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Writing Opp: Creativity and the Arts (Due 3/5)

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 2:49pm

We know there are plenty of Quakers who only need a little nudge to share their perspectives with a wider audience. If you know anyone who should write about Quakers creativity and the arts, please share this with them!

Early Friends were famously skeptical of art; modern Friends pretty much fully embrace it. Why the abrupt turnaround? What reasons might there have been for early strictures? And what cautions from early Friends might they still hold for us today?

Is all art the same or is there such a thing as Quaker art? Are some types of art more conducive to bringing us to a worshipful mode? To inspire us to change the world? To understand the life experiences of others? Does it even matter if art accomplishes any of this?

We don’t want only want articles that ponder existential questions: We’d love to reproduce Quaker art alongside stories of how artists found their medium. We’d also be interested to hear about the business side of being a Quaker artist: is there a way to promote ourselves and our art without being a self-promoter? Is a humble Quaker artist bound to stay an unknown Quaker artist?

And finally: the last time Friends Journal published an issue specifically devoted to the arts, we were in our final months of being a black-and-white magazine. We’d love to reproduce some art in full color! Here’s our description for our June/July issue, “Creativity and the Arts”:

Show us your art! Is there a kind of Quaker visual or musical aesthetic? How do we relate to early Quaker’s love/hate relationship to the arts?

Join the conversation and write something for us by March 5, 2018:

We’re always looking for new voices and perspectives from our community. Is there a side of the story you think isn’t being told or heard among Friends? Contact me with questions or ideas at

The post Writing Opp: Creativity and the Arts (Due 3/5) appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

February Full Issue Access

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:30am
Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below). Features: “Prophetic Witness, Prophetic Action” by Diane Randall; “A Perilous Neglect” by Alastair McIntosh; “The Trouble with ‘Strangers’” by Gerri Williams, “Can Quakerism Survive?&#8221🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Prophetic Witness, Pragmatic Action

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:25am

FCNL Advocacy Corp members in front of the Capitol. Photo courtesy of FCNL.

The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

For most of my life, I have been convinced by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that the moral arc of the universe was slowly but steadily bending toward justice. I imagined a slender birch tree arching toward the ground of justice: the beloved community where equality, freedom, and peace are universal truths understood and practiced every day. But in the past year, that arc has snapped back. I’ve felt shock and dislocation at having a president who lies constantly, bullies persistently, and fosters insecurity in both the foreign and domestic policy of the United States.

I grieve for our country’s political, social, and cultural upheaval as the fissures of our political institutions have become deeper, the media louder, and truth seems distant from ordinary life. I also recognize that the sharp edges of President Trump—as offensive as they are—are manifestations of problems that are more entrenched than the election of 2016. The militarization of our foreign policy and our domestic policy is not new; structural racism in our public policies is not new; an ambivalence towards—or worse, outright rejection of—refugees and immigrants is not new; sexual harassment by men in power is not new. And yet, this moment in time feels like an epic struggle for righteousness. My search for meaning in this turmoil has led me to consider anew our Quaker prophetic witness as it is alive today. How does our faith practice guide and sustain the Religious Society of Friends?

What does it mean to be prophetic at a time of political division within our country and across the world? It means confronting evil: that which opposes God’s desire for the world.


I live at the intersection of faith and politics as the executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. FCNL lobbies Congress and the administration on priorities that Friends have set following the discernment of Quaker meetings and churches across the United States. I came to Washington, D.C., and to FCNL in 2011, when Congress was politically divided and partisanship was on the rise. We’ve seen the divisions grow—not only over policy difference but through attacks on people. The Trump presidency is giving license for the worst impulses in our country to come out into the open. People who are marginalized by those in political power are no strangers to the abuse of that power, but this past year has forced us to see a dark side of ourselves.

What does it mean to be prophetic at a time of political division within our country and across the world? It means confronting evil: that which opposes God’s desire for the world. It means taking the deepest understanding of our testimony of equality and resisting the radical restructuring of government that favors people who are wealthy and white over everyone else. It means holding fast to our peace testimony and making our elected leaders accountable for the human rights violations and deaths of civilians that our country is complicit in. It means caring for the earth God created to nurture and sustain us as we bear the consequences of the planet’s changing climate and its effect on millions and millions across the globe. It means listening for, speaking to, and acting on Truth.

This past year has made me see the extremes in the values of public life today, and I’ve gone looking for how people of faith have responded in earlier times of political upheaval.

Quakers have a prophetic faith. Our practice calls us to listen for God, both in our corporate worship and in individual silent reflection or prayer. Many of us experience revelation when we open ourselves to the Divine. My experience in worship rarely results in a clarion call to specific action; however, I am convicted of God’s unchangeable love for me and for every human being. This love is difficult to comprehend; it is the mystery that moves me. In worship, I sense my connection to all of humanity and the blessings of the earth. I’m aware of the brokenness in our world, the gulf between the kingdom of God and the world in which we live. This inner condition creates the motion for outward action.

While I’ve never felt easy with the idea of my having a prophetic ministry because it seemed presumptuous and solitary, I recognize that what many of us experience in our times of silent reflection is a call to prophetic witness. This past year has made me see the extremes in the values of public life today, and I’ve gone looking for how people of faith have responded in earlier times of political upheaval. I started reading Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets, which describes prophets as mediators between God and humans. They remind us of God’s love for human beings, God’s grief at the destruction that humans cause, and God’s desire for us to pay attention to injustice. In modern parlance, prophets call us to “stay woke”: to see what is wrong and name it. Prophets name morality and righteousness; they call out good and evil. And it is up to all people—the beloved children of God—to listen and act.

Although I’ve felt unsettled this past year, I’ve also felt tremendous hope and joy. One of the things I love most about my work at FCNL is seeing what happens on Capitol Hill when prophetic imagination meets pragmatic action. I know that loving kindness can move people in power, because I have seen it happen. Friends are standing up, speaking out, and working to influence change in government. And we are not alone. People of other faiths, along with people who profess no religious faith but who act from a concern for humanity and the planet, are active every day in every state to affect their local governance and their federal lawmakers. This outpouring of civic energy is deep and wide and diffuse: not always seen in the narrative of national news media but evident in the online communities of activism around the world.

Our representative form of government has failed us in many ways, but it does give access to people power, the most effective way to build justice and make sustainable change. How we use our people power to engage with political power reflects our inner condition. Do we answer to that of God in every person, regardless of political or religious identity? When I participate in lobby meetings on the Hill, I’m often with other faith leaders. Last summer, we focused our lobby visits in Republican senate offices to reject efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act. In every office we visited, members of Congress expressed the importance of hearing from people of faith. This is a consistent message from all those we meet with—whether senators, representatives, or congressional staffers. They know there is a moral dimension to the votes they cast, to the remarks they make, and to the positions they take.

People are showing up and making their presence and power alive. They are speaking up and engaging with elected officials to establish respectful relationships.

When constituents speak from the heart, they have an impact. I’ve been with Dat Duthinh of Frederick (Md.) Meeting when he spoke to Senator Van Hollen about the imperative to stop pouring billions of dollars into the Pentagon for the preparation for war. Dat shared his own story as a child in the war in Vietnam and as a refugee, with a plea that war is never the answer. I’ve been with David Bantz of Chena Ridge (Alaska) Meeting when we met with Senator Murkowski to ask her to vote against dismantling the Affordable Care Act. I’ve seen how a visit from FCNL’s Advocacy Team in Colorado spurred the Denver Post editorial calling for cuts to Pentagon spending. Each of these actions is generated by the inner motion of an individual to act in community with others. There are hundreds of stories of people sharing their personal stories to make prophetic witness come alive.

