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Communicating Quaker experience to connect and deepen spiritual lives
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Writing Opp: Humor in Religion (due Jan 7)

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 8:51am

Fast Facts:

We Quakers have a reputation for being a rather dour bunch. Frivolous entertainment and games of chance kept our spiritual forebears out of the rowdier spaces of public life. Jokes have been made at our expense, but we’re not well known for our improv comedy chops.

There’s a whole genre of early twentieth-century music with Quaker themes, like the immortal “All the Quakers are shoulder shakers (Down in Quaker town).” There’s the classic line from Woody Allen’s Sleeper: “I’m not the heroic type. I was beaten up by Quakers.” More worrisome, every time some sort of terror attack goes out on Twitter these days, Islamophobic wits will rush to reply that it must be the work of radical Quakers.

How can we use humor to come closer to God and our fellow humans? What role does humor have in our worldly outreach? What kind of humor would Quaker humor be if we were more humorous? Dry? Sarcastic? Awkward? Silly? You can even get mildly serious and write about the theology of Quaker humor past and present or explore why others like to use us as their punchline. As you’ll see from our issue title, we’ve even given ourselves a bit of a wider scope, calling it “Humor in Religion” in case it helps to look at a wider spectrum of spiritual funniness.

Also, and this is perhaps the most important thing we might learn from this issue: are there any legitimately funny Quaker jokes out there? The top Google result for “Quaker Jokes” has a page with a knock-knock joke whose punchline goes “Quaker / Quaker who? / Quaker Oats!” The second result is a Quora page that has a humdinger about a Catholic, a Jew, and a clearness committee. Really?


Submit a piece for our issue: Humor in Religion Learn more general information at There you will also find our newly updated list of upcoming issue themes through 2020.

The post Writing Opp: Humor in Religion (due Jan 7) appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Our Annual Books Issue!

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 3:00am

The post Our Annual Books Issue! appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

November 2018 Full Issue Access

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 2:00am
Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below). Features: To Imagine Change through Many Voices by Detmer Kremer, The Light Will Rip You Up by Caroline Morris, Genesis by John A. Minahan, and Jesse Stuart’s The Thread That Runs So True by Robert Stephen Dicken. Poetry: Communion
Categories: Articles & News

The Book You’re Looking For

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:35am
Among Friends

Thirty‐five years ago this fall, Friends Journal began devoting a November issue to book reviews. As a print magazine it was a natural assumption that our readers might also be book lovers. But books and magazines have long had a fluid relationship in Quaker circles. Words can grow in size and nuance as an idea or ministry takes root: A _Friends Journal _feature article might become an expanded pamphlet on its way to gaining the gravitas of a book. Twenty‐first‐century authors might begin that creative process as a blog post, and as likely as not, the final book will be self‐published and print-on-demand. As the mechanics and economics of print keep shifting, we keep adapting. The ministry of the written word continues.

This November’s issue continues our model of an expanded book review section accompanied by a few choice features. Our theme this year is “Books That Have Changed Us.”

Have you ever found a worn, used book on a bookstore or library shelf that changed your life? Author Caroline Morris had that experience when she opened the pages of a Simone Weil book in a Singapore bookshop. “I opened it, read one line, and nearly fainted. I had found the book I was looking for.”

Robert Stephen Dicken’s special book came to him in middle school, and his initial response was to pan it. But over time he began to appreciate Jesse Stuart’s The Thread That Runs So True. He started mimicking its style in his school reports, and then, unexpectedly, it foreshadowed his unlikely career in teaching. Most sweetly, it brought him in touch with his Kentucky-born-and-raised parents and grandparents and helped him appreciate his transplanted roots.

Going even further back is John A. Minahan, starting at a beginning with the Book of Genesis. He follows his own story to see how classic images from the Old Testament show up in the achievements of modern history, from Martin Luther King Jr. to the first images of an earthrise from the 1968 lunar orbiter.

I myself can point to certain Quaker books that came into my hands at just the right moments. And of course there are also plenty of non-Quaker books that have shaped me over the years. Would I be the same mix of spiritual and impertinent without the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Dorothy Day, Arundhati Roy, Milan Kundera, Somerset Maugham, and Zora Neale Hurston? We are complex spiritual creatures. Books can make long-gone or geographically or culturally distant figures into friends and mentors.

Detmer Kremer uses books to transport himself into other cultures. He starts his article with a very precise number: 47. That is the number of books sitting beside his bed waiting to be read. He only shares five titles with us, but they’re fabulously different, and I found myself adding each one to my to-read list.

This month’s expanded books section has many more points of entry to other lives. Most of the 16 titles are by Quakers—cultural histories, personal histories, inspiring stories. You might want to make yourself a warm pot of tea and curl up in your favorite chair, as there’s some particularly good reading in this issue. Enjoy, and write back to tell us how books have changed your life.


The post The Book You’re Looking For appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

To Imagine Change through Many Voices

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:30am

There are exactly 47 unread books beside my bed, ranging from slim poetry collections to thick historical accounts of countries I have never visited. These unread stories are surrounded by an audience of books I have read. All these books have found their way to my literary—and literally—overflowing room by ways of purchases, gifts, finds, and exchanges. Often in moments of reflection, I will sit in front of these hardcovers and paperbacks and recall their stories, ponder their characters, and analyze their lessons. I open with this image of a surfeit of books because that was the first thing I could think of when seeing the Friends Journal prompt regarding books that have changed us, and it is the same response I give whenever someone asks what my favorite book is: how am I ever going to be able to choose only one?

To me, reading is a deeply spiritual act. The wide range of stories, fictitious or not, embody the Quaker principle of seeing that of Spirit in every person. Through the pages, you unpack the truths and realities of those whom you do not know, or you believe you know so well. It becomes again hard to think of a single text, as the accumulation of all of the stories that have helped me understand the infinite possibility of the Divine. The multiplicity of texts has always automatically translated into the multiplicity of our shared and sacred humanity. This is why, especially if I am feeling restless or undirected, I will bring a book to worship and feel myself fall ever deeper into the story and, thus for me, God.

As with relationships, certain books do come to mind more strongly than others. This does not devalue the impact other books have had on me, nor the impact these texts may have had on others, but rather it frames my personal experience. It shows who I am. This is why I believe it is important to step out of the vague and provide some titles that have pushed my thinking further: books that have helped me understand my privileged and marginalized identities, and how those coexist; books that have sheltered me in times of need; and books that have thrown me into the deep end, and confronted what needed to be confronted. Another part of that puzzle has been to choose books from beyond my culture. Growing up in the Netherlands and attending college in the United States, I have read so much that narrates the experiences of my cultural communities, written by people who look like me. Currently, I am challenging myself to go beyond that, and I encourage fellow white people to read the voices we might not have heard before. To people of color, I am not going to tell you what to read, because you don’t need me to, but I am an avid reader and hope you will find something that sparks your interest in the following recommendations.

Curiosity requires care and kindness. Knowledge production requires community input.

In The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, we are introduced to a fictional scientist who travels with anthropologists to an equally fictional Pacific island where he encounters an indigenous people who have somehow found a way to live forever by eating a particular type of turtle. The side effect, however, is that the body stays young, while the mind does not. Without giving too much away, the scientist’s publications paired with an absurd adoption spree of many of the island’s children have catastrophic consequences for everyone and every place involved. The book changed me as it forced me to rethink the actions we undertake that are based in curiosity. To want to learn is something we readily praise, but how we learn can impact people in ways we cannot even begin to imagine.

Curiosity requires care and kindness. Knowledge production requires community input. The book also ponders how we build families, and, as a queer person with a wish for children, I imagine that cross-cultural adoption is how my family will be built. The novel shows the necessity for cultural sensitivity in child-raising practices, particularly for indigenous children when they belong to a different culture than they find themselves in. It also brings attention to important questions regarding the ethics of such international families.


Families carry their own complicated histories, and I have had moments of struggle with mine. Many families come with grief, and through The White Book by Han Kang and Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, I was able to witness two forms of grief and mourning, and learn more about myself and my family in the process. Kang shares the journey of coping with the death of her older sister, who passed two hours after she was born. Kang struggles with the idea of having taken her sister’s place, of unjustly filling a space originally belonging to someone else. Through an engagement with white objects, she unpacks and reconciles this feeling. This work highlights the interconnectivity of who we are as a family and as a human community throughout and after our lives. Meanwhile, Ward shares the stories of different family members and friends who were murdered at the hands of an anti-black colonial system. She creates space for recognizing and humanizing the African American suffering that is too often plastered on the media without understanding the communities that are hurt. The book pushed me to challenge my own complicity in these systems and to center the humanity of those that suffer from the injustices I benefit from. By narrating the moving through and healing from unjust loss, Ward teaches us that only by being with one another in community and solidarity can we survive and steer toward a better world. Both texts helped me understand the definition of family and community, of loss and reconciliation.

They have helped me see the complex constellation of inequity in which I myself am complicit. Of equal importance, they also celebrate and emphasize through our shared humanity the tangible possibilities for change.

The final few books I want to share are all ones that have helped me understand my place in the world, how that world came to be, and how different peoples around the world experience it. These books have made tangible the webs of connections among us all. They have radically changed my mind and illuminated things that were in shadow. Black Stone by the ni-Vanuatu poet and activist Grace Mera Molisa illustrates the intersectionality of gender and race in a framework of colonialism and resistance. Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, edited by Joanne Barker, is a powerful collection of academic writing showing how oppression is coded in the many different institutions and histories that make up much of our world, and liberation requires profound reimagination of all of our systems, including those that might appear to be granting freedom, such as marriage equality. The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz is one of the most important novels I have ever read, and transplants the warnings of writers like Orwell and Bradbury to an international, contemporary, and intersectional space. Abdel Aziz confronts topics such as gender, privacy, and technological and governmental authoritarianism with the most wonderful and absurdist twists. These three books, all written in very different styles and often placed in very different categories, have changed my life. They have helped me see the complex constellation of inequity in which I myself am complicit. Of equal importance, they also celebrate and emphasize through our shared humanity the tangible possibilities for change.


