who by training and inclination are devoted to evidence and solid sources as the starting points for serious discussion. But neither were included in the flyer. Asked why not, she said she did not want to help enable anyone unfamiliar with the post to read it. (To denounce it, yes, on  cue; but to read what they were to excoriate, no. Noted.)

Which reduced the flyer to no more than printed gossip — and many in this group would have known how sternly the old Disciplines disapproved of what they called such “Defamation & Detraction”, viz.:

“Friends are every where exhorted to maintain a strict watch over themselves and each other against the subtle and mischievous spirit of tale-bearing and detraction — the manifest tendency of which is to lay waste the unity of the body, by sowing the seeds of disesteem, strife, and discord among brethren and neighbours . . . .”

Betsy did speak to her later. And the URGer did not return after that first session; no more was said of this at the Roundtable.

So that was the end of that.

Well, almost. There was a brief flurry the next morning, when I came into the main building early, and found the rooms we used festooned with another similar flyer, urging unnamed persons to “Write Truth to Power . . . Even on blogs,” evidently her parting shot. By breakfast time, they were about all gone, even the ones taped in the toilet stalls of the Men’s room.

With this, the walk-on moment in the ongoing URG melodrama passed. (As campus disruptions go these days, this was pretty mild. An oldtime elder would have said of it, rightly, “Thee was favored.”)

But it could well resume on PYM’s main stage, as soon as a called meeting this weekend.

I hope that meeting goes well, and hope also that PYM Friends will take care not to let the blinkered attempts at undoing one recognized evil become a tool of yet another, that which can “lay waste the unity of the body . . . .”

It wouldn’t be the first time.

Clematis at Pendle Hill, June 2017

The post Philadelphia YM’s Racial Turmoil Continues: Ambushed by URG appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

A Loving Story: Myra and Howard

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 9:16am
Yesterday, whilst Facebooking, I was alerted to a wonderful, yet bittersweet, story. Two of my school friends (Myra and I went from first grade through high school together) from the West High School class of 1969 were featured in The Columbus Dispatch (my hometown paper).

The article tells the story of Howard Foster and Myra Clark and how racism drove them apart 45 years ago. It's a wrenching story -- but ultimately one of the power of love. It's a tale of how, as Quaker William Penn said, "Force subdues, but love gains."

Their pictures in the 1969 edition of the West High School Occident yearbook show two young
people with most of their lives ahead of them. As the article notes, parts of our time at West were rocked at times by racial violence and demonstrations. On February 24, 1969, 74 West High students were arrested for refusing to end a sit-in. They were protesting the administration's refusal to allow a public address announcement of the fourth anniversary of Malcom X's assassination.

The sit-in was in the gym. Hardly disrupting anything. But the administration called the police and had students arrested. Which sparked even more racial tension than we'd experienced before.

I thought that move was stupid then. I think it was even dumber today. And it was just sad. It is still sad.

Little did Myra and Howard probably know that this was a harbinger of their future.

What is also sad is the racism Howard faced following high school. Those experiences were the reason he broke up with Myra -- “Society wasn’t going to let us be together and she be happy. ... She’d get tired of the stares; I just thought it was unfair to her,” Howard says in the article. “Her happiness was the most important thing.”

What's most sad -- and frustrating -- about this is that in many ways the issues faced by Howard are still with us today. While some things are better, we who live in the United States have a long way to go healing our racial divide. And when I say "we" I mean the white majority. White like me. 

I've been thinking a lot about that after reading Howard and Myra's story. And how we can't ask those who are oppressed to solve the issue for us. Then, ironically, I opened my email this morning and found this poem as today's "Poem-A Day":

Hope by Ali Liebegott

always the hopeless asked to give others hope
the ones pushed up against wall after wall

when you’re done unpinning yourself
from the wall, please give hope

those who work twice as hard to seem half as good
being asked to do one more thing

we need to be seen
because things are not going well
and the crows are up to no good

About writing this poem, Liebegott says "I often think of the expression, ‘You have to work twice as hard to be viewed half as good,’ used for women and people of color. Marginalized people are often asked to be the patient educators to non-marginalized people. I think this poem wrestles with the intrinsic unfairness of that."

Yet, Howard and Myra, despite the "intrinsic unfairness of that," continue to be "patient educators" to us all. They remind me to be ever vigilant and active in working against the entrenched racism in contemporary American society. They do give hope.

Earlier in this piece, I quoted William Penn. As I read Myra and Howard's story, I was reminded by another Penn quote: "Never marry but for love; but see that thou lovest what is lovely." Myra and Howard saw what is lovely in each other in high school -- and today. May we see what they saw -- and may it call us to work for a world where love rules and "gains."

Thank you, Howard and Myra.

Categories: Blogs

The Harvest Is Plentiful – Why Are the Workers So Few?

Micah Bales - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 6/18/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Genesis 18:1-15 & Matthew 9:35-10:8. 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

This morning, I want to tell you a story about Stephen Grellet. Stephen Grellet was a French-born Quaker minister, one of the best-known Quakers of the early 1800s. He traveled extensively and preached to thousands.