From the FCNL Advocacy Teams to the Poor People’s Campaign and Nuns on the Bus; from the witness of the New England Yearly Meeting Climate Pilgrimage to American Friends Service Committee led Sanctuary Everywhere movement, people are showing up and making their presence and power alive. They are speaking up and engaging with elected officials to establish respectful relationships. Like many older people, I am enthusiastic and encouraged by the leadership of young adults in the social justice movement. The FCNL Advocacy Corps are organizing and engaging their members of Congress in the communities where they live and encouraging Friends to participate in advocacy. The hundreds of young adults who participate in Spring Lobby Weekend with FCNL each year have seen the possibility of democracy in action from a Quaker perspective.

Just as my time in worship connects me with God and with Friends, my work with FCNL connects me with a prophetic role—stretching back centuries—Friends have played in influencing government. Seventy-five years ago this year, that vision led 54 Friends to form the Friends Committee on National Legislation. In the midst of World War II, these Friends were faithful to establish a permanent witness for Friends in Washington, D.C. The commitment of Friends and others to the work of FCNL—through activism, contributions, and prayer—has created a strong institution that is one part of the prophetic witness of the Religious Society of Friends. We rely on the discernment of Friends to guide our legislative priorities and to advocate for those priorities with their own elected officials.

I believe this era calls all of us.

Today we see dramatic increases in Pentagon spending contrasted with dramatic decreases in support for diplomacy. Deep tax cuts benefit the wealthiest, while deep budget cuts harm the poorest. There is a retrenchment of environmental protections for the air we breathe and the water we drink. There is outright discrimination against Muslims and rejection of immigrants, while white nationalism has gained public recognition. These policies that foster hate and inequality counter the values and testimonies of equality, peace, and community that we as Friends seek to live.

I take heart in the Truth that Margaret Fell spoke of when she said

Truth is one and the same always, through ages and generations pass away, and one generation goes and another comes, yet the word and the power of the Living God endures forever, and is the same and never changes.

We know when we are touched by the sacred, by that power that is greater than any one of us; we hunger for wholeness; we yearn for Truth. We find violence intolerable; we are in pain for the earth; we suffer the injustice of people whose dignity is disregarded and disdained because of their religion, their race, their gender, or their sexual identity. The brokenness of the world is clear; the promise of God’s love is felt, and the path of right action opens.

I believe this era calls all of us. It calls for a greater presence and visibility of Friends faith and practice in every community. And it calls for the work of FCNL on Capitol Hill in Washington, which is helped by the opening of our new Quaker Welcome Center. We want all Friends and others who find common ground with us to join our advocacy for peace, for justice, and for an earth restored. As I confront the turmoil of political life, I pray that my anger burns to the purity of love and that my heartbrokenness over injustice heals through the life-giving force of justice realized. I pray that Friends continue to understand and act on our prophetic testimony, not as political actors but as people of faith grounded in the unchanging nature of God’s love.


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Categories: Articles & News

A Perilous Neglect

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:20am
Jim Forest @ What makes for grounded and life-giving ministry in our Quaker meetings? It was in reading The Seven Storey Mountain, the 1948 autobiography of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, that a penny dropped about this question that is vexing many long-standing🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

The Trouble With “Strangers”

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:15am

© Fibonacci Blue

U.S. sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild spent five years living among and interviewing hard-pressed whites in the poorest and most polluted part of Louisiana, itself one of the poorest and most polluted states in the Union. Her subjects—Donald Trump supporters all—find validation within their fundamentalist religion, Fox News, Tea Party affiliation, and their seething resentment against all of those—minorities, immigrants, feminists—who they are convinced have unfairly jumped ahead of them in “the line of the American dream.” Hochschild’s interview subjects reserved special scorn for the effete denizens of the blue states: the liberal New York Times readers and NPR listeners. Even more galling, these elite “cosmopolitans” were said to look down their noses at hard working, virtuous, God-fearing, patriotic whites in small towns, mocking their culture as ignorant.

The book that recounted her sojourn, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, was published in 2016. An unexpected bestseller, it received rapturous reviews and was listed as a finalist for the National Book Award. Prestigious publications heaped praise on Strangers and Hochschild’s commitment and skill as a social scientist.

I read the book with a mixture of rage and revulsion. I’ve continued to wrestle with what its contents suggest about my country, and struggled to find a response consistent with my Quaker values.

Strangers in Their Own Land also set off a spate of reactions and commentary that I have found troubling. Many reviewers have treated Hochschild’s subjects as some kind of exotic fauna in the forest, labeling them wholly innocent and good, deserving of urgent care and special feedings. They wrote copiously in guilty tropes about arrogant and insensitive liberals—among whose company they included themselves. How, they agonized, could they have overlooked and discounted for so long the concerns of the millions of the hard-up white fellow citizens who voted for the New York billionaire? They exhorted “us” to get out of our privileged bubbles and make special efforts to empathize with the plight of the Trumpists.

Remember the Tea Party? Placards at Tea Party rallies featured violent, race-tinged depictions of Barack Obama, including lynching.

Friends haven’t been immune to this tone. The Friends Journal review of Strangers in Their Own Land agreed that “cosmopolitan liberalism can look grasping, rootless, and without honor . . . [embracing] a cultural environment that is polluted, unclean, and harmful.” Reviewer Pamela Haines suggested that liberals unfairly benefit from the environmental destruction Hochschild’s interviewees suffer. She apparently commiserates with white Southerners who had to endure generations of “moralistic” and “elitist” Northerners—including those impertinent Freedom Riders—swooping down with, as Hochschild quotes a Louisianan, “their PC guns blazing.”

I don’t concede my freedom as a black American citizen to be anyone’s politically correct option; I’m just glad that in the 1950s and 1960s, blacks and “liberal” white allies drove a (nonviolent) stake through the heart of Jim Crow laws and segregation. I do not expend much sympathy for the Southern whites who believed in—and benefited from—an unjust system (or, as they might express it, “our way of life”) and lamented its demise. You can hear echoes of this sentiment in the ongoing debates about Confederate statues and other symbols of national treason.

“For the Tea Party around the country,” Hochschild writes, “the shifting moral qualifications for the American Dream had turned them into strangers in their own land, afraid, resentful, displaced, and dismissed by the very people who were, they felt, cutting in line.”

Remember the Tea Party? Placards at Tea Party rallies featured violent, race-tinged depictions of Barack Obama, including lynching. Tea Party-affiliated politicians hurled insults and circulated images of both Barack and Michelle Obama that are too vile to reproduce in this publication. Hochschild’s subjects may not have committed those specific acts, but neither did they repudiate them by ending their affiliation with the Tea Party.

Hochschild—seemingly to her own surprise—writes of the deep regard she developed for the interviewees. She finds them “caring,” “bright,” and “warm and intelligent.” She admires their stoicism and dedicates her book to them. And in the book’s epilogue, she urges East and West Coast liberals and the Trump/Tea Party-identified whites to reach out in understanding to each other—to “climb the empathy wall.”

Friends, I cannot scale that wall.

© Mobilius in Mobili

As an African American (and a woman), would have to agree to assume a subordinate position in American society, so they can move to the front of the “line” they believe it is their right to occupy. That I will never do.

As one of those “line crashers,” my reaching out, over, and to the Trump voters would only legitimize and reinforce their self-serving beliefs. It would imply that to assuage their feelings of anger and disenfranchisement, I, as an African American (and a woman), would have to agree to assume a subordinate position in American society, so they can move to the front of the “line” they believe it is their right to occupy. That I will never do.