For me, that is what a good book ought to do: to show you what you did not yet know before; to affirm what you may have seen; to show you why things came to be; and to open up a window to a different world, waiting patiently inside all of us. This is why it has been impossible to think of only a single book that has changed me, for so many voices, each with that of God, have changed and will continue to change me. I selected the ones that I have, as I can recall the specific and continued ways these books are molding me. They are also all written by women of color from across the world, and I chose them to do my small part to amplify the voices I never heard growing up as a white person in a predominately white society and education system. As the universe changes, and we as Friends want to bend its arc toward justice slightly faster, I am reminded of consensus. The only way to reach this is through listening to all voices, and I believe through books we can start paying more attention and work toward more inclusive and sustainable change. We can create more seats at the table and maybe reimagine the table altogether.

And of course, if you do decide to purchase any or all of these texts, make sure to support your local independent bookstore in that process.


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Categories: Articles & News

The Light Will Rip You Up

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:25am
Navigating Anorexia with Simone Weil


“[The Light] will rip you up, and lay you open.” —Margaret Fell, 1656

This is the Light I know: one that rips and exposes. In order to fully recover, I needed to change my center. I needed to reread the Light.

I have found that this is not uncommon. Catherine Garrett interviewed a number of recovered and recovering anorexics, and many of her interviewees reported that their recovery was dependent upon the “spiritual discourses available to them.”

I knew I needed a new reading—new texts, new thoughts, new opportunities for Light—so I dug until I found one, and then I kept digging. I have never been more obsessed with anything.

In the midst of this, by chance, I found Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil at a bookstore in Singapore. I spent hours looking through the store’s philosophy section, knowing I would never find a similar selection in Jakarta, where I would be teaching for a year and a half longer. And, suddenly, there she was. I had read Waiting for God my senior year of college, had even written a paper on it, but I had never heard of Gravity and Grace. I opened it, read one line, and nearly fainted. I had found the book I was looking for.

I carried Gravity and Grace with me everywhere, all over Jakarta. I read it and reread it. I wrote down my searing thoughts onto scraps of paper. I wrote to Simone—we were on a first name basis—and spoke aloud to her in my room. I felt connected to her. Her writing both challenged and fed my pre-recovery paradigm: I recovered because of her and also, I have realized, in spite of her.

“She’s always one step ahead of me,” I wrote to myself, and she was. It was terrifying to read her confirmations of the conclusions I had made on my own. Of course, I never really come to anything on my own. Just as there is no text itself, according to Stanley Fish, there is probably no thought itself.

Nothing is easier than misunderstanding the Light. You only have a moment—once that moment passes, all you have is memory, which you put words to, fallible words that, in time, point to something else entirely.

When I found Simone, I was operating under the assumption that God had broken me, and that I was supposed to love “Him” for that. I wasn’t consciously adhering to any Christian teaching, nor had I read that in a book. I had received it another way. That is what I mean when I say I needed to reread the Light: I know I saw something, and that Light had dropped down, as it does, but I think I must have misunderstood it. Nothing is easier than misunderstanding the Light. You only have a moment—once that moment passes, all you have is memory, which you put words to, fallible words that, in time, point to something else entirely.

I did not believe that suffering makes us better, but I did suspect that my suffering was meant to, eventually, make me better. Simone took this reading, and in Gravity and Grace, she stripped it of all consolation:

If I thought that God sent me his suffering as an act of his will and for my good, I should think that I was something, and I should miss the chief use of suffering which is to teach me that I am nothing.

I was to remain unconsoled—to not only refrain from seeking consolation but to also put every effort into avoiding it. I loved this teaching. When this is done successfully, she writes, “Ineffable consolation then comes down.”

Over time, as I read, I came to see what I called “seeming contradictions.” I recorded them in a Word document on my computer, and I referred to them thusly because I respected her and trusted the Light she saw: that is, I knew she was my spiritual and intellectual superior. I began my questions and accusations with a preface:

I say seeming contradictions because I haven’t written about this in depth yet, and because I trust that the roots of her thought are deeper than I can fathom, that the signified she saw is as bright and chaotic and Real as any other signified, and that I’m only having trouble finding it.

It wasn’t her thoughts and ideas that I took issue with, not exactly. It was her lack of self-love, the banality and familiarity of it. Everyone and everything was to be loved by God—except her. I reveled in her unspoken permission to continue to believe the same, and I ignored the contradiction in her at first because I was not yet interested in questioning it in myself. I thought I could recover anyway, but I couldn’t.


Simone Weil was young and brilliant, the finest mind I have ever read. But ultimately, her asceticism, her denial of all comfort and consolation and pleasure, was unhelpful to me as I pursued recovery from anorexia. I needed something entirely different: permission to satisfy my hunger; to seek pleasure and consolation; and to love myself as a messy, embodied being. I needed to reconnect, and some of these ideas she offered me, ideas that I loved, were isolating me further, maintaining the distance between my mind and my body, my mind and everything else.

I am fairly certain that it wasn’t just her thought that drew me to her. It was her story, her relationship with hunger that I know I have no right to read too much into, and especially, her early death. I was also dying, too young. I remember waking up violently one night, with chest pain that was worse than usual, and writing to myself: “I wonder if [Simone] knew. At first it was frightening because it seemed so sudden, her death. But I wonder if she knew. I wonder if you know.” I thought of her nearly every time I thought I was dying.

I still credit her with my survival, even though I stopped reading. I think the most important thing Simone taught me was how to labor in the void—or how to keep laboring. Though I was clumsily reconstructed at the time, I was also still deconstructing: “Trauma of the Real everywhere I turn.” My worldview was unraveling, the Light that sparked my recovery dimming. Because I experienced the start of my recovery from anorexia as divine intervention, the rest of it was necessarily spiritual. Letting go of the reading that led to my salvation seemed impossible, so I tried to negotiate meaning, to find a way to make sense of it within the context of my ever-changing paradigm.

As I obsessed over Gravity and Grace, and as I recovered from anorexia on my own in Jakarta, I learned how to function without a center, without emotional or intellectual consolation. It was the first time that I did not feel a need for a secure base. I did not need anything at all. I was floating in an endless, terrifying void, alone, but I never gave into it. I labored on. Simone taught me how to survive when none of my other tools were working and none of my centers held. I let go, and I saw that the void itself could hold me together. Or, “ineffable consolation” came down.

The post The Light Will Rip You Up appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Genesis: Outer Space and Inner Light

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:20am

© rolffimages

If you were sending humanity its first message from another world, what would that message be?

Christmas Eve, 1968: My family’s TV was an old black-and-white set, but that didn’t matter since the live images onscreen were all shades of gray. At that very moment, a camera on a faraway spaceship was pointed out the window at the surface of the Moon, scrolling by mere miles below. Static-laden voices spoke of the universe as formless and void, exactly like what we were seeing. Then came the part about letting there be light and seeing that the earth was good. “God bless all of you,” one of the astronauts concluded, “all of you on the good earth.” I was never the same.

Though only 12, I had begun to get interested in big issues. This was thanks to a great teacher, whom I will call Mrs. B. She loved every kid in her classroom, which was why she insisted we do our best. Every week Mrs. B required us to bring in a newspaper article so that we could have a well-informed conversation about current events. Forgetting to bring your article—though this would displease Mrs. B—didn’t excuse you from knowing what was making headlines. And what headlines! I was following Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, not only because they were so honest about what was wrong with America, but also because they made us believe we could right those wrongs together. I cried for each of them when they were murdered, and cried more when the wrongs kept coming: city streets on fire; “the establishment” and “those damned hippies” facing-off; Soviets tanks in Prague; and drug abuse, crime, and poverty everywhere you looked. Heck, even the Beatles had gotten scary. Maybe worst of all, people just a little older than I was were being sent to a faraway place called Vietnam and coming back shattered if they came back at all.

But the space program lifted up my heart. Like so many kids in this age of the New Frontier, I wanted to be an astronaut. I was thrilled that we were close to landing on the Moon but a little sad too. Couldn’t they slow down just a bit until I was old enough to join them? Alas, no. But before a crew could land on the Moon, another crew had to prove it was possible to travel there to begin with. And that happened when the astronauts locked into lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. Now they were speaking on live TV. Surely some verbal trumpet blast was in order, some savoring of national will or technological triumph. But instead, the moment became something else.

A moral and existential vision took hold of me in that moment and has never let go. Though I couldn’t have articulated it as such then, it was a realization of original goodness.

A few months earlier, on the day before he died, a discouraged but determined Martin Luther King Jr. had alluded to the book of Deuteronomy. Like Moses at the end of his life, King had been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land. “I might not get there with you,” he said, “but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” Less than 24 hours later, his words had the resonance of prophecy. That night, Robert Kennedy pleaded with a largely African American crowd in Indianapolis to rise above their anger, righteous though it was, and focus on the compassion and understanding that King would have wanted. He quoted Aeschylus about the kind of suffering that is the most heartbreaking because it brings wisdom against our will. As King had done, Kennedy tried to make sense of uniquely modern concerns by reaching out to some of our oldest stories and ideas. This not only articulated an otherwise inexpressible pain; it also reminded us that we were, for all our troubles, neither alone nor adrift.

Now the astronauts had used that same rhetorical strategy but on a planetary and even interplanetary scale. Speaking the words of Genesis, they sent a message of healing to a wounded world; they expressed a certain cosmic humility about our place in the universe; and, most of all, they shared goodwill, jaw-dropping in its simplicity, with “all of you on the good earth.” A moral and existential vision took hold of me in that moment and has never let go. Though I couldn’t have articulated it as such then, it was a realization of original goodness. The astronauts were only seeing what the wisest among us have always seen. When you view the world as a whole this way, you’re seeing, well, everything: every event, every person, every emotion, every idea is right there before you. And it’s all very good.

The idea of original goodness is among the most countercultural ideas ever proposed. That’s not surprising since Genesis began as a countercultural text. As I grew up and got to know Genesis a little better, first as a theology major in college and later as a literature teacher, I was always struck by what a profoundly human document it is. The outlines of the Hebrew Bible were largely sketched during a time of exile. For about 500 years beforehand, the Israelites had been vying to become yet one more power player on the world stage. Those centuries had been disastrous, culminating in the loss of their country. Now, “by the waters of Babylon,” they sat down and wept, afraid that they would soon vanish from history. So they set out to tell their story before they were forgotten. And what had that story shown? That empires rise and fall; that power is self-consuming; and therefore, there must be some other purpose for human life. But what? To answer that question, you have to go back to the beginning.

