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Contempt Is a Bitter-Tasting Word

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 1:40am

Contempt. It is a word that tastes bitter when you say it. But it is a word that has been much on my mind lately.

Language has always mattered to me. Perhaps it is because my mother was an English teacher; perhaps because I could read long before I started school; perhaps because I was the youngest of five articulate siblings, and my father, a machinist, was as well read as all the rest of us.

But I really think words matter to me because I was bullied as a child. My schoolmates mocked me and said I had cooties. No one played with me or invited me over. My teachers made fun of my stammering when I read out loud or tried to recite the poem I was required to memorize. Thus it was clear to me at a very early age that words do hurt, and the damage can last a lifetime—or more.

This is why I was especially drawn to the Religious Society of Friends. As Quakers, we are called to find that of God in everyone—a difficult task. I spent years trying to find that of God in Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s henchman and Donald Trump’s mentor.

I also spent most of my legal career protecting First Amendment rights. I am clear that I protect the rights of people with whom I may or may not agree. My understanding of the First Amendment coincides with Justice Robert H. Jackson’s:

But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

To me, this is the essence of finding that of God in everyone.

A Friend asked me, “Are we being tested?” “Yes,” I answered.

About ten years ago, Paul Wolfowitz, a neoconservative then in the middle of his scandal-ridden tenure as the president of the World Bank, came to Friends Meeting of Washington (D.C.). The World Bank and this meeting work together each year to raise funds and put together and deliver thousands of shoeboxes with gloves, ponchos, and other gifts for the homeless at Christmas. Friends whispered to each other, “How should we react to him?”

I suggested he was there for the photo opportunity and would leave. I was wrong. He pitched right in working as hard as everyone else (and he had a broken arm!) and stayed to the end.

A Friend asked me, “Are we being tested?”

“Yes,” I answered, and I was reminded: there is that of God in everyone.

Through the very deliberate actions of a few to dismantle our country’s progress toward equality and justice, and with the inadvertent help of technological people with good motives, we have undergone a careful dismantling of the connective tissue of this country. No longer do we get our news from the same sources and our education from mostly public schools. We don’t even watch the same entertainment. And it is only getting worse with the algorithms and matrices of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other technology companies. They not only help you find things you are interested in, but also screen you from information with which you disagree. We have been put into our silos by these forces, and they are making sure we do not get out.

And we Friends help them every time we write “tRump” or “the orange man with the small grabby hands.”

Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, a Libertarian think tank that started the careers of many climate-change deniers, recently stated that the biggest problem with American politics today is contempt. We no longer view those with whom we disagree as people having many things in common with ourselves. We hold contempt for them; we believe in the utter worthlessness of people with whom we disagree politically.

But there is that of God in everyone.

Don’t get me wrong. I get that the political system is broken. In many respects, it has been broken since the first European set foot on this continent. But while it has never been a perfect system, it was—for most—a functioning system. Increasingly, it is a system that functions well for a few, and some of those few play at being benevolent to those in need, as long as the beneficiaries don’t make waves. It is a system that functions adequately for the slightly affluent, assuring them that they can stay in relative safety and comfort provided they don’t rock the boat, although some do. But for increasing numbers, it is a completely dysfunctional system.

You cannot find that of God in everyone if you do not talk to everyone.

How do we change that? I have been working hard for the political candidates of my choice. I have gotten up early, standing in both the cold and the heat, to provide support for voters through Election Protection, a program sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. I hold monthly “Get Out the Vote” postcard writing parties and help with voter registration.

But I have increasingly been thinking again about the power of words, including the words that aren’t being said. So I have been trying to encourage conversations with “the other.” How do we break out of the silos and go back to communicating with people with whom we disagree?

Some of my Friends say, “That’s what we need. How do we reach out and persuade the others that they are wrong?” And I say, “All I am teaching is how to have a conversation. Persuasion may come, but it is not the goal. The goal is to rebuild community among people who do not agree.”

Others of my Friends say, “You can’t persuade some people with facts. You are wasting your time.” And I say, “All I am teaching is how to have a conversation. Persuasion may come, but it is not the goal. The goal is to rebuild community among people who do not agree.”

Both groups show a level of contempt. One group of Friends shows it in a patronizing manner, assuming that all Friends have to do is get the facts to those ignorant people and they would all agree with those Friends. The other shows contempt in assuming that the people with whom they disagree have no ability to learn—or to teach.

But you cannot find that of God in everyone if you do not talk to everyone. You cannot find that of God in everyone if you hold many in contempt.

It is not about agreeing: It is about setting aside our contempt and listening. It is about realizing that there are things upon which we can agree, even if they are as mundane as agreeing that we need rain, or that growing a garden takes work.

Finding this common ground that we all share is the best hope for our nation and, indeed, the world. It is a physical manifestation of our belief that we find that of God in everyone. Finding that of God in everyone should not be an abstract idea best practiced at a distance. It should be concrete actions that build the cornerstone of our beloved community.

The post Contempt Is a Bitter-Tasting Word appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

September 2018 Full Issue Access

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:50am
Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below). Features: Contempt is a Bitter-Tasting Word by J.E. McNeilLife in a Box by Andrew HuffGota De Leche by Camilla MeekMaking Sense of the Starbucks Incident by Ankita AchantaA Quaker Perspective on Hope by
Categories: Articles & News

Keeping It Real, Quaker Style

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:45am

It’s always a bit of thrill and a leap into the wild when we open the pages of Friends Journal to whatever comes our way, as we do twice a year with our open issues. Sometimes a theme slowly appears as we read through the manuscripts. Perhaps it’s no great mystery that in the summer of 2018 Friends are wrestling with issues of justice and reconciliation. What I find fascinating is that these selections are curiously free of the whiff of manifesto or abstraction: there’s no extolling of Friends to do or not do some urgent list of actions. Instead, Friends are quietly, calmly looking at their surroundings and reaching for love and compassion.

J.E. McNeil (Contempt is a Bitter-Tasting Word) is a seasoned campaigner, a lawyer with executive directorships and board memberships on her resume, but in this month’s feature, she gets personal, even vulnerable. How do we begin to bridge the partisan chasms that have opened up in our lives, not just among politicians, but with our friends and family? How do we set aside the contempt and start to listen to one another again?

A recent alum of Quaker Voluntary Service, Andrew Huff (Life in a Box) now works at an emergency homeless shelter in Philadelphia. Because of space and safety constraints, every incoming guest has to fit their possessions into a single 23-gallon bin. Huff looked to see if he could get his material life into that space. He’s well aware of the class ironies of a stably housed person doing this as a voluntary exercise, but he approaches it headlong and clearly. It helped him understand the more systemic causes behind the housing crisis.

Camilla Meek’s story, Gota De Leche, starts off as a period of rest and lounging at the Pendle Hill retreat center. Curiosity led her to the library, where she stumbled across a fascinating if little-remembered chapter of Quaker history: the 1930s, a time when young Quaker relief workers traveled to Spain to assist refugees of Franco’s army in the brutal Spanish Civil War. Browsing turned to research turned to inspiration as she began to form her own concern for today’s refugees.

In Making Sense of the Starbucks Incident, Newtown Friends School seventh-grader Ankita Achanta shows how the Quaker values she’s been taught in classes could have defused a nationally publicized racial incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks. It’s sometimes easy to be skeptical of the Quaker identity of Friends schools, but Achanta reflects back the powerful impact of our collective witness in these institutions.

Kate Davies (A Quaker Perspective on Hope) shares another personal story, that of a longtime environmental activist who stumbled on an archaic meaning of the word hope and gained new insight into a power that can help us stay engaged and energized even in the darkest of times.

Finally, a reminder that while Quaker witness starts with worship and listening, it need not remain an individual concern. Seventy-five years ago, 52 Friends crowded into a room at the Quaker Hill Conference Center in Richmond, Indiana, to start the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Prophetic, Persistent, Powerful). Priorities and strategies have come and gone, but FCNL continues to equip new generations of activists and to provide a space of Quaker centeredness in the U.S. capital.

If the examples here are representative, Friends seem to be finding a grounded center, keeping our witnesses real and personal.

 

The post Keeping It Real, Quaker Style appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Life in a Box

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:35am

I work in an emergency shelter for chronically homeless men in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Upon admission to the shelter, each guest receives one 23-gallon bin to store all of his belongings. Due to space and budget constraints, we can only provide one bin to each guest. Regardless of personal status, length of stay in the program, or attitude, “one bin” really does mean one bin. In order to minimize opportunities for theft, clutter, and infestations, any belongings outside the bins are discarded. A few of the men have friends or relatives to hold some of their belongings. A few manage to pay or bargain for a small storage unit. One or two simply hide things in the alleyways. Most, however, are in the position of editing their lives down to fit into a single bin: life in a box, with the lid shut.

My position at the shelter was my first full-time, paid job. It came immediately after a year of living simply and intentionally as part of Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS). I was stably housed; I also had the ability to accumulate goods—behold my ever-expanding box, with its lid that never has to shut! Consumer culture gave me permission to believe that. But I began to wonder: If I were confronted with the same circumstances as our shelter guests, could I make life fit into a single box? What meaning is there in the discrepancy between the one-bin policy inside our shelter and the mass-consumption orgy outside? In considering these and other queries, I decided to pose myself a “one-bin challenge.”

Simplicity, possession, and class—they all touched a nerve because they all speak to what it means to have power in the world, power in your own world.