I do not overlook or excuse the right-wing Republican legislators and their unquestioning embrace of the Trump agenda. But it was the Trump base—coupled with Republican voter suppression techniques targeting mainly minority populations—that enabled the presidential outcome.

Anyone who can or wants to may proceed to reach out to and plan listening sessions with the Trump base. Apart from the logistics, those healing conversations might be rather one-sided: I don’t see a population boom of contrite Trumpists on the horizon. As the New York Times reported in January 2018, Trump retains an 80 percent approval rating among those who voted for him.

However, for those who do venture into the wall-climbing experience, I offer a few words of advice:

  1. Dismiss, ignore, and disbelieve the self-serving canard that religious fundamentalists are somehow more moral than the rest of the population just because they believe in biblical inerrancy and can speak in tongues. As one raised in that branch of the Christian family tree, I am completely persuaded that its adherents possess no more moral virtue than those of any other sect.
  2. Dispense with labels on all sides. If you don’t want to identify groups of people as rednecks or hillbillies, why unthinkingly employ the moniker of “cosmopolitan liberal” to describe yourself? It’s a made-up term, a caricature whose only purpose is to invalidate. You are not obligated to repeat that term, and certainly not obligated to adopt it. Stop doing it.
  3. Stop apologizing for your values. If you think that tolerance, equality, and inclusion are non-negotiable values, be prepared to articulate and defend them with the same fervor as the conservatives refute them. Appeasement and false moral equivalency are not good baselines for honest mutual communication.

I don’t claim more wisdom than any other American in how to engage with those whose views I oppose—no, loathe—in these volatile times for our country. I don’t know what reconciliation would look like. Our exemplary co-religionist John Woolman abhorred the institution of slavery but traveled among the slaveholders in the American South, preaching that the practice subverted God’s will and was injurious to whites’ own humanity. Woolman did not merely “talk the talk”; he made substantial material sacrifices to carry out the acts that supported his beliefs. And he did change the hearts of a few slaveholders to release African Americans from bondage.

The unhappy fact, however, is that the iniquity of slavery endured for another hundred years, and ended by a bloody civil war. New laws enforced emancipation, equality, and economic opportunity (no matter how imperfectly they were and are applied). They have remained in place precisely because racial discrimination and hate crimes persist to this very day. Now, not only these hard-won laws but also basic democratic norms and institutions are under threat from extreme right-wing lawmakers and Trump appointees, facilitated by the “Strangers” who assured Trump’s election.

Scripture reminds us that to everything there is a season. In this season, my energy, focus, and future as a citizen and human being is served by working to repudiate everything these “Strangers” in their own land, and their candidate, stand for and that their vote has unleashed. As a Quaker, I look to the principle of continuing revelation for hope and for spiritual wisdom. May Way open.

The post The Trouble With “Strangers” appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Can Quakerism Survive?

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:10am

How can we speak truth to ourselves if we deny its existence? I worry that we are in denial about a truth that threatens Quakerism’s survival. Membership in many of our yearly meetings has been shrinking for decades. There are relatively few young members and attenders, and many (if not most) of our meetings are primarily made up of aging baby boomers. When they are gone, there will likely be a sudden decrease in overall membership—maybe even a collapse—because there won’t be younger people to replace them. If membership continues to decrease, Quakerism in the United States will eventually die out.

The urgency of this problem struck me this past summer, when I attended Pacific Yearly Meeting for the first time. Although it was fulfilling and I was glad that I went, I expected to see at least some time devoted to the problem of dwindling membership. None was. I also have seen little about it in Quaker magazines, books, and pamphlets. This is what leads me to suspect that we avoid speaking truth to ourselves about our future—that we don’t want to face it. Acknowledging and dealing with the real threat to our existence may be so anxiety provoking that we ignore it and instead focus inward on less threatening topics.

I’ve seen this dynamic before. Over the past 40 years, I have been part of and seen organizations that had high ideals and did good work but were focused on internal dynamics and paid little attention to threats to their existence. As a result, they went under. I worry that our yearly, quarterly, and monthly meetings will also.

As part of vocal ministry during a plenary session at Pacific Yearly Meeting, I expressed some concern about the problem of decline. Afterwards, many people thanked me and said that they had had similar thoughts. Former presiding clerk Steve Smith wanted to start an email conversation about the topic, and so I sent him an email detailing my concerns and some possible solutions. It seemed to me that we didn’t know what methods or programs could be used to turn things around.

He wrote back and mentioned that in his own library he had a copies of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Outreach Handbook: Suggestions for Attracting and Nurturing Newcomers and Enriching Quaker Meetings, published in 1986. FGC, which has seen an overall decline in attendance at its annual Gathering of Friends in the last decade, had also produced some material on outreach, found at “Outreach: Friends General Conference” with a link to “Growing Our Meetings Toolkit.”

I thought about what Steve had written, the resources he described (including FGC’s Quaker Quest outreach program and the Spiritual Deepening small group program), and realized that my initial diagnosis of the problem was wrong: it isn’t a lack of methods or programs; it’s a problem of motivation. Steve had written, “It appears to me that most Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends have come around to a fatalistic attitude, and take it for granted that our numbers will continue to shrink.”

This attitude needs to change. We need to be much more active if we’re going to survive and flourish.

Discontent, Urgency, and the Brutal Facts

Becoming active starts with acknowledging the problem. This may go against a tendency in Quakerism to avoid conflict and unpleasant truths, but you can’t solve a problem if you don’t recognize it. Acknowledgement often begins with a frank discussion—“confronting the brutal facts,” as American organizational theorist Jim Collins puts it. This is the start of speaking truth to ourselves. There are many forums in which to begin such a conversation, including monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings; Quaker publications; and FGC and other larger Quaker bodies.

The point of frank discussion is to break out of complacency and increase discontent with the status quo. This is likely to create conflict, but dissatisfaction is the fuel of organizational change. Without dissatisfaction and a sense of urgency, people won’t act. And many motivated individuals need to act to turn around Quakerism. The strongest possible case for change needs to be made. Author and emeritus professor of leadership John Kotter writes that the point of increasing a sense of urgency is “to make the status quo seem more dangerous than launching into the unknown.” (Many of the ideas in this article came from the work of Kotter, organizational design researchers Bert A. Spector and Todd Jick, and church consultant Lyle E. Schaller.)

Why Is There No Vision of the Future of Quakerism?

Increasing discontent and fostering a sense of urgency is a good start, but without creating a vision of the future and showing the path to get there, people will just feel helpless. A well-defined vision allows people to clearly see the discrepancy between their hopes and reality. Confronting this gap is motivating, and the more people who do it, the better—because people who act to create change are more committed to it. Burning discontent with the status quo moves people to get away from an intolerable situation. A stirring vision of the future attracts people towards it. This combination of two forms of motivation is uniquely powerful.

Often a small group of three to five activists start a change process like this. They usually operate outside of normal organizational channels and committees. Individuals in such a group may want to look toward another person who changed Quakerism—John Woolman. He modeled the changes he advocated and had enormous determination. A small group may be all that’s needed in the first year, but a larger group is needed to pull together a rousing vision of the future, and this takes time.

Without the clear goal a vision provides, a change effort can fall apart and become a mishmash of unrelated programs that work against each other or lead nowhere. In The Vision Thing, author Todd Jick argues that an effective vision is “clear, concise, easily understood. Memorable. Exciting and inspiring. Challenging. Excellence centered. Stable, but flexible. Implementable and tangible.”

Is there such an inspiring vision for the future of Quakerism? If there is, I am unaware of it. And that’s a problem, because a vision needs to be widely held throughout Quakerism, if it is going to motivate people to change. It needs to be continually “reinforced through words, symbols, and actions or else it will be viewed as temporary or insincere,” according to Jick.