Creation stories serve two purposes: they show us how we started, and they remind us of our core values. This is how life looks before you take it out of the box and start using it. The authors of Genesis, in advancing the radical idea of original goodness, put forth an even more radical idea: life does have meaning. Everything that exists is the result of goodness on an infinite scale. Every life matters and human life is “very good.” This, in turn, means that time is linear because each life is unrepeatable, and that we are mortal, because each life has its own beginning, middle, and end. The price we pay for meaningfulness is that there is no going back; the gate to the garden is blocked by an angel with a flaming sword. But meaningfulness is itself the ever-present possibility of experiencing, each in our own imperfect way, that original goodness.

Genesis works out these insights fitfully. Like us, its characters are flawed. So is the text, which shows signs of many hands stitching it together from many sources. Details contradict each other (one Abimelech or two?), insertions come out of nowhere (“giants in the earth”?), and some moments just plain induce whiplash (Wait, what, Cain’s wife?). But, as is the case in our own lives, the truths of Genesis often emerge out of the broken places. For example, the story read by the astronauts is just one account of creation in Genesis. The other is the tale of Adam and Eve. These two accounts don’t quite agree—which may be the point. The Seven Days story, with its soaring poetry about a Being that creates not by power but by thought and word, shows us how the universe should be; the Adam and Eve story, with its muscular prose about loneliness and desire and the serpent that comes with the garden, shows us how the universe is. The rest of Genesis depicts people trying to move the latter closer to the former, often failing but never quitting. All their sorrows and joys follow from the “curses” placed on Adam and Eve, which feel to me less like the consequences of original sin—whatever that is—and more like a clear-eyed depiction of human reality: just staying alive can be hard work; parenthood can break your heart because your job is to ensure your kid won’t need you someday; human relationships are fraught with inequalities; and we know our time is limited. How therefore should we live?

As a young man, Jacob dreamed of a ladder between heaven and earth with angels ascending and descending. Now his dream comes true. In bestowing a love worthy of the angels, we too, if only for a moment, can connect heaven and earth.

When people ask me if I believe in God, I usually say no—not that I’m an atheist. Rather, the question usually proceeds from a conceptual model of God as a being like other beings (albeit infinitely stronger and smarter) with whom you can therefore have a personal relationship, to whom you can pray, from whom you can expect certain favors if you pray or live the right way, etc. So, no. Yes, however, to what Genesis articulates to me: there is a Reality so extensive, so beautiful, and so mysterious that the more we try to name it, the more its nature eludes us. But it need not elude us utterly. We can make this Reality palpable in our lives when our thoughts and actions follow from a belief in original goodness.

Consider Hagar, the slave who bears a son for Abraham. The world in which Genesis was written didn’t have a problem with Hagar’s reproductive system not belonging to her. If we lived in that world, we would perceive her thus: she’s a woman, so a second-rate human; she’s an Egyptian, so an ancestor of the people who enslaved our ancestors; she’s a slave, so really not human at all—and an uppity slave at that. The text all but forces us to dismiss her, which Abraham does when he has a son with his wife: sending Hagar and her child out into the desert to die. She is saved when a spring of water comes bubbling up from the sand. This happens only after the narrative shows us, in painfully vivid detail, what’s going through Hagar’s mind: the anguish any mother would feel who is forced to watch her son die. Not until you and I see this woman/Egyptian/uppity slave as a human being is she saved. No, we didn’t cause the spring to rise up, but the effect is the same: we revolutionized our consciousness so that we could rejoice in her survival.

Or think of Jacob on his deathbed. A lifetime before that, Jacob had stolen his father’s blessing from his older brother, in another deathbed scene that this one mirrors. And Jacob’s children have all similarly acted out of their very human fear that there’s just not enough goodness to go around. In some respects, this fear has been present almost from the start of time itself: God looked with favor on Abel but not on Cain; see how that turned out? And now, generation upon generation later, we have a very old Jacob, who has lived a life filled with accomplishment but also with struggle and suffering, with despair and deceit. Jacob’s brother Esau—whom the text once made us see (and smell) as a big dumb, hairy lunk (“Gimme some of that red stuff!”) before showing us that even he could have a broken heart (“Bless me, too, father!”)—had forgiven that deceit unconditionally. Perhaps Jacob is remembering how this undeserved grace felt. Perhaps he is remembering the heartbreak he himself caused. Perhaps it’s just the original goodness in the human heart coming through. In any case, Jacob bestows a blessing not just on one of his sons but on all of them, having just blessed, in a deeply moving scene, his half-Egyptian grandchildren.

This episode is all the more moving for being one of the last in Genesis. Think of this and the Seven Days story as bookends. Between them is a progressive distancing and defamiliarizing. First, God was everywhere, and God’s goodness was in everything; then, for Adam and Eve, God walked in the garden in the cool of the day; for Noah, God was the kind of friend who makes you realize you don’t need enemies; for Abraham, God was a voice or a mysterious visitor; for Jacob and Joseph in their respective youths, God was glimpsed, if at all, in fleeting and numinous visions. But for Jacob on his deathbed, the long-gone God of Genesis 1 is again present, in the form of unconditional love. As a young man, Jacob dreamed of a ladder between heaven and earth with angels ascending and descending. Now his dream comes true. In bestowing a love worthy of the angels, we too, if only for a moment, can connect heaven and earth.

A literal connecting of earth and the heavens got me started thinking about these issues. Looking back on my own origin narrative, I wonder how that moment in front of the TV in 1968 has played out in the way I’ve lived my life. The failures far outnumber the successes; I’m no Mrs. B., but, like the characters in Genesis, like Genesis itself, I continue groping toward original goodness. I’ve been a teacher for almost 40 years, with the latter half of that time in a Quaker school. Genesis is often on my syllabus. It’s such a demanding text that the many skills of critical reading—attention to detail and nuance, textual scholarship, concerted reflection, respectful listening—all get developed. More important, this particular act of critical reading helps us articulate so many of the values that are central to Friends education. One of the blessings of a career in the classroom is that every day you have another chance to receive humanity’s first message from another world because every young person is a brand new way for the world to be very good.

I have a poster on my classroom wall, a large reproduction of a photo taken by the astronauts of the Earth rising over the Moon. This image has become so iconic that it’s hard to remember what a revelation it was. No one anticipated the bottomless blue of the oceans, the hemisphere-spanning clouds, the continents unmarred by borderlines. No one anticipated what it would be like to see the planet itself as a wayfaring vessel, at once vibrant and fragile, glowing serenely in the infinite dark. And yet, haven’t we always known? Hasn’t Genesis been trying to tell us? The first thing created was light so that we could see, and each of us carries that Light Within. So let there be light still. “God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.”

One of my students recently summed it up even better. We were talking in class one day about the differences between the first and second creation stories, and I wondered what it would take to really see the universe as Genesis 1 asks us to see it.

“How do we get to that world?” I asked.

A student pointed to the earthrise poster. “We’re there already,” she said.

The post Genesis: Outer Space and Inner Light appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Jesse Stuart’s The Thread That Runs So True

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:15am

The author’s grandparents on the porch of their cabin in Kentucky.

I went through a phase when I wanted to be a tribute artist, portraying a famous author in various classrooms in the area—or even across the country. Being six foot two, two hundred plus pounds, half-Kentuckian, and a former classroom teacher, the author I had in mind was one of my favorites: Jesse Stuart.

He wrote The Thread That Runs So True, published in 1949 as an autobiographical look at his experience as a school teacher in the hills of Kentucky. I read it in ninth grade and wrote a book report on it. In fewer than 200 words, I panned the book. I wrote that Stuart had put too much emphasis on the “outdoor life” in Kentucky and that he had written too much about “teachers’ salaries” and “school finance troubles.” Even though my naive 15-year-old self was less-than-impressed with The Thread That Runs So True, as often happens in the public school classroom, something clicked.

Maybe it was the Kentucky perspective. My dad came from Kentucky and my mom was a Hoosier. Possibly Stuart’s artful descriptions of the Kentucky landscape and its people tapped into the Kentucky part of my DNA. My teacher, Mrs. Rickert, noticed that I started imitating Stuart’s writing style in later composition assignments, ironically incorporating lavish descriptions of nature. Mrs. Rickert even gave us an assignment to describe a famous guest visiting our homes and I chose—who else?—Jesse Stuart.

A year or two later, another English class read Stuart’s “Split Cherry Tree,” a short story in our literature anthology. Again, some mysterious power allowed Stuart to touch my roots. I could picture the old man in the story, coming to school armed and ready to withdraw his son, examining scrapings from his own teeth as he peered through the new-fangled microscope, and the science teacher convincing him to let the son stay.

It wasn’t elaborate natural description or teachers’ salaries this time. It was human-to-human relationships and the message that it is difficult to dwell in the past and still keep pace with today’s world. No doubt, a little seed for a career in teaching was planted then.

Stuart honestly describes the people in his works, both in his fiction and in his non-fiction, and gives them dignity. You feel their hearts beat; you sense the blood pulsing through their veins; and you know the synapses are working in their brains. A Kentuckian spirit is present that I am proud to also possess.

Reading Stuart in my youth, I was easily captivated by the purity and the innocence. The Thread That Runs So True has little to no profanity, maybe a mild swear word here or there. Violence is usually limited to hunting squirrels or rabbits. The most violent scene in the book is the fist fight Stuart has with the giant young man who is still a first-grader but who is determined to drive him from the school. Stuart recounts that experience in detail. It is an important scene because he is just as determined to remain, and the moment is a turning point in their relationship and for Stuart’s reputation among the hill folk.

Kentucky hill folk are stereotyped, especially in Indiana. “Toothless,” “stupid,” “lazy,” “mean”—just about any disparaging description lends itself to insensitive remarks or cruel jokes. Their positive values, such as family bonds, loyalty, work ethic, and integrity, are frequently overlooked. A recent bestseller, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, explained how the migrations from Appalachia brought hillbilly values northward to Ohio and Indiana. For many Hoosiers, it was hard to be accepting and understanding of the Kentuckian subculture. But that is another element I like about The Thread That Runs So True. Stuart honestly describes the people in his works, both in his fiction and in his non-fiction, and gives them dignity. You feel their hearts beat; you sense the blood pulsing through their veins; and you know the synapses are working in their brains. A Kentuckian spirit is present that I am proud to also possess.