One day, as he was in prayer, he felt that God was calling him to take a long journey into the American backwoods, to preach to the woodcutters. Wood cutting was an isolated profession, like working on an offshore oil rig today. And Grellet heard God’s voice speaking to him, “Go back there and preach to those lonely men.” Filled with compassion and a sense of the Spirit’s guidance, Grellet left his family to visit the backwoods.

Grellet felt drawn to a specific spot in this backcountry. It was a place he had visited before, and he felt certain that God was calling him there again. He felt a flood of peace and assurance when he arrived at the woodcutter camp. But as he looked around, he soon realized that the camp was totally devoid of human presence. It had been abandoned days ago. The woodcutters had moved into the forest and might not be back for weeks.

Grellet considered that, perhaps he was mistaken. Maybe he was at the wrong location. But a voice within him said, “no, this is exactly where you are supposed to be.” He prayed silently, asking God for guidance. The response was: “Give your message. It is not yours, but mine.”

In this abandoned encampment, there was one large wooden hut that stood out. Grellet stepped inside and made his way to the back of the structure. He turned around facing the entrance and began to preach. He preached as if the place were packed with hundreds of people. He spoke about how the love of God is the greatest thing in the world. He spoke about how sin builds a wall between human beings and God, but that this wall is thrown down in Jesus Christ. He spoke about how the love of God triumphs over all.

After preaching his message, Grellet was exhausted. He drank some water from a nearby stream, ate a bit of bread he carried in his pocket, and then began the long journey back home. He never saw any woodcutters. Yet he felt peace in his spirit. He felt certain that he had been faithful in what God had given him to do.

Years later and a continent away, Stephen Grellet is crossing London Bridge, wearing his distinctive Quaker outfit and broad-brimmed hat. All of a sudden, someone grabs him by the arm and says, “There you are! I’ve found you at last!”

Grellet is surprised, and probably a little nervous to have this gruff stranger grabbing him and making accusations. “I think you must have the wrong person, friend.”

“Absolutely not!” said the stranger. “I’ve been looking for you across the globe, and I’m not mistaken. You’re the man from the woods!”

It turns out that Stephen Grellet wasn’t entirely alone that day when he visited the woodcutters’ encampment.

The man standing before him tells him about how he returned to the empty encampment, looking for a tool he had left behind. As he was retrieving it, he heard Grellet’s voice booming from the wooden hut at the center of the camp. As Grellet spoke, the lone woodcutter watched through the cracks in the walls. And he found that the gospel message shone through the cracks in his heart.

By the time Stephen Grellet left the camp, this man’s life had been changed forever. After hearing Grellet’s message, he felt miserable, convicted of the sin that was separating him from the love of God. But eventually he got a hold of a Bible and began discovering the way of Jesus.

At first, the other woodcutters made fun of him, but the man’s faith was infectious. “It’s share and share alike in the forest,” said the former woodcutter standing in front of Grellet on London Bridge. “I told the men all about the gospel, just like you. I gave them no peace till everyone was brought home to God. Three of them went out to preach to other districts. At least a thousand have been brought home to the good shepherd by that sermon of yours which you preached to nobody.”

In our scripture reading this morning, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples to teach, heal, and preach the good news of the kingdom of God throughout the villages of Israel. As he prepares them for their journey, he says “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Who are the laborers, and what is the harvest?

Jesus and his little community of disciples were very small. They lived on the margins of society. Yet the crowds flocked to them, eager to hear the good news of the kingdom. Like a mustard seed growing into the greatest of shrubs, or a little bit of yeast causing the whole loaf to rise, God used these handful of disciples to have an astonishing impact on the world.

God’s story is one of continuing surprise. It’s a story that goes back to Abraham and Sarah, who were in their eighties and still childless. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars, but here they were, still without children at an age where child bearing wasn’t just a long shot – it was physically impossible!

But God had promised it. Multiple times. God insisted that not only would Abraham’s descendants be as numerous as the stars, but that he would make a covenant with Abraham’s son through Sarah. Sarah, who realistically hasn’t been able to bear children for several decades at this point.

One day, Abraham is sitting by the oaks of Mamre, around Hebron. He’s sitting there at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He’s probably about ready to take a nap. But then, he looks up and sees three men standing before him.

Now, for those of us reading today, it’s a little ambiguous who these men are, exactly. But as the text goes on, it seems that two of these men are angels, and the third is the Lord himself. Whatever the specifics, Abraham seems to know who has come to visit him. He immediately bows down to the ground and asks the men to accept his hospitality. They agree, and Abraham rushes back into the tent to tell Sarah to make pancakes and cook up a goat for their guests.

A little while later, the visitors are sitting under a tree, eating their food. They ask Abraham, “Where’s your wife, Sarah?” When Abraham says that she’s in the tent, one of the men says: “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.”

Now it isn’t proper in ancient near-eastern culture for Sarah to hang outside with the men, but she was very interested in this conversation. So she is hiding just behind the entrance to the tent, listening to everything that was happening. And when Sarah hears the visitor say that she will soon have a son, she laughs to herself.