A Starter Vision

It may help to see a specific example of such a vision, so here is my vision of Quakerism in five years. It is just a possible starting point. If it proves effective, many people will add to it, correct it, and change it to fit their needs.

You can walk into any monthly meeting and see strong First-day school and youth programs. There are people of all ages sitting down for worship. Some newcomers are there because members and attenders invited them. Others are there because of the meeting’s outreach programs. People explain to newcomers what to do in meeting for worship before it starts, and they have a meaningful first experience of worship. The meetinghouse has the look of a spiritual home that is vibrant and growing. People new to meeting are greeted warmly during fellowship. A lot of newcomers are staying because they’re finding a spiritual friendship and intimacy in the small groups. People in meetings are focusing their lives on the Spirit more and more—discerning leadings and acting on them. This has led to inspiring, influential peace and justice programs.

We Must Commit and Persist

The changes suggested here won’t be accomplished if they’re the result of weak or intermittent efforts. In an email, Steve Smith wrote:

Dwindling membership and attendance in Pacific Yearly Meeting has been on the front burner at times, both at Pacific Yearly Meeting and in various monthly meetings and worship groups in Pacific Yearly Meeting. A few years ago, there was a modest burst of energy invested in Quaker Quest.

A burst of effort that fades away won’t work. We need long-term, persistent, strong effort at all levels—local, regional, and national. Half-hearted measures, like adding a session to a yearly meeting’s annual gathering, won’t do it. Tenacious effort is essential.

I’m only touching on the first steps that are needed to change the direction of Quakerism. There are more. Kotter suggests that they include communicating the vision; empowering others to act on it; creating short-term wins; consolidating improvements, and producing still more change; and institutionalizing new approaches.

There Is Hope

I don’t want to give the impression that all Quaker meetings are slowly dying or that all of us really don’t want to face this crisis. Some meetings are growing, and that shows that it is possible to counter the slow decline that afflicts so many meetings.

In 2013, I was a member of Santa Monica Meeting in southern California. Attendance at meeting for worship had been shrinking for at least ten years. But that year we started an outreach committee. We examined the problem of declining attendance, looked at what other denominations were doing, came up with some ideas of our own, and put what we learned into action. The next year, attendance increased somewhere between 15 to 20 percent. Since then, my wife and I moved about 400 miles north and now attend the Grass Valley Meeting in Nevada City, California. I still get back to Santa Monica Meeting once in a while, and every time I visit, it just seems to keep growing and flourishing.

The change made by Santa Monica shows that decline is not inevitable. Even though it may be controversial or cause conflict, we need to speak truth to ourselves by breaking out of denial and publicly acknowledging the problem, increase discontent with the way things are, clarify the urgent need for change, forge an inspiring vision of the future, start to take action, and persist until we’ve reversed the trends that threaten our survival.

The post Can Quakerism Survive? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Quilting as Ministry

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:05am

Author’s quilt. All photos courtesy of the author.


In the bedroom of every fellow in the Portland, Oregon, community of Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) lies an astonishingly colorful and carefully patched quilt. Upon first glance, it appears these quilts have been crafted by the gods. (If you thought so, you’d be close enough!) These quilts, it turns out, are actually the culmination of the hard work and dedication of the Portland Local Support Committee and its constituents.

Support for the service house comes from four Portland Quaker congregations: Bridge City Meeting, Multnomah Meeting, West Hills Friends Church, and Reedwood Friends Church. As part of welcoming the incoming QVS fellows to the Portland area, Friends from these meetings gather together every summer for a work party at Multnomah, where they volunteer to cut fabric, arrange thematic patches, and sew together some of the most vibrant, individualized quilts in all the Pacific Northwest. Jane Snyder, devoted support committee member and quilting connoisseur, spearheaded this tradition back in 2012 when she first joined the QVS family.

She recently invited me into her home on a breezy Portland afternoon and fed me crackers, carrots, apple slices, hummus, and other healthful, tasty morsels in classic Jane style. She told me that not only does she view the yearly quilt making as a fun and engaging QVS tradition but also as a kind of ministry.

Jane’s inspiration for the QVS quilting project began at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference where she met several women who practiced the art of quilting as ministry. The entire conference meeting room was colorfully lined with their craft. These women, members of the North Seattle Friends Church, affiliated with Evangelical Friends International, come together regularly to quilt for those in need of healing.

In one project, Stone Soup Quilters, Friends make quilts for individuals beginning cancer treatment; prior to delivery, they drape them over the meeting room pews to pray for healing for the recipients. Their second quilting project, Peace through Pieces, emerged as a response to the violence in Rwanda and Burundi in the 1990s. “A lot of the women in Burundi were widows and considered social outcasts because they’d been rape victims,” Jane explained. “They just didn’t have any way to make a living or fit into the culture. The Peace through Pieces project brought them sewing machines and taught them how to sew and sell their quilts. So those were my inspirations for this project.”

Quilting is indeed an act of healing, an act of agency. And as the local support committee consistently demonstrates, quilting is also an act of welcoming. Each QVS fellow’s quilt contains six thematic patches that symbolize the work they will embark upon during the year;  the remaining colorful designs come from the generous fabric donations made by folks from the local Portland meetings.

Jane and I paused during our interview so she could show me the process of tracing images and cutting fabric with her rotary cutter and grid. She carefully laid out the thematic patches that she incorporates into each quilt: the QVS logo; a peaceful dove; a set of volunteer hands; Portland’s infamous backdrop, Mt. Hood; and an image of a hand with a heart sewn onto it, inspired by the Shaker saying “Hands at work, hearts to God.” The earth-tone fabric, Jane pointed out to me, is an Australian aboriginal design. She brought me across the room to show me her sewing machine. “At the work party each year, we put all the fabric on a table in the middle; several people bring sewing machines, and the whole fellowship hall is filled. There are some really fun and funny characters that show up and it’s just a laugh fest from beginning to end, trying to figure out which patch to put where.”

Jane emphasized that both Liberal and Evangelical Friends come together each year to collaborate on the quilt making. “This is just one of so many examples of the convergence of Friends in the Pacific Northwest,” she noted. Janet Jump, another support committee member and quilter, agreed that convergence plays a special role in the Portland QVS community: “When I was a kid, you didn’t talk to another branch of Quakers at all—they weren’t real Quakers. But the Pacific Northwest started having regional gatherings of Friends in the late 1970s, and we found ourselves in and out of each other’s spaces. We finally realized that maybe we could do Quaker Voluntary Service as a joint endeavor, too.”

When I asked both Jane and Janet what they hoped to communicate to the QVS fellows through the gift of quilts, I received strikingly similar responses: “Well, when you’re furnishing a house with donated used goods, it doesn’t always look like Home Decorating’s Hall of Fame,” Jane laughed. “We want the fellows to feel warm and welcomed and comfortable and loved when they arrive, and quilts communicate a lot of that.”

QVS founder and executive director Christina Repoley wholeheartedly agreed: “I always think of the Portland QVS quilts as symbols of the love and support surrounding our fellows. I remember one fellow remarking in awe when she was presented her quilt, ‘They had never even met me, and they made me this amazing quilt!’ I like to think of the quilts as a physical expression of the love local Quakers have for our QVS fellows even before they meet them. Our fellows can literally wrap themselves in this love.”

As we Portland QVS fellows headed into our last few months of the service year of community, nonprofit work and spiritual exploration, we continued to cherish our colorful quilts. The more connections we made here in Portland—within our site placements, the local Quaker community, and among ourselves—the more we found ourselves growing into our quilts, and into the QVS experience.