The Thread That Runs So True is Stuart’s account of his life as an educator. When I read it in ninth grade, a future teaching career was not even an option. I had already spent eight years in school, and, though I was comfortable in classrooms, my dreams had to do with writing and art. In fact, for a career project as a high school freshman, I chose to be an industrial designer, attending the University of Cincinnati and designing toasters. Stuart did not reveal to me that I, too, could be a successful teacher.

Maybe reading The Thread That Runs So True did plant the idea that got nurtured ever-so-slowly during my high school career. By the time I was ready to graduate, I had plans to attend Ball State Teachers College in Muncie, Indiana.

After graduating from Ball State, I taught high school English for over three decades. I tried to inspire my students, to encourage them, to get them to have higher expectations for themselves, to help them learn and achieve. I wanted them to look forward to coming to my class and to enjoy the challenges of learning there. My room was “the marketplace of ideas.” We strove to be better writers by the end of the year than we were at the beginning. We explored a wide variety of subjects through literature and discussion. My outside reading list, which consisted of many classics, also included Stuart works, such as The Thread That Runs So True, along with Taps for Private Tussie, Hie to the Hunters, and Daughter of the Legend. Those books by Stuart continued to resonate with students years after my own introduction to the author. Yes, I agreed with Stuart, who wrote this in The Thread That Runs So True about teachers:

I thought if every teacher in every school in America—rural, village, city, township, church, public, or private, could inspire his pupils with all the power he had, if he could teach them as they had never been taught before to live, to work, to play, and to share, if he could put ambition into their brains and hearts, that would be a great way to make a generation of the greatest citizenry America ever had.

The author’s father’s elementary school in Kentucky circa 1910 (partial; click for full view)


In later years, when I discovered Stuart’s poetry, I gained an even greater appreciation for the lyrical quality of his prose. As a more mature reader, I marveled at those “outdoor life” descriptions in The Thread That Runs So True that had escaped me at age 15, such as this one:

I looked to my left and to my right for an opening of light; of golden moonlight upon the open fields, upon the patches of ripening wheat and oats, broad leafed, lusty, green-growing tobacco, and the dark clouds of stalwart corn.

The imagery. The simplicity. The sense of place. Again, this may have been a genetic response, because I’m sure that my less-poetic father and his Kentuckian ancestors had similar feelings about the beauty of Kentucky’s hills and “hollers.”

A chalk drawing the author made of his father picking at his banjo, a skill he honed growing up in Kentucky.

Stuart died in 1984. The New York Times reported that his funeral service was to be at a Methodist church in his hometown. I realized then that I was unaware of any religious denomination he had identified with. He could have been a Quaker since his stories emphasize simplicity and seeing that of God in everyone; also, his characters have integrity, a sense of community, and respect for the environment. Nevertheless, it did not affect my respect for Stuart and his literary legacy.

I wanted to accumulate his books for my personal library. Luckily, a lady in my hometown advertised in our newspaper that she had a couple of Jesse Stuart books for sale. When I went to check on their condition and price, I found that they were in poor condition and that she wanted an outrageous amount of money for them. Not only that, she had not read the books and really didn’t know who Stuart was—just that he had recently died and that now his books would be collectible. Discouraged, I thought I would never gather my small library of Stuart works. But over the years, I found old, discarded copies at public library book sales and new reprinted versions in the gift shop of a Kentucky state park. My library is not yet complete, but it is getting there.

So, I am a Hoosier and I am a Quaker. Stuart is neither. However, somehow he has spoken to me. Sometimes it has even felt like a spiritual encounter. My introduction to Jesse Stuart and The Thread That Runs So True years ago in a ninth-grade English class changed me and revealed facets of my character that might have remained dormant had it not been for that reading experience. Although I am not a Kentuckian, I am confident I could portray one in someone else’s classroom because I now identify with what Stuart said in his poem “Kentucky Is My Land”:

I take with me Kentucky embedded in my brain and heart,
In my flesh and bone and blood
Since I am of Kentucky
And Kentucky is part of me.

The post Jesse Stuart’s The Thread That Runs So True appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News


Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:10am

© antorao613

Meat cheese bread
snuggly sandwiched into bags,
lidded styrofoams of coffee.

Below the bridge,
the dark span hides a slight shuffle,
a bent huddle gathered there,
all muffled and still.
Then comes a rush of roar;
light-blazing autos swirl shadows
that leap and stretch
and, passing by,
shrink this small congregation.

Among them
walk those offering bread and cup.
Take and eat.
This is the body of Christ
broken for you
and for me.

The post Communion appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

If I Had Grown In Some Generous Place

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:05am
© tj_armer If I had grown in some generous place— If my hours had opened in ease— I would make you a lavish banquet. My hands wouldn’t clutch at you like this, So needy and tight. Rainer Maria Rilke If I had grown in some generous place—
Categories: Articles & News

Forum November 2018

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:00am
Friends Publishing spring survey

Earlier this year, Friends Publishing sent out an online survey to understand how readers of the magazine and viewers of the QuakerSpeak video series were using our content. Almost 600 people responded, giving us a valuable snapshot of our work. We were grateful to learn that most of the responders read most of every issue of Friends Journal. 63 percent were subscribers; 17 percent read their meeting’s copy or the copy of a friend.

Print is still our most important medium: Three-quarters reported regularly reading the print magazine, while 22 percent read the digital PDF and 28 percent read articles on the website.

Readers generally like us! When we asked if people liked, loved, or disliked different sections of the magazine, the majority of responses consistently landed on like, with a little extra love going toward the Forum and Books sections.

More Quaker material: When we asked what topics survey takers would like to see more of, the top responses were Quaker practice, Quaker history, and faith and theology. Social justice, outreach, and religious education were also strong.

When questions turned to QuakerSpeak, we were happy to learn that 63 percent of respondents watched all or most of the weekly videos.

Email is popular: Two thirds of the respondents rely on the QuakerSpeak email list to learn of new videos, while 17 percent found out about new videos on Facebook and 16 percent by subscribing to the YouTube channel.

Quaker focus: When we asked what topics they’d like to see in our videos, Quaker practice, faith and theology, and resources for seekers were viewers’ top responses.

We know that not every article or issue or video will speak to everyone’s interests or concerns. There are topics that some respondents urged us to feature more prominently while others told us to stop worrying about. It’s all valuable feedback as we try to help the magazine and video series reflect the world of passionate Friends. Thank you for reading and watching.

Upcoming Friends Journal themes announced

A few months ago we enlisted readers to help us dream up new topics for Friends Journal to explore. It was great to hear from everyone. We read through all of the suggestions and combined and brainstormed and boiled it all down to a list to take us through the end of 2020. Extended descriptions and general writing guidelines can be found at That page also has tips for writing for the two issues a year we keep open for the great writing we get that doesn’t quite fit a theme.

May 2019: Friendly Competition?
June/July 2019: Food Choices
August 2019: QuakerSpeak at Five
September 2019: Open Issue
October 2019: Friends in Africa
November 2019: Gambling
December 2019: Quaker Kids
January 2020: Drugs
February 2020: Open Issue
March 2020: Unnamed Quaker Creeds
April 2020: The State of Quaker Institutions
May 2020: Thin Spaces
June/July 2020: Membership and Friends
August 2020: Pastoral Friends
September 2020: Open Issue
October 2020: Quaker Process
November 2020: Quakers in Translation
December 2020: Emerging Witnesses

Nonviolence and civility

Lucy Duncan’s “Civility Can Be Dangerous” (_FJ _Oct.) speaks my mind. The conflation of nonviolence with passivity is a critical topic for those of us who want to stand on the side of the oppressed without demonizing any specific person or groups of people. I pray that pieces like this spark a dialogue about solidarity and strategy in these tumultuous times we live in.

Bilal Taylor. Philadelphia, Pa

I find Henry Cadbury’s attitude toward Jews condescending, part of the Christian anti-Semitism so accepted in those days, to which Friends were not immune. In the same year, Clarence Pickett, the general secretary of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), wrote in a letter to a Friend that Jews would have to wait their turn for help and not try to push themselves to the top. Friends had a lot to learn. Given the incessant criticism of Israel today by many Quakers, especially at AFSC, one wonders how much we have learned.

Allan Kohrman
Newton, Mass.

Henry Cadbury’s speech would seem to be a simple gotcha moment. Fair enough. But let’s look at what Cadbury actually said:

If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.

I wouldn’t be so sure. I feel certain that they couldn’t do much about the mind of Hitler and his close supporters. But let’s note that Cadbury’s approach was never attempted, and most Germans had a long history of good relations with the German Jewish community, so much so that most Jews in Germany considered themselves German first, Jews second. Cadbury was not urging passivity, which is what most of the world’s Jewish community was in fact offering. Among the German Jewish leadership, the leading approach being taken was “duck and cover”—and I would not want to have been led by them. (Rabbi Samuel Schuelman—the one who counseled “resisting evil” —was not a German rabbi, by the way; he had come from Russia to the United States in 1868, when he was four years old and had no special knowledge of German conditions at all.)

People who are oppressed are experts on their own oppression and must be listened to and respected. But they have no special expertise in how to overcome it. If they did, they would have done so. Had the world community been led by those who most experienced German oppression—i.e., the German Jewish leadership—Cadbury might have counseled doing nothing at all.

David Albert
Olympia, Wash. Setting a civil tone

If true, Bridget Moix’s assertion that “the Religious Society of Friends is mirroring the polarization and fracturing of our country as a whole” is frightening (“Prophetic, Persistent, Powerful,” FJ Sept.). If Quakers, along with other peace churches, can’t set a civil tone for discourse, we have lost the high ground and can’t be the shining example for others to follow. Perhaps because I belong to a small meeting in the rural Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I don’t see the polarization among Friends. My Quaker relationships outside of the local meeting involve the Baltimore Yearly Meeting camping program, an inclusive gathering of campers, counselors, and adult volunteers from all over and from among many different worshiping traditions. These folks offer the polar opposite to Moix’s statement.