As I settled into my intention to take the challenge, I thought back to the many hours my QVS cohort spent inquiring into the testimony of simplicity. The complexity and privilege involved made it by far the thorniest subject for us. We discussed how simplicity differs from austerity, and whether the testimony applies only to material goods or to experiences as well. We debated whether an abundant, diversely stocked pantry could be in alignment with simplicity. We questioned the ethics of following a simple diet, which because of its simplicity verged on being unhealthy. We asked ourselves whether simplicity lost value if the act of downsizing also involved creating waste. We struggled with the dynamic between simplicity and class, noting that for many in our communities “simplicity” is involuntary poverty. Some embraced a year of living simply as a chance for creative frugality; others were deeply offended by the expectation of minimizing their consumption; others were hurt by the notion of “playing poor” for a year.

Simplicity, possession, and class—they all touched a nerve because they all speak to what it means to have power in the world, power in your own world. These same factors unite in the experience of homelessness, perhaps one of the most humiliating and disempowering experiences in our society. A one-bin challenge could not give me the ability to comprehend what our shelter guests experience. But it could help me get closer to it and to them. I wanted to try holding myself to the same standard as our guests, to see whether the one-bin policy still seemed fair after experiencing it myself. Beyond whether it was fair, I also wanted to know whether or not it was decent to hold someone to that standard. I wanted to better understand what the process of fitting life into a 23-gallon bin entails psychologically. Materially, I wanted to review all of my current possessions and keep only those that were the most vital. I wanted to see how much stuff I had lying around, cluttering my space and my mind, simply out of habit or an unexamined belief that I needed it (or would “someday”).

I began to think about all the things that cannot fit into a bin—a bed, a desk, a college education—and also the most crucial things we need in order to thrive…

As I completed my one-bin challenge over the course of two months during the winter of 2018, here is what I learned:

Yes, it is possible to fit the most essential possessions of daily life into a single 23-gallon bin, but it takes effort and creativity as well as disposable income or access to high-quality donations. I took direction from the other shelter guests here. During the course of my challenge, I spoke with them and asked about their bins. I saw that some had fit life into the bin quite practically, without sacrificing basic needs. Their bins contained (for example): multipurpose, adaptable clothing that can be layered and worn in all seasons; one pair of sneakers and shower sandals; a compressible sleeping bag; travel-size toiletries; and a thumb-drive for personal documents scanned at the library. Every item was necessary, purposefully chosen, and cared for. I followed these guests’ thoughtfulness and practicality in reviewing my own possessions. Items that were unnecessary, duplicates, or which only had sentimental value were donated or discarded.

I also determined that yes, it is fair and decent to have a standard of one bin per person for all belongings, at least in an emergency situation such as the one a homeless shelter responds to. During the course of my personal one-bin challenge, many of the shelter guests slowly and imperceptibly accumulated items outside their bins, leading first to the appearance of mice, then to an outbreak of bed bugs. Both situations were uncomfortable, expensive, and stressful. Guests and staff agreed that for the sake of public health and peace of mind, restrictions on personal possessions were appropriate.

I also concluded that for someone who is stably housed, a one-bin challenge is a lighthearted project in simpler living. For some, it can be a chance to make more room for that of God in our lives. For someone living in emergency shelter, though, it is a stressful and at times traumatic project in emergency living. It can be hard to notice that of God when “simplicity” is accompanied by not having control over your next meal, shower, chance to launder, and not knowing when (or whether) you’ll exit the shelter system. When you have a home, a bin is just a bin: plastic, replaceable, unremarkable. When you have no home, a bin may be the container for all that remains of you.

The closer I arrived at being able to fit my belongings into the dimensions of a single bin, the more clearly I saw this context. I also realized that, to some extent, the bin itself was a distraction from a deeper truth.

I began to think about all the things that cannot fit into a bin—a bed, a desk, a college education—and also the most crucial things we need in order to thrive and self-actualize: clean, stable, dignified housing; a secure supply of nutritious food and water; community and loving connection; God, Light, or Spirit. When we focus on the bin, we forget these things.

I then started to reflect on why our one-bin policy exists. It exists in response to space constraints, budget limitations, and public health concerns. But it’s important to recognize that these constraints, limitations, and concerns are situated in an emergency shelter. This shelter exists because there is a homelessness crisis, one that is critical enough that there are people who are chronically homeless. The homelessness crisis exists because of social, legal, and economic policies that have created a housing crisis. Those who can afford housing have it; those who can’t, simply don’t. These policies exist because of a certain cultural perception of what housing is and who deserves it. Those who can afford housing deserve it; those who can’t, simply don’t. Beneath this perception is the belief that in the United States, God’s will is for only some of us to be housed. As for the rest, there’s the shelter downtown and a 23-gallon bin.

It’s not about what’s inside the bin. It’s about everything outside it.

It’s about who we are in the space outside it: how we discern God’s will and how we live into that will as a society.

God’s will is not that all the guests inside our shelter accomplish the task of editing their lives down to fit into a single bin. God’s will is that we on the outside resolve the housing crisis so that there is no need for such a thing as a one-bin challenge.

Now that, Friends, is a challenge worth accepting.

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Categories: Articles & News

Gota de Leche

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:30am

Syrian children at a feeding station in Turkey administered by TIAFI (Team International Assistance for Integration).

The summer of 2017 was a period of rest and reflection for me, and I chose to take a month’s sabbatical at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat center in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. Unlike most people who stay at Pendle Hill for an extended period to work on a project, I arrived without one. I slipped into the daily routine of morning meeting for worship, meals, and loafing, allowing for Spirit to lead me in a new direction.

The library was my favorite spot. It is situated on the ground floor of Pendle Hill’s newest dormitory, and its tall windows look out on the lawn and the center’s vegetable garden. I recalled times spent in libraries as a child, when I would walk to the local library to escape the summer heat and boredom, spending hours reading anything that attracted my curiosity.

One day a shelf of books bound in green with gold embossed lettering caught my eye. Organized by year, they contained the leaflets and booklets published by American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). In the volume of literature pertaining to the Spanish Civil War, a picture of a middle-aged woman holding a crying child next to a man dressed in white caught my eye. The caption read: “‘Life,’ says this refugee baby in Spain, ‘is a matter of milk!’ Esther Farquhar and the doctor agree.”

The woman was dressed in a linen suit in the style of the late ’30s. She wore her hair in a plain side part and had large rimless spectacles. She looked more like a schoolmarm than a nurse, yet her concern for the child was unmistakable. Intrigued, I flipped through the pages of the 1937 section of the journal for clues to her identity.

Another pamphlet titled Relief in Spain featured the same photo on the cover. Inside was a picture of a malnourished infant lying on its back in a crib. The caption said the picture was taken in the Friends Hospital in Murcia, Spain.

In early 1937, the combined Fascist forces of Franco and Mussolini mounted an offensive on Malaga, in the south of Spain, then the main location of the anti-Fascist Republican army. The attack left thousands of pro-democracy Republicans dead. The Republican women, children, and elderly fled north and east along the coastal road toward Almeria, and then further to Murcia.

Franco’s army chased the fleeing people by air, shelling the column of refugees like an angry child stepping on a line of ants. This bloody exodus is known in Spanish history as the Caravan of Death. Half- starving, the refugees who survived the slaughter arrived in Almeria and Murcia, 250 miles from Malaga, with nothing but the clothing on their backs.

Murcia, a small city in a region of eastern Spain, lay in the area defended by the Spanish Republicans. Most of the refugees took up long-term residence in abandoned buildings in squalid conditions in the region, relying on rations from relief centers or hospitals for their food.

A joint relief effort of American and British Friends and Mennonites undertaken during the escalating Spanish Civil War was centered in Murcia. The area of relief, known as the “American Quaker Sector,” covered about 200 miles of coast from Alicante to Murcia and extended about 45 miles inland, according to Gabriel Pretus in Humanitarian Relief in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939.

It was in Murcia that Esther Farquhar, an Ohio Friend recruited by AFSC, arrived in June 1937, shortly after the joint relief effort was begun, to organize the feeding of the starving refugees. Farquhar had taught Spanish at Wilmington College in Ohio, after working for a time in a Friends school in Cuba. She had also worked in Cleveland, Ohio, as a social worker. Her professional background made her a good candidate for the work, but it was her even-handed approach with the refugees, multi-national relief workers, and the Spanish officials that gained respect for the relief work of the Friends and Mennonites and made it so effective.

Once in Murcia, Farquhar saw an immediate need for extra nourishment for the youngest refugee children. The standard ration up to that time was a small amount of bread per day, hardly enough for a baby to grow on. The youngest children showed signs of malnutrition.

Gota de Leche (Drop of Milk), as the milk centers for infants and small children were named, was Farquhar’s passion. She imagined the milk centers as places where mothers could get enough milk each day to supplement either breastfeeding or solid food. This might prevent malnutrition, rickets, and death.

Fortunately, the head of the Friends Committee on Spain, John Reich, was supportive of her plan. Farquhar sent a cable to the Swiss organization Save the Children asking for 200 cases of either fresh or condensed milk to be shipped to her as quickly as possible. They responded immediately with the shipment of milk to Murcia. The first Gota de Leche was on its way. Others were added in cities where the Friends had refugee feeding stations.

If diplomacy was Farquhar’s strength, paperwork was her weakness, so it is difficult to tally exactly how many children received nourishment through Gota de Leche. An excerpt from a cable dated December 27, 1938 in the AFSC Archives in Philadelphia, notes that 50,000 children were receiving bread daily, “plus 10,000 in milk canteens under direct Quaker administration.”