Adriana, a QVS fellow from Seattle, reflected on what she’d learned about quilting from her spiritual nurturer, another active participant in the annual work party: “I’ve come to better appreciate quilting as an art form and a way to send messages. It’s more than just a practical thing you make look nice; it’s deeper than that.”

As for me, typing here atop my quilt of chirping birds, scheming cats, and primary colors, I’ve come to better understand the process of quilting as ministry and the concept of ministry in general. Still fairly new to Quakerism, I asked several people after my interview with Jane to clarify what the word “ministry” meant in a Quaker context, or at least what it meant to them. What I gleaned is that ministry happens when the spirit moves individuals to action, bringing joy to themselves and others. If that is the case, then Jane and the local support committee have certainly fulfilled their purpose.


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Categories: Articles & News

Breath of the Ancestors

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 1:00am

Fellowship of Friends of African Descent and Hill House Friends Meeting. All photos courtesy of the author.

The story of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent began more than 26 years ago, with a group of African American Quakers and their families and friends whose hearts were stirred in support of the spiritual and social needs of Quakers of African descent worldwide. The mission adopted in 1990 continues to serve the needs of the Fellowship today:

  • To publish and respond to the concerns of Friends of African descent within the Religious Society of Friends.
  • To provide for the nurture of Friends of African descent, their families and friends.
  • To address and respond to issues affecting people of African descent in their communities worldwide.

At the 2016 gathering of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent at Philadelphia’s Arch Street Meeting House, the Fellowship reaffirmed the latter part of its mission to address and respond to issues affecting people of African descent worldwide. In doing so, Friends accepted an invitation given by the Hill House Meeting in Accra, Ghana, to come and visit with them there. We understood that cross-cultural experiences are central to the Quaker faith and practice of seeing the presence of God in all people.

Founded by British Quaker settlers who were recruited as staff for Achimota College and School in 1925, the Friends established a meeting for themselves and for other members of the staff. In 1934, they built the Hill House Meeting garden shelter on the school property.

Today Quakerism in Ghana is fully indigenized, with Ghanaian Quakers serving on every level of leadership in the meeting. Hill House is a vibrant Quaker meeting with a big heart, a heart that has reached out over the years to engage with the larger Ghanaian society by joining the Christian Council of Ghana and supporting Accra schools nutrition and health project under the supervision of Adam Curle, professor of education at the University of Ghana.

While worshiping in deep silence with Ghanaian Quakers on the First Day morning of our journey, the second stanza of one my favorite hymns stuck in my head: “This Is My Song, O God of All the Nations,’’ written by Lloyd Stone and based on a tune composed by Jean Sibelius.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover-leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

The bluer skies of Ghana took us to places of great beauty and places of great sadness. One such sad place was a visit to the slave fort of Elmina Castle. Erected by the Portuguese in 1482 as São Jorge da Mina (and a United Nations-listed historical site), it has the distinction of being the oldest standing European building in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fort was a place where unspeakable acts of evil were perpetrated against people of African descent. It was believed that only the strongest would survive the transatlantic voyage. Our guide at Elmina Castle told us that the slave dungeons were cramped and filthy, each cell often housing as many as 200 people at a time. The floor of the dungeon was compacted filth and human excrement. African girls as young as 12 years old were systematically raped, abused, and tortured daily.

In Elmina Castle, there is a small gate leading to the ocean. Through this gate, thousands of enslaved persons would leave Elmina and be placed into ships that would transport them to slave traders across the Atlantic to the Americas. Hanging upon the wall as one enters the castle is a plaque dedicated to the many lives lost in the transatlantic slave trade. It reads:

In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetuate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this.

We continued our journey to the Kakum National Park, a rainforest which many Ghanaians have called the “high places” of the Earth. We marveled at the beauty of creation as we walked the forest canopy walkway 200 feet above the rainforest floor.

We spent three days in the Ashanti Region. While visiting the Centre for National Culture, we observed indigenous craftsmen at work carving, kente weaving, and adinkra cloth printing. We concluded our regional visit in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana and the former capital of the great Ashanti Empire. The city is rich in the traditions of the Ashanti people and is the location of the Manhyia Palace, the residence of Asantehene, the king of the Ashanti people, and the royal family.

We learned of the famous Golden Stool that “holds the soul of the Asante kingdom.” According to oral tradition, in the seventeenth century King Osei Tutu I, with the help of his feared fetish priest Okomfo Anokye, conjured the Golden Stool from the sky and landed it on the lap of Osei Tutu, the first king of the Ashantis. The fetish priest declared that the soul of the nation resided in the stool, and the people must preserve and respect it.

According to the World Economic Forum, ten of the world’s countries with the youngest populations are in Africa. The combined effects of a high birth rate and low life expectancy mean that in some parts of West Africa, the median age is under 15 years. A 2014 United Nations report observes, “Lack of meaningful work among young people is playing into frustration that has in some instances contributed to social unrest or unmanaged migration.”

One of the highlights of the trip for this writer was a visit with Linda Nyaamah Anaabah. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her about her work with the Afrika Youth Movement, a pan-African, action-oriented, youth-led movement which was formed in 2013 to advocate for the participation, development, and leadership of African youth in transforming Africa and achieving their right to peace, equality, and social justice.

The opportunity to travel to Ghana made a lasting impression on the lives of many in the Fellowship, one being a deeper understanding of what it means to be people of African descent living in the diaspora. The visit to historical sites like Elmina Castle was a testimony to the power of honoring the past, but it was not the last chapter. The ancestral spirits live and speak in us today through the presence of God in our hearts. The lyrics of “We Are,” composed by ​Ysaye​ ​M.​ ​Barnwell​ and sung by ​Sweet​ ​Honey​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Rock, remind us:

We are our grandmothers’ prayers
and we are our grandfathers’ dreamings
we are the breath of our ancestors
we are the spirit of God.

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Categories: Articles & News


Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:55am

© geothea


I lived in the wall, between the wilderness
and stony Jericho. Because I would not hide
behind a veil, or let myself be shut from light,
I belonged nowhere. Listen, daughters, if
you pay the price, you have a choice. I chose
this: a cot, a robe I would take off. Myself.

Outside my window, naked sand lay undulant
with heat; at my door, men panted to come in.
To press against a woman at the edge.
To break me. Daughters, my breast was silk,
the rest of me stood hard, closed against siege,
trumpeting braggarts and their body blows.

That’s how I fed my family, brothers who spat,
sisters who scuttled from me in the market.
And then the Hebrew spies looked into me,
full in the eyes, and kindness broke me open.
Whoever was their god, that god was mine.
Daughters, let no one else define your enemy.

I slipped them out, and let the city die. Saved
in the tabernacle of my belly, you and your
children’s children travel far. A red cord joins
your life to mine, my heart pumping for yours
until you push into a larger space. Daughters,
a time will come when every wall falls down.

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Categories: Articles & News


Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:50am
© Galyna Andrushko   Starving herself by choice my mother wanted to know what meat and vegetables we daughters ate and whether the pie was good. She marked on a calendar the days without food, then water, then ice chips. She liked the taste of pink🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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A Matter of Trust

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:45am

I’m an unabashed lover of magazines and a subscriber to many. So I’m used to a deluge of renewal notices that proliferate in my mailbox and seem to start right after I’ve subscribed. Like many people, I have the bad habit of ignoring most of them. Sometimes this leads me to miss issues of magazines I really love. (Or worse, magazines that my kids really love—heaven forbid I ever let Cricket or Ranger Rick lapse!) This renewal marketing practice has been standard in the magazine business for eons. As you probably know, we do it at Friends Journal, too. But this is changing.