Don Crawford
Harrisonburg, Va. Attracting newcomers

Full disclosure, I am an attender, not a member.

I’m going back about 15 years, so my memory is fuzzy about exactly what called my attention to Quakerism, but I remember clearly that Friends’ support of women’s equality called me to learn more about Friends beliefs. I was raised in a fundamentalist family and community where women were confined to home life and always subservient to male family members. Religious leaders preached women’s subordination. I wanted to attend college but in high school I was told, “Nice women don’t go to college. We aren’t sending you to college because you’re to become a wife and mother, and nothing further.” This was in the late 1960s in a Philadelphia suburb.

That gave me the push I needed to attend meeting. The moment I took my seat on the bench, I felt I’d arrived at my spiritual home. The simple surroundings, the stillness and quiet, the message that I didn’t need a go-between to bring Spirit to me—that I could open myself to letting Spirit come directly to me—felt right, just right. Seeing women participating as equals felt just as right, as did the belief in continuing revelation.

Patty Quinn
Philadelphia, Pa. Quaker self-questioning

From one not a member: I am disheartened by the current stream of self-questioning in the Society (“What’s the Point of a Meeting?” by Mackenzie Morgan, _FJ _Aug. online). Quakers hold a special place, even if not acknowledged. You keep alive the role of meditation in the life of a seeker. Then you also display radical social justice. Within your community of faith, you hold two seeming opposites in harmony, all done within the context of compassion, love, and non-judgmentalism. This dates back to William Penn and the establishment of the colony of Pennsylvania, the only colony with a complete stance of religious freedom.

As your meeting members discern the future path, remember there are those walking and working beside you to seek the greater glory of the Divine.

L. Gazer
Tulsa, Okla. Simple practice

After a few decades, I guess I and many others in my meeting have become just simple Quakers, finally (“9 Core Quaker Beliefs,”, July). For us—if I may be allowed to speak for others without their permission—there are really just two things that are essential for Quakers, practices which go back to the very founding of the very earliest gatherings of Quakers before they were even called Quakers:

  • Expectant waiting worship so that we might find God within us and us within God.
  • Seeking the way forward as a spiritual community by arriving at a communal sense guided by the Spirit during expectant waiting worship together.

Everything else that comes forth from Friends should be a result of those two purely spiritual practices. I dare say that if more Friends considered those two as the only essentials to being a Quaker, we would have had less Quaker schisms, more lives that speak, and a more vibrant religious society as the Spirit consumed us.

I have had many Friends over the years tell me that they believe committees or Quaker tradition or both are essential to being a Quaker. With that type of creed, no wonder we cannot get many newcomers to stick around.

Perhaps we are not seeing the elephant in the room because we have and enjoy too much business and drama going on.

Howard Brod
Powhatan, Va. Faithful and unfaithful

I grew up among Bible-battered Midwest Unitarians (“Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe,”, Sept.). Belief in God was an option. Jesus was one of many teachers. But the youth-led worship services ended in “Quaker Silence,” and no one could explain why sometimes the silence ended way too soon and sometimes lasted way too long. So I’m a Quaker. God is a reality, and I depend on Friends to help me figure it out—it’s the compact we have with each other.

Then I heard someone I deeply respected tell an FGC Gathering participant that the son of a carpenter from Galilee who died 2,000 years ago was a central force in his life: “I asked the Presence, ‘Are You simply God or are you Jesus Christ?’ And a Voice said, ‘I am Jesus Christ.’ ” Oops!

I was at the World Trade Center when the towers came down, and I was furious, not gentle and forgiving. I was embarrassingly (for a seasoned Quaker) mad. And there was Jesus, sitting on a rock just inside the entrance to a tomb. “What are you doing here???” I demanded. He gently smiled, held up his pierced hands, and replied, “Where did you expect me to be?” And then I felt his arms around me as I beat my fists against his chest until my anger was spent.

I learned that whatever happens to me, however terrible life may treat me, Jesus will always be there with understanding and love: I will never be alone; and I find that comforting (which may be a useful definition of “salvation”). Buddha died from overeating, and Mohammed rode off on a horse. Jesus died on a cross, tortured until he could take no more, then conquered death and fear and the Power-of-the-World. That’s why I’m a Christian. It would be easier if I weren’t; my wife (raised in a Quaker meeting, graduate of a Quaker college) would be happier to start with. But I don’t really have a choice—only whether to be a faithful Quaker, or an unfaithful one. Most of the time it’s the latter, but occasionally (this being one) I have the opportunity to speak Truth and let it go where it will. In this, I have been faithful, and there is nothing more to say.

Roger Dreisbach-Williams
Easton, Pa. On contempt

Thank you for J.E. McNeil’s “Contempt Is a Bitter-Tasting Word” (_FJ _Sept.). This is a topic that has been weighing on my mind for some time now. I think we’ve become trapped in a Catch-22 of our own making—on the one hand, the technology companies precisely capture our behavioral DNA on the pretext of trying to understand us better, then turn around and sell our DNA to marketers willing to pay. How can we resolve this conundrum?

First, we must take ownership of our actions and hold ourselves accountable at an individual level (integrity at the individual level). Inadvertently, we seem to have handed our autonomy to these for-profit companies. We have lived for many years without social media, and we can continue to do so—social media is not a necessity. The tech companies have done a fantastic job of duping us into believing it to be so.

Next, we must initiate that conversation with the others even if it is bound to fail—as we have to make that honest effort to see that of God in everyone. This article is an excellent and timely one.

Anand Achanta
Richboro, Pa.

The article on “Contempt” captures well the tragic impact of the growing chasms in our cultural life fed by the attitude of contempt for those with whom we disagree.

The article, however, stops short of offering a means to begin mitigating the situation. It is encouraging to know a wave of national efforts, in fact, are challenging the attitude of contempt in our communities and restoring and fostering civility. One such effort has been our “Civility First” campaign on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

Whidbey Island is divided between a largely conservative culture dominated by a large Naval air base in the north and a more liberal population in the south. Tensions between the two ends of the island have thus existed for some time, but the current political climate has made the divisions worse. Into this context we are seeking to bridge a significant cultural, economic, and political gap.

In response we recruited conservatives from the north and liberals from the south who shared a concern for the paralyzing incivility in their communities. We eventually formed a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization with bylaws that mandate a board consisting of an equal number of conservative- and red-leaning members. We consider ourselves to be a movement of grassroots citizens who sign a pledge “to promote listening to, and learning from, people with different perspectives from one’s own and to model civility and respect in public life and to courteously challenge hurtful and disrespectful behavior.”

Slowly board friendships and trust were established sufficient to allow us to go public with a booth at the county fair for the past two years staffed by both conservative and liberal volunteers. And eventually we attracted news and TV attention that gave us credibility. The local newspapers have editorialized in support of our work. We have approached our town councils on the island asking them to sign a pledge to observe civility in their public meetings and two out of the three so far have done so.

Our campaign has included a series of Civility First workshops in both red- and blue-leaning churches, civic organizations, and political groups. We train for and model civil discourse by pairing conservative and liberal trainers as we lead exercises that invite people to explore both their differences and similarities. We offer suggestions for how to listen more empathetically to understand the values of others by encouraging them to “tell me more.”

It has now been over a year and a half since our board first formed. We have evolved to the point of being able to declare the month of October “Civility First Month” on Whidbey Island in a concerted effort with our county library system and our local community college. Book and art displays are being featured in our libraries where we will also hold various workshops for both children and adults. We are also sponsoring an art contest focusing on “capturing a moment of civility in our community.” We intend this emphasis on civility in early October will have a positive impact on the political season leading up to the November elections.

We are experiencing promoting civility as deep nonviolent peace work that is personally rewarding and spiritually challenging.

More information is on our website

Tom Ewell and Cathy Whitmire
Whidbey Island, Wash.

The post Forum November 2018 appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

A Gathering of Spirits: The Friends General Conferences 1896–1950

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:35pm
By Douglas Gwyn. QuakerPress of FGC, 2018. 316 pages. $20/paperback. Buy from QuakerBooks

Doug Gwyn is the ideal writer to tackle this project. He presents his background in the opening preface: a knowledgeable scholar of Quaker studies (and author of the recently published history of Pendle Hill) who is familiar with Friends General Conference (FGC) but not an insider. The introduction clearly states what he is (and isn’t) setting out to do. He then follows through. Therefore, readers not liking what they are reading in those opening pages may be disappointed. This is not simply a stroll down memory lane. It is a thoughtful presentation and contextualization of the gatherings held by FGC from its formational beginning until 1950.

This book works on a number of levels. It provides an orderly presentation (including endnotes, appendices, and an index) of conference themes over the decades, including entertaining illustrations of conference promotional materials, for those seeking an overview. It also introduces readers to key personalities and leaders who were essential to the development of FGC. However, within that space, Gwyn also articulates subtexts that inspire multiple layers of analysis. What is refreshing about this is that it is done in a way that does not unnecessarily bog down the text or bore the reader. Those wanting just a quick surface read can follow along. However, the greatest strength of the book is the insights the author provides that can take one to a deeper level.

What is the “Quaker moral compass”? How do class structures, regional identities, and race play in this story? What is (or is not) distinctively Quaker when looking at broader U.S. trends of spiritual and progressive movements beyond the Society of Friends? This is a history of past FGC gatherings (before they became known as “Gatherings”), but it is one that engages the reader in reflecting on contemporary issues that are vital for us to engage with today.

The post A Gathering of Spirits: The Friends General Conferences 1896–1950 appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Primitive Christianity Revived and Primitive Quakerism Revived

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:30pm
Primitive Christianity Revived. By William Penn, translated into modern English by Paul Buckley. Inner Light Books, 2018. 115 pages. $25/hardcover; $15/paperback; $10/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks Primitive Quakerism Revived: Living as Friends in the Twenty-first Century. By Paul Buckley. Inner Light Books, 2018. 164 pages. $25/hardcover; $15/paperback; $10/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Growing up with only the King James Version of the Bible and a literalist’s understanding of Scripture, I went to the clothes closet in my bedroom for my nighttime prayers. There among my trousers and shirts, I observed the biblical directive to “go into thy closet to pray.” It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and on a visit to Pennsbury Manor that I realized my mistake. On a tour of the duplicate of William Penn’s seventeenth-century home, I noted a small, private study off a main bedroom labeled “closet.” I imagine God was amused by my youthful misunderstanding of olde English. But perhaps my clothes were made hol(e)y by more than hard farm work.