The selective and at times ad hoc nature of the relief feeding efforts was dictated by the small staff and intermittent flow of supplies into the region from Europe and the United States. The nonpartisan stance of AFSC, and the success of relief efforts in Germany and Austria after WWI, made it possible to serve Spanish civilians in both the Republican and Fascist regions of the country from 1937 to 1939.

Esther Farquhar worked in Murcia only one year until her health failed her and she was forced to return home. Her work, continued by others, was deemed a critical necessity for the survival of thousands of refugee children in Republican Spain.

An AFSC report on the work says:

After a year of single-handed responsibility for the hospitals, feeding centers and other refugee aids in Southern Spain, Esther Farquhar returned home in June 1938. Her rare tact and sympathy won the lasting affection of the Spanish people and laid a firm foundation of the continued work of Clyde E. Roberts; Emily Parker; Alfred H. and Ruth B. Cope; Florence Conard; and representing the Church of the Brethren, Martha Rupel.

My fascination with Farquhar and AFSC relief work led me to the AFSC Archives at Friends Center in Philadelphia one afternoon before the end of my Pendle Hill retreat. There I found the photo diary of Emily Parker, a young AFSC worker who assisted Farquhar in Murcia. Bent and aging sepia snapshots in an old, deerskin-covered album showed a woman dressed in white with schoolmarm hair and glasses holding an infant in her lap.

Written in ink next to it were the words, “Baby born on Malaga Road during flight from that city. In picture is 18-month-old and weighed slightly under 10 pounds.” Just below it, another snapshot without description showed the same woman cradling the child and feeding it a bottle of milk.

Syrian children at a feeding station in Turkey administered by TIAFI (Team International Assistance for Integration).

I was profoundly impressed by what I learned of the relief effort mounted by this small group of dedicated American and British faith workers. If they were able to do so much with so few resources, might I not be able to help refugees as well?

My research on refugee relief through the Internet and social media led me to a small, informal non-governmental organization (NGO) in Turkey that posted a request for volunteers online. Ironically, the group is also led by a middle-aged woman who, through a passion for service, founded Team International Assistance for Integration (TIAFI). Run by volunteers, the group has created a community center where vulnerable Syrian refugee women and children receive daily meals, language instruction, and job training in order to begin new lives in Turkey.

Through email and Skype, I was able to make contact with TIAFI’s volunteer coordinator. We agreed that if I came to work at their community center, my skills would be put to use. With Turkish tourist visa in hand, I left for Europe in October, planning to travel from the United States to Rome to Izmir, Turkey, for several weeks of volunteering. But once I arrived in Italy, I learned that the Turkish government revoked all tourist visas for American citizens as a result of an escalating dispute between the two governments.

Instead, I sent TIAFI a donation of what amounted to my round-trip plane fare from Rome to Turkey. With my donation they purchased a heating stove for their center just as the weather turned cold. I am now working remotely with their volunteer coordinator to support their social media and marketing efforts.

Backpacks and purses that the Syrian women have been trained to make in TIAFI’s workshop are available for a donation to the group. The Turkish government forbids them to be sold as TIAFI isn’t recognized as a legal entity. This helps the Syrian women to cover some of their living expenses. Hopefully the refugee families will be able to return to Syria once it is safe.

Inspired by the story of Esther Farquhar’s Gota de Leche, I found a sense of agency I’d lacked. I’m now confident in my ability to effect a small change or give relief, where before I felt baffled about how to begin.

The United States and the European Union have almost completely stopped accepting refugees from Syria and Africa because of political backlash. The refugee crisis has grown to epic scale. Many families wait in squalid conditions in Turkey and Greece, unable to officially relocate to a new home and unable to return home. Not since World War II have so many been displaced. The work of Friends in Spain points the way to our power to relieve the suffering of others.

There are ways each of us can give comfort to refugees. The easiest is by financially supporting the many NGOs working in the region. Some of the larger ones are listed at USAID Center for International Disaster Information’s website: cidi.org/syria-ngos. I found TIAFI through a social media search. Facebook has a number of pages that are a clearinghouse for refugee volunteer activities. Many of the smaller groups welcome students and adult volunteers for short work stays in the refugee camps in Greece, where it’s easy to travel. It is always advisable to thoroughly research an organization before committing time and money.

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Categories: Articles & News

Making Sense of the Starbucks Incident

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:25am

Rashon Nelson being arrested at Starbucks. Video still from Melissa DePino’s Twitter account, @missydepino.

On April 12, 2018, two African American men visited a Starbucks cafe in Philadelphia for a business meeting and waited for a friend to join them. After asking to use the restroom, the manager asked them to buy something or leave. When the men refused, the manager accused them of trespassing and called the police to escort them out of the cafe.

This is an example of racial prejudice and, specifically, of unconscious bias. If the men were white, they likely would have been treated differently. While the men hadn’t placed an order, it was unreasonable for them to be arrested for trespass. I would like to examine the Starbucks incident from the Quaker perspective by considering how the main players practiced Quaker values. I will also describe the learnings from this incident that can bring Quakerism into our everyday lives.

As a seventh-grade student attending a Friends school, I have been taught Quaker values. Although I am a Hindu and not formally a Quaker, Quaker values are well aligned with my own religious principles. I am committed to living by them and consider myself a “Quindu.”

Quakerism teaches me about integrity, which is doing the right thing when nobody is watching. It is extremely difficult to choose the right thing over the “easy” or “convenient” response. In this incident, the right thing for the manager to do would have been to show the men the bathroom. However, the manager was affected by unconscious bias, and decided to ask the men to leave the store. This incident would not have happened if the manager used the opportunity to demonstrate integrity and controlled an unconscious bias by not falling victim to irrational fear.

The commissioner of the Philadelphia Police also failed to show integrity. The commissioner, Richard Ross Jr. (himself an African American man), initially said the officers did “absolutely nothing wrong” and stood by them. He stated that the men were politely asked to leave by the officers many times, and that police arrested them only when they declined. He later apologized publicly to the men and stated that he understood why the men were surprised when asked to leave.

Quakerism teaches us that when we know that something is wrong, we should do everything in our power to make it right, but the commissioner did not do so immediately. On the positive side, there were witnesses in the cafe (other customers) who demonstrated integrity. Not only did they record and post the video of the men getting arrested, they also questioned the judgment of the police in the moment. Because the other customers posted the video, it attracted nationwide attention, which led to widespread citizen protests and forced the commissioner and the CEO of Starbucks to reconsider the severity of this incident. These citizen activists unknowingly applied the Quaker principle of doing everything in their power to make things right.

People routinely use Starbucks as a meeting place and go there for the Internet access to do work. Such people may not order anything, yet they do not get kicked out. Since this incident showed unconscious bias to be an actual social problem, Starbucks decided to close all of its company-owned U.S. stores on May 29 to conducted racial-bias trainings.

The Philadelphia store’s manager should have also considered the equality of all people. Many people discriminate against African Americans. They stereotype them as entry-level service workers and use racial slurs that imply a tendency to steal. The men’s race does not imply that they are criminals. Such false stereotypes must end. African American people contribute to the economy just as other citizens do. People such as mathematician Katherine Johnson, President Barack Obama, and astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson have all contributed to our culture and economy in exceptional ways. Biases are a problem in America as they harm the innocent. Being African American is not and should not be a crime. There are also many other minorities such as Hispanics, the LGBTQIA+ community, and Native Americans who regularly face discrimination. As individuals who are committed to Quaker values, we must work to create a broader community that is free of unconscious bias.

The two arrested men followed the value of peace. By peacefully protesting their arrest while also complying with the police, the men teach us how to register protest without harming anyone. When one starts with a peaceful mindset, responsible decision making and proper judgment become easier to maintain. The two men said that young African Americans like themselves should not be frightened by this incident and encouraged them to work toward changing America into an unprejudiced nation.

Everyone involved should keep the broader community in mind. In the video, only a few of the other customers told the police the truth about the two men and objected to their arrest. Regretfully, other customers who witnessed the incident remained silent. Simple biases can and do tear communities apart. The purpose of a community is to have others who understand and accept you. If we cannot understand and accept each other, we fail as a community.

Rashon Nelson, left, and Donte Robinson on Good Morning America, April 19, 2018.

There are many learning points that can be drawn from the Starbucks incident. Unconscious bias is an actual problem in America and must be accepted as such. While our nation has made much progress to improve race relations, our unconscious bias remains a significant social challenge that needs to be overcome. We should learn to control our unconscious biases to build a better national community. Starbucks is taking action to make sure that such discrimination does not happen again. All Starbucks employees took a course on racial biases and why they are harmful. It is crucial to acknowledge that discrimination is something that all humans engage in. However, it must not be accepted as normal; it should be fixed.

We can employ Quaker practices to address unconscious bias. For example, Friends regularly have a moment of silence before the start of any activity. This moment helps focus and organize thoughts, so that we are calm and collected before taking action. If the Starbucks manager had a moment of silence to consider the wider implications of her actions, she may have chosen to act differently.

Quaker values (in fact, any religious values) should not be mere theoretical ideas. They should become the north star that guides our daily actions. When we actively apply the SPICES (an acronym for Quaker values representing simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship) to all that we do, we will find the determination to stand up against injustice. Quaker history is filled with individuals who defended what is right. For example, there were many Quaker abolitionists who objected to slavery. Susan B. Anthony was a renowned women’s rights activist who helped women obtain the right to vote. Elizabeth Blackwell, another Quaker, was the first woman to graduate from a medical school and promoted the education of women in medicine in the United States.

The Starbucks incident could have been completely avoided had the store manager followed Quaker principles in decision making. Individuals committed to SPICES must start living them so that we can come together as a larger community that respects and understands everyone, and we can promote social change.