Beginning in the first quarter of 2018, we will renew our subscribers’ magazine subscriptions as a courtesy rather than sending a series of early renewal reminder notices. We are implementing this change for several reasons. First and foremost, we want to ensure that your access to the print and digital versions of Friends Journal continues uninterrupted. Second, we want to conserve resources. By reducing the number of mailings we send, we will save on paper, printing, and postage. This will not only reduce the climate impact of our correspondence with you, it will allow us to put more of your subscription dollars and donations into producing the high-quality content that you deserve and rely upon. The most important reason has to do with relationship. We consider you to be our blessed, widely distributed, and diverse spiritual community. And we have to trust you. We Friends and seekers share an inclination toward deepening spiritual lives. We care about the stories of emerging Quaker faith and practice. We’re in it together.

So please watch your mailbox for the invoice we send when we renew your subscription as a courtesy. Don’t recycle it without reading! If you like, you can permit us to keep a credit or debit card number securely on file for future renewals. All of us at Friends Journal are grateful for the opportunity to be your magazine. Thanks for walking with us.

One more note. If you’re in the United States, you’ll notice that this issue arrives in your mailbox free of the plastic mailing sleeve we have used for some time. With the hope of ensuring the print magazine’s well-being in the mail in light of this, we’ve increased the weight of the cover. Please let me know what you think of the new look!

Californian Friend Don McCormick has contributed a piece in this issue with a provocative premise: “Can Quakerism Survive?” He’s right to ask, and as we readers unpack this question and sit with the concerns and love implicit in it, we find that we face a challenge together: to create a vision of a Religious Society of Friends that attracts and nourishes more and more of those people who are searching for life’s deeper meaning, hunting for a spiritual home, and determined to listen to that still, small voice that speaks from within us all. Friends Journal’s role in the Quaker ecosystem is to be a platform, a workshop, and a refinery for that vision. I hope you will be an active participant in that process with us for a long time.


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Categories: Articles & News

Forum, February 2018

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:40am
Defining creepy The resolution of the meeting’s long-standing conflict with “Q” in “Challenging Conflicts in Our Meeting” in the December 2017 issue illustrates a fundamental question about Quaker meetings: Are they for the one lost sheep or for the ninety and nine of us, safe and comfortable in our spiritual community? The resolution described in the article took care of the meeting but not of Q, who remains unable to express himself effectively and caught up in anger. The fear that Q’s angry words caused in Friends is also troubling, because a peacemaker who is🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Viewpoint: Influencing People Who Shape Public Policy

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:38am
Making the media and the public aware of our public policy concerns can be important. Organizing a silent vigil or rally that gets media coverage can help raise public awareness of a cause. But if we want to have positive influence with the people who make the laws and shape policies, we need use truly effective methods of advocacy. When I served in the Massachusetts legislature (1983–1993), there were frequent demonstrations in front of the state house. Rarely did I have the time to go out to see what they were for or🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

An interview with David Harrington Watt

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:35am
© Patrick Montero/Haverford College. You’ve been recently named the Douglas and Dorothy Steere Professor of Quaker Studies at Haverford College. Beyond your usual teaching in the religion department, what does that entail? At Haverford, I’m a professor in Independent College Programs and a professor of Quaker Studies. Most of the courses I teach each year will🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

News February 2018

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:30am
Popular resistance by Ryan Rodrick Beiller/AFSC Statement from AFSC on being blacklisted from entry into Israel On January 7, 2018, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs released a list of 20 organizations whose staff may be denied entry visas into Israel because of their support for the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Living in Dark Times

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:25am
By Rex Ambler. Pendle Hill, 2017. 27 pages. $7/Pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

Reading the title of this pamphlet calls up images of the challenges Rex Ambler intends to address. If we are paying attention to what is going on in the world these days, we are likely to feel overwhelmed, battered, knocked off center, and awash in disbelief and despair. Yet I didn’t expect Ambler’s response to be attention to the advice of early Friends. What could the seventeenth century offer the twenty-first? The answer turns out to be “quite a lot.”

Ambler focuses particularly on William Penn. Penn suggests that if we look straight at our own condition, we will see ourselves more clearly; if we shift that perspective a little, we will be able to see the world in a new light. The important issues of life are not solely out there as matters of fact that can be investigated, known, and acted upon; they are within us as well. “Looking into our own spirit and meditating thereupon,” says Penn, “you will have a deep and strong judgment of men and things.” In their experience of God’s light, early Friends discovered that they were not what they thought they were. By accepting what they saw—both the darkness they had chosen to avoid, and the light they had never imagined—they were transformed. Then, by turning the “glass of truth” slightly, they could see the world as it really was.

To access this truth in the present, says Ambler, we have to relinquish our preconceptions. We have to let go of our egos and our need for control. We have to let go of the images and stories, both about the world and ourselves, that make things feel more manageable and reassuring.

This means looking at the darkness, into the darkness, and through the darkness. We have to face the reality that we are not separate; we cannot influence the world from the outside. We are not good people seeking to change bad people; we and the world are all askew together. We have the choice of realizing this oneness or resisting it. Thus, the struggle in these dark times is, as early Friends said, to “mind the oneness.”

With this perspective and sense of connection, we can see how anxious attempts to put things right are rooted in the fear and vulnerability that come from separation. We can cherish and love this remarkable creation, of which we are a part, that has lost its sense of itself. The good news is that living in response to the world as we experience it, rather than to our ideas about it, allows us to bear witness more powerfully.

I am reminded of Danier Snyder’s suggestion, in his pamphlet Quaker Witness as Sacrament, that we “cultivate inward activism and outward prayer,” and I am grateful to Rex Ambler for this brief and simply written framework for living courageously in dark times.



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Categories: Articles & News

The Call to Radical Faithfulness: Covenant in Quaker Experience

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:20am
By Douglas Gwyn. Plain Press, 2017, 104 pages. $10/Paperback; $5/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

In this inspired collection of short essays, sermons, and half-hour talks on the Bible, Quaker pastor and historian Doug Gwyn highlights an important truth about Liberal Quakerism today. According to Gwyn, our current status as a tiny, theologically jumbled, post-Christian, religious sect that hopes against hope for peace is a far cry from what we used to be: a rapidly growing, revolutionary, spiritual movement of friends and followers of Jesus who threatened to turn the world upside down with a powerful vision of radical faithfulness.

In The Call To Radical Faithfulness, Gwyn offers us a glimpse into this very different Quaker world by boiling down his many scholarly books on the “radical Christian faith of early Friends” to 104 pages of accessible stories and inspired ministry about both famous early Quakers, like George Fox and Margaret Fell, and lesser-known early Friends, such as James Parnell and Sarah Blackborrow. Each of these stories shines a light on the depth of the early Friends’ mystical and life-changing encounter with the Spirit of God, the very Spirit they believed inspired the life and ministry of Jesus, as well as “the prophets and apostles of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.” The early Friends, according to Gwyn, “began living the biblical stories as their own story.”

This is a rarity among Liberal Friends today, and may be why much of modern Quakerism seems so muted and tame. Many Liberal Friends are disinterested or ignorant of the Bible and see the main characteristic of modern Quakerism as a mysticism cut-off from the collective responsibilities and historic mission of the prophetic religious tradition. As Gwyn notes, from the perspective of early Friends and the most faithful Friends today:

Quaker faith and practice is a prophetic spirituality…. Like mysticism, it is grounded in firsthand experience. But that experience leads us to speak and act in the world, not simply to enjoy a sense of oneness with God and everything.