I share that anecdote to underscore the service Paul Buckley has given by translating William Penn’s classic text Primitive Christianity Revived into modern English. Just as other translators have made Fox’s and Woolman’s Journals and Barclay’s Apology more accessible, Quaker historian and theologian Buckley has helped readers navigate Penn’s writing with better understanding. And given present-day debates within Quaker circles about the nature of Quakerism, Penn’s articulation of the fundamentals of the faith are good to explore.

By Penn’s account, there probably aren’t any Quakers at any point along the Friendly spectrum who live up to the name—if one is to judge by his description of the fruits of the Quaker faith. Penn lists nine characteristics: plainness of apparel, plainness of speech, care for one another, no observing of holy days, no formal greetings, no participation in war, no oaths, no tithes, and no marrying a non-Quaker. But this list doesn’t go to the heart of what Penn sees as the core of Quaker faith. That would be a belief in the reality of the Light of Christ in all people and an orthodox Christian understanding that makes of Quakerism the only true Christian faith. Penn does not shrink from that assertion as most contemporary Quakers would!

In Buckley’s companion piece, Primitive Quakerism Revived, he picks up on the theme of how present-day Friends need to “come out of the closet” and re-assert the fundamentals of early Quaker Christian assertions. In his opinion, Friends need nothing short of a revival—a breaking through the encrusted traditions and idiosyncrasies of Quaker practice to the fresh springs that empowered the early Quakers. In calling for this revival, Buckley asks the reader for a willing suspension of disbelief, for he will gore the sacred cows of most Friends. Buckley introduces the book by listing the ten signs that Quakers need this revival and then goes on in subsequent chapters to describe the nature of a Quaker revival, review early Quakers’ understanding of the faith, show how Quaker faith and practice have changed over time, explain what a primitive Quakerism revived would look like, and call for a Quaker community that would be “leaven” in the wider world. The book ends with 12 queries, the first three of which are “Am I a Quaker—and what does that mean to me?” “Where is God in my life—and how is God manifest in the heart of my community?” and “What spiritual disciplines enliven my spirit and guide my days?”

This book will challenge those Evangelical Friends who avoid “Quaker” and “Light” language, as Buckley takes Penn and other early Friends seriously in seeing Quakerism as a revival of original Christianity, and the Inward (as opposed to “Inner”!) Light of Christ as central to Quaker Christian teaching. It will challenge Liberal Friends with an understanding of that Light as far different from the warm, fuzzy glow of “The George Fox Song” and “holding others in the Light.” Early Friends experienced it rather as a searing searchlight that exposed their sin and gave them the power to overcome it. And Buckley echoes others who recently have critiqued the over-simplified SPICES reductionism of Quakerism.

For Buckley, there are two essentials in the Quaker way of life: (1) following the guidance of the Inward Light, and (2) creating communities that model how to love one another. Given the fractious nature of Friends today, it doesn’t appear that either “essential” has been taken to heart. Perhaps Friends need to read these two books! Or at least follow Penn’s famous saying, “Let us then try what love will do.”


The post Primitive Christianity Revived and Primitive Quakerism Revived appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:25pm
Edited by Stephen W. Angell and Pink Dandelion. Cambridge University Press, 2018. 410 pages. $105/hardcover; $34.99/paperback; $28/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

This edited volume, the latest in a series of productions by the indefatigable doyens of Quaker studies, deserves a place in your meeting’s library. In the first place, it is the most truly international such volume to appear yet. By my count, the 29 authors show the expected U.S. and UK dominance (19 names), but there are also three Kenyans; two Canadians; two South Koreans; and one author each from Japan, Cuba, and Sweden. We have been telling ourselves for years that Quakerism is multi-continental, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual, and in this book the voices start to demonstrate the diversity.

The topics covered also invite a fresh appraisal of Quakerism as it is. There is a short introductory section on the “History of Quaker Faith and Practice” that covers a wide range of topics: not only faith and practice, but also context and trends. Confusion or over-density are dangers avoided here, and although all will miss topics of particular interest to themselves, given the authors’ limitations of space, the story is clear and cogent enough to provide a framework for what follows.

The second section, “Expressions of Quaker Faith,” includes broad themes that can be explored over four centuries and six continents; the challenges of selection and detail are severe. This can lead the author(s) to seek for large developmental themes, which are provocative of insight. For example, the chapter on “Seeking Peace” suggests that our original testimony_ against war_ has developed over the years into a “two-component” peace testimony. On one hand, there are the witness and action that are directed at preventing or abolishing war (conscientious objection and war tax resistance). On the other hand, there is the work aimed at removing the causal factors that contribute to war: a “conflict-transforming” peace testimony. Within this framework, the authors explore versions of the peace testimony around the Quaker world.

The third section, “Regional Studies,” seems to me to break new ground, with chapters rich enough to move beyond historical descriptions into addressing issues and tensions now painfully alive. For example, there is a case study of the recent struggles and reorganization of Western Yearly Meeting. There are surveys of Latin American Quakerism, Quakers in Asia–Pacific, and Friends in Europe and the Middle East. A lively chapter on Quakers in Africa describes major characteristics of African Quaker theology, in which we encounter Quakerism as it is lived in homes, villages, and cities. More than in the other chapters, the authors address the cultural complexity that is part of Quaker evolution in Africa, where Friends are “weaving together elements from African Traditional Religion, Christianity, and modernity.” Though I would have liked to have heard a little more about Friends in South Africa, I found this chapter rich and enjoyable.

The fourth section explores “Emerging Spiritualities,” and lifts up five facets of this topic. The discussion “Unprogrammed Quaker Spiritualities” includes the Conservative strand (smallest of the Quaker “flavors,” but one with great import for Friends of other kinds). Even within this region of Quakerdom there are varieties, and the authors use contemporary ministers to illustrate renewal of life within yearly meetings, and also interpretation of Conservative Quakerism to the wider Quaker world. The chapter then moves on to explore the spiritualities of Friends with strong ties to Buddhism and Islam, again using individual voices to give the stories life. The final reflections on the diversity of unprogrammed spiritualities places non-theistic Quakerism in that context, paving the way for a chapter on Quakers and non-theism. I found this chapter helpful in understanding some of the different areas of evolution within non-theism, as non-theist Friends have worked to interpret their own religious experience in the light of theistic Quakerism.

This chapter led me to wonder: Will the several varieties of Quakerism continue to travel apart indefinitely, until some become unrecognizable to each other?

The same question arises in another area of Quakerdom: the chapter on “Evangelical Quakerism and Global Christianity” places “Majority World Quakerism” within “Majority World Christianity,” which is evangelical in theology, community oriented, and socially engaged. It is growing energetically in the Global South, as reflected in the modern Quaker demographic at the global level. Just as in the nineteenth-century heyday of evangelical influence in Anglo-American Quakerism, contemporary Evangelical Quakerism “continue[s] to wrestle with the legacies of the Quaker tradition, and whether or not the wider Quaker communion is a meaningful point of connection.”

The chapter on convergent Friends introduces key ideas of this movement, a “hybrid Quakerism, transgressing the boundaries of established Quakerism.” In this movement “ ‘convergent’ is a portmanteau, a word that combines two words to create a new meaning. It is a composite of ‘conservative’ and ‘emergent,’ as in ‘conver/gent.’ ” There is a quick overview of convergent moments in the Quaker past, before describing the emergence of post-modern convergent Quakerism, whose rise and momentum have taken advantage of blogs and social media and shaped some interesting experiments like Freedom Friends Church, Quaker Voluntary Service, and convergent Friends worship gatherings in the Pacific Northwest. The convergent movement has been productive of creativity, energy, and fresh leadership, and it sounds a powerful note of hopeful uncertainty (that is, openness to the Spirit’s guidance) that deserves to be heard more widely, and watched with love.

The final chapter looks at “Intra-Quaker Ecumenism: Women’s Reconciling Work in the Pacific Northwest and Kenya.” This work is finding fresh kinds of unity-in-plain-speaking in Quaker settings that are highly diverse and in some cases conflictual. The final sentence on the Kenyan movement is a fitting coda for the chapter as a whole: “The bonds built among women can … act as concrete examples others can point to as a witness to Jesus’s teaching being lived out among them.”

The blurb on the back cover of this rich volume says that it “offers a fresh, up-to-date, and accessible introduction to Quakerism.” Meanwhile, the dedication is “For the next generation of scholars.” The book is not an obvious choice to hand to a newcomer to Quakerism, to my mind, because there is way more about Quaker theology than Quaker spirituality. As a result the radicalism of Quakerism in its beginnings, and even now, does not come across with much power. If this were really an “introduction to Quakerism,” I’d want more fire and spirit in there.

On the other hand, if you are a Friend of any stripe, this book will be stimulating and educative, especially if read and discussed with others. The great diversity of Quakerism is definitely on display, and treated with an appropriate and inviting seriousness. The organization and flow of topics and chapters is nicely orchestrated, and for those wanting to go further in any direction, there are abundant references and a truly serviceable index (not a thing to be taken for granted!). This volume deserves a place in your meeting’s library, and should be brought to the attention of emerging leaders.

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Quaker Roots and Branches AND The One Thing Needful

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:20pm
Quaker Roots and Branches By John Lampen. Christian Alternative, 2018. 64 pages. $10.95/paperback; $5.99/eBook. The One Thing Needful: William Shakespeare, George Fox & Walt Whitman By Diana and John Lampen. The Hope Project, 2017. 27 pages. $7/pamphlet.