The post Making Sense of the Starbucks Incident appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

A Quaker Perspective on Hope

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:20am

One gloomy fall day in the early 1980s, I was on a tour of the infamous toxic waste dump in Love Canal, New York, with government officials from Canada and the United States. The dump’s contaminants were leaking into the Niagara River, and hence into Lake Ontario, the source of drinking water for 40 million Americans and Canadians. Needless to say, this was causing widespread alarm on both sides of the border, and, as an environmental policy analyst for the city of Toronto, my job was to prepare an appropriate response for the city council.

By that time, all the local residents had been evacuated, and there was a high chain link fence surrounding the site with large warning signs every hundred yards proclaiming “DANGER: HAZARDOUS WASTE AREA. UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL KEEP OUT” in big red and black capital letters. Looking through the fence, I could see rows of boarded up houses and empty streets. The silence was palpable, and I felt overwhelmed as I looked at the poisoned earth and the uninhabited neighborhood. The knowledge that the children were most seriously affected, combined with the fact that there were hundreds of other abandoned sites leaking contaminants into the river and the lake, became too much to bear.

Looking back, this was my first experience of what I might call “environmental hopelessness.” Since then, I’ve had many others. During a career spent working on environmental and social problems, including climate change, pollution, and toxic chemicals, I found it increasingly difficult to stay hopeful about the future.

My Quaker faith helped to sustain me, as did my commitment to social justice, equality, stewardship of the earth’s resources, and peace. Meeting for worship became an invaluable refuge for me, and I cherished the many helpful conversations I had with Friends about activism and avoiding burnout. But over the years, confronting environmental degradation and loss as well as the resulting harm to human health became a crushing emotional and psychological burden. I gradually lapsed into hopelessness and despair, and it seemed impossible to follow George Fox’s 1656 oft-quoted advice to “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” Indeed, how could I be hopeful at all, let alone walk cheerfully over the world, when I felt sad, angry, and depressed about it most of the time? How could I answer that of God in people when I wasn’t sure that polluters, corporate executives, or many government officials had anything remotely divine inside them? And anyway, what would I say to them?

Eventually, my despair led me to launch a personal inquiry into the nature of hope. I started with the dictionary. Most define “hope” using words like desire, expectation, and anticipation. These definitions are based on wanting things we do not currently have and expecting that life will give them to us. This type of hope is about anticipating that we will attain desirable outcomes that are outside our present-day experience. I call it “extrinsic hope” because it is based on hoping for specific improvements in our external circumstances or conditions.

We all harbor these types of hopes and at their root there is always an “I” or a “we” that wants something we don’t currently have. This type of hope comes from a sense of dissatisfaction or the perception that there’s a problem, combined with the desire for whatever we believe will make us feel better or resolve the problem. For example, if I say “I hope to lose weight,” I am dissatisfied with my weight; I am identifying a problem and am wishing for a specific solution.

Extrinsic hopes can be selfish or they can be altruistic, and like most Quakers, I have a lot of altruistic hopes. For starters, I hope for an end to discrimination in all its forms, poverty, homelessness, climate change, pollution, and the consumer society. I could go on. I also hope for a just, peaceful, and sustainable world; universal healthcare and education; and a livable, guaranteed minimum wage for all. Enough said.

Altruistic hopes like these are usually regarded as more worthy or virtuous than self-centered ones, so it’s even easier to expect that life should give us what we hope for. After all, if life is inherently good, shouldn’t it comply with our well-intentioned wishes for others? But life doesn’t work that way. Our altruistic hopes may be extremely noble, but this is no guarantee they will be fulfilled any more than self-centered ones.

I want to be clear that there’s nothing wrong with extrinsic hope. Indeed, this type of hope can enable us to cope with difficult or painful situations, and sometimes it provides a goal to work toward. This explains why extrinsic hope is so common. Just think about it: whenever you have an extrinsic hope, it gives you something to look forward to, something to anticipate with pleasure. But this type of hope is always accompanied by the fear of not getting what we hope for, and by disappointment, sadness, anger, and other unpleasant emotions when we don’t get it. These difficult feelings are indicators of unmet expectations, and they come up often because there is a lot we cannot control in life.

The dissonance between our extrinsic hopes and our inability to attain them makes it inevitable that we will experience all those unpleasant feelings. The gap between what we hope for and the way life actually is ensures these emotions. Even though our extrinsic hopes may be extremely noble and altruistic, the more desperately we want to attain them and the more specific they are, the more emotional suffering we will experience when life doesn’t go our way.

When I realized this, I felt even more hopeless, but, thankfully, my Quakerism led me to another definition, which is also in the dictionary. In addition to defining hope in terms of desire, expectation, and fulfillment, most dictionaries provide a secondary, archaic definition based on faith. This older and much less common meaning is about trusting life, without the expectation of attaining particular outcomes any time soon. This type of hope has a quiet but unshakeable faith in whatever happens and in the human capacity to respond to it constructively. It is a positive, but not necessarily optimistic, attitude to life that does not depend on external conditions or circumstances.

I call this “intrinsic hope” because it comes from deep inside us. Václav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, said in Disturbing the Peace that hope “is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.… It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.” To me, intrinsic hope is also that of God in everyone; the inner light; the quiet, still voice; and the experience of the Great Mystery.

As George Fox advised in an epistle to Friends in America some 20 years after his 1656 counsel, “Hold fast the hope which anchors the soul, which is sure and steadfast, that you may float above the world’s sea.” In this way, intrinsic hope is about accepting the waves and storms of life, and working with them. It is about aspiration rather than expectation, possibility rather than anticipation. With intrinsic hope, I can aspire to see an end to discrimination, poverty, homelessness, and so on, and I can aspire to help create a better world, but I don’t expect life to conform to my wishes any time soon.

Intrinsic hope says yes to whatever happens—whether we like it or not—because if we lose hope and give up, then all the gloomy predictions about the future will become a reality. And if we dwell on our extrinsic hopes, we will continue to feel sadness, despair, and anger whenever life does not give us what we want. But if we can live from intrinsic hope, we will be able to stay positive and engaged even in the darkest of times. And in doing so, we can influence whether there will be a viable future for our children, their children, and all future generations of life on earth.

To conclude, I’d like to quote Thomas Kelly, a Quaker mystic, who in 1938 went to live in Germany to support Friends living under Hitler’s regime. As quoted in Practicing Peace by Catherine Whitmire, in words that perfectly describe intrinsic hope and might have been written yesterday, he said:

In such a world as ours today, no light glib word of hope dare be spoken.… Only if we look long and deeply into the abyss of despair do we dare to speak of hope.… We dare not tell people to hope in God … unless we know what it means to have absolutely no other hope but in God. But as we know something of such a profound and amazing assurance, clear at the depths of our beings, then we dare to proclaim it boldly in the midst of a world aflame.

 

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Categories: Articles & News

Prophetic, Persistent, Powerful

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:15am

Participants in the 1964 annual meeting of FCNL’s General Committee at the 4-H Center in Washington, D.C.

“Why try to work uphill for peace, justice, and freedom on Capitol Hill at a time when cynicism about the character and operation of government and government officials is widespread … ? Because religion should be vital and relevant and because the health and the future of our democracy rest upon responsible participation by informed and concerned citizens.”
E. Raymond Wilson, Uphill for Peace: Quaker Impact on Congress (1974)

I find myself returning again and again to these words from the first head (executive secretary) of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). Looking back on three decades of lobbying, he wrote them the same year I was born. His words sum up my experience of advocacy as a Friend—especially today when many are deeply troubled by our government’s actions and are feeling a profound calling to insist on change.

I reflected on these words this spring, as I worshiped with others in the FCNL community at the Quaker Hill Conference Center in Richmond, Indiana. Seventy-five years earlier, Friends had gathered in the space—in the same room where we sat—under the weight of their concerns for the state of the world, the role of their government, and a felt call to put their faith into action. Those visionary yet practical, prophetic yet pragmatic Friends created the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Friends engagement with policy and politics is much older and more expansive than one organization, of course. As Margery Post Abbott writes in A Theological Perspective on Quaker Lobbying, “Quakers have worked to influence the government almost as long as there have been Friends,” going back to the seventeenth century when Friends were imprisoned for their beliefs.

The creation of FCNL in the twentieth century represented a renewed dedication to bring Quaker beliefs to bear on our country’s governing decisions. In the collective work uphill for peace, I want to acknowledge what FCNL has given to my life, to Friends, and to our world. Most importantly, I want to share what this growing community has to offer to the Religious Society of Friends and to our democratic process.

Shaping Wise and Right Legislation: FCNL’s Founding

The 52 Friends who gathered at Quaker Hill in June 1943 were motivated particularly by the ongoing war in Europe, the imposition of government on the rights of conscience of individuals, and the injustices of race and class that were bubbling up in the United States.

Imagine the realities of Friends during World War II, and the courage it took to decide, in the words of FCNL’s founding declaration, that “we, as Friends, have a responsibility to contribute as best we may to the shaping of wise, and right, legislation.”

This group of farmers, pastors, and Quaker leaders were primarily from Indiana and Ohio. It was not a cross section of American Quakerism at the time, both for logistic and philosophical reasons. Yet these 16 women and 36 men, representing 15 yearly meetings, created a structure for raising Friends concern with the U.S. government that has proven to be both adaptive and generative, able to respond to shifting concerns and to provide a model for Friends advocacy in other arenas.