And the LORD says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? Count on it. It’s going to happen just like I said. When I return, Sarah will have a son.”

Now I guess at this point, the jig is up and Sarah comes out of the tent. She says, “I didn’t laugh!” But the visitor says, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

This is one of my favorite lines of Scripture. What a weird story! And it feels so true to me, about how God is. God knows us, God understands us, even when we’d prefer he didn’t. And God accepts us, even when we can’t quite believe him. Sarah sees the whole situation as ridiculous, and she’s right. It doesn’t make any sense. But God responds by insisting, “I will make something amazing out of this ridiculous situation. And you will know that I did it, precisely because it is impossible.”

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I think back to Stephen Grellet, with his apparently pointless sermon to an empty wooden hut out in the backwoods. I remember the twelve disciples – a band of misfits, living on the margins – the last people you’d expect to change the world. I think of Abraham and Sarah, people who should have been great-grandparents but who instead are expecting an infant child.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. When I’ve read these words of Jesus before, I always thought that Jesus was complaining about the lack of laborers. But what if the shortage of laborers isn’t a bug in God’s program? What if it’s an intentional feature?

Throughout God’s story, he has always used the most unlikely people in the most ridiculous ways. He chose a barren couple to be the parents of many nations. He picked a wimpy kid to be the king of Israel. He selected a family from the backwoods of Galilee to give birth to the Messiah. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. And maybe that’s the way God likes it!

I think of Gideon’s army, which God whittled down to just 300 men. In the eyes of common sense, they had no chance at all. But through God’s power, they were able to defeat the enemy.

I think of Stephen Grellet, who listened to God, even when it was ridiculous. By preaching to an empty room, he turned a thousand lives to God.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. What does it mean for us, as a tiny congregation amidst the great city, to be faithful? How can we endure in the unlikely – even ridiculous – work that God is calling us to? What does it mean to claim the hope of Abraham and Sarah, Jesus and the disciples, Stephen Grellet and the man whose life he changed forever? What does it mean to be the few laborers, steadfast even when we can’t perceive the harvest?

As God said to the prophet Samuel, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; human beings look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Holy Spirit, speak to our hearts. Show us how to be faithful to your guidance, your mission, your love – even when we can’t help but laugh.

Related Posts: Where Was the Holy Spirit Before Jesus? How Can God Love Both Me And My Enemies?

The post The Harvest Is Plentiful – Why Are the Workers So Few? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

It’s Hard to Love When They’re Trying to Hurt You

Micah Bales - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 2:00am

Most days, I go for a run. About three miles. Lately, I’ve been choosing a route that takes me along a trail that winds through a public park in the eastern tip of the District.

This past week, my run has been a struggle. Not because of the summer heat, or tired legs. Those things I can handle. My struggle has been with people. Young people. Boys throwing rocks at me as I pass, calling me names. A little girl on the playground who cocked her hand like a gun and pointed it at me, drawing attention to my whiteness.

Yesterday my struggle came in the form of violent ambush. Teenagers lay in wait for me, attacking me with fireworks. They recorded it on a cell phone for later amusement. All I could do was run, duck, and dodge.

Today, I chose not to run along the wooded paths in the park. Instead, I ran on sidewalks and streets. The more visible the better. Throughout my workout, my eyes scanned for threats. My ears listened for footsteps behind me. My body assumed that anyone moving towards me might be a danger.

We’ve lived in this neighborhood for five years. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt targeted. I’m one of very few white people in an area that is 98% African-American. My neighborhood is home to several large low-income housing developments. I stick out like a sore thumb, and people aren’t always polite.

But this last week has been different. Three separate incidents of escalating antagonism and violence while running. But wait, there’s more. Our car was also broken into. Our lawnmower was recently stolen. Last week when I was working from home, teens came into our back yard. Casually, they destroyed one of our stepping stones.

After a week like this, it’s hard to be here. It’s hard to love the people around me. I’m having a hard time seeing my neighbors as anything but a potential threat. After a week like this, I’m tempted to move. At the very least, I could build a high fence for our backyard. Rather than risking the streets, I could get a gym membership and drive miles away to exercise.

I’m not asking for your sympathy. I’m not a victim, or a hero, or anything else. I’m just a middle class white man who would like to be on good terms with his neighbors. Or at least not face taunts, theft, and violence. That would be a good start.

This is a confession. I’ve been trying to follow Jesus for more than ten years, and I still don’t have any clue how to love those who hate me. When those kids chased me with lit Roman Candles, I didn’t have any desire to bless them. When others threw rocks at me and called me names, I didn’t feel anything resembling love. No, the honest truth – I felt hate.

I want to be a follower of Jesus, but I have no interest in being nailed to a cross like he was. Martyrdom sounds noble when you read about it in books. That’s because it’s in a book. It’s a beautiful theory – a lie we tell ourselves to justify horror.

But when Jesus died, there was no cause, no glory, no revolution. Only people who hated him for no reason. Just his decision to submit himself to the Father’s will.