Throughout many years, Diana and John Lampen have contributed to conflict resolution in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Yugoslavia, and the former Soviet Union. John is the author of Mending Hurts and some Pendle Hill pamphlets. These two new booklets are the Lampens’ attempt to mine the lessons of Quaker history for guidance concerning the grave and manifold crises that now confront the human race. “The symptoms are undeniable,” write the Lampens, citing pollution, water wars, depletion of mineral reserves, among others. Although the subject matter differs, Quaker Roots and Branches and The One Thing Needful are both sufficiently provocative to inspire further reflection, despite the free-wheeling, overly ambitious scope of such slim essays. Roots and Branches covers the environment; war and peace; punishment; “the arts, especially music”; and “experience, belief, and theology” in 64 pages. In a mere 27 pages, One Thing Needful covers themes treated in the writings of George Fox, William Shakespeare, and Walt Whitman: deceit, love, justice, war, politics, mercy, forgiveness, and the Light Within.

Is there anything that Quakers in particular can contribute to the search for solutions? There are many Friends, say the Lampens, following Fox’s rejoinder to act as society’s “patterns,” who “are living in a way which shows that there can be an alternative.” This tradition of ecological consciousness dates to the time of William Penn, who described our world as a “rare and sumptuous palace [furnishing] groves, plains, valleys, hills, fountains, ponds, lakes, and rivers,” which sustain cities and agriculture, and who called upon us to recognize “what careless and idle servants we are, and how short and disproportionate our behaviour is to [H]is bounty and goodness.” British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson was struck by the kindness Quakers displayed to their own animals, and by their aversion to hunting and hawking, concluding, “Quakers are of opinion that rights and duties have sprung up—rights on behalf of animals and duties on the part of men.” In 1772, John Woolman specifically laid the blame on capitalism: “So great is the hurry in the spirit of this world that in aiming to do business quick and to gain wealth, the creation at this day doth loudly groan.” Given the gravity of the other issues, John Lampen’s inclusion in Roots and Branches of the obsolete Quaker ban on music may seem frivolous or indulgent, but a careful reading of this section suggests a compelling parallel between that early, admittedly misguided, urge to reduce the distractions of the era’s light entertainment and very modern concerns about exposure to sex, violence, materialism, and propaganda in mass media, not to mention the hypnotic trance of electronic screens.

One Thing Needful is clearly inspired by Whitman’s 1888 deathbed essay on George Fox, which at one point attempted to compare and contrast Fox with Shakespeare. Unfortunately, that essay serves as a particularly ill-advised inspiration for the Lampens, given that it is tenuous, rambling, and unfocused. Although the authors do not address the complex question of whether Whitman was indeed a Quaker (and the subtle truth is Walt Whitman was far too good of a Quaker to be a Quaker), they acknowledge that he was “preoccupied with the deepening of our spiritual lives,” and “encourage[d] us to look at two authors whom he saw as pioneers” in understanding human nature.

A typical example of the Lampens’ manner is their treatment of mercy in the works of Shakespeare and Fox. King Lear exclaims, “Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, / That thou mayst shake the superflux to them / And show the heavens more just.” Likewise, Fox preached to the merchants of London: “Spare one of your dishes, and let it be carried to the place for the poor, and do not make them to come begging for it either … consider what abundance of riches is in this city, and what good you might do with it.” They conclude this section with a touching quotation from Fox, which really reveals the unique spirit of Quakerism: “At another place they … said that if they had enough money they would hire me. So I said it was time for me to go away, for then they would not come to their own [Inward] Teacher.”


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Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:15pm
By Philip Gulley. Convergent Books, 2018. 224 pages. $22.99/hardcover; $11.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

The words “unlearning” and “unbelieving” make it plain that this is going to be a journey of letting go of inherited certainties. Phil Gulley’s mother was a “One True Church” Catholic and his father a small-town Baptist, two churches he early in life began perceiving as extremes of closed-minded rigidity. This book is the chronicle of his journey—some of which has been the subject of his various books—of learning about God by jettisoning all he had been taught that no longer made sense.

The 16 chapters have titles like “We Revered Women Too Much to Let Them Lead”; “I Was Pleased to Discover God and I Hated the Same Things”; and “God Is Everywhere, but Mostly in America.” Each chapter takes up one aspect of God that he found he had to abandon. Some he discovered to be absurdities to be cast aside easily and early in life; others involved long and painful struggle. “God’s will” can never replace personal responsibility; religious certainty and infallibility are called “a cancer”; churches always assume power and control, middlemen between us and God; being “saved” permanently in an identifiable moment is an illusion; the poisonous alliance of God and country is to be avoided, as are all boundaries and identity groups since they imply the exclusion of all others. “Holiness codes are used to signal a ‘separateness’ from the world”; many of them involve attire or hairstyle, but they might consist of words. These “codes” are agreed-upon group badges of identity, having little function other than creating a distinct sense of “us.” (Could he have perhaps included here our “Fourth Day, Seventh Month”?)

The reader can hardly fail to note Gulley’s trademark blend of humor and bluntness; the back cover summary rightly juxtaposes the words “charm” and “provoke.” Some Catholics will indeed feel their belief in the veneration of Mary is being too easily dismissed when he writes “they idolized [her] because of her rare ability to bear children without ever having sex.” For some others, religion is a matter of fervent celebration: The neighbor family was “hollering and praying and singing … and drinking battery acid for all I knew.”

Gulley’s dismissal of the beliefs he abandons can seem unsparing at times, but it is regularly neutralized by his disarming playfulness (as I’ve experienced myself over the years, occasionally hearing him deliver a message or invited talk). In this book it frequently takes the form of a hilarious childhood reaction to the beliefs he was being taught. When he was told that the idea of the Trinity was similar to the way an egg consists of three inseparable parts, he reports: “I pointed out that my mom separated egg whites from yolks whenever she made a chocolate pie and suggested he needed a better analogy.” It is to his credit that he recognizes this and confesses, “I have noticed my own tendency to dismiss the spiritual experiences of others, and have had to tamp down that temptation when writing this book.”

If Gulley occasionally rides irreverently (but with a wink) over a cherished belief, this does not seriously distract from his core message, which he articulates forcefully in the final chapter called “The God Remaining.” The formative step in all this stripping away of the received God of our early years, the “unlearning,” is to be willing to question, doubt, and welcome change as the ground where the Spirit can enter. Then all the succeeding steps follow. What we are searching for, minus all the distraction, is the Divine Presence within us, any welling up of love which is a sign of God. What we call God’s love is “the power to stir and expand the human spirit.” Human self-transcendent love is “one’s commitment to the growth of the beloved,” so the key is the desire for all genuine relatedness, most powerfully in the fertile ground of the spiritual community. Ultimately, Gulley’s message in this book, the latest of his series of books on matters of faith, is a simple and unambiguous but challenging one: undertake a lifetime journey of exploration, retaining only what resonates with our experience.

Related: QuakerSpeak’s interview with Philip Gulley

Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe

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On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:10pm
By Parker J. Palmer. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018. 192 pages. $19.95/hardcover; $9.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

I rarely read a book with a highlighter in hand. But soon after starting through this set of essays and poems by Parker Palmer, I went in search of one. This book is filled with nuggets of insight that I wanted to receive and return to again and again.

That’s because Palmer is a fine writer and a reliable witness. He is no “expert witness” like those in courtroom dramas, but rather faithfully relates wisdom gleaned from success and failures along the pilgrim path.

“Every day, I get closer to the brink of everything.” That’s how Palmer opens. Immediately, I thought, “Tell me more,” because that’s a feeling I’ve been having and learning to embrace of late. He proceeds to do so. On that same page he says, “I’m done with big and complex projects, but more aware of the loveliness of simple things: a talk with a friend, a walk in the woods, sunsets and sunrises, a night of good sleep.” While I agree with the loveliness of the latter, I would argue with him that he is not quite done with big and complex projects (after all, putting together a book dealing with the topics he addresses here is a big and complex project!), but rather he has learned the value of doing what is truly important. And part of learning what is truly important depends on where we are in life and our vocation (which he addresses in a later chapter).

The second and fifth chapters work especially well together. Chapter two is subtitled “The Dance of the Generations,” and chapter five is about staying engaged in the world as we age. As Palmer notes in the opening of chapter two, throughout his life he’s been lucky to have worked with people younger than he was. This chapter illustrates the joy of intergenerational relationships and learning. Chapter five reminds us that while the energy and enthusiasm of youth will invariably change as we grow old, we aren’t dead yet and have important work and wisdom to impart—not, as Palmer notes, so that we can warn from making the mistakes we made, but to “share our experience with younger folks in ways that help them step up, not back … let’s walk alongside them as they ‘do it anyway.’ ” In chapter five, Palmer also urges us to dismiss the idea that advancing age is the time for withdrawing from serious engagement in the world—especially in perilous times such as these. I’m thankful for Palmer’s call to avoid that trap of thinking my work now is nothing compared to my work earlier in my life. It’s not; it’s just different. And it’s work I couldn’t have done earlier.

The above is just one reason that the section on “Getting Real: From Illusion to Reality” is so important. Getting real helps us to move to our truest selves rather than living, in Thomas Merton’s words (quoted by Palmer), “lives of self-impersonation.” Palmer then relates the Hasidic tale of Rabbi Zusya who said, “In the world to come they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’ ” Getting real leads us, he says, to such authenticity and faithfulness rather than the world’s emphasis on results.

I also feel that chapters four (“Work and Vocation”) and six (“Keep Reaching In”) go together. Certainly it’s hard to determine one’s truest vocation without staying engaged with our souls. As Palmer says, “naming the jobs by which I’ve made a living is not the same as naming the vocation by which I’ve made meaning.” As we consider the work by which we make meaning, surely the most important practices for uncovering such meaning include silence, solitude, and soulful reflection.

The final full chapter is “Over the Edge: Where We Go When We Die.” Palmer offers some thoughts on this “ultimate tourist destination,” but largely concurs with singer-songwriter Iris DeMent’s statement: “I think I’ll just let the mystery be.”

While this volume addresses issues that may seem related mostly to those of us approaching what Palmer calls the “brink of everything,” it is not just for old adult Friends (or OAFs) like me. Adult readers of all ages will find On the Brink of Everything helpful and illuminating. Though as Palmer says, “there are no shortcuts to wholeness,” this is certainly a worthy guidebook for anyone walking that particular path.