Another difference between then and now is that early Friends embraced social conflict, instead of fearing it and hoping it would go away. As Gwyn points out, they fought to win what they called “the Lamb’s War” for the Peaceable Kingdom. In this struggle, they used the nonviolent revolutionary means of protest, noncooperation, and disruptive interventions in social life. While they refused to wage the Lamb’s War through the use of carnal weapons; violent conspiracies; or even dishonest, behind-the-scenes parliamentary maneuvering, they were not quietist, “nice,” or hesitant to challenge authority or take sides in a social conflict between the oppressed and the powerful. That cultural shift among Friends came later.

Early Friends were much more radical and rebellious than most of us are today: both in their social vision of the Peaceable Kingdom and in their chosen means of fostering their social revolution. Gwyn actually finds it ironic that most Quakers in the twentieth century had to learn about nonviolent direct action for social justice from Gandhi and King, when it was a central part of the faith and practice of early Friends in the mid-1600s.

In drawing lessons for today, Gwyn is wise not to say that deepening radical faithfulness will require us simply to rekindle the visionary and nonviolent revolutionary fighting spirit of early Friends. While this is true, he suggests we also need to avoid reproducing how early Friends misread the signs of their times and held fevered delusions of achieving a quick and total victory in the Lamb’s War. This delusion led many early Friends to give up their spiritual vocation as nonviolent revolutionaries in despair and settle instead for a quietist “hedge against the world” approach to spiritual life, if only the government would grant them religious toleration and end its violent repression of them.

I do have one disagreement with Gwyn. In this book, Gwyn agrees with James Nayler, one of the most revolutionary of early Friends, who said we should not know what we are going to do on any given day and we should not “compass a kingdom to power over sin.” By this, Nayler (and Gwyn) means that if we are to “live faithfully,” we should not seek to be strategic: carefully building coalitions with our neighbors or setting our objectives thoughtfully. This is the one off-note in this otherwise profound and wise book.

Given the failures of early Friends as faith-based, nonviolent revolutionaries, it might be wise to learn as well from more strategic, prophetic revolutionaries like Gandhi, King, and Doloros Huerta.

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Categories: Articles & News

An Early Assessment: U.S. Quakerism in the 20th Century: Papers from the Quaker History Roundtable, June 8–11, 2017

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:15am
Edited by Chuck Fager. Kimo Press, 2017. 235 pages. $11.95/Paperback.

In the interest of full disclosure, this reviewer spent several hours negotiating with editor Chuck Fager over a submission to this volume—one covering the intersection between Gay and Quaker history during the twentieth century. Negotiations broke down, however, when I could not convince Chuck that the piece he envisioned would require vastly too much research and too many pages. Thus, the book’s claim that “no proposals were sent in…none,” in regard to LGBTQ history is a bit misleading.

I tell this story in order to confess that during my talks with Chuck, I naively asked him how evangelical/programmed Quakers—the Friends Church movement—see themselves as Quakers. Have they not embraced, at one time or another, many of the religious trappings which George Fox deliberately discarded in founding Quakerism? I’m speaking of professional ministers, creeds, sacraments, and hymns…not to mention old-fashioned sexual views. Chuck declined to answer. I wonder if he suspected that I might find my answer once I read this book.

This collection’s inspiring biography of Friends United Meeting minister Willie Frye, written by his daughter, Kathy Adams, served as the best possible answer to my question. Had Chuck’s latest book been composed of nothing else, this story alone would have made it abundantly worthwhile. In the history of this passionate, articulate, loving, and courageous man, it became clear to me that he embodied everything I value most about the Quaker Way. Quibbles over creeds and sacraments fell away–counted for nothing–in the commitment to peace, dignity, and justice, to healing the world, that Friend Willie exemplified. If readers pick up this book and thumb through it too casually, there is a danger that these histories will appear dry and academic; not so, if they dive into Kathy Adams’s well-crafted memoir first.

Other stories that stick with the reader include Guy Aiken’s tale of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) worker Luella Jones, who was faced with heartbreaking ethical dilemmas during a very bitter and bloody strike by West Virginia coal miners in 1922. “Jones had discovered,” writes Aiken, “that relief and justice were incompatible.”

Likewise, there is Stephen McNeil’s account of AFSC assisting West Coast Japanese Americans as they were leaving their homes for the wartime concentration camps. Gracia Booth recalls how she encountered a young mother alone on some stone steps, too shocked and anguished even to attend to her own small daughter. The woman shrank in fear as Gracia sat down beside her, but the baby, who had been trying to get comfort from her mother, climbed into Gracia’s lap and, exhausted, promptly fell asleep. Soon thereafter, the grieving mother laid her head on Gracia’s shoulder, “sobbing gently as if in relief.” And then her small brown hand cupped Gracia’s own, atop the baby’s head. “We were both mothers,” concluded Gracia. “That was enough.”

Chuck’s introduction amply emphasizes the need for historians to catch up with the long twentieth century, considering that the vast bulk of research to date has been directed at previous eras. The resulting anthology is a bit like a history of pop music on a single album: the greatest hits by renowned contributors. Followers of American Quaker history are bound to recognize Betsy Cazden, Thomas Hamm, Stephen Angell, Emma Lapsansky, Doug Gwyn, and Larry Ingle. Not only are the histories by these familiar authors worthy and enlightening; the same can be said of pieces by authors I have not previously encountered: archivists Gwen Gosney Erikson and Mary Craudereuff, and historians Guy Aiken, Lonnie Valentine, Greg Hinshaw, and Isaac May.

The pieces by Erickson, Craudereuff, and Lapsansky are not so much histories as probing examinations of how Quaker history is conducted, and they offer manifestoes on ways our history can better be recorded in the future. For example, Craudereuff articulates the growing awareness that the neglected histories of marginalized groups demand a more generous commitment and dedication.

In the more focused histories, one theme occurs time and again:  the tension between “evangelicalism” and “modernism.” Modernism, writes Betsy Cazden, was defined by William R. Hutchinson in 1976 as “a project to redefine Christianity to meet the spiritual needs of modern culture.” These essays chart a struggle between the two impulses, often manifested as controversies internal to the Friends Church movement: over peace; race relations; gay rights; and over the essential question of whether a church exists to save sinners or to serve the  Social Gospel of reform activism. Gregory P. Hinshaw dedicates an entire essay to how these matters played out for the Five Years Meeting Friends, evangelical Quakers in the Midwest whose membership once entirely overwhelmed other branches of the Society.

Obviously, the checkered history of attempts to unify Friends Church with Friends meetings throughout the twentieth century exhibits the same sort of struggle, but only because both camps really wanted unification. Careful papers by Thomas Hamm and Stephen Angell address the thorny barriers encountered by reunification movements in the United States and Canada, respectively.

Lonnie Valentine offers compelling insights into how our time-honored peace testimony has played out—or failed to play out—in regards to war taxes. Isaac Barnes May contributes a fascinatingly ironic study of how Quakers actively, and not always ethically, jockeyed to get “their” candidate, Herbert Hoover, into the White House. Finally, one of the benefits of reading this book was to be introduced to an author I haven’t previously followed: Doug Gwyn. I found myself identifying more closely with the philosophical mannerisms of his mind than with any other author, and hope to read more of his work.

None of the admiration expressed here should be construed as suggesting this volume is remotely suitable for a comprehensive twentieth-century history, and of course it makes no claims to be one. Indeed, it shares the same grave defect found in Chuck’s other two histories, Angels of Progress and Remaking Friends: there are only a few words given to Quaker women’s issues. The irony is that the most spectacular Quaker success in the twentieth century was the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the national right to vote. This is because a Quaker, Alice Paul, effectively took the baton of suffragist leadership from the late Susan B. Anthony.

Having richly benefited from Chuck Fager’s unique investigation into the neglected history of the Progressive Friends movement and its evolution towards today’s Friends General Conference (see reviews of Fager’s Angels of Progress and Remaking Friends in the August 2014 and February 2015 issues of Friends Journal), Friends are once again much beholden to him for commissioning new studies of our neglected twentieth century. I want to emphasize that not only did Chuck administrate this historical conference, he also provided funding for it. Furthermore, he showed the courage and initiative to publish it himself. For me, the only remaining question is whether Friends—occupied as we are with the quality of worship, the practical needs of running a meetinghouse, mutual obligations to one another, and so on—can rise to the challenge of appreciating serious history as serious ministry. I hope that this account of my own enlightenment as a result of reading An Early Assessment will convince Friends of the essentially valid nature of this claim.

The post An Early Assessment: U.S. Quakerism in the 20th Century: Papers from the Quaker History Roundtable, June 8–11, 2017 appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman: The Journal of Phebe Orvis, 1820–1830

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:10am
By Susan M. Ouellette. State University of New York Press, 2017. 380 pages. $29.95/paperback; $29.95/eBook.

For ten years, 1820 through 1830, and again briefly in the 1850s, Phebe Orvis maintained an almost daily journal. The 1820 through 1830 segment covers the years when Orvis, a young Quaker woman, entered adulthood, left the family and the meetings she had grown up among in central Vermont, and migrated to the comparatively roughshod frontier of northern New York’s St. Lawrence Valley. It was here that she “married out of meeting” (there not being a meeting in her new environment); fulfilled the traditional roles of a pioneer farm wife; raised 11 children; and, under duress, left Quakerism, at least outwardly.

Phebe’s diary was lost for more than a century, turning up at an estate auction in the 1960s. Fortunately, it eventually made its way into the hands of someone who recognized its value. Susan Ouelette is a professor of history and American studies at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, and it is she who has brought Phebe’s diary to the public.

The diary constitutes the second half of the volume, reproduced nearly verbatim; to her credit, Ouelette edits only when absolutely necessary for comprehension. She devotes the first half of the book to several chapters that set the scene of Phebe’s writing and provide both historical and cultural context for it.

True to Quaker practice, Phebe wrote plainly and forthrightly. Almost daily comments on the weather are eloquent in their simplicity: “Pleasant” or (frequently, given the wintry climate into which she moved) “Some snow.” She also spoke her mind: “Oh how blind are those who won’t see and how deaf are those that won’t hear, and to what length will prejudice carry a person.”

Phebe migrated to live with relatives, marrying only after she’d settled into her new environment. Her marriage sorely tested her Quaker faith: her husband, Samuel Eastman, came under the influence of the Second Great Awakening, and relentlessly berated Phebe for not having been baptized in the traditional Protestant manner. She finally gave in to his pressure and, in order to keep peace in the family, was baptized and joined the local Baptist Church, where she was considered a member in good standing for the rest of her life. (She died in 1868 at age 67.)

The language and tone of her journal, though, reveal that she never surrendered her Quaker beliefs and principles. For instance, she remained sympathetic to the cause of abolition, noting in the latter segment of her journal—long after she had officially become a Baptist—that while traveling she attended meeting with the Keese/Smith family at the Quaker Union near Peru, New York, where there had been collaboration in the Underground Railroad. Some of the Keese/Smith family members were agents in the movement (and coincidentally, my direct ancestors).

Phebe’s journal recounts a difficult life: endless farm and family chores, from butter-churning to sewing; continual pregnancies; loneliness; fatigue; one child’s death. Why she stopped keeping her journal in 1830, before returning to it briefly 25 years later, she does not say. Ouelette speculates, reasonably, that the burdens of a growing family, work, and advancing years may have taken their toll on her time and energy.

Ouelette does a good job of letting Phebe tell her own story in her own voice. The explanatory chapters fill out her history without intruding upon it. My one objection to her narrative is that she refers throughout to the diarist and her husband as “Orvis” and “Eastman,” not “Phebe” and “Samuel.” This may be in keeping with scholarly custom, but not only does it violate the marriage codes of the time, it also dehumanizes the pair.

That complaint aside, contemporary Quakers will find the book interesting, perhaps even compelling, as it shows us the life of an early nineteenth-century Quaker teenage girl who leaves her familiar surroundings, marries and starts a family, works her fingers to the bone on a frontier farm, and is worn down by challenges to the religion of her upbringing. Perhaps we don’t relocate to such harsh conditions today, but how many among us can still relate to Phebe, her physical and spiritual travails, and her faith?


Correction: the print version of this incorrectly stated that the reviewer was a descendant of Phebe Orvis; it has been corrected here that he descends from the Keese/Smith family.

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Categories: Articles & News

Being Quaker…Where you are: A Journey Among Isolated Friends in the Northwest

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:05am
By Sakre Kennington Edson. Western Friend, 2017. 244 pages. $20/paperback; $9/eBook.

In the middle of an overly full week, I promised to read this book for Friends Journal. The rash promise turned out to yield an unexpected gift, and I encourage you to open this book for yourself and pass it around your meeting.

Sakre Edson, who worships with a few others in Florence, Ore., felt a leading to visit and listen to Friends listed as “isolated Friends” by North Pacific Yearly Meeting. Her travels began in 2008 and extended over several years. She asked each isolated Friend, “What is it like for you, being an isolated Friend?” Her leading was to hear what they said about their spiritual circumstance and personal experience. She asked how they sustained their spirituality on a daily basis, and if they still felt like Quakers and a part of the larger community of Friends.

The book consists of the answers she recorded from 58 Friends in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Each is prefaced with description of the setting where the Friend is located, and something about each participant’s life and occupation.

We are privileged to hear 58 different voices, talking about 58 different ways to “be Quaker here.” Some of these Friends are still in lively touch with some Quaker group, even if distance keeps the contact rare. Some started out as Friends in a welcoming meeting in some more populated area and since then, have been largely on their own (or with a partner), renewing, replacing, or finding a spiritual language and practice that feels alive and meaningful.

Several of these Friends follow some Buddhist practice; some often worship with non-Quaker denominations in between rare Quaker events. Some no longer practice anything as part of a community but draw their spiritual nourishment from nature, from their work, or from art.

Some yearn for more contact with Friends, for whom Sakre Edson’s visit was a great refreshment. “Being isolated is fairly difficult. If I could just import half a dozen Quakers up here, [this place] would be just wonderful for me!” Others, equally welcoming to their visitor, have found themselves arriving at some critical distance from Friends—either Friends in general or Friends in the region: “I never realized how angry Friends can become until I moved to the Northwest where they are angry about Christianity!” “I don’t mean to be critical, but most meetings are like intellectual Quaker clubs…I feel like I have watched Quakers fail.”

Isolation from a Quaker community means that these isolated Friends need to explore their daily spiritual routines. There is a challenge here, the challenge of time unstructured by others, by ritual and rhythm: “Sometimes I miss having a Sunday spiritual practice. I almost have too much freedom.” Each of these Friends has done some authentic exploration of questions like prayer, faith, belief, belonging, the nature of God, and (of course) the place of humans in the world. “As for prayer, I always know, without a doubt, that there are spiritual forces just waiting for me to call on them…I have faith, not in some kind of abstract believing, but I actually feel the support. I believe we are here to grow and improve. I believe the universe has ways of sticking us in difficult situations, and then helping us see a way through them.”

This book is a garden of souls. The “motion of love” that led Sakre Edson to travel, and then to bring the travel to all of us through this book, is one that has come to many Friends over the centuries. Though at times the nourishing, refreshing circulation of living epistles has been weak and almost stopped, it never has completely, for which God be thanked. Maybe this book will comfort you and yet make you aware of a nudge to, in love, also visit Friends!

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Categories: Articles & News