FCNL’s founding was an act of hope, and a particularly Quaker one in its approach to lobbying. From its beginning, FCNL was oriented toward long-term change. As E. Raymond Wilson wrote, “We ought to be willing to work for causes which will not be won now, but cannot be won in the future unless the goals are staked out now and worked for energetically over a period of time.”

Friends carefully differentiated FCNL from “pressure groups” governed by their own self-interest. In the 1944 Statement of Legislative Policy, FCNL’s General Committee stated that its advocacy “ought to be carried out in harmony with the spirit and practices of Friends as a religious, not a political body. In approaching this task we should seek both prophetic vision and practical wisdom.”

This fall, I will sit at the head of FCNL’s seventy-fourth annual meeting, serving as its clerk. As I look out over this gathering, I will be aware of the twin legacies of FCNL’s founding. This is an organization dedicated to working on issues and for values central to Friends. Our policy recommendations rise out of our belief that there is that of God in every person and that all creation has worth and dignity. Since its founding, FCNL has played an important role in major government decisions related to peace, justice, and a sustainable planet.

In addition, this is an organization committed to advocating in a manner consistent with those values. This approach tries to embody the best of Quakerism: grounded in relationships that lift up that of God in each person, and committed to building those relationships for the long term. Lobbying with FCNL involves listening and an awareness of the possibility of transformation.

Quaker Lobbying Today

Politics and the concerns of Friends have changed over 75 years, and FCNL has changed with them. New issues, such as climate change, mass incarceration, and drone warfare, have emerged as concerns, leading FCNL to seek out additional expertise to lobby and support the organization. Constituent voices have become more powerful in swaying members of Congress, and FCNL has developed new ways of encouraging advocacy at the local level, such as FCNL Advocacy Teams, which work locally to lobby and build relationships with members of Congress. FCNL’s integrity and approach to advocacy has attracted new people—both Quakers and others—who want to put their values into practice through a Quaker organization.

This advocacy has also become a way for young adults to grow as leaders within the Religious Society of Friends, as well as the political arena more generally. In the 1970s, young Friends asked FCNL to give them ways to help end the Vietnam War. Today, the Young Fellows Program has provided an avenue for hundreds of young people to support FCNL’s faith-based advocacy and to develop as young professionals.

This program is how I first came to FCNL in 1996. FCNL is where I began my career in doing policy change work for peace and justice. To this day, it feels like my spiritual and professional home. I’m excited that FCNL is investing in young adults in new and lasting ways and providing more opportunities for young people to experience the power of Quaker advocacy through Spring Lobby Weekend, organizing fellowships, and more.

With all this evolution, the organization’s foundation remains strong. FCNL has been blessed with stable leadership, with just four people serving as its head over 75 years: E. Raymond Wilson (1943–1961), Ed Snyder (1962–1990), Joe Volk (1990–2012), and Diane Randall (2012-present). FCNL’s governing committee includes Friends from 30 yearly meetings and Friends groups nationwide. The practice of soliciting input from Friends meetings and churches across the country to set its legislative agenda ensures FCNL’s continued grounding in the Religious Society of Friends.

FCNL’s persistence and dedication to long-term advocacy also remains an essential characteristic. Nearly 20 years ago, I was part of a gathering called by the British Friends Service Council in the aftermath of Kosovo. Representatives from FCNL, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), and other Quaker groups gathered in London to look at how Friends can respond after violence begins. Out of that discussion, we realized that once the bombs were falling, the peacebuilding was too late. We had to focus on preventing violence, not just responding to it.

In 2002, I came back to FCNL to work on foreign policy, and we started lobbying on just that issue. It was difficult to get attention on Capitol Hill for the idea that the United States should invest in prevention. But that was FCNL’s work: to be present to this truth that nobody was yet ready to listen to.

Fast forward to this year, 2018: The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill called the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which gives the United States some of the tools it needs for prevention. Members of Congress from both parties spoke about the need for prevention during the bill’s debate. We’ve come a long way from the blank looks the word “prevention” elicited when FCNL first started to raise the concept with Congress.

FCNL’s persistent advocacy is not the only factor behind this bill’s passage. Militarism is still dominant in U.S. foreign policy. Too often the United States does not own up to its role in fueling violence around the world. I know, however, that FCNL’s ability to work for long-term change over years and decades is making a difference in this area as in others.

FCNL’s reputation and persistent advocacy gives Friends an invaluable standing among policymakers. Yet even as we appreciate the past and recognize the power it gives us, the inevitable question is, what now?

U.S. politics today is chaotic and uncertain. The Trump administration is dismantling government institutions and protections that have been integral to our society for decades. Militarism and white supremacist ideas are on the rise. The Internet and media landscape make it easier than ever for people to surround themselves with people like themselves. The Religious Society of Friends is mirroring the polarization and fracturing of our country as a whole.

Yet I still believe that Friends principles and practices have something important to offer. FCNL’s history shows that our response to uncertainty and fear is not to retreat but to consider how we can step into those spaces and bring about change. The value of listening and speaking to that of God in everyone we encounter is the only way forward, even when we can’t see clearly where these practices will lead.

In the years ahead, FCNL will advance policies that reflect Friends’ desire for peace and justice. It is significantly expanding its network of Friends, activists, and organizational partners around the country; increasing its visibility, reach, and media presence; building stronger relationships with members of the Religious Society of Friends; and paying increased attention to the sustainability of the organization and infrastructure. FCNL has already lasted 75 years; we need to develop this precious resource so that it lasts another 75 years or more.

FCNL will continue to grow and evolve, remaining grounded in our Quaker faith even as we seek to become more diverse. Both staff and governance committees are working to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. These efforts will bring new challenges and opportunities for change as we strive to ensure that our internal practices live up to our mission to create “a society with equity and justice for all.”

Already, FCNL is creating possibilities for dialogue and relationship building at the newly opened Quaker Welcome Center. Adjacent to FCNL’s office, this space offers a place for meetings, events, worship, and advocacy training every week. Recent events include a bipartisan dialogue about climate change between two representatives, and an interfaith prayer gathering in support of a U.S.-North Korea summit. These events continue FCNL’s long tradition of providing neutral space for conversation on Capitol Hill as well as an oasis of silence and reflection.

The future of FCNL and the mission Friends created 75 years ago is remarkably hopeful. While the state of U.S. policy and politics in Washington and what we see in our own communities threatens our belief in the fundamental goodness of the human spirit, I am continually revived and re-energized. I know that our work to change our government’s laws and practices is part of a much larger movement: one that began before us and will continue long after we have passed the work on to others.

Indeed, the path of prophetic pragmatism laid out by FCNL’s founders continues today with a growing and thriving organization, a community spanning generations and communities around the country, and a commitment deeply grounded in faith. FCNL began, remains today, and will continue to be prophetic, persistent, and powerful.

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Categories: Articles & News

Mistress Dyer and the Wilderness

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:10am

Boston, Summer 1636

Sometimes the wind comes from the bay
and it carries me to the Thames. But rarely.
We are bare and new in this western light,
shining and shone on.
We are raw planks to build with.
We are lichen clinging to the rocks.

Every day I wonder: here I am.
We survived the crossing, a blind womb.
One babe left tucked in the burying ground
of St. Martin-in-the-Fields; another lies
kicking in the cradle by my feet.
Here I shall live as mistress of a house.
Here I must climb out of the flesh
into perfection.

My foot snags in clover on the common;
vines grow up wall and fence-posts in June heat.
Each week I rip them down, the sound
like ripping out an ill-done seam
when I was taught to sew.
I think of my wedding gown in the chest:
twining flowers thickening the silk, the bees
shimmering in gold and silver thread.
No cause to wear such pictures here.

Last eve I stepped outside the house
and spied a huge moth resting on the wall
greener than a cabbage, spots
like strange eyes staring into mine.
I knew it for a sign, but what?
I felt a voice inside me stirring, murmuring
Be still and wait. Thy life is coming, thou art
being called, beyond imagining.

A howling wilderness, we say.
I hear noises in the dark sometimes;
the forest is not very far,
vast mainland past the gateway of the Neck.
How strange to think of living neighbor to
what would rejoice to kill you.

The wilderness of this world:
I weigh that phrase sometimes. In every place
we are looking for a different home.

But I think grace too is something wild:
God’s savage freedom, springing as he chooses.
The longing that claws inside our hearts
to be nothing, to be all Christ,
emerged into our holiness,
wings unfurled.

If we speak, it is Christ that speaks,
John Everard preached in London.
Hearing Christ in a woman’s voice
rising in a hushed and crowded room,
I feel a roaring like a sea-storm
drawing me out to stand on the wet rocks
as waves crash towards me, and someone calls turn back!
but I stand and stretch my arms, face heavenward,
crying nay, nay, I am ready for it, I am
not afraid, I am ready now.

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Categories: Articles & News

Forum, September 2018

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:09am
Spirit as a marker on the map The common elements I experience in our unprogrammed Quaker meeting are that we ask to be led, we listen, we get a message, we act on it, and we like the result (“Spirit?” by Ann Birch, FJ June/July). How that’s done is probably different for everyone there: Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, Wiccan, Pantheist, or empiricist (“I do it and it works”). The label is at best a marker on the map; it’s not the territory. Thomas Merton called “it” the
Categories: Articles & News

Top Ten Quaker Bestsellers 2018

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:05am
From the 2018 FGC Gathering at University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio

© Marta Rusek

1. The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear

By William J. Barber II, with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Beacon Press, 2016. 138 pages. $16/paperback. (Hardcover reviewed in FJ Oct. 2016.)

2. 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. (Review in FJ forthcoming.)

3. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

By Robin Wall Kimmerer. Milkweed Editions, 2013. 384 pages. $18/paperback or eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Nov. 2014.)

4. Seeds That Change The World: Essays on Quakerism, Spirituality, Faith, and Culture

By Debbie L. Humphries. QuakerPress of FGC, 2017. 143 pages. $14.95/paperback; $9.95/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ June/July 2018.)

5. Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker: A Humble Stumble Toward Simplicity and Grace

By J. Brent Bill. Abingdon Press, 2015. 208 pages. $16.99/paperback; $9.99/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Aug. 2016.)

6. Modern Psalms in Search of Peace and Justice

By Dwight L. Wilson, illustrated by Nancy Marstaller. Friends United Press, 2017. 218 pages. $16/paperback. (Review in FJ forthcoming.)

7. Finding the Light in You: Bright Silent Worship with Young Friends

By Marjorie McKelvey Isaacs, photography by Eugenia M. Mills. Self-published, 2016. 54 pages. $25/paperback.

8. Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation

By William J. Barber II, with Barbara Zelter. Chalice Press, 2014. 192 pages. $19.99/paperback or eBook.

9. Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance

By Iris Graville. Homebound Publications, 2017. 260 pages. $17.95/paperback; $2.99/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Nov. 2017.)

10. 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. (Review in FJ forthcoming.)

Previous FGC Gathering bestseller lists

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Categories: Articles & News

News, September 2018

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 1:00am

Alan Price. Photo courtesy of Earlham College.

Alan Price resigns as Earlham College President

On June 27, Alan C. Price announced he will be resigning as the president of Earlham College after serving for one year. Avis Stewart, an administrator at Earlham over the last 38 years, will serve as interim president until a new president is selected.

“After careful deliberation, I have decided that this is the best way forward at this time,” said Price. “I would like to express my profound gratitude to the entire community for supporting me and generating an atmosphere of positive collaboration over this last year. Earlham will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Earlham College—a Quaker liberal arts college in Richmond, Ind., that includes the Earlham School of Religion—has faced recent enrollment and budget concerns. Deborah Miller Hull, as chair of the Earlham Board of Trustees in a June memo addressed to the Earlham College community, wrote, “We are calling for the College to develop an operating expense budget for the 2019–20 academic year of $42 million, effectively reducing expenses by $8 million. This action is intended to improve the net cash flow of the College, which at present is not sustainable. The College has been running substantial operating deficits since the financial crisis of 2007-08.”

Interim president Stewart notes that Earlham’s “challenges are the same as what is out there for higher education in general and specifically for liberal arts colleges. We need to refocus and use our resources carefully in order to meet the challenges of a shrinking demographic and the rising costs of quality higher education.” Stewart is not seeking the presidency of the college beyond his interim role.

Some Earlham alumni have expressed concern with Price’s resignation. Five alumni—Stefan Einarson (Earlham class of 1985), Stephen Gasteyer (1987), Ian Jipp (1987), Catherine Kemp (1987), and Loran Lybarger (1986)—developed a Facebook group called “Concerned Earlham Community” and delivered a petition with over 1,000 signatures to the Board of Trustees “calling for a return to shared governance, improved communication and transparency with regard to Earlham’s budget and endowment, and reconsideration of the resignation of Alan Price by the full Board of Trustees.”

Robert Bresler, a 1959 Earlham graduate and head of Alumni Council and board member 2006–2010, noted that “for Quakers, the survival of this college is essential. There aren’t other colleges that have Earlham’s vision and commitment to the world of Friends.”

Price, a 1988 Earlham graduate was the first person of color to head the college. Before heading Earlham, he earned a law degree from Harvard University and served as associate director of management for the Peace Corps.

 

Baltimore Yearly Meeting approves minute on transgender rights

Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) approved a minute on “the Civil and Human Rights of Transgender People” at its June 9 interim meeting in Frederick, Md. It represents the first minute on transgender rights approved by a yearly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. BYM consists of approximately 50 local meetings and 4,500 members in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and West Virginia.

The minute reads in part, “Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) rejoices in the presence of transgender people in our midst.… We commit ourselves to support the civil and human rights of our transgender members and all transgender people.”

The full text of the minute is available at BYM’s website, bym-rsf.org.

Marcy Baker Seitel, clerk of interim meeting for the yearly meeting, clerked the discussion of the minute at the June meeting. “I went into the meeting with the expectation that Friends would not be ready to pass this minute,” she said. “I realized that the topic of transgender issues had not come up in our business process before. But this expectation of the minute being difficult was wrong. In a time of worship following the discussion of the minute, I felt deeply how much those gathered felt a leading, a desire, to approve this minute.”

The minute grew out of a concern brought forward by some Adelphi Friends. The monthly meeting in Adelphi, Md., had supported a member and her family as she transitioned and had approved a “Minute Welcoming Transgender Persons” in 2013. But in July 2017 when “Trump tweeted out that he was going to ban transgender people from the military, a bunch of people at Adelphi were concerned and wanted to do something more,” said Diane McHale, the Adelphi attender who presented the minute for the yearly meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee.

Friends from Adelphi brought the concern to the yearly meeting Peace and Social Concerns Committee, and they were encouraged to address broader concerns than just the military. Eventually the background to the minute presented at the June interim meeting read, “The Trump administration has taken numerous steps weakening protection for transgender people in such areas as military service, prison assignment, healthcare, employment, schooling, and policing.”

The minute is to be distributed to other yearly meetings. McHale hopes this minute will lead “Quakers to stand up for the civil and human rights of people … lobbying, making contributions and doing volunteer work.” But she also hopes it will lead to “Quakers talking and learning about the issue.”

 

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Categories: Articles & News

The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:30pm
Edited by Eddie Moore Jr., Ali Michael, and Marguerite W. Penick-Parks. Corwin, 2018. 472 pages. $27.95/paperback or eBook.

Some years ago, an elderly couple in my family visited New Mexico. When I asked the man about the trip, he said, “Good trip; the people were especially interesting. They were about a third Indian, about a third Mexican, and about a third … um … you know … regular people.”

Regular people? It didn’t sound right, but at that time I didn’t understand that whites typically see themselves as the norm and their culture as the one that other groups should aspire to. White teachers’ awareness that their culture is only one option rather than the right one is given the highest importance in The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys.

This book is a collection of essays. Among the editors is Dr. Eddie Moore, founder of the annual White Privilege Conference that many Friends have attended.

Why white women? Why only black boys? Because 82 percent of elementary and secondary teachers in U.S. public schools are white, and 76 percent are female, and the four-year graduation rate for black males is only 59 percent, compared to 80 percent for white males. A tragic number of black boys never connect with school, but rather, get caught up in the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Furthermore, many of the innovations a teacher would make to better serve black boys would be beneficial to all children.

So why is an awareness of whiteness so important for white teachers (and white Friends)? For one thing, whites see themselves as individuals above all. Therefore, they don’t find racial identification to be of significance. Because the school curricula and the media mostly reflect the same cultural references, preferences, and biases, they see them as normal and superior. Other groups, because they are oppressed based on their racial identity and because there are differences between their ways and dominant white ways, do see themselves as distinct groups. Unfortunately, white teachers typically perceive black life as a deficit; as a result, they approach teaching with a “savior” mentality. With more awareness that whiteness is just one of the options, teachers are better able to appreciate the richness of the cultures of children of color and to notice the brilliance and giftedness among children they teach.

Black boys get the message early that they are not intelligent, that they are scary, that they will likely go to prison, that they may not live to be 20. I once overheard an 11-year-old boy ask his friend if he was going to get married when he grew up. The boy said, “No, not me. When I grow up, here I go, off to jail!” Teachers must actively counter this narrative and offer them a counternarrative. Preserving the dignity of black boys is of the utmost importance.

People of color talk about race all the time at home and in other protected spaces. White teachers are often uncomfortable discussing race at all, but they need to talk openly about different racial groups and elicit the experiences of their students. This not only enriches the understanding of students and teachers alike, it also shows respect for all students.

I remember an English lesson I conducted with a class of mostly black fifth graders. My students were arguing with me about the word “ain’t,” and I decided to veer from my lesson plan and ask them to tell me some ways kids in their neighborhood talk that is different from their white classmates. They were totally engaged as we talked about “woofing,” which I learned means a stylized, aggressive boasting that I had frequently observed but never acknowledged. Were I teaching today, I would do a lot more drawing out of my students. We all grew that day in understanding of and respect for one another. Teachers must create “identity safe” classrooms in which they help students see their social identity as an asset, not a barrier to their academic success, a place where children of all backgrounds are valued.

Because textbooks are usually written from a white point of view, teachers must help kids notice what is missing. Is slavery presented honestly with more than a passing mention? Here is a place where the white teacher needs to have moved beyond embarrassment and shame in talking about race.

Are black scientists and writers included in the curriculum? Teachers will have to search out resources other than textbooks. Black students need to see black role models. In particular, gay, trans, and disabled black boys need to see successful role models like them.

The book emphasizes the importance of getting to know more about black boys, both individually and as a group. The teacher should keep in close touch with parents, phoning them to report successes as well as misbehavior. She should listen to parents as well as report to them, asking, “How can I better help your child develop his gifts?” She must understand that black parents love their kids as much as white parents. And she will have to earn the trust of parents.

To understand the neighborhood, some articles suggest visiting homes, churches, and other gathering places. Get comfortable in these settings. Get a feel for them.

I wish I had had this resource as a teacher.

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A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:25pm
By Jeanne Theoharis. Beacon Press, 2018. 288 pages. $27.95/hardcover; $18/paperback (available in Jan. 2019); $24.99/eBook.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, and 50 years later there is much attention being paid to the legacy of King and the movement he helmed. Jeanne Theoharis’s book A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History contextualizes the lives of civil rights icons, such as King and Rosa Parks, as well as the Civil Rights Movement as a whole. The book distinguishes between the fable that persists about the Civil Rights Movement and the reality of the difficulties faced by King, Parks, and the many people whose names we don’t know and who struggled for years before the “movement” began. Theoharis shines a light on the gaps between the real history and the popularized version of the history and explains, “As a nation, we need fuller histories—uncomfortable, sobering histories—that hold a mirror to the nation’s past and offer far-reaching lessons for seeing the injustices of our current moment and the task of justice today.” In addition to Theoharis’s thoughtful analysis and explicit connections to current events, the book is well grounded in statistics and quotations, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about how to apply the lessons of the past.

The book highlights people and lessons of the Civil Rights Movement that are often left out of the popular narrative we learn. Theoharis focuses on the true intersectionality of the movement, including the significance of youth and women. The book also features civil rights struggles that are less well known, such as the efforts to desegregate schools in New York, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Regarding California’s voting patterns in the 1960s, Theoharis notes, “The message from the majority of white voters was stark: civil rights were good, as long as they didn’t come home;” even today nine of the top ten most segregated cities in the United States are in the North, and the Los Angeles Police Department has the most officer-involved killings in the country. The book illustrates how “by making racism only about bombing, blocking, and spitting, the nation gets off easy,” and notes the role the media played in developing too narrow a view of the Civil Rights Movement and the oppression the movement attempted to dismantle. The book makes it clear that people were either part of the problem or part of the solution—there is no neutrality in the face of injustice.

Throughout the book, Theoharis illustrates the connections between the Civil Rights Movement and movements today, particularly Black Lives Matter. Sometimes she notes similarities in the movements themselves, such as how both movements began to coalesce as people reached a breaking point with injustice they had been fighting for years, both are “leader-full” and pushed forward by young people, and both movements came to develop a more international focus, including solidarity with Palestine. She also notes common challenges, such as being viewed as troublemakers, dangerous, and “identity extremists.” And the media continues to struggle to adequately cover nonviolent activism for justice, too often only focusing on injustice when those ignored have turned to riots, which Dr. King referred to as “the language of the unheard.” The book’s focus on student activism is also reminiscent of students today leading the efforts on gun safety. There is a quote from a student in 1968, “We waited a long time for those folks to do something to improve our schools, but they let us down and so we have decided to do the job ourselves,” which could just as easily be the words of a student in 2018.

The book invites readers to be reflective about how they use history to shape their own narrative and how history will remember their role in the current movements for justice. When Theoharis describes the way that history has “become the necessary glue that binds and justifies current public policy and national identity” and how “Rosa Parks’s courageous bus stand had become America’s stand,” I think of the pride that Quakers take in our history of standing on the side of justice. Do we ever rely on our history in a way that lets ourselves off the hook for the present? Do we ever make the mistake of thinking of racism as “personal, matters of the heart rather than enduring matters of legislation and structure,” and fail to take the institutional deep dives required to make the structural changes necessary to disrupt the status quo? As Theoharis says, now more than ever this terrible and beautiful “history demands our political imagination and action, a history for a better world.”

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This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:20pm
By Sophfronia Scott and Tain Gregory. Paraclete Press, 2017. 196 pages. $16.99/paperback; $11.99/eBook.

How timely that this deeply personal memoir by a mother and her young son was released for the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Tain Gregory was present in his third grade class on that notorious day in December 2012 and experienced more personal loss than any child should have to endure at such a tender age. His ability to process the events of that day and grapple with profound questions of faith in such a knowing way revealed a solid inner strength that emanated from his own deeply held beliefs and sustained experience with a faith community that was able to be truly present to community and individual needs in times of both darkness and light.

This book traces the spiritual journey of an adoring mother and her thoughtful son. It reveals the way in which they came to a place of deep knowing and acceptance of the mystery that life includes both great joy as well as sorrow and loss. Sophfronia Scott details her own quest for a spiritual and religious life beginning as the child of a large Baptist family in Ohio. Taking the lead from her young son, she was able to lay the ground for his own spiritual awakening by listening and responding to his insightful questions and thoughtful queries. She shares the specific details of their expedition and refinement of a faith that was able to hold them up through the crashing waves and stormy seas of great tragedy and personal loss.

Many parents grapple with similar issues of faith and personal belief, wondering how best to impart such values and provide meaning to their children. Although the author does not claim to have all the answers, she deftly models a way that may serve as a guide for others. In its simplest form, she listened intently and was able to perceive her son’s readiness to begin his own spiritual journey, which in turn informed her own. She intentionally provided experiences for the family that nurtured such need and blossomed into a faith and practice that sustained them all through harrowing times and led to their own discovery of meaning and purpose.

As an educator of children for many years, I know that children learn best from modeling and doing for themselves. Our work, as the adults in their lives, is to be the guide and to live the questions ourselves. We serve children best when we provide the right environment to allow them the freedom to form their own questions and find answers on their own. Spiritual development is no different, as illustrated by this timely book.

In the wake of our most recent events of gun violence in our schools, we have all witnessed a growing response by the young people themselves to seek and demand answers to complex and confusing questions that go to the very heart of society. We are poised to learn important lessons from the youth of today, if we dare to listen and respond.

As Quakers, we believe in the inner light and the innate goodness that resides within us all. If we are authentic to ourselves, to our beliefs as Quakers, and to the inner spirit of the child, we will achieve a lasting and positive experience with children as we endeavor to nurture their spiritual well-being in our meetings and our families. Nurturing those values and deeply held beliefs is the work of families and faith communities everywhere.

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White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:15pm
By Robin DiAngelo. Beacon Press, 2018. 192 pages. $16/paperback; $12.99/eBook.

Robin DiAngelo, the white woman who wrote this book, has been teaching about racial justice for over 20 years. She writes, “When I talk to white people about racism, their responses are so predictable I sometimes feel as though we are all reciting lines from a shared script. And on some level, we are, because we are actors in a shared culture.” White Fragility is largely her examination of that script and the shared culture that helps write it.

She observes that white people have opinions about race and racism they think are objective even though they are heavily influenced by how they have been socialized as white people. She explores that socialization—noting, for example, that race has historically been presented as a biological reality, but is really a social construct. That construct is a crucial element in creating a system of oppression favoring those who are white as well as supporting the belief that the dominant white culture, rules, and people are normal and good.

That system of oppression has adapted to changed conditions such as the outlawing of racial discrimination and the shaming of people who overtly assert the inferiority of people of color. One of those adaptations is what she calls “color-blind ideology,” which disguises discrimination that occurs because of conscious, unconscious, and institutional biases. That ideology permits white people to disguise their own motivations and judgments, so they can talk, for example, about good schools or neighborhoods when by “good” they really mean “white.”

Another adaptation is racial segregation, which permits white people to benefit from discrimination without being aware of it or feeling responsible for it. Law enforcement practices and level of government service can vary by neighborhood without those differences being attributed to race.

The author identifies the cultural shift to viewing overt racial discrimination as immoral and adaptations to that shift—such as color-blind ideology and segregation—as root causes of what she terms “white fragility.” She uses this term to describe the sense of discomfort white people feel about racial issues and their defensive responses when their behavior is questioned.

Because the culture usually protects white people from having to think about race, many become upset when that protection does not work. Because racial discrimination is now considered shameful, white people often deny discriminatory behavior rather than change it.

The author identifies “patterns of white fragility.” These include assuming our experience is available to everyone, unwillingness to listen to people of color who share their experiences, needing to look good, and wanting to jump to “solutions” rather than do the hard, personal work.

As a white person, I recognized this last pattern in myself. When I first heard the author at a workshop list “focusing on solutions” as a pattern of white fragility, I was puzzled. Why shouldn’t we want solutions?

In the book’s conclusion, she explains:

When I give a talk or workshop, the number one question I get from white participants is, “How do I tell so-and-so about their racism without triggering white fragility?” My first response to this question is, “How would I tell you about your racism without triggering your white fragility?” With this response I am trying to point out the unspoken assumption that the person asking the question is not part of the problem.

She has learned to welcome feedback from people of color. She assumes she will never be completely free of racism. If she does not receive such feedback, she worries—just as worried as she would be if a doctor were about to discuss her test results and was called away before doing so.

While encouraging people of color to tell me when I get it wrong seems daunting, I find it helpful to think about language learning. The reasons I make mistakes trying to speak a new language are like the reasons I sometimes engage in racially oppressive behavior. I was not raised in an environment that taught me what I need to know. Because I do not regard mistakes I make in a new language as a moral failing, it is easier to respond to correction with equanimity and gratitude rather than denial. I need to take the same approach to feedback about racial missteps.

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Presence and Process: A Path Toward Transformative Faith and Inclusive Community

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:10pm
By Daniel P. Coleman. Barclay Press, 2017. 232 pages. $20/paperback; $6.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

At the end of his remarkable book, Daniel Coleman speaks of a “profoundly clarifying moment” during his research when he visited the Christian Meditation Center in Neptune Beach, Fla., near Jacksonville. The center is in an otherwise undistinguished business park with insurance and real estate agents, massage therapists, and a yoga studio. Although the center is based on the writings of the Benedictine monk John Main, it is nondenominational, run by volunteers, and supported by donations. Group meditations are offered several times of day, and the meditators come from a variety of backgrounds, from Catholic to Buddhist, although Coleman seems to have been the first Quaker to have visited there. What Coleman found there was a “vibrant and worshipful community,” “a working alternative (or adjunct) to traditional church, without pastor or pulpit or denominational affiliation or doctrinal statement.”

Coleman is a true seeker, who left his evangelical church after 20 years and started a house church, where he hoped to find “a greater depth of Christian spirituality.” He is an avid reader (as is clear from his very well-researched book) and stumbled upon Quaker writings, which led him to join an evangelical Quaker church and eventually to Earlham School of Religion. There he studied the contemplative writings and practices of Quaker, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox mystics. While at Earlham, he discovered Buddhist vipassana (mindfulness or insight) meditation, which enriched his spiritually Christian beliefs. The first fruits of his journey are in this book, a rich amalgam of Christian, Buddhist, and Quaker contemplative practices as well as a beautifully concise chapter on process theology, which “offers a bridge for interfaith dialogue between religions, and even a potential path for ‘double-belonging’ to more than one faith.”

“Apophatic prayer” is not part of Quaker vocabulary, but maybe that will now change, for apophatic prayer is silent prayer, which in earlier times was very much part of Quaker tradition. “Apophatic” is from a Greek word meaning “unsaying.” “In apophatic prayer—the via negativa, the way of silence, the way of darkness, the way of unknowing—one surrenders, forgets, empties oneself of cognition and self-reference, seeking instead to simply be in the present moment in an undifferentiated manner.” There is a very rich tradition of apophatic mysticism in many of the world’s religions, and Coleman lays out its various histories, characteristics, and practices with great erudition and clarity. He also makes clear how vibrant this form of prayer, meditation, and contemplation is today.

Centering prayer is the most familiar form of apophatic prayer today, especially through the writings of Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Cynthia Bourgeault. Based on the fourteenth-century The Cloud of Unknowing, it is a simple practice of letting go of one’s thoughts during meditation or contemplation by focusing on a sacred word that is “an expression of one’s intention” and helps bring you back to your awareness of God within (or the Inner Teacher). One also “uses attention to the breath as a sacred symbol.” The purpose of centering prayer is “inner transformation,” and, in Keating’s words, centering prayer “is a way of awakening to the reality in which we are immersed.”

Coleman’s discussion of Christian meditation and the teachings of John Main, Christian Zen (Merton as well as contemporary writers such as Paul Knitter and Kim Boykin), and Buddhist-Christian interpenetration (the work of Marcus Borg, among others) underscores his call for “faith-mixes,” where “people will tolerate, maybe even appreciate and celebrate, one another’s spiritual mosaics.”

If there is a shortcoming in this otherwise thought-provoking and insightful book, it is the all too brief chapter called “Meditation and Quakers.” While George Fox, William Penn, Thomas Kelly, and David Johnson are mentioned in passing, Coleman’s main focus is on Teruyasu Tamura’s Pendle Hill pamphlet, A Zen Buddhist Encounters Quakerism. Tamura’s suggestion that “in their daily devotion, [Friends] should keep regular practice of complete inner silence, say for an hour or half an hour” is certainly valid. Yet Coleman makes no mention of A Guide to True Peace, or the Excellency of Inward and Spiritual Prayer, compiled anonymously by two Quakers from the writings of three eighteenth-century mystics (Fénelon, Guyon, and Molinos). According to Howard Brinton, the pocket-sized devotional went through at least 12 editions and reprintings from 1813 to 1877, and was reprinted by Pendle Hill in 1946 and 1979. It is a fount of Quaker apophatic mysticism.

Coleman, however, is completely correct in concluding that it is time for Quakers to acknowledge their apophatic heritage: “Quakers could have a role in facilitating the adoption of apophatic contemplative/meditative practices in twenty-first-century North American culture, but only if Friends first reclaim private apophatic practices for themselves and find creatively authentic ways to engage the culture at large with their unique approach to active, prophetic mysticism.”

This is a book that deserves a wide audience among Friends and seekers of all faiths.

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Immersed in Prayer: Stories from Lives of Prayer

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:05pm
Edited by Michael Resman. What Canst Thou Say?, 2017. 172 pages. $9.95/paperback.

Immersed in Prayer: Stories from Lives of Prayer is intended to provide support and companionship for those seeking to enrich their relationship with God. Contributors tell of struggles and blessings encountered on the journey toward a prayer-based life. With a swimmer’s innate sense of rhythm, 26 Friends express varied experiences with the Holy One. Prayerful words splash by, literally just about out of nowhere. The “just about” is where the beauty lies. Brief responses convey myriad depth experiences, like a prayer-focused print version of Friends Publishing Corporation’s QuakerSpeak video series.

Reading these pages was like seeing swimmers flash past in lanes marked with queries. What prompted you to decide to undertake a life of prayer? What happens when you pray? Whom do you encounter when you pray? How have your prayers changed over time? What impediments to prayer have you experienced? What ways did you find to work-around your impediments to prayer? What are some of the signs of growth you notice in your prayer life?

Chapter six took me deeper: Do you have nicknames for yourself or the Other? Michael Resman’s introduction speaks to this: Nicknames “indicate an intimacy and level of familiarity … offer a glimpse into the speaker’s relationship with the one being named.” Friends’ names for God include Divine Companion, Protector, Holy Spirit, Mother, Sweet Comforter, the Light, Goddum, Teacher, the Source, the Name, Holy Sophia. Resman quotes Japanese author Shomei Yoh: “The life of each of you is a shining wavelet flowing forth from the source of the great being,” a saturating image of oneness in which contemplative Quakers may want to soak. “We are all ‘God-Drops’ in the ocean of God.”

What does prayer mean to the Religious Society of Friends? Immersed in Prayer includes respondents who plunge into engulfing depths. Some writers use a straightforward journal form; others turn to poetic language to convey intimacy with the Sacred. What does prayerfulness mean to you? Friends from Alaska to Bolivia offer a buoyant environment for readers who yearn for greater intimacy with Sacred Presence.

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Vintage Saints and Sinners: 25 Christians Who Transformed My Faith

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:00pm
By Karen Wright Marsh. IVP Books, 2017. 224 pages. $20/hardcover; $16/paperback; $15.99/eBook.

Vintage Saints and Sinners: 25 Christians Who Transformed My Faith, by Karen Wright Marsh, is a gracefully written and deeply reflective set of personal essays, each focusing on the life and writings of a different “sinner-saint.” Marsh uses that hyphenated term to prompt her readers to dispel overly pious notions of who qualifies to be a saint. She posits this definition: “[A] saint is a sinner too—but is someone who, by God’s grace, goes through life in the spirit of Christ.” All of the Christians covered in her book had something of the sinner in them. In different measures and degrees, each of these 25 saintly men and women succumbed to temptations, faced existential doubts and fears, and felt alienated from God. Yet, by the grace of God, the spirit of Christ ultimately prevailed within them. As Marsh observes, “Apparently blind alleys and bypasses are part of the pilgrimage. Moments of joy and revelations of grace follow frustrated hopes and inward pains.” Marsh’s fine book shows that by having a direct encounter with these all-too-human saints—through study, prayer, and meditation—we can draw wisdom and encouragement for our own spiritual pilgrimage.

The author’s 25 transformative Christians are a diverse lot—they include philosophers (Saint Augustine, Soren Kierkegaard), founders of Christian denominations (John Wesley, Martin Luther), writers (Flannery O’Connor), monastics (Brother Lawrence, Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich), and social justice leaders (Dorothy Day, Fannie Lou Hamer, Howard Thurman).

Marsh, whose academic training is in philosophy and linguistics, is executive director of Theological Horizons, a Christian ministry established in 1990, with a center located near the campus of the University of Virginia. The ministry came into being because she and her husband, Charles Marsh, a professor of religious studies, felt that “vibrant theological scholarship and authentic Christian community were needed inside the university.” In a podcast interview, Marsh explained that the essays comprising her book grew out of spiritual support gatherings with university students at her home. Her essays clearly show her loving commitment to these young people and her gratitude for their presence in her life. She recognizes that these students see her as mentor, teacher, and nurturer. These demanding roles—and the personal and spiritual toll that they can exact—are occasional themes of her essays.

One of Marsh’s most honest and soul-searching essays is a meditation on the private struggles of the courageous German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis for his participation in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. It deserves mention that she and Charles named their home the Bonhoeffer House for how it resembles the home that Bonhoeffer once lived in in Germany. Charles is also the author of a critically admired biography of Bonhoeffer.

Marsh provides an illuminating biographical sketch for each of the 25 Christians. She clearly demonstrates a scholar’s command of their lives and key writings. But she does not impart this learning in a “teacherly” way. Rather, she relates their life stories as compelling spiritual journeys that support her in her own spiritual journey.

After reading Marsh’s book, you may find yourself wondering: Who would be on my personal list of faith-transforming figures? In fact, you may even feel inspired (as I myself now do) to imitate Marsh’s approach: to prayerfully immerse yourself in the life and writings of one “sinner-saint,” and to reflect on what that individual’s spiritual struggles and strivings reveal about your own. I encourage Friends to read Vintage Saints and Sinners, either as an aid to solitary devotion or for use in a book discussion series for Quaker teens and adults.

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Vincent Paul Buscemi

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 10:20pm
Buscemi—Vincent Paul Buscemi, 89, on March 11, 2017, at home in New York City. Vince was born on May 18, 1927, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Sicilian immigrants Rosa Giacconi and Santos Buscemi. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Pratt University on the GI Bill and a master’s in engineering management at Drexel University. He worked in Pittsburgh and New York City, including at Westinghouse (where he recorded two patents), Consolidated Edison
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