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How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:05pm
By George Lakey. Melville House, 2018. 224 pages. $16.99/paperback; $13.99/eBook (title available December 2018). Buy from QuakerBooks

In June 1934 Quaker biblical scholar Henry Cadbury gave a keynote address to the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In his talk, Cadbury encouraged the assembled rabbis to show nothing but “good will” toward the Nazis and refuse to “fight back” in any way. Cadbury said that Jews and their allies should restrict themselves to engaging the Nazis in respectful dialogue and making verbal appeals to their “German sense of justice and the German national conscience.”

You might expect that the rabbis responded by angrily defending military efforts to put an end to the Nazi regime, but they didn’t. They objected instead to Cadbury’s rejection of all forms of nonviolent resistance, including organizing boycotts to weaken the Nazi regime. They objected to his saying that the power-wielding, nonviolent resistance campaigns used by Gandhi in the struggle to end British imperialism in India were “simply war without bloodshed” and should be avoided by all adherents of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The conference attenders even adopted a resolution rejecting Cadbury’s advice.

As a teenage Quaker in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I came to the same conclusion as these good rabbis. Borrowing books from my little Midwestern meeting’s library, I read the justice-loving prophets of the Bible, the nonviolent resistance writings of Gandhi and King, and several histories of Quaker nonviolent resistance to social evil from the “Lamb’s War” of the mid-1600s to campaigns of the present day. In the process, I stumbled upon George Lakey’s A Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution. This Quaker activist made so much sense! Since then, I have read every book written by Lakey, including his recent How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning.

How We Win is a practical manual for activists and essential reading for anyone who seeks to contribute meaningfully to social movements. I particularly recommend the book to all Quakers who are open to exploring nonviolent resistance as radical faithfulness in action—which even Cadbury did in his later years.

Lakey does not overplay the capacity of large, legal nonviolent protests to create change. He has learned that, by themselves, such marches and rallies are not how we win. As Lakey notes, “when I look back on the one-off protests I’ve joined over the years, I don’t remember a single one that changed the policy we were protesting.” He argues instead that to make protests like the Women’s March or the March for Our Lives more powerful, they need to be events within longer-term “nonviolent direct action campaigns.”

What Lakey means by “campaigns” is sustained, grassroots, collective efforts by ordinary people over time. Campaigns should adapt what Gandhi called “civil resistance” tactics into a strategic and escalating trajectory. Indeed, Lakey suggests moving well beyond simple protests into campaigns that include disruptive interventions like the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s civil rights activists as well as acts of mass noncooperation like labor strikes, tax refusal, or consumer boycotts.

While Lakey believes that electoral campaigning, lobbying, and litigation can be useful, he argues that nonviolent resistance campaigns are needed to build enough popular power to win needed reforms in the public interest.

The bad news, of course, is that organizing nonviolent direct action campaigns is difficult and sometimes risky work. Campaigns take time; often face repression; and require a steep learning curve to gain the knowledge, wisdom, and skill needed to be successful. The good news is that nonviolent resistance campaigns can be empowering (fun even), and frequently prove to be effective. In How We Win, Lakey weaves in hundreds of examples and stories of the ways campaigns around the world have won significant victories “addressing racism, sexism, and other systematic oppressions, environmental crises, violence, dictatorship and authoritarian abuses, and more.”

Lakey draws on his own extensive experience, his nonviolent action training workshops, and his decades-long study of nonviolent resistance movements—including his work with students at Swarthmore College researching and compiling over 1,000 campaign case studies in their online Global Nonviolent Action Database.

How We Win is written in a clear, conversational, and inviting style. Lakey covers important topics such as selecting issues, analyzing power dynamics and the social pillars of support for power holders, nurturing organizations, developing leadership, training participants, strategy and tactics to strengthen the campaign and weaken the campaign’s target, dealing with attacks and repression, building diverse coalitions, and encouraging bold visions. Lakey also offers a wide variety of strategy tools here, three interviews with comrades from Earth Quaker Action Team, and a solid resource section at the end.

As Lakey says, “This book describes the best practices I know for how people can work together to make a difference.” Reading it will be well worth your time. Applying its insights is even more useful.

Correction: The print version incorrectly stated that Cadbury’s speech happened during wartime. As stated, it took place in 1934 as the Nazis were rising in power but before the commencement of hostilities.

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Faith and Play: Quaker Stories for Friends Trained in the Godly Play Method (Second Edition)

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:00pm
By the Faith and Play Group, edited by Melinda Wenner Bradley. QuakerPress of FGC, 2017. 140 pages. $20/paperback. Buy from QuakerBooks

How do we help children develop their own relationship with the Divine and encourage their spiritual and faith formation? In many Quaker meetings, the question of how to make the children’s First-day program relevant, inspiring, and effective is often a topic of discussion. The task of choosing an approach or curriculum can be daunting, as many fine curricula abound. In my preparation to review the book and program known as Faith and Play/Godly Play, I have discovered that there are many questions that deserve exploration before a thoughtful decision can be made. As a meeting, we need to explore our deepest philosophy of education and how we want it to manifest in the religious education of our children.

As a lifelong Montessorian and a Quaker for most of my adult life, I was immediately drawn to this book and delighted to find an intersection between two areas in my life that are critically important to me. I also found it useful to trace the history of this approach in order to understand the context in a deeper and more informed way.

Faith and Play for Quakers grew out of the experience that Friends had with the Godly Play curriculum approach which is rooted in Montessori principles and evolved in many ways from the original work of Sofia Cavalletti and her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi. Cavalletti was introduced to Gobbi after having been asked to teach religion at a Montessori school in Rome where she lived and worked as a Hebrew and religious scholar. Together they developed the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in 1954 with the goal of helping children to have “a living encounter with the living God.” Jerome Berryman, a Montessorian himself as well as graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, was a friend of and in many ways influenced by Dr. Cavalletti. He published his first Godly Play curriculum in 2002.

Each of these approaches is grounded in Montessori principles that have successfully guided the education of children around the world for more than 100 years. Based on the belief that children are their own best teachers and that the adult should be a guide rather than the purveyor of knowledge, Maria Montessori advocated that children should be afforded the independence and freedom of movement, within a carefully prepared environment, to follow their interests and discover learning according to their own developmental time table.

In each of these curricula, children are encouraged to experience the presence of God in their own lives by directly experiencing and pondering stories of faith in a tangible and hands-on way, which is a core component of the Montessori method. As written in the introduction to Faith and Play, it is a “story-based curriculum focused on building spiritual community with children and offering them images and language to express their wonder and experience of the Divine.” As a specifically Quaker work, authored by six members of the Faith and Play Group, this second edition text offers children the opportunity to explore explicit Quaker tenets such as “continuing revelation; multiple perspectives on a story; silence, reflection, and corporate sharing as valuable components of the spiritual life; and the diversity of ways the Spirit works within each person.” While other curricula are solidly based on Bible stories from both the Old and New Testaments, this work contains stories on Quaker faith and practice as well as “some Bible content told in ways that reflect Quaker sensibilities.” It is noted that these stories are meant to be used in conjunction with Godly Play, and it is highly recommended by the authors that specific training occur before either curriculum is implemented.

Faith and Play is divided into sections that cover basic Quaker faith and practice, such as images and symbols of the Divine; meeting for worship and meeting for business; our individual and corporate role in meeting; and queries, as well as stories related to the testimonies and stories of witness that highlight such weighty Quakers as George Fox, Margaret Fell, Mary Fisher, John Woolman, and Elizabeth Fry. It also includes “An Easter Story for Friends” as well as appendices which minutely detail how to create the materials for use with the stories and manage the details of the lesson, using the circle and time for the children to do their own work.

As an educator of children for many years, I know that we serve children best when we provide the right environment and gentle support that allows them a truly experiential way to listen, reflect, and seek answers to questions they formulate for themselves. Spiritual development and the evolution of faith is deeply personal and begins in the early years. This book gives the reader a detailed way of offering such a gift to the children in our meetings.

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The Inner Guide versus the Inner Critic: The Journey from Judgment to Love

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 10:55pm
By Christine Wolff. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 448), 2017. 34 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

Christine Wolff, a psychologist using the Diamond Approach, writes of the interaction of what she calls the “Inner Critic” with what Friends call the “Inner Guide.” The Inner Critic or Judge is the inner voice that criticizes and tells us we have failed, are not good enough, or are guilty. It raises fears that—if we were to speak or act boldly—we would not be loved or valued. The Inner Critic was birthed by the need of the young child to obey their parents or caregivers. But this mechanism is not helpful for spiritually maturing adults because it acts as a gatekeeper hindering our full experiencing or even awareness of the range of our emotions. We need to feel all of our emotions, but we do not need to act upon them.

Wolff helpfully differentiates among the Inner Critic (which is harsh in its dichotomous judgments), the Conscience (which is much more nuanced and develops, from personal observation and experience, a sense of fairness and empathy), and the Inner Guide (that offers truth known intuitively, often with an immediate sense of Divine Presence). One way to differentiate them is to pay attention to one’s emotions. The Inner Critic tries to suppress “negative” emotions such as anger, fear, jealousy, sadness, guilt, or whatever is deemed “unquakerly.” But if we do not acknowledge them, they will come out later in unexpected ways. The author wisely reminds us, “We do not get to choose what we feel, although we can choose how to handle the feelings once we have acknowledged them.”

That busy Inner Critic often uses the old technique of projection to try to make ourselves feel better by projecting our own negative feelings on others. Judgment supplants compassion. Wolff points out: “We are not bad people because we are not perfect. Once we learn to accept ourselves as flawed, it becomes easier to accept our mistakes without criticizing ourselves for them.” Owning our own self-judgment and mistakes enables us to more easily accept others for whom they are.

The reasons we so strongly cling to the Inner Critic rather than trusting the Inner Guide include its familiarity and the sense of security and certainty it provides. It is rigid and stern. It enjoys judging others, often disguising our efforts to straighten someone else out as doing it for their own good. But the Inner Critic is very threatened by love: the sure, calm, all-encompassing love that is the matrix in which the Inner Guide lives and works.

This is a useful pamphlet that provides helpful suggestions for getting past the blocks to discerning and following the still, small voice of the Inner Guide. It comes with three exercises and brief suggestions for how to use the pamphlet in adult First-day school. A faith community could be enriched and strengthened by taking on the lessons offered here.

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