I don’t have that kind of strength. What’s worse, I’m not sure I want it. I’d rather move away, or build a fence, or get that gym membership. I’d rather avoid contact with those who want to hurt me. Let the police handle them. I’d rather do what every rational human being wants to do: Protect myself and those I love.

But what would Jesus do? Surely, somehow, he would find a way to love.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Related Posts: How Can God Love Both Me And My Enemies? How Can I Love You When You’re So Wrong?

The post It’s Hard to Love When They’re Trying to Hurt You appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Feral: A Book Recommendation

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:24am
As I write this, I'm looking out my office window here at Ploughshares Farm. In 2003, most of our fifty acres was pasture or crop land. Today it is primarily tall grass prairie and native Hoosier hardwoods. With help from various foresters and conservation folks, we have -- what I just learned thanks to this week's QuakerBooks & More selection -- "rewilded" this "tamed" piece of Indiana.

Now I grew up a city boy so the idea of doing all this was, in Quaker parlance, "not a thought that would have occurred to me." Until, that is, until Nancy and I began building our home here. We began walking the land and both realized that we were called to steward it in the best sense of that word. And the best way to live up to that spiritual call was to restore -- or rewild -- it. Today we are blessed by an abundance of bunnies, butterflies, bald eagles, deer, wild turkey, and more. Hopefully the Earth is a bit better for all this work, too. I know my soul is.

So please take a look Feral (and other Earth stewardship books) at QuakerBooks & More. It will feed your spirit.Ploughshares Sunset
Categories: Blogs

Quaker History Roundtable — With Webcast!

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 9:53am

It’s Here!

The Quaker History Roundtable opens Thursday evening, June 8. Its focus is 20th Century American Quakerism, and it will continue through Sunday morning, June 11.

If you can’t join us in person, you can watch it online. It will be webcast online here.

Background on the Roundtable is at its own webpage,

The schedule is below. (Fuller descriptions are on the QHR website.)

Thursday – June 8

7:15-7:45 PM – Chuck Fager – Opening – Welcome & Overview &


8:00-9:30 PM – Gwen Erickson: History & Historiography & Friends

Mary Craudereuff: Quaker Archives & Civil Rights &
marginalized groups

Friday – June 9

Daisy Douglas Barr of Indiana: she was a Quaker pastor, renowned for her preaching, and served at several Friends churches in the Hoosier state. She was also the head of the Ku Klux Klan’s huge women’s division during the early 1920s,, in the years that the KKK largely controlled the state.

8:00-9:00 am – Breakfast – ESR – 9:25 am Welcome by Jay Marshall, Dean of ESR

9:30-11:15 am – Betsy Cazden: Friends World Committee for Consultation & Modernism: a Critique

Guy Aiken: AFSC, Neutrality & Justice

Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch – ESR

1:15-2:45 pm – Tom Hamm: U.S. Young Friends groups and their 20th century impact

Steve Angell: The Dog That didn’t Bark: The Reunification of Canadian Yearly Meetings

3:00-4:30 pm – Janet Gardner & Dick Nurse, documentarians, on their film The Quiet Revolutionaries, showing of work-in–progress, discussion

5:00-6:00 pm – Dinner – ESR

7:30-9:00 pm – Stephen McNeil: Quakers & Japanese Americans

Lonnie Valentine: Quaker Tax Resistance, 20th Century

Saturday June 10

8:00-9:00 am – Breakfast – ESR

9:30-11:15 am – Emma Lapsansky: Quakers and 20th Century Intentional Communities

Kathy Adams: Willie Frye: Controversial North Carolina Quaker Pastor & Activist [Read by Chuck Fager]

Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch – ESR

1:30-3:00 pm – Greg Hinshaw: Friends United Meeting & The Mainline

Doug Gwyn: An overview of FGC’s first 20 years

3:15-4:30 pmArchivists’ panel & Tour (Tom Hamm leading):

Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, Swarthmore College Friends Historical Library

Mary Craudereuff, Haverford Quaker Archives

Gwen Gosney Erickson, Guilford College Friends Historical Collection

Tom Hamm, Earlham College Library Quaker archives (with tour)

5:00-6:00 pm – Dinner – ESR

7:30-9:00 pm – Isaac May: Quakers, Herbert Hoover & the 1928 Election

Larry Ingle: A Quaker Elite & Whittaker Chambers

Sunday – June 11

8:00 – 9:00 am – Breakfast – ESR

9:30-11:30 amAgenda for Research & Close

Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch – ESR & departure

The post Quaker History Roundtable — With Webcast! appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Where was the Holy Spirit Before Jesus?

Micah Bales - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 6/4/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21, & 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13. 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

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Before the light. Before the day and the night. Before the teeming life in the sea and on the dry land. Before anything we could see or imagine, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

There’s a long tradition of Christian thought that imagines that the Holy Spirit was somehow not present, not a tangible reality in the world, until after the resurrection of Jesus. To be fair to all those Christian thinkers, there are some passages in Scripture that point to this idea. In chapter seven of John’s gospel account, he writes that Jesus taught his followers “about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

I’m not quite sure what John meant when he said that at that time there “was no Spirit.” But I have to be sure he didn’t mean that the Spirit didn’t yet exist. Because we know that the Spirit of God has existed since before time began. This Spirit, this breath, was what hovered over the waters at creation. It’s this breath that God breathed into Adam when he gave life to our species. This breath was present with Moses in the wilderness and with Elijah up on the high mountain when he heard the still, small voice of God.

We know from our readings this morning that the Spirit of God did not somehow come into being after the resurrection of Jesus. She’s been with us all along. But scripture does teach us that our relationship with the Spirit of God has changed over time. It hasn’t always been the same.

In the beginning, at the time of our creation, we were children of God in the garden. We stood innocent and simple-minded before God. We didn’t have the knowledge of good and evil. The presence and breath of God was always with us, walking in the garden in the cool of the day.

Back in those first days, the spirit, breath, and presence of God wasn’t something we even thought about consciously. It was just reality. To live as a human being was to be immersed in God’s presence, awake to his life.

But as we all know, things changed. We got into deep conversation with that very reasonable, very convincing snake. He told us that we could be like God.

We could be like God. It was such a perfect lie – such a characteristic lie of the Devil, wasn’t it? Because of course, we were already like God. That’s how God made us. We were created in the image of God. We were filled with every good thing. We lived in unity with our creator. We reflected his beauty and love. The only thing denied to us was separation from God.

And that’s the great irony. The serpent sold us the thing we already had: The life of the Spirit. The living presence of God, hovering over the waters of our lives. We grabbed that fruit with both hands, only to realize too late that to grasp at God – to try to control God – is an act of separation from God.

So from that time onward, our relationship with God changed. We experienced separation for the first time. Our breaths were no longer his breath. The Spirit of God became something distinct, apart, distant from us. In our shame we turned away. We made clothes to hide our nakedness, to hide ourselves from the radiance that we had once experienced as totally normal.

Many years passed. Thousands of years. So long that human beings had almost completely forgotten our original connection and unity with the Creator. We forgot that our breath used to share the same character as God’s breath. That he breathed in us and gave us life as children of God.

By the time Moses came around, the Hebrew people had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. The Hebrews had forgotten everything. Like the rest of humanity, they were spiritual amnesiacs. And this is what I think that John must have meant when he said that in the days before Jesus’ resurrection “as yet there was no Spirit.” For all practical purposes, that was true. The Hebrews, the Egyptians, all the people of the world had so thoroughly forgotten who God was, forgotten what it felt like to live in unity with the Creator, that it was as if the Spirit did not even exist.

Moses had forgotten, too. It took a dramatic intervention in the form of a burning bush to get Moses to wake up to who and whose he really was.

For a while, this kind of revelation was just limited to Moses. The Spirit of God hovered over Moses. Moses spoke to Aaron, and Aaron spoke to the people. It was always three degrees of separation. When Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God, he didn’t have to convince anyone to let him go up there alone. The people begged him to leave them behind. “Hey, Moses, why don’t you go up there and talk with God in the storm cloud? We’re just gonna stay down here and try not to get struck by lightening!”

For years, Moses was the only one to talk to God. Moses was the only one experiencing the presence of God’s Spirit.

But the Spirit wouldn’t stay constrained to being in relationship with just one man. As cool as Moses was – as stylish as his wild-man beard might have been – the Spirit was gonna hover. She was gonna keep hovering wherever she wanted to hover.

And so, as we read in our Scripture this morning from the Book of Numbers, it’s not too long before the Spirit starts to break out from her relationship with Moses and starts involving more people. Moses is tired, and God knows that no one person is meant to carry the burden of God’s message all alone. And so Moses called together seventy elders of the people and laid hands on them, so that they would receive a share of the Spirit, too. And it says the Spirit rested on them, and they prophesied.

But there were a couple of guys who missed the meeting. I guess they missed the memo or something, because they didn’t know up for the ceremony. But the Spirit didn’t seem to care at all. After all, the Spirit hovers wherever she wants to hover. So while the other sixty-eight elders were up at the tent revival, getting their Holy Spirit on, Eldad and Medad started hollering and breaking out in prophecy in the middle of the camp!

Now Joshua, Moses’ right-hand man, saw that Eldad and Medad were speaking out of turn. They were running around, exciting everyone, and drawing a lot of attention to themselves as they praised God in the Spirit. So Joshua ran back to the Tent of Meeting and told Moses: “Eldad and Medad are running around prophesying. You’ve gotta stop them!”

Moses couldn’t believe what Joshua was saying. How could it possibly be a bad thing for more people to receive the Spirit of God? “Are you jealous for my sake?” he asked Joshua. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

So throughout the Old Testament we see this pattern. Human beings try to corral God into specific times and places and rituals. We try to confine him to a tent, a temple, a holy-of-holies. We say that he can only show up in certain ways and to certain people. Can the high priest talk to God? Maybe. Can an ordinary person? No way. God is too holy to touch the sinfulness of ordinary human life. Let’s leave this one to the professionals.

But the Spirit isn’t afraid to touch the creation. Throughout the Old Testament, God chooses all sorts of people to breathe his Spirit onto. Some of them are the people you’d expect – kings and priests. Others – like Amos, Micah, and Elijah – not so much. God shows up in ways and people that are unexpected.

The prophet Joel foretold something even more spectacular. For so long, the Spirit of God had only appeared to some people, some of the time. But there was a day coming, said Joel, when God would pour out his presence on everyone. Just like in the old days, the Spirit of God would hover over the whole of the creation, leaving nobody beyond the reach of God’s love.

Today, we celebrate the day of Pentecost. As Christians, we remember one specific Pentecost more than 2,000 years ago. It was a day when the Holy Spirit came with such power and universality that the early followers of Jesus said: “This is the fulfillment of Joel’s promise. God has poured out his Spirit on everyone!”

On that day of Pentecost, after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended into the sky, all of the disciples were gathered together in one place. And the breath of God started to hover like she hadn’t hovered in a very, very long time.

It says, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

The prophecy of Joel began to be fulfilled that day, as God created the church of Jesus Christ. Through his breath of life, thousands of people were knit together into a new creation, a new community, a people who walked together with God in the garden. In the midst of this fallen world, the New Jerusalem had appeared.

As followers of Jesus today, this is a reality that we are invited into. When we gather in Jesus’ name, the Holy Spirit hovers over us. The breath of God covers us, comforts us, and leads us with boldness and power. The same Spirit that created the cosmos is at work in us, revealing a new creation that heals the ancient separation.

It’s significant that the apostle Paul speaks about the life of our community in terms of the movement of the Spirit. Our faith in Jesus is made possible by the Holy Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit, dwelling within and among us, that we are able to manifest God’s love to those around us.

This happens in many ways. There are many manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, and none of us has all of them. But each manifestation – whether it be wisdom or knowledge or faith or healing or prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues or interpretation of tongues – all manifestations of the Spirit are given to us for the common good. The Spirit is still creating – guiding and empowering us to heal the world.

We are so blessed. We live in the age of the Spirit, in a time where the Spirit of God is once again hovering over the waters. She’s hovering over our lives as we seek to follow Jesus together. She’s present in our midst as we gather here, in our homes, or in any other moment when we need to be knit together in God’s love.

It’s easy to miss it. It’s tempting to think that the Holy Spirit is only showing up in the most spectacular, high-energy moments. I’ve often doubted the Spirit’s presence when there weren’t tongues of fire and obvious miracles. But I’m reminded that throughout Scripture and throughout history that the breath of God shows up in many different ways. As a whisper, as a rushing wind, as encouragement, as sudden revelation. The breath of God blows where she will.

Let’s welcome her this morning. Holy Spirit, come.

Related Posts: Is Jesus the Only Way to God? There Will Be No Tomahawk Missiles in the Kingdom of God

The post Where was the Holy Spirit Before Jesus? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

How Can God Love Both Me And My Enemies?

Micah Bales - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 8:48am

The good news of Jesus isn’t just that Jesus loves me. Of course that’s part of it, but the rabbit hole of God’s love goes way deeper than that. The really radical gospel message is this: God loves my enemies. To be like Jesus, I have to love my enemies, too.

I often don’t let this sink in enough: the incomprehensible nature of God’s love. The message that Jesus loves me, that he loves those whom I love – that’s nothing special. Any God, any religious system is going to provide that. In any human religion, the center of the moral universe is always me and mine. But Jesus points completely beyond me. His message removes me as the center of the moral universe. God himself becomes the center.

The God that Jesus points to doesn’t belong to me. He doesn’t belong to those whom I deem good people. He’s the God of all people, all creatures, all creation. God sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike.

God loves my enemies as much as he loves me. Even when they’re hurting me. God loved the enemies of Jesus, even as they were nailing him to the cross. Jesus loved his enemies so much, he was willing to lay down his life and to suffer a shameful death.

To me, that’s still incomprehensible. I have to admit, I don’t get it. To write these words is one thing; digesting their truth is another.

What it will take for me to truly believe and embrace that God loves my enemies? Jesus died for his enemies. If I’m going to be like Jesus, I have to be willing to die for my enemies.

I must be prepared to lay down my life. Not because I have to, and not because I feel guilt. Certainly not because I feel righteous. I must be ready to give up everything out of love for those who hurt, betray, and steal from me. If I am to be like Jesus, I must love those who threaten me.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. It doesn’t just feel superhuman and supernatural, but inhuman and unnatural. Nothing in my genetic makeup encourages me to love my enemies, and to pray for those who persecute me. There’s no natural instinct to risk myself for the sake of those who hate me.

And yet that’s exactly what God calls us to do. What seems natural to us, what has become natural in this fallen world, is in fact unnatural. God created the universe good, in unity with itself and with the Creator. But we live in a broken version of the love and symbiosis that God built into the creation.

The fallenness of our present reality manifests itself in how we respond to enemies. In this broken nature, forgiveness is impossible. Violence and hate are easy. It’s hard to act on what we know is right.

I need God’s guidance to respond to this world with love. I need the Spirit’s help to be able to tell the difference between justice and vengeance. I need God’s grace to see the face of Jesus in those who disappoint me, make me uncomfortable, and threaten my life.

For me, this will mean baby steps. I want to embrace Jesus’ courage on the cross, to ask God’s forgiveness for those who want to attack and kill me. But I should probably start by forgiving those who stole my lawnmower.

I need to be faithful in small things if I want to be prepared for big challenges.

Most of all, I need others to be Christ to me. I need people in my life who forgive me when I’ve done them wrong. People who show kindness to me when I’ve intended evil to them. My salvation is linked to those who show the love of Jesus when I’m only filled with hate.

I thank God for the way that he reaches out to me through others. I’m grateful for those who shine God’s light on both the righteous and unrighteous. Even when the unrighteous person is me.

Related Posts: The Kingdom of God is Not a Meritocracy How Can I Stay Awake in an Age of Distractions?

The post How Can God Love Both Me And My Enemies? appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Reflection on Memorial Day

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 6:41am

I’d prefer to ignore Memorial Day; another militaristic effusion.

KIA = Killed In Action. MIA = Missing In Action. Memorial Day is every day on this road to Camp Lejeune, the Marine base on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina.

But it’s not so easy. My lifetime in the U.S. has been marked throughout by war, with intermittent periods of not-war between the big ones (mostly wth secret wars going on meantime). And even though I’ve been against war for most of it, that doesn’t really erase the memories, even if mine are from much physical distance from the battlefields. Or at least, the most visible ones.

Here are two collections of images from the perch at the edges of the killing fields. They embody memories fitting for the occasion.

The first is from the Iraq-Afghanistan war, seen from a highway that passes Camp Lejeune. I visited there many times while serving as Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville. Soon enough I began noticing these homemade banners, made by family members for Marines returning from combat. They were hung in public, on a fence next to NC Highway 24, which the troops passed by in the final moments before they arrived at the base gate.

The banners often hung there for weeks, til wind and weather knocked them down. To me they were an unheralded form of military folk art, testaments to the shared character of these wars, how their tentacles reached from a world away into the small, placid-looking houses behind the fence.

I began taking pictures of them, as documentation. By 2009, as my visiting subsided, I had dozens. I put them into a photo book, called “Priceless”– see it all hereBelow are a few more.

Two weeks: a brief homecoming, then back across the wide ocean and the big desert for more war.

Almost all the banners were made for enlisted men of the lower ranks.  They must have been so young. But not too young to be missed.

The one by an officer was among the very few that was overtly “warlike” (and religious):

Many more spoke of the urgency of clinging together to capture and preserve life.



“You and me against the world.”

“Now we can finally get hitched!”

But first . . .

And then, resuming the home work that comes with it . . .

And . . .

But behind the passion and good humor there hovered the ghosts. They didn’t cluster along the fence; I found them at that secular temple of our times, the local Wal-Mart.

I suggest sitting with this array for a moment. By 2009, when I concluded this project, more than 300 Marines from Camp Lejeune had been killed in that dismal decade’s combat. Figures for wounded weren’t readily available; but other reports suggested the ratio of wounded to dead was about sixteen to one. Plus we as a country, and of course these unnamed families, are still, endlessly, counting the cost of PTSD and other domestic fruits of these wars.

Local memorials took other forms besides the banners. I found this one the most poignant.

A memorial fleece blanket, “unbeatable” for the unbearable, at $39.95.

After that, I picked this one as a kind of favorite, at least as a goal. It remains now, as a tattered hope. Hung on that fence almost a decade ago, it still haunts: is Iraq really in our rear view mirror?

And speaking of being haunted, the second collection of images is about ghosts: the ghosts from another war, which the U.S. entered one hundred years ago last month.  That war was largely sold as — remember from history class? — “The War That Will End War.” 

In England, by the spring of 1917, the war had been dragging on for three years. And the government , besides heavy combat casualties, also had to contend with a vocal antiwar movement, which it took numerous steps to repress.

Among some of the most persistent resisters were young British Quakers. Historians suggest that in that war, about a third of draft age British Quaker males joined the army. But two thirds refused, and of these, more than a hundred served prison terms, in aptly named penitentiaries such as Wormwood Scrubs. They were strongly backed by London Yearly Meeting, where many young women joined their activism, along with many older Friends.

One of the older supporters was Joseph Southall, a Quaker from Birmingham.

Southall was a successful painter, but he was also a staunch pacifist. He didn’t buy the “war to end war” rubbish for a minute. In 1915, he joined with a radical Member of Parliament to produce the illustrations for a vehement antiwar pamphlet, The Ghosts of the Slain.

The booklet –see it all here– locates its message in a mythological setting (likely to evade government censorship of specific criticism of the real war)

In it, evil arms merchants, corrupt politicians and compliant church leaders combine to shove millions of young men into the abyss of war, where they kill each other off en masse

When there’s been sufficient savagery, the politicians send diplomats out to make 
“peace.” But these men in their crisply-pressed suits aren’t able to carry out their task in the usual fashion. The “ghosts of the slain” descend upon them, to demand change in what might today be called this war-system.

Further, as the compliant clergy gather for pompously pious war memorials, they face a rebellion of women, who denounce not only the preachers, but also the deity whose blessing they claim to be dispensing:

The womens’ anger is given full and eloquent play here:

In the end,  the warmakers are pushed off the world stage by the triumphant figure of ‘Democracy.”

A century later, Southall’s style might seem dated or even antique, and his faith in the triumph of “Democracy” naive. His booklet, and the resistance of the young British Quakers, did not end World War One, or prevent the many which have followed. 

Even so,  I recall their aspirations and efforts with gratitude. After all, the diagnosis in this stylized jeremiad is not so far off: the cries for holy war still resound, the “military industrial complex” of today dwarfs the “arms merchants” of Southall’s time, and politicians continue to disappoint (to put it mildly).

So I bow to Southall and the Quaker resisters, even while staggering under the weight of the fluttering, often frantic banners of more recent, and vibrant Lejeune vintage. Maybe especially so this year.



The post A Quaker Reflection on Memorial Day appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Tell the FCC: NO To Robocall Voicemails!

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 05/26/2017 - 5:29am

Sheesh. Enough is freaking enough.

Hey, FCC: Tell Robocallers to Leave My Voicemail The Heck Alone!
(If you agree, you can tell the FCC Here)

Anybody else who gets repeated cellphone robocalls and hates ’em, raise your hand . . .

I thought so. But some politicians (along with corporate telemarketer buddies) think differently. Now they want to be able to fill up the voicemail box on my cellphone (yours too) with automated robocall junk messages:

Washington Post: “The Republican National Committee (RNC) is backing a petition that would allow political campaigns and businesses to leave automated messages on your voicemail, without your phone having to ring.

Under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission, which has been asked to review ringless voicemail, the proposal would free telemarketers from restrictions that prevent them from robo-calling people’s cellphones without first getting their permission.

For the RNC, which filed comments in support of the petition to the FCC last week, regulations designed to limit straight-to-voicemail messaging would hinder free speech, and raise constitutional questions about the rights of political organizations. Supporters of so-called ringless voicemail don’t see them as robocalls or “calls” at all.

“[D]irect-to-voicemail technology permits a voice message to go directly to the intended recipient’s mobile voicemail via a server-to-server communication, without a call being made to the recipient’s telephone number and without a charge,” wrote the RNC.

And proponents argue that straight-to-voicemail messages don’t come with the same frustrating dinner-time disruptions that many associate with telemarketing calls.

But a host of consumer groups see the petition as an intrusive work-around, designed to skirt the law and the requirement to receive a consumers’ consent. “Americans are already fed up with unwanted calls to their cellphones, which have become increasingly common in recent years,” Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst for the advocacy group Consumers Union, said in a statement Thursday.

“The FCC shouldn’t make this problem even worse by weakening consumer protections and opening the door to unwanted voicemail messages from telemarketers and debt collectors.”

Roughly 2.4 billion robocalls are placed every month, according to the FCC, making them the top consumer complaint the agency receives. . . .”

[Emphasis added.]
Full article here. 

Let me repeat: Hey, FCC: Tell Robocallers to Leave My Voicemail The Heck Alone!  (If you agree, you can tell the FCC Here)

The post Tell the FCC: NO To Robocall Voicemails! appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

In Praise of "Loafing" -- and Retirement

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Thu, 05/25/2017 - 7:20am
As I read this morning's featured poem on "The Writer's Almanac," it seemed a good way to announce my upcoming retirement and time for more"loafing."

by Raymond Carver

Listen Online

I looked into the room a moment ago,
and this is what I saw —
my chair in its place by the window,
the book turned facedown on the table.
And on the sill, the cigarette
left burning in its ashtray.
Malingerer! my uncle yelled at me
so long ago. He was right.
I’ve set aside time today,
same as every day,
for doing nothing at all.

"Loafing" by Raymond Carver from All of Us. © Knopf, 1998.  (buy now)

Despite my dad's joking that I wasn't afraid of hard work -- "Brent can watch me do it all day" -- since I began working at Sears in June 1970, I've been pretty much working full time ever since. That will end on October 31 when I retire from my present position at Friends General Conference.

I have been blessed, for the most part, with worthy work, including my current position at FGC; years at United Ways in Henry, Franklin, Jennings, and Scott counties; at the Indianapolis Center for Congregations; pastoring at Jericho Friends, Friends Memorial, and 1st United Methodist in Hillsboro, Ohio; teaching at Earlham School of Religion; being on Central Ohio Young Life staff, and much more (a truly itinerant -- or easily bored, perhaps -- minister).

But over the past year it's become clear to me that it's now time to step away from full-time employment. Time to putz around the farm, spend time with my family and friends, pray with my camera, write a bit more, read a lot more, and to "set aside time today,/ same as every day,/ for doing nothing at all." And to explore what God has in store for this next chapter in my life -- maybe leading writing, photography, or other spiritual retreats here at the farm. Or maybe "doing nothing at all." Whichever, whatever -- received in gratitude.
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