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An American Casualty of U.S. Economic Sanctions on Iran

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 7:33am

David Hartsough with Dr. Tiznobeyk in Iran. Photo courtesy the author.

I went to Iran with a peace delegation of 28 Americans organized by Code Pink, a women-led peace activist group.

The first day in Iran we had a very fruitful hour-and-half conversation with Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran. He listened to our thoughts and concerns and then shared his perspectives about what is needed to help move our countries to a more peaceful and mutually respectful relationship.

Unfortunately, during that day I got increasingly severe chest pains. Friends encouraged me to go to a hospital to have my heart checked. We went to the Shahram Hospital where they quickly did tests and discovered that there was major blockage in the arteries of my heart. The doctor in charge encouraged me to undergo surgery immediately (angioplasty) to avoid having a heart attack.

We appealed that decision but were told the decision was final: no money could be sent to Iran for medical care, even of an emergency nature for U.S. citizens.

My heart was heavy in more ways than one. I had been working on and looking forward to this trip to Iran for many months. I hoped that our delegation could contribute to moving our government from extreme economic sanctions and threats of war toward building peace and mutual understanding.

The hospital was ready to do the medical procedure the next morning. My health insurance in the United States is with Kaiser Permanente, and Kaiser tells all their members that they are covered for any medical problems while traveling outside of the United States. However, when we checked with Kaiser, I was told that they could not send the money to cover the procedure because of the U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

We appealed that decision but were told the decision was final: no money could be sent to Iran for medical care, even of an emergency nature for U.S. citizens. The doctors also told me that if I were to fly back to the United States without surgery, I could very possibly have a heart attack—which could be fatal.

For each of three days they prepared me for the surgery, but for three days the answer came back “No. No money could be sent to Iran for this procedure. It was not permitted by U.S. government.”

Fortunately for me, two wonderful women at the U.S. interest section of the embassy of Switzerland in Iran heard about my situation and were able to convince the U.S. embassy in Switzerland to loan the money to me to be used for my medical procedure. Within hours I was moved to the Pars Hospital, which specializes in heart work; the procedure was done by Dr. Tiznobeyk, a very skilled heart surgeon.

I spent another night in the hospital and then went back to the hotel to recuperate. I am, of course, very grateful to be alive but am acutely aware that people in Iran can’t turn to the Swiss embassy for help.

I hope my personal story may be helpful to assist Americans to realize the violence of economic sanctions under which millions of people of Iran continue to suffer and die because of our government’s policies.

While in hospitals in Iran I talked with doctors and nurses, and heard many stories about people who could not get needed medicines for their illnesses and died as a result. For example, one person had cancer and the medicines were available in Europe, but they could not do the financial transactions to buy them and she died.

The economic sanctions have also caused extreme inflation and the cost of food, medicine, and other necessities grows almost daily.

I have come to understand that economic sanctions are indeed acts of war. And the people who are suffering are not the government or religious leaders of Iran, but the ordinary people. I hope my personal story may be helpful to assist Americans to realize the violence of economic sanctions under which millions of people of Iran continue to suffer and die because of our government’s policies. I fully agree with what the Iranian foreign minister told us: You cannot get security for one country at the expense of security for other countries. We badly need to learn that real security can only be found when we have security for all nations.

I come back home with a heart which is much stronger, but also with a much greater commitment to stop U.S. policies of economic sanctions, which I believe are acts of war. I will continue the work of getting the United States to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement and get on the track of peacebuilding rather than threatening acts of war. I hope you will join me.

The post An American Casualty of U.S. Economic Sanctions on Iran appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Experiments with Worship

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 12:40am

The author, right, with Yanire Zamora after participating in a peace vigil on Boston Common.


Mohandas Gandhi practiced experiments with truth; likewise, I want to share my experiments with worship. I reveal these experiments with the spirit of adventure, not to prescribe a new recipe for Quaker worship.

In 2011 out of desperation, I initiated having worship in the streets of Boston. Yet another Black youth was murdered, and I was clueless on how to bring Divine Love to the endless cycle of hate. I invited a few Friends to walk with me one morning near the sites of recent murders. We called the ministry Walk on Holy Ground, and we prayed while walking, and held hands when we found the murder site.

At times the Walk on Holy Ground emerged as communion in action. Parts of the walk were full of grace and beauty. The queries are different when worshiping outside a sheltered meetinghouse. Thomas Kelly describes a gathered meeting as occurring when “A blanket of divine covering comes over the room; a stillness that can be felt is over all.” When walking in worship the Spirit is under us, within us, and surrounding us; Spirit is in feet pressing onto root; Spirit is in the sounds of a thrumming city park. Over the last 15 years, my experiments in worship have included Walk for a New Spring, the pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, walking along gas pipelines, and pilgrimages to power plants. Before tapping into aspects of Walk on Holy Ground, I want to name four other experiments with worship.

AVP groups often have 60 to 90 minutes of worship sharing within the prison walls. In the cushion of silence with 22 men, there is open time for truth-telling.

Experiment in repairing

This experimental worship happens with inmates in prisons from New York to California. I and other Friends lead weekend peace workshops in Massachusetts prisons called Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). These conflict resolution workshops are not religious, but they are based on Quaker principles. AVP groups often have 60 to 90 minutes of worship sharing within the prison walls. In the cushion of silence with 22 men, there is open time for truth-telling. One man swears he is off cocaine, and he won’t disappoint his mother. A young father passes around the photo of his son’s fifth birthday—maybe the one photo he has for the year—and says he has stopped hating the mother of his kid. Men speak words that hold hope. Dreams, rarely spoken, lie moist in the circle. A quiet settles in the stuffy room. Redemption sings.

Experiment in freeing Earth’s biosphere

On the Energy Exodus of 2013, 60 of us (including about 12 Quakers) talked about the ten plagues and the Ten Commandments during the Jewish Exodus. In this pilgrimage, we walked from a coal-burning power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, to a proposed off-land wind power plant on Cape Cod. We started our daily ten-mile hike with 30 minutes of Quaker worship. Starting with the Book of Genesis, Judeo-Christianity has often treated forests, fields, and rivers like objects. In this worship, I reoriented my thoughts from the urban pace of life to be with creatures. I asked Creation to teach me to need less. Most days we reflected on the Israelites’ journey out of Egypt into freedom. We are shaking off servitude to the fossil-fuel pharaoh. This walking worship opened up how the land also wants human liberation: “Let my people go.”

We witnessed to the power of God to heal the world, and the extreme peril of coal and methane extraction. We read Scripture; we argued; we sang.

Experiment in stopping carbon extraction

For a week in July 2017, 20 to 30 Quakers walked across eastern New Hampshire to Merrimack Station, the last active coal plant in New England, situated on the exquisite Merrimack River in Bow, New Hampshire. We called ourselves Rooted in Reverence. I learned names of wildflowers, like chamomile and larkspur. Beyond naming them, I saw them as neighbors sharing a sacred path. We worshiped sitting on the spur of the railroad tracks, where the next carload of coal was expected to arrive. Worshiping on the tracks made me pay minute attention to what was required of me, and how God is in control. Listening and discernment are different when Spirit is asking you to take more risk. We witnessed to the power of God to heal the world, and the extreme peril of coal and methane extraction. We read Scripture; we argued; we sang. One person fasted, and another took a vow of silence for the day. Messages came in a gritty way during worship on the tracks, while our bodies were blocking an evil enterprise.

Experiment in liberation from weapons

Friends in Cambridge, Massachusetts, approved holding monthly worship at Raytheon, a large defense contractor that builds nuclear cruise missiles. We worship alongside Fresh Pond Parkway. Children and bikes often pass near our group of 20 Friends perched on the sidewalk. We know that worship and witness feed each other. I benefit indirectly from Raytheon and the war economy. Worshiping under the shadow of its deathly brick wall is a collage of healing and of confronting my complicity in the evil. I have no solution that will liberate us from weapons, but the worship outside helps me grapple more with the truth. Friends have worshiped at the doorstep of Raytheon (including Textron) every month for eight years.

Our worship honored the victims, whoever killed them, and the entire community affected.

Experiment in grieving

This Walk on Holy Ground was a monthly worship or a guided pilgrimage to neighborhoods in Boston where there has been a concentration of homicides. Boston in 2010 had 73 murders; clearly, healing worship was needed. Over a two-hour walk, we would pass over six to eight street corners where murders had occurred. We had nine or ten names with their addresses, and we mourned the loss of life, which is our loss. In unison, we would say the name of the person, their age, and the date of the murder. After a few spoken prayers, we moved to the next site. We walked many city blocks: through parks, into houses of worship and health clinics. We did this for two years. Our worship honored the victims, whoever killed them, and the entire community affected. We would stop to talk with those waiting in front of stores or at bus stops; sometimes we would visit at a youth center. God calls me to help re-envision past pain as holy ground, a rich garden that is deeper than the blood split on asphalt.

On the walk, I was struck by wonder: surprise at the details on porch porticos and in flower beds. I smiled at crossing guards and watched the clouds bank over the courthouse. These are neighbors; this, my hometown. I loved the moving prayer within the kaleidoscope of Boston. I wore shorts, sturdy sandals, and carried a water bottle. I was alert and prepared for murals, train tracks, and sometimes baby strollers. The five of us carried no signs; we held periods of silence and stood in prayer on sidewalks where a victim died. Walking on Holy Ground was moving and prayerful. Was it worship?

Worship takes us out of the mundane and connects us with the greater whole. Can we agree that worship has little to do with the place, the time, or our concepts about God? Prayer is particular; worship is expansive. Ideally, worship includes love and discernment. The Walk on Holy Ground worship showed me strains of light that don’t occur while worshiping inside. At least Walking on Holy Ground is on the worship spectrum. I was connected to the land, the very gait of my walk reflected my internal screams over the murders. Something of the worship-in-action allowed me to see the human cruelty and imagine its transformation.

I’ve enjoyed worshiping inside meetinghouses for over 50 years, but in worshiping outside, I got real. I couldn’t hide in the silence. The walk offers the power of pilgrimage. The power in worship outside is capricious unless my focus on Spirit is unfaltering. Once during Walk on Holy Ground, we encountered a man making and selling wooden bird cages. Once we found someone gardening near tall sunflowers. Another time, near where three women were murdered, we met a Brazilian family that made floats for Boston’s Carnival parade. They thanked us for our prayers. We got to know several parents who survived the murders of their children. After we had prayed with Gwendolyn G. Weeks, the pastor at Bethel Pentecostal Tabernacle near Franklin Park, she joined us on our walk. We laid down the Walks on Holy Ground in the summer of 2013 as energy shifted to other ways of worship. Perhaps Friends could include a mix of experimental worship times alongside the traditional Sunday morning worship.

Designated worship tosses Friends in the stream of the force of love, clear as a stream of mountain snowmelt. Many Quakers go outside the meetinghouse to convert non-Friends to nonviolence but not to introduce Quaker worship. Friends’ peace testimony is wobbly without worship. Peace can’t sustain us without the humility and conviction that happens in worship. Worship carries the plant of peace to its roots. And worship is nonsectarian even nonreligious; it illuminates love to all: child, stranger, survivor, agnostic. Worship is a witness to the power that unites us in love. This is true across cultures, and across space. These experiments with worship aren’t confined to the Quaker way, but all of them include waiting worship and the expectation that we can find God completely in all places.

All of these experiments with worship hold a bright promise that expands the horizon. When we worship outside, we add elements of the unknown; plus, we can expect messiness or discomfort. The unexpected calls for courage and trust. Worshiping outside the meetinghouse jettisons us into the fleshy arms of the living, jaunty, evolving Holy Being.

In 2012 I blogged about walking the street where three friends (all 22 years old) were murdered:

And like the birds, I weave through the world.… [Spirit] tells me that killing three beautiful women came from hopelessness. Willowy women whose arms and legs dance with the wind and who were cut down by revenge. No revenge stirs the glistening cedar tree. Hate lives outside of holiness, outside of love. The clouds rise like skyscrapers in the fecund sky. The jay, in a ribbon of blue, flies with grace.

And after visiting the site of another streetside murder that summer, I wrote:

I pray and worship. We send our prayers deep into the ground, into the bones of the earth. The Holy Ground where the children still shout and chase each other, where the healing starts as a whisper and ends exuberantly, “Hallelujah, I’m alive.”

The post Experiments with Worship appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

March 2019 Full Issue Access

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 2:10am

Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below)

March 2019: Outside the Meetinghouse


Never Having Set Foot in the Meetinghouse by Yohannes “Knowledge” Johnson
What Does the Outside Say? by Brad Stocker
Faces of Addiction by Eric K. Hatch
Faithful Action on Climate Change by Lynn Fitz-Hugh
Experiments with Worship by Elizabeth Claggett-Borne
Holding Unite the Right to the Light by Debby Churchman


After a Quote by William Penn by Maggie Hess
Most Evenings by Nathan Lipps

Among Friends, Forum, Viewpoint, Witness, News, Books, Milestones, Classifieds, Meeting Listings.

Friends Journal members can:

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Categories: Articles & News

Among Friends: Opening up the Doors

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 2:05am

Cover photo © TCDavis: “church light,” an abandoned church in southern France.


There’s an old Quaker story about the newcomer visiting their first Quaker meeting. They sit down and follow the example of everyone sitting silently until handshakes and the rise of meeting, then timidly ask the Friend sitting next to them “Wait, when does the service begin?” The answer comes back: “Now that the worship has ended.” Bada boom!

As corny as this joke is, there is a long history of Friends preaching and witnessing outside of the confines of the meetinghouse. George Fox’s Journal is full of unconventional worshiping; he had a particular penchant for preaching from any bit of high ground he could find, like a tree or rock outcropping. His contemporary James Nayler is most remembered for reenacting Jesus’s Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem by dramatically riding a horse down a main road into Bristol.

Modern-day Friends continue to find unconventional places to worship, from bank lobbies to political protests. Many more Friends find their Quaker practice has given them surprising skill sets that they can use as part of their careers. As a religious movement that began as a response to the churchiness of other denominations, it’s part of our DNA to challenge the idea that worship is limited to a set place or time.


The path to Yohannes “Knowledge” Johnson’s Quakerism was set in motion with an invitation to sit in worship with a prison worship group three decades ago. I was fascinated to read how Johnson prepares himself for waiting worship inside the noisy confines of a state prison.

Our Quaker witness is not confined to a spiritual interior. Brad Stocker, the clerk of the grounds committee of the meeting in Miami, Florida, is very attuned to the witness of our meetinghouse surroundings. The way we treat our properties says a lot about our relationship with the land and our neighbors. As stewards of these plots of physical landscape, what messages do we give about our care of our resources and of the earth?

Quaker political witness goes old school with a trio of articles about Friends worshiping in the midst of political action. Lynn Fitz-Hugh, Elizabeth Claggett-Borne, and Debby Churchman all find ways to bring a Quaker presence to distinctly ecumenical gatherings far outside any meetinghouse walls.

Not all witness happens amidst bullhorns and police barricades and counter-protests, of course. The ever-deepening opioid crisis has touched so many families; our Quaker faith doesn’t make us immune to the problems or the heart-wrenching pain of seeing family members fall into addiction. Like many of us, Eric Hatch at first tried to ignore the issue, but felt the telltale nudge of a leading. He turned his tool—his camera—and began a deceptively simple witness: observation. Like so many Quaker leadings, it took awhile for him to even grasp its scope: “The underlying goal—though I didn’t articulate this until well into the photography phase—was to create the possibility of compassion.” His portraits are beautiful and sad, but also full of unexpected hope.

We often hear stories of Friends worried about the future of our spiritual faith. When I look back at the eras of dramatic growth in our religious society’s past, one constant element seems to be a willingness to share ourselves with the world outside the meetinghouse doors. We still have so much to offer.

The post Among Friends: Opening up the Doors appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Never Having Set Foot in the Meetinghouse

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 2:00am


Every Sunday as I approach the meetinghouse of Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting of New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), I am both elated at being there, and look in awe and wonder at the state of simplicity it represents. It’s not a big, grand structure but large enough to welcome those who attend, with room enough for a handful of guests. As one enters, one sees rows of wooden benches—to one’s left and right, facing one another—and a row of chairs along the back wall, facing the entrance.

I take a seat in my customary place, not necessarily pre­arranged but socially accepted as a small place for me, as others begin to drift in. My eyes, at first, twinkle with a strong sense of happiness as I see my fellow community members arrive, and I experience a heightened sense of welcome and oneness, being a part of this small but vibrant segment of society. Indeed, I feel and recognize I am among Friends who have come to accept me as one of their own. All of this, and I have never set foot in the meetinghouse.

My approach is mental and spiritual, as I am unfortunately imprisoned in a New York State prison serving a lengthy sentence. I first met Quakers and members of their prison ministry in the mid-1980s. I was wandering in what can be described, using the words of George Fox, as “an ocean of darkness,” which seemed to engulf my very being. I would look in amazement as every week, religiously, a small but determined group of volunteers would be escorted to their meeting area next to the law library.

At the time, I was the executive secretary of the Green Haven Prison Branch NAACP. One of our members, who was the chairman of the voter registration project we sponsored (which promotes greater community involvement in the electoral process and provides an opportunity for people who visit the prison to register to vote if necessary), just so happened to be the clerk of the Prison Worship Group at Green Haven. I asked him about the people coming in, and he invited me to sit in to experience what it was like and about. I agreed to attend because I was interested in what these people found to be so important that they would volunteer their time to come into a prison. I mean, contrary to some beliefs, people don’t really “volunteer” to come into prison, do they? At the time, the news was filled with stories of horror involving the use of drugs and its negative impact on communities, families, and users. So I attended the meeting … and have never left! I became so interested that I graduated both the basic and advanced training of the Alternative to Violence Program (AVP), which is still in operation today, and, after becoming a member of the Prison Worship Group, I was honored to serve as clerk of the meeting.

I arrived at the Auburn Correctional Facility and was overwhelmed to have finally found a Quaker prison worship group… After my first opportun­ity to meet with them, I cried in my cell that night.

In 1997, for reasons still not too clear today, I was trans­ferred to another prison which did not have a Quaker worship group. However, I was fortunate to have established a strong bond and linkage with members of the New York Yearly Meeting Prisons Committee and members of both Bulls Head-Oswego and the (then) Clintondale Meetings, and with a member or two of Poughkeepsie Meeting. My lifeline was (and still is to this day) Mary Cadbury of Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting. She, along with the late Marge Currie of Bulls Head, and Sylvia Rorschach and Michele Elone of Clintondale helped to keep me focused upon the Light that has begun to shine within me. For a good 16 years, I was transferred from prison to prison, and while at no time was there a Quaker worship group for me to attend, I held on to the faith of those who held faith in me. That has helped me to understand what those Quaker volunteers felt way back when I was first introduced to them in the 1980s. In all of those years, Quakers have been my breath of life (if I may use that phrase without offending anyone).

In 2013, I arrived at the Auburn Correctional Facility and was overwhelmed to have finally found a Quaker prison worship group (the first prison worship group in New York State). After my first opportun­ity to meet with them, I cried in my cell that night. It was truly overwhelming, but nothing like what I felt when I returned to Green Haven, what I would affectionately call the “place of my re-birth!”

I set these pictures and arrange them in a manner that allows me to see what I’d see as I approached the meetinghouse.

My return to Green Haven was heaven-sent, but we were immediately set upon by indecisions and confusion, not of our choosing but, in my opinion, as a test to question our resolve.

My first visit was with, of course, Mary Cadbury. She is a Quaker from birth, and without her guidance, I truly do not know what state of mind I would be in. Through her, I have come to meet many members of Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting, and I felt it was important to honor her in the best way I knew how: I sought membership in Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting. After meeting with a clearness committee and others who were instru­mental in this process, in November 2016, I was officially accepted as a member. I have since met with many members of our meeting—via both visits and correspondence—and have accepted them—as they have me—as family. It is hard to explain in words: to identify the sense of community, oneness, and inclusion that Friends have brought into my life and how much it means to me to have them share of their lives.

As I write this, I am clerk of our preparative meeting (a designation acquired in 2006). While we strive to be socially accepted as a religious body with the current prison administration, we worship with a clear sense of knowing that the hardship we face shall pass as another experience in our lives.

So, how do I attend meeting for worship with Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting? Well, I have been sent pictures of our meetinghouse: greetings on the bulletin board; on the outside, the front of the entrance; as well as pictures of the four corners and walls of the space within. There are also pictures of sitting members, thanks to my elder brother David Leif Anderson. I set these pictures and arrange them in a manner that allows me to see what I’d see as I approached the meetinghouse, as I noted at the beginning of this article.

Centering is always a welcome challenge, for, as one would expect, prison can be a noisy place and competing conversations can be overwhelming. What I do is draw myself into the pictures and focus upon the images and people therein. I have accompanying pictures of places visited by Friends and sent to me over the years with scenery that, for me as a person raised on the concrete pavements of New York City, gives me visions of natural beauty without the clutter of building structures and the like.

I have come to learn that I have transformed my sense of loneliness into a growing sense of solitude.

As I allow myself to dwell in these scenes of nature, I explore how over the years I have become a better person through my relations with members of the Society of Friends. I ponder the age-old question: “What is life all about?” I ponder what it was to have been lost but now found as a person who seeks to give of himself to share with those who are less fortunate. I reflect upon myself as a better person, for I seem to attract better people in my life. I have come to learn that I have transformed my sense of loneliness into a growing sense of solitude; that what I seek in life now is to be better, to do better, and that in order to do better, I must be better.


The source of my loneliness was a search for whom I was—outside of myself—but that loneliness was also a plea for me to begin to look inside of myself to find that sense of oneness with creation. That what I may have done in the past is not who or what I am today and that each day affords me an opportunity to begin anew.

For me, this is the ability to finally have found a sense of purpose in my life. And this new sense of awareness has awakened my spiritual life in a manner that never happened before.

I find the words of Paul A. Lacey, in Nourishing the Spiritual Life: Finding Companionship, best express what I feel. He states:

Even in the most rigorous silence and solitude, in the lives of cloistered religions, or hermits given over to the practice of intense prayer, the search for God’s will is also the search for companionship. Certainly, it is a search for the companionship of God, but it also seeks out those companions in the search whose struggles illuminate our own, whose discoveries give us the cour­age to persist, whose witness clarifies and sustains our own.

He further shares:

Among the best ways we use solitude and silence is to invite into our company, and give attention to, those other witnesses who enlarge the boundaries of possibility for us, who act as reality checks, confirmation, and examples for us.

By establishing my private meeting space within the confines of my prison cell, I hold my Quaker meetinghouse and those therein within the Light of the Creator and allow the thought of their presence to shine its Light upon me. And in this way, we worship as one, with me never having set foot in the meetinghouse.

The post Never Having Set Foot in the Meetinghouse appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

What Does the Outside Say?

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:55am

Photos courtesy of the author.

When you are the clerk of the Buildings and Grounds Committee at your Friends meeting, the words “outside the meetinghouse” have particular meaning. For this clerk, wondering what your building and grounds are saying to the world outside is both thought-provoking and actionable. Our Buildings and Grounds Committee members deal with the outside often as they contend with what the meeting is doing or neglecting.

Most Friends have an understanding of the architectural message that our meetinghouses express. We understand the simplicity of the structure. We understand the reason there are no steeples or crosses on the outside and why we have clear windows placed so as to invite the light to enter. We are equally sensitive to interior design. While we come into frequent, intimate contact with the meetinghouse exterior, and the land it sits on, we may be less aware of the message they convey.

Friends property is a prominent, public statement of our values and beliefs. Our land, our buildings, and our landscape all convey what educators call a hidden curriculum: messages and lessons that are not overtly stated but are inherent or implied. Friends need to understand our hidden messages, as these are the messages that our neighbors, passersby, our municipality, and our community groups receive every time they are in contact with our property. From a street, road, lane, or path, our properties are visible night and day, day after day. Even when a property is devoid of humans, it continues to act as a witness for us. We must ask ourselves what messages we mean to convey, and be mindful of our intentions in implementing them.

The Buildings and Grounds Committee of Miami (Fla.) Meeting asked Friends to try a thought exercise. The next time they came to the meetinghouse, they were to imagine seeing it for the first time. They were encouraged to pretend to stumble on the building and to pay attention to their internal discovery process. They were asked to notice their immediate reaction to the entrance; to the parking; to the trees, bushes, and flowers; and even to the insects. They should note their feeling and sense about the place. They were asked to notice as they walk down the path and up the steps to the door: how were they feeling? Were they feeling welcomed, sensing an invitation to Spirit?

We posted a number of questions on our website for Friends to consider, among them:

  • What are the messages we wish to present to people who approach the meetinghouse?
  • Are the physical aspects of the meeting welcoming, inviting, and accessible?
  • Do the grounds and buildings create spiritual space and invite Spirit and Light?
  • What does the manner in which we maintain the grounds and buildings say about us as a spiritual community, as global citizens, as neighbors?
  • While honoring simplicity, are we still honoring beauty and Spirit?
  • What messages are we giving about our relationship to earth and our care of earth?

Our small enlightenments have not come by serendipity but rather by queries. Through our questioning and openness, we discovered where we are in alignment with our values and where alignment is needed.

Wrestling with these questions has led us to new insight into what we are expressing through our buildings and our landscape. The meeting has become aware of a number of intentional and positive messages we express through the buildings and grounds, and we have discovered those places where what we say and do outside the meetinghouse is not congruent with our values. The exercise led us to work to bring our outward, public presence more in line with our spiritual values.

For example, we hold care of the natural world as a value and we exemplify this in many ways. We support our yearly meeting’s field secretary for earthcare and Quaker Earthcare Witness, so our outside should reflect this same concern. One way has been to gradually replace exotic plants with native plants that reflect a respect for place and are much easier on resources. Native plants require far less human intervention and far less water. By our plant choices, we become an example of good stewardship for the neighborhood and for those who visit the meetinghouse.

We have worked with our municipality, the city of Coral Gables, and with our neighbors to turn the once muddy, weedy swales between the sidewalks and the streets into lovely beds of ferns. After soliciting the support of our neighbors, the city graciously planted ferns and mulched around them. Not only has the mud disappeared, but also the city was happy to remove the no parking signs, as the plants are a natural deterrent to parking. In this way, we are demonstrating community, cooperation, and good citizenship.

We have realized that the entrance to our property and the parking areas have been in need of attention. They are not inviting, not fully functional, not fitting in with the surrounding residents’ property, and not reflective of our values. We are in the process of redoing the entrance and parking areas with attention to access, attractiveness, simple functionality, and care for earth. When completed, we will evidence better, more Friendly messages from the moment people arrive.

Our last work day, we began renovation of a butterfly garden at the front of the meetinghouse that we had established with a Quaker Earthcare Witness mini-grant but had neglected. Not only had it become an eyesore, but it had ceased to attract pollinators. Without the pollinators, it is unattractive to the passing children on their way to the school across the street. The message to the kids and their parents that we had intended had lost its value.

We have seen that our picnic table is sad and needing paint and that the flowers and plants around it could use attention. It is a table that the crossing guards and other staff from the school use. It should be welcoming and inviting, and better express our open invitation to worship inside.

We have learned that by being mindful and intentional, both our hidden and overt messages have a better chance of becoming integrated expressions of our values inside and outside the meetinghouse.

Sometimes we take architectural and landscaping messages for granted, and we can become accustomed to slow diminishment. Our small enlightenments have not come by serendipity but rather by queries. Through our questioning and openness, we discovered where we are in alignment with our values and where alignment is needed. As Friends know, this should not be a one-time event but rather part of continuing work. Insight needs a consciously created context that invites discovery. We have learned that by being mindful and intentional, both our hidden and overt messages have a better chance of becoming integrated expressions of our values inside and outside the meetinghouse.

The post What Does the Outside Say? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Faces of Addiction

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:50am

Timothy Ferris III (TJ), 20. Heroin addiction. Active user. Photos © Eric K Hatch, (Click for full dimensions)


Faces of Addiction is a project to make compassion possible. It started as an art project for personal growth, took shape as a social project with ambitious goals, and then morphed into a personal ministry. Here’s what happened.

The underlying goal—though I didn’t articulate this until well into the photography phase—was to create the possibility of compassion.

On January 1, 2018, we held a small house party. A member of our Quaker meeting who had lost an adult son to opioid addiction advised me tartly that I should be photographing addicts. As someone with a reputation for emotive landscapes and architectural photography, I demurred.

Three weeks later on a long drive from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Vermont, it came to me that it was about time to do something new: old dogs and new tricks. (I was 72 at the time.) Then, somewhere between the towns of Boredom and Ennui, a bulb went off. Done right, really right, these images, accompanied by life stories, could demonstrate that addicted people are just that—people who are afflicted. And done really right, it might be possible to put a nick in the giant cheese wheel that is the problem of addiction. The underlying goal—though I didn’t articulate this until well into the photography phase—was to create the possibility of compassion.

“Done really right” meant doing the following:

  1. Environmental portraiture, not shock shots or street photography, the goal being to reveal as much of the truth about each person’s character as a single photo can do
  2. Black and white, both for impact and to reduce the distractions of color
  3. Available light if at all possible, again, to keep it real
  4. Each photo accompanied by a brief life story of the subject
  5. The stories and photos reaching the greatest number of people possible, requiring multiple media (including social media), venues, and as much PR as could be created

What I did not anticipate, or even dream of, was that this social project would become a personal ministry, but it has. The act of respectfully and empathetically listening to the volunteer subjects has actively helped numbers of them.

This is what has happened: A 501(c)(3) corporation was formed with board members from Cincinnati Friends and elsewhere. A physical show of the complete set of portraits and stories opened in Cincinnati on January 16. A collateral book is being produced. A brief Ken Burns-style movie was made, and plans are in place for a 23-minute documentary by the same film maker for use in rehab clinics and in high school assemblies. A web version of the book will be mounted concurrently with the physical display. The local National Public Radio affiliate has featured us in a podcast and a media partnership with ThinkTV (the mini-conglomerate owning several public television stations in southwest Ohio) has started its own “Heroin Initiative.” A six-minute video of the opening has been prepared by videographer Ron Harper.

What I did not anticipate, or even dream of, was that this social project would become a personal ministry, but it has. The act of respectfully and empathetically listening to the volunteer subjects has actively helped numbers of them. They feel validated and listened to, and feel that they have contributed to something that might help others. Cincinnati Meeting (my monthly meeting), after a rigorous clearness process, has minuted the ministry, for which I am appreciative.

As this project continues to grow and morph, I’m hopeful that it will, in fact, reach the goal of 500,000 people seeing and reading these stories. So far, this project has resulted from personal networking. Most of the gifts have been in-kind services: web design, book publication, physical production of gallery-size framed images, and story plaques—all these have been donated because people are alive to the problem and want to help.

Inevitably, that’s going to change as greater production and administrative costs are incurred. Yet I am confident way will open, as the plight of these people—and the occasional success story, because sometimes rehab actually works—becomes known. One can’t foresee the future, but for a person of large doubts and uncertain faith, I am confident that some people’s lives will be changed for the better by this work. This has already happened on a very small scale. How far will it reach?

Learn more at

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Categories: Articles & News

Faithful Action on Climate Change

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:45am

Faith Action Climate Team prepares to march. © Abby Brockway.


People often don’t know how to respond to climate change because the problem is so huge and involves so many aspects of how our societies are organized. Quakers are no exception. A complicating factor for Friends is our long history of activism in movements that addressed vital social issues. We feel we should do something, yet don’t know what. Through activism, we have taken Quaker beliefs outside our Quaker meetings. Climate change is an issue that will be solved outside Quakerism, and yet we should do something.

Having listened to many Friends talk about this, I believe that we also carry some confusion about how Friends have arrived at our historic corporate witnesses. There is a feeling that a few famous Friends (for example, John Woolman, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul) inspired Friends to come to unity and speak with one voice. In reality, various Friends in different monthly and yearly meetings raised issues using different methods for many decades in ways that were not coordinated. It took a long time for yearly meetings to come into unity on slavery, and even then there remained a wide spread of opinions. Leaders within the Society of Friends were often considered “friendly nuisances,” and their opinions not popular. They were seen as a cause of friction, and sometimes even disowned. Their stock rose after the full Society adopted similar views.

I find that some Friends are waiting for a clear and detailed leading on climate before acting, or waiting for us as a Society to find unity on a way to take action on climate. I don’t think even John Woolman had a clear picture of the path toward successful abolition. He simply took on one piece that he was clear about: getting Friends to stop owning slaves (a huge undertaking in itself). None of the Friends that led inside of Quakerism or outside of Quakerism waited for the Society to first get clear on it. I want to share some thoughts about possible ways for individual Friends to act on climate right now.

There are many ways to make a difference, and we must each find the way that fits our own style.

What are Friends already doing?

There are a variety of approaches Friends are already taking to hold up the issue of climate change both within and outside of the Society of Friends. In Philadelphia, Friends have created Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), which first engaged in a focused five-year successful campaign to get PNC Bank to stop funding mountaintop removal. Now they have switched to a carefully crafted campaign to get PECO Energy Company (the local electrical utility) to commit to creating green jobs by transitioning energy generation away from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources. This approach has been based upon the lifelong work of George Lakey and his belief that activists should focus on the impacts that a problem (climate change) has on people, highlight those impacts, and put pressure on the group who is causing that problem. I encourage people to visit EQAT’s website for more information, including videos, and read Lakey’s latest book How We Win, which draws lessons for all of us.

Quaker Earthcare Witness, which has worked on many environmental issues, has attempted to network Friends across the country who are working on climate issues. They have produced educational materials on climate change and earthcare, and they produce a monthly newsletter that highlights successes people have had. See their website at

The Prophetic Climate Action Working Group of New England Yearly Meeting has based its actions in prayerful discernment about how to hold up the crisis of climate change to the public and, in the tradition of prophetic witness, inspire others to act. To that end, they have taken several actions, including civil disobedience, to try to awaken the Light in others.

Friends Committee for National Legislation has worked on lobbying the U.S. Congress, specifically working on building a bipartisan coalition (nicknamed “Noah’s Ark” by some, since members join in pairs of one Republican and one Democrat). The coalition has taken the stance that climate change is real, and is trying to form a basis for nonpartisan action; it also hopes to break the Republican stranglehold on its members speaking the truth on climate change.

Finding myself in a part of the country where none of these activities were happening and where no meeting was taking a specific action on climate change, I founded a local group. I know many Friends scattered around the country who have joined or Sierra Club chapters, or other secular groups in order to take action on the climate change.

Positively challenged by a comment from Quaker climate activist Jay O’Hara, I wound up, after leaving, accidentally cofounding an ecumenical group working on climate issues. I thought I was convening a one-time conversation for people from different faith groups around the question, “How do people of faith have a powerful moral voice on climate?” The discussion led to our creating a conference, and that lead to two and a half years (and counting) of ecumenical action on climate, including civil disobedience. So if you act in faith, you never know what will happen.

One can engage in direct action campaigns, educational campaigns, prophetic witness, lobbying, secular actions, or ecumenical actions. There are many ways to make a difference, and we must each find the way that fits our own style.

The bad news is there is no single solution to global warming. The good news is you can start anywhere in whatever sector you understand.

What does working on climate change mean?

Most of us start at a personal level in responding to climate change. We do things like change our light bulbs, buy a Prius, and bike more. But fairly quickly one becomes frustrated with that: solo action is not enough. We are trained by U.S. school systems to expect social change to come through the lobbying of Congress, but in this current political climate such a belief is a recipe for despair. Any careful reading of the history of social change would reveal that it actually takes movements of organized people for governments to change laws and policies.

It is true that climate change is huge, with many causes related to the ways we have organized our society. It’s affected by energy, transportation, agriculture, buildings, forestry, etc. There is both good news and bad news in this. The bad news is there is no single solution to global warming. The good news is you can start anywhere in whatever sector you understand and start to be part of the solution. This problem is so big that it will take millions of us working on it because it has taken millions to create the problem.

If you are not familiar with the book Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, I strongly encourage you to check it out. Finding that none of the big environmental groups had a clear road map of what changes would get us to a safe carbon level, Hawken gathered together a cadre of graduate students to study all kinds of possible solutions to climate change. They examined the specific amount of carbon each solution could draw down and the specific costs. They have three lists, which include what will be most effective and what they see as most immediately achievable. For anyone trying to figure out where to start, you are given both the information about what matters and the chance to notice what actually speaks to you.

The things we spend time on are the things we prioritize. We prioritize earning a living, time with loved ones, and our health. But there is actually time after those things.

But I don’t have any time.

People often tell me that they find my activism admirable, but they don’t have time. I do realize we all have bills to pay and interpersonal issues at work in our lives. I also understand that climate change is a strange sort of fire burning out of control. It’s not the immediate fire that makes you grab your kids, your pets, or your partner and flee the house. It is a fire that will have been burning for decades before reaching its eventual devastation. As a species, we are hard-wired to respond to immediate problems rather than to far-off ones. That had a survival purpose then, but now we are in a situation where if we do not prioritize this slow-moving disaster, it will be too late once things are unlivable. I think we owe it to all future unborn generations to try our darndest to be sure they can be born (if I hear one more person say, “Well, I’m too old; the next generation will have to solve it,” I will scream). It is not okay for the generations who have lived their whole lives creating carbon to bow out of the solution. There are even things people housebound and in poor health can do about climate change. I think we literally all have to die trying.

The things we spend time on are the things we prioritize. We prioritize earning a living, time with loved ones, and our health. But there is actually time after those things. Some of us have more time because of the privilege we have in economic realms. I believe that means we have greater obligation to contribute to solving this problem than do those with less of the privilege of free time. This may mean putting aside some things we have habitually done, or some recreational activities. We cannot just stay in our comfort zone and expect this situation to change.

Just see what is disquieted in you, what task is particularized in your heart, or tenderized there, and act on that.

Begin where you begin.

You can begin anywhere. You don’t have to know what will be successful. You don’t have to have a clear leading. As Thomas Kelly asked 75 years ago:

He, more powerfully, speaks within you and me, to our truest selves, in our truest moments, and disquiets us with the world’s needs. By inner persuasions He draws us to a few very definite tasks, our tasks, God’s burdened heart particularizing His burden in us.

Just see what is disquieted in you, what task is particularized in your heart, or tenderized there, and act on that. If you don’t feel like you know how to do it, find someone who does seem to know and support them. If you have a good idea, ask others to support you. As a famous Quaker saying goes: Live up to the Light that has been given to you, and more will be given. I did not know where convening an ecumenical group for a discussion would lead, but I knew I should, and it led to more things. Once you are in motion, more will be revealed to you; next steps will become clear. This is what faithfulness looks like.

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Categories: Articles & News

Holding Unite the Right to the Light

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:35am

Unite the Right 2 counter-demonstrators at Freedom Plaza on E at 14th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., on August 12. 2018. © Elvert Barnes /


In late July 2018, I started to receive a leading regarding the upcoming Unite the Right 2 rally, scheduled for the second Sunday in August in Washington, D.C.

This rally was organized by Jason Kessler, one of the co-organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, Virginia, which attracted white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and many others to that city. The ensuing conflict resulted in the hospitalization of 30 activists and the murder of another. Jason Kessler wanted to come to D.C. to protest what he sees as abuse of his civil rights and oppression of white people by liberals and the media. The National Park Service had approved his application to hold the rally in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House. Numerous groups of counter-protesters had also applied for permits to be there at the same time to express alternative viewpoints. It looked like the makings of a hornet’s nest and the situation scared the bejesus out of me. And yet, here was this leading, asking that I bring a group of Friends to the middle of the park and hold meeting for worship.

I ran it past a couple of trusted Friends, who for the most part—while not actually asking me if I was out of my mind—indicated that it needed more seasoning. I prayed. I came to feel that Friends needed to be there in worship: both as a place to express our values by living them and to hold the space as a place of peace in the midst of a tense and fraught situation.

I came away thinking this idea was probably nuts, and dangerous besides. How irresponsible was I being? How naïve? And yet, here was this leading …

This isn’t a new idea. Friends have often held public meetings for worship, particularly in support of social justice issues. Friends did this during the Vietnam War, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the White House. With Earth Quaker Action Team, I’d entered various PNC Bank offices in Pennsylvania and D.C. to worship in protest of the bank’s support of mountaintop removal. And during the Occupy Wall Street movement, I’d helped to lead a few meetings for worship in their occupation of McPherson Square in downtown Washington. I wondered, was it time to do it again?

I sent an email to my local meeting, Friends Meeting of Washington (D.C.), and to Baltimore Yearly Meeting saying I was feeling led to do this thing. The yearly meeting suggested I hold an interest group at its annual sessions the next weekend to further test the leading. I held a meeting at my monthly meeting on the last Sunday in July.

Friends were supportive at Friends Meeting of Washington, though things quickly devolved into a hilarious discussion about what color t-shirt we should wear to help the police distinguish our group, settling at last on good Quaker gray. We decided to form a working group to think through logistics.

The interest group at annual sessions, however, was discouraging. As one gently put it, “I don’t see asking Quakers to sit in worship in the middle of a group of screaming racists to be a recipe for success.” She had a point. I came away thinking this idea was probably nuts, and dangerous besides. How irresponsible was I being? How naïve? And yet, here was this leading …

At that interest group, a member of Charlottesville (Va.) Meeting spoke eloquently about her meeting’s actions on that horrible weekend in August 2017. They’d worked with an interfaith group that was holding services in a public park and had taken their turn by holding a meeting for worship there. She said it helped the meeting to identify and stand up for their values, and served as a connecting point for them to the wider Charlottesville interfaith community.

Charlottesville Candlelight Vigil at the White House, Washington, D.C., August 13, 2017.

Praying about this, it came to me very strongly—very strongly, I can’t emphasize this enough, it felt like a direct message—that I was responsible only for catching the leading; I was not in charge of the response.

I kept thinking that Quakers have a gift, a real gift, to give to the world: it’s our style of worship, which is open to all and opening for all. It felt right that we should use this gift in this way. I put out the call to area meetings and continued to pray.

We then discovered that several other communities of faith were planning actions that day, most of them far away from the Unite the Right rally in Lafayette Square. We decided that, in addition to our worship at Lafayette, we would send some folks to the action at Freedom Plaza. At that location, a wonderful expression of diversity and equality was being organized, mainly by communities of color and Jewish groups. Barbara Briggs headed up that effort, and I dug around, trying to find folks who would go with her. I kept hoping that one or two people would accompany her, and if we were really lucky, maybe we could get 10 or even 15 people to come with us to Lafayette Park.

Praying about this, it came to me very strongly—very strongly, I can’t emphasize this enough, it felt like a direct message—that I was responsible only for catching the leading; I was not in charge of the response.

And then, Friends stepped up. They offered lists of what to bring and not to bring. They brought water bottles and granola bars, volunteered to make soup or give peacekeeper trainings, and donated Love Thy Neighbor pins. I started to get calls from people coming from as far as Roanoke, Virginia, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We soon became this island of calm in the midst of anger. People took pictures and asked questions. Some sidled over and stood nearby; some sat down with us and went into the nourishing silence.

On the day of the rally, I went to meeting with my heart in my throat and spent most of the worship time trying to keep my heart open and clear. Usually having a leading leaves me with a sense of peace and warm energy; this one didn’t. I was scared but still quite, quite certain that this was a leading that needed to be followed. At the rise of meeting, we made one last announcement. A slew of people descended on us, wanting the Love Thy Neighbor pins and directions, all ready to roll. Barbara scooped up 17 people and took off for Freedom Plaza carrying our Quakers for Equality banner. A few of us went to lunch and then came back to chop veggies and make soup.

Just before 3:00 p.m., people started streaming into the meetinghouse, wearing their good Quaker gray and ready to participate. Everyone buddied up and exchanged phone numbers. We kept putting out more chairs and printing more “buddy sheets” for Friends to fill out. By the end, our assembly room was jammed. Even more, people waited for us down at Lafayette Square, where Barbara and her group had moved. J. E. McNeil gave her excellent peacekeeper training, cutting it short when we heard that the Unite the Right participants had decided to show up an hour early.

We took off, holding our Love Thy Neighbor/No Exceptions banner, walking toward the hovering helicopters and noisy crowd. As we approached, a group of black-clad, black-flagged people was marching and shouting obscenities. I assumed they were part of the alt-right. Turns out they were antifa activists, a movement of left wing militant anti-fascist groups in the United States.

The park had been divided, with a sad, small group of 30 to 50 white nationalists huddled in the southeast corner and thousands of counter-protesters occupying the northern half. We wandered in, sat down, and started our worship, as some Friends held our banners. We soon became this island of calm in the midst of anger. People took pictures and asked questions. Some sidled over and stood nearby; some sat down with us and went into the nourishing silence. An African American woman came over to hug us, telling us over and over that we just need more love. Thunder rumbled, and a gentle rain started to fall. Friends prayed. It was so, so beautiful.

Finally, we felt the meeting had come to a close. We shook hands, and sang all the verses to “Amazing Grace.” People around us joined in. It was glorious.


In all, we had more than 80 people there from at least six Friends meetings. We showed up on people’s Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, with one person calling us “the most peaceful protest at the park.” We got tons of likes—a significant number from folks in the alt-right (go figure). In some ways, it felt like the most evangelical thing I’ve ever done.

We floated off, some back to the meeting for soup and a gentle debrief. The folks from Philadelphia and Roanoke had a three-hour drive to get home, so we didn’t stay too long. Everyone pitched in with the clean up. It was still light out when we left. And it was Light within.

The post Holding Unite the Right to the Light appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

After a Quote by William Penn

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:30am

© Glebstock

“True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” —William Penn’s Advice to His Children (c. 1699)

Have you ever
met somebody
who carries silence
with them,
in the tilt
of her head,
listening keenly
to absolutely nothing,
or in his very voice
a chamber
of echoing gaps
between his words?

For Libby

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Categories: Articles & News

Most Evenings

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:25am

© luckybusiness


The road continues up the hill
paved, winding through hot trees
and ditches.
Most days I walk
to the bare top.
There is a horse ranch
and too many miles
to look upon.
Also, the sun.
Horses standing about grazing
then kicking godly into movement.
From the dust, beetles leaping
from blades of grass, in the silence
before each hoof.
They halt before reaching the fence
where a current of knowledge waits.
Not the knowledge of gain or loss.
The knowledge of this is enough.
Not what we want acceptance to be
but what it often is.
Holding up a god
merely by presence.

Too many miles to look upon
and suddenly too alone.
Back down the hill, back to the home.
Back, back.

The post Most Evenings appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Forum, March 2019

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:20am
Streams of Christianity

I appreciated that Friends Journal devoted its December 2018 issue to the topic of Quakers and Christianity, and that a wide variety of individual perspectives and personal experiences were included. Upon reflection, I realized that none of the articles featured a growing contemplative Christian movement, emerging from the writings of Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard Rohr, James Finley, and many others, who are resurrecting contemplative Christianity from its ancient, pre-creed and -dogma roots. This understanding of Jesus and early Christianity has a lot in common with what George Fox discovered in the 1600s.

I first learned of this movement when reading Wisdom Way of Knowing by Cynthia Bourgeault, who shows Christianity to be profoundly rooted in the ancient Wisdom tradition. As a Wisdom teacher, Jesus taught and lived out the path to inner spiritual transformation, which always requires surrender, detachment, compassion and forgiveness. I excitedly wrote to her, inquiring of her knowledge of Quakerism, and also sent her my CD of chants, Timeless Quaker Wisdom in Plainsong, thinking it could serve as an introduction. This opened a door to an amazing ongoing collaboration, with me attending her sought-after retreats (“Wisdom Schools”) to teach about Quaker spirituality through the words of early Friends I’d set to song, and with her leading “Quaker Wisdom Schools” to teach Quakers about spiritually transformative concepts and practices rooted in Christianity.

Paulette Meier
Cincinnati, Ohio

For me there is indeed no Christian Mysticism, just Mysticism. I relish the historical foundation of Quakerism in Christianity, but am really pleased to be rid of claims that Christianity is salvific. The real loss in language and experience is nothing specifically Christian, but rather the notion that there are no realms of being other than the physical.

Gervais Frykman
Wakefield, UK


On mediocrity

Gabbreell James notes, in “We Are Not John Woolman” (FJ Jan.), that we Quakers often bask in the mantle of John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, and Benjamin Lay, but we do not exert ourselves to match their sacrifices nor to defend the causes that they might embrace were they living today. While I am willing to plead, “Guilty as charged,” I will also make a plea for mediocrity in matters of Christian profession/confession. While these three paragons of Quaker courage and virtue often faced opposition from more trepid members of Quaker bodies, the fact that these three could take a courageous position at all required the existence of Quaker institutions that operated with all of the shortcomings that institutions typically engender.

Without a base of shared mediocrity, a prophetic testimony has no launching pad from which to emerge. And in fact, the Quaker base did not doubt the qualifications of women to take leadership roles, and certain yearly meetings did forbid the owning of slaves during the lifetime of John Woolman. (Some yearly meetings did not.) Compared to the great mass of American culture, these were noteworthy achievements, even if they fell far short of the best insights that some Quakers could offer at the time.

Moreover, if Quaker institutions did not survive today, imperfect though they certainly are, there would be (even) fewer people who would remember the fearless testimony of those Quaker paragons we wistfully recall. The vast Quaker burial grounds near Philadelphia are filled with people who, like us, failed to heed every counsel that the Light could offer them, yet collectively, their worship testified to greater possibilities than they could individually manifest.

Keith Barton
Berkeley, Calif.

What brilliant questions, laced with the stories of people that make sense of them: John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, Benjamin Lay, and Colin Kaepernick. I ask myself these questions—and continue to wrestle with them. I don’t want to be remembered, truly, but I want to have the courage to be a Quaker. I knew a few with that courage in the early 1980s at the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, and they converted me from non-Quaker. I had some of the courage I admired in others when I was a professor of theatre in Virginia, and a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, but since then have moved into the position of spectator. Spectating may have some value for people like me, and I have done it in workshop after workshop, but very little in the world.

Has it always been so few who step forward? What if a larger ground swell rose up, willing to revitalize the Religious Society of Friends with less tradition and more prophetic agitators? Will we be willing to let go of less effective practice and those who insist upon it?

The more I read of this revolutionary issue of Friends Journal, the more I have hope. Thank you for writing, Gabbreell. Thank you for your Quaker faith and courage.

Susan Chast
Lansdowne, Pa.

Much as I would love to claim that my Quaker practice is akin to the Quaker greats, I know I have blind spots and fall short. Thanks to Gabbreell for this call to accountability and to better practice. I will no longer stand aside when I see or hear Friends using our practice to silence dissent. I will allow the Holy to nudge my awakening as I more deeply commit to undoing racism.

Jeanne Marie Mudd

It seems that we live in a time of “Do what I say, not what I do.” Where most “do” little or nothing. The few of us in the United States that are Quaker fold into the larger groups of activists and don’t stand out as upholding Quaker values. Without postulating, we need to identify ourselves, not for fame or history, but so that others know there are Friends where it is safe to ponder and act upon these issues. I am of the belief that many who check the box “spiritual but not religious” are really Quakers and just don’t know it, yet. Mindfulness, meditation, settling oneself, are popular ideas now—ones that we as Quakers have been doing since the beginning. Might there be a Mott, Lay, or Woolman out there right now and we just don’t know they are Quaker? We need to invite Kaepernick to a meeting. We need to join and support the activists of our time and proudly state that we are Friends.

Judy Reese
Upper Chichester, Pa.

While I appreciate and support the larger message of the piece, I was troubled from the outset by James’s characterization of the “support our troops” types. What better way to support our troops than to work toward preventing the actions that could lead them into harm’s way. The big lesson we learned from Vietnam was not to hold those sent to fight accountable for the sins of those that put them in that position.

I am from a long line of Quakers, and my mother, who served overseas in WWII, spent the remainder of her life supporting those troops who came home mentally wounded, at the same time she lobbied for peace. In her honor I donate to the United Service Organizations every year, as I work for peace and social justice in my daily life. Surely Quakers and progressives care about and support the lives and well-being of those young men and women who for whatever their reasons have chosen to serve in this manner. This is hardly the purview of the conservatives.

Sue Steinacher
Nome, Alaska

This article’s main message is a call to courageous faithfulness, in the face of staunch or long-standing opposition, in advocacy for a better world, especially for those among us who are most oppressed. That is a brave message which asks much of us. And it calls for our continuous and continual response to be grounded in deep discernment, divine assistance, and love for our communities, hopefully with the support of them.

Yes, that is a high aspiration, one that we might choose to avoid and, in so doing, we would indeed verify “We are not John Woolman.” I, for one, prefer to take up Gabbreell’s challenge and attempt to faithfully follow our Guide as fiercely as did those who I hold in high regard, knowing I will fail and try again innumerable times. Reflection on her queries scattered throughout this piece will help me illuminate that path.

Viv Hawkins
Philadelphia, Pa.


More takes on Quaker survival

Five months ago, I left Omaha Friends after attending for 25 years (“Can Quakerism Survive?” by Donald W. McCormick, FJ Feb. 2018). The meeting declined from 20 or so attenders to 2 or 3. This decline in a city area of over one million and several colleges was not understandable to us.

My reason for leaving was an underlying emphasis on progressive liberal ideology at the expense of any spiritual concerns. Second hour discussion would often devolve into an argument with someone walking away hurt. This became more extreme with the election of Trump. I didn’t vote, but the constant negative reaction was dispiriting.

My attraction to Quakers is the direct experience of the Light of Christ within, which Fox so elegantly described. This experience is very real to me, and I felt a kindred spirit in Fox. However, I had Quakers tell me the Light really doesn’t exist or is just a metaphor.

My attempts to refocus the meeting on Spirit was a lost cause. Quakers have a great potential to help lead toward a positive future by following leadings from that stillness rather than following others that have a darker agenda.

Frank Griffith
Bellevue, Neb.

I, too, have my discomfort with my meeting and find spiritual nurture more often than I wish in a traditional Anglican church that has included moments of silence into its liturgy. However, I miss our Quaker silence very much when I am away from it for too long. But too many egos spoil the soup, so to speak.

I can assure you the Inner Light is not a metaphor, but a very real manifestation that some of us are fortunate to experience on a conscious level. It doesn’t happen often, but can never be forgotten when it does reveal itself. For those who have not had that conscious experience, it is still within and they are no lesser for not yet having experienced it directly. Where metaphor comes in is when communicating spiritual experiences via storytelling, for how can one possibly describe the divine mystery directly in human language? But metaphor is secondary; it is not the experience itself, rather a pathway to it.

As the older generation has passed away from our yearly meeting, a massive loss of wisdom, it has left a huge gap. They were not a coddled generation, and their heartfelt fellowship cannot be replaced, it seems.

Kirsten Ebsen
Vancouver, B.C.

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Categories: Articles & News

Occasions for Plain Dress

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:15am

I would like to propose that there are occasions when our ministry to the world might be strengthened by our donning some form of plain dress.

Although our numbers are few, Friends have been among those who led prophetic movements for social justice. As a result, Quakers have a reputation—sometimes undeserved—as people of faith who speak truth to power and who put their convictions to work where work is greatly needed.

In the present highly polarized state of society in the United States, signs of racism, scapegoating, and other forms of bullying in officialdom have often been met with widespread outrage that too often hardens into hatred and vitriol. When hatred meets hatred, the Inner Light is often shrouded in widening darkness. In this context, protesters and other persons working for justice who wear clothing signifying the faith basis of their actions give a check to the demonizing processes. For example, in regard to a June 2018 protest led by interfaith clergy against the immigration policies of the Trump administration, Los Angeles police sergeant Barry Montgomery was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying that arresting faith leaders wasn’t easy for him; in fact he “hated” doing it. Clearly, the leaders’ clerical and other religious garb was speaking an important truth.

Some form of plain dress might serve for Friends on such occasions. Although at times our forebears have dressed in brown, black, or other subdued colors, Quaker dress is usually associated with gray, so that would be the color most likely to communicate our identity. A few of us with thespian affinities might like to appear in full William Penn or Lucretia Mott attire; most, however, would probably prefer ordinary present-day gray pants and shirt, while our signs, “Quakers for …” or “Quakers against …” explain who we are. Or we could produce T-shirts and sweatshirts with a message such as “Quaker—Friend to the World,” and perhaps a logo such as a flame or sunburst representing the Inner Light. I plan to order such a T-shirt, and will be glad to order more for interested Friends.

Modified plain dress of this sort might be valuable on other occasions beside protests: e.g., prison or hospital visitation, feeding homeless persons, safeguarding polling places from voter suppression and intimidation (as do members of the group Lawyers and Collars).

“Let your life speak” is still a phrase that guides us, but that does not preclude occasionally using our clothing to speak as well.

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Categories: Articles & News

El Paso Quakers on the Border Today

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:05am

© Jiri

What’s it like to be a Quaker in El Paso, Tex., these days? At a recent meeting for business, a visitor from New England suggested that other Friends might like to know how we’re involved in all that’s going on recently where we live at the border with Mexico.

“Organized chaos” is the expression a visitor from Pennsylvania used, with enthusiasm, to describe his two-week stint volunteering with Annunciation House. That organization is one of the mainstays providing assistance for the asylum seekers who need a place to stay, rest, eat, clean up, recover their strength, and firm up travel plans between the time they are released by government agencies and the moment they set off by plane or bus to the relatives and friends who will house them until their hearing dates. It’s been around for more than 40 years, largely the result of El Pasoan Ruben Garcia’s early call to serve the vulnerable.

As the numbers have increased, so has the Annunciation House footprint. It recently added satellite shelters with the help of many local religious organizations and financial support from countless individuals and from El Paso Community Foundation’s Migrant Family Relief Fund. Besides Annunciation House, that fund buoys up Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, both of which provide legal services to asylum seekers. Also working in this field are the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee and the Border Network for Human Rights.

El Paso Quakers work with these groups and field questions from concerned Friends all over the country. We corresponded with a meeting in North Carolina that wanted to contribute financially. One family here housed a Spanish-speaking Quaker lawyer from Georgia who worked night and day reuniting families, and the same family later accompanied a man sent to us from a New Mexico meeting who needed a place to stay, hurriedly finding him an interpreter to help at his hearing. We also linked the mother of a young baby with Annunciation House folks who could provide her with help when she arrives in town for her hearing. We’ve been happy to extend hospitality to Friends from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin who came here to volunteer.

We’re a small group, about a dozen at our strongest. El Paso Meeting has been here almost 50 years, and more than 100 Friends have passed through, though never very many at one time. Our numbers reflect the fact that El Paso has always been a place where many people, including Quakers, come and go.

Some of us have regular weekly appointments at Annunciation House shelters to pick up mountains of bedding and towels, launder them, and return them to duty. Others are on call to respond to various needs: organizing and distributing donated clothing and toiletries; preparing, serving, and cleaning up after meals; making spur-of-the-moment trips to the store; or just showing up to do whatever needs doing.

Many may have read about the times when hundreds were dropped off unexpectedly at the bus station without liaison with Annunciation House. The Disciples church, from which we rent our meetingroom, was tasked with suddenly providing a meal for 200. A group of us helped serve and clean up, and we also directed some money to the project. We were happy to hear that “the Quakers provided the chicken for lunch.” Although much of the chaos can be organized, efforts have often required creativity, speed, and flexibility.

We’re border people, used to the many joys and occasional concerns of living here, where the line at the edge of the United States generally doesn’t pose a barrier to community. What you hear about in the news is in the news because it’s new.

From what we’ve seen, there are some really nice people coming to stay with us in hopes of making their safety more permanent. Recently I was employing my clumsy Spanish to distribute clothing and encourage people to take a coat if they were bound for a cold place; one woman told me her destination and it sounded more like a song than a place name. When I looked perplexed, she laughed and pointed to a friend, going to Boston, who could say the name for her. It was “Philadelphia.”

They’re on their way from us to you. If the lady wearing the El Paso trench coat looks chilly, maybe you could offer her a sweater, too.

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Categories: Articles & News

News, March 2019

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 1:00am

© GioRez

New York Quakers sue to reinstate meetings at Green Haven Prison

On September 18, 2018, Green Haven Preparative Meeting and related Quaker plaintiffs sued the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The suit, filed by attorney Frederick Dettmer, a member of Purchase (N.Y.) Meeting, alleges that the termination of quarterly and business meetings by DOCCS violates the constitutional and statutory rights of the Quaker prisoners to practice their religion without government interference and asks for these meetings to be reinstated.

“This case is not being brought to recover monetary damages,” Dettmer told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “It’s being brought to recover the right to practice of the inmates in Green Haven and of the Friends in the community around it.… It was the outside Quakers’ opportunity to worship with the inside Quakers.”

According to the official complaint, “Green Haven Meeting has served as religious home for inmates at Green Haven Correctional Facility seeking Quaker worship, fellowship, and community since 1976.” Green Haven Friends had been gathering three times a week: for meeting for worship, for a book club, and for meeting for worship for the conduct of business. Also, since at least 1980, quarterly meetings were held at Green Haven, filling a Saturday with worship, business, fellowship, and workshops; the event also included Friends from the surrounding community who could not come to the other meetings. Currently there are eight incarcerated individuals registered with Green Haven Meeting, including Yohannes Johnson whose article is featured in this issue of Friends Journal (page 6).

Don Badgley, co-clerk of Nine Partners Quarterly Meeting and a co-plaintiff in the suit, had been attending quarterly meeting for several years when they were canceled in 2015. He told the Poughkeepsie Journal that quarterly meetings were “an opportunity for us to do a broader kind of ministry with the men who are members inside the prison.” He said that having quarterly meeting canceled violated not only inmates’ rights but his right to practice his religion by visiting those in prison.

In 2012, Green Haven members within the Green Haven Correctional Facility sought to have their quarterly meetings listed on the DOCCS calendar of religious holidays. Their request was not fulfilled, and further, in 2015, they were told that their quarterly meetings were being canceled as the “one Protestant family event was … Pentecost,” meaning Quakers were lumped in with the 19 other Protestant groups. In July 2018, their meetings for business were also canceled, in apparent retaliation for attempting to have quarterly meetings reinstated.

Dettmer believes the case will be resolved within 2019.

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Categories: Articles & News

William Penn: A Life

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 12:00am
By Andrew R. Murphy. Oxford University Press, 2018. 488 pages. $34.95/hardcover; $23.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

The name William Penn evokes an image of a pudgy, kindly man wearing a white wig and dowdy, colonial garb—the Quaker Oats man as history. Penn (1644–1718) is known for founding Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and the Holy Experiment of Pennsylvania, where diverse religious groups and Native Americans tried to live in harmony. He wrote wise, important books like No Cross, No Crown and Some Fruits of Solitude. He was a champion of religious liberty and a central leader of the early Quaker faith.

Penn was all these things, but he also was much more. His life, far from serene, was chaotic and stressful. At times, he presented beliefs that modern Quakers would find far from Quakerly. And the man who once advised people to “Cast up your income and live on half” was absolutely terrible with money.

The many triumphs, tragedies, complications, and contradictions of this extraordinary life are explored in Andrew Murphy’s new biography, an exhaustive, well-written, and thoughtful work. It’s one of the best books about a Quaker historical figure that I have read in a while.

Of course, Penn was the subject of past biographies, some of them quite good. Others have veered toward hagiography. Murphy, a Rutgers University–New Brunswick political science professor and an expert on Penn’s political thought, has produced something rare: a thorough, scholarly work devoid of jargon or agenda.

Penn’s life was full of religious devotion and good intentions. He was a man of conscience who believed all should follow their own spiritual convictions. Once when under arrest, he declared, “Tell my father that my prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot, for I owe my conscience to no mortal man.”

Penn was a close friend to leading Quakers, including George Fox and Thomas Ellwood, and helped the faith grow in Europe and the American colonies. He fearlessly defended Quakerism against a horde of critics.

Penn’s faith was central to his adult life. It formed the core of his character from the moment he joined the religion in 1667. But as Murphy states, Penn’s life “is too complex to be viewed through only one lens.”

The colonial leader was, like all of us, flawed. He was beset with contradictions, hypocrisies, and worries. He was plagued by poor financial decisions and ensnared repeatedly by palace intrigue. His Holy Experiment (Murphy challenges the exact meaning of the phrase) was in fact a political mess with Quakers, Anglicans, and others battling for political control. Penn’s colony—which he visited only twice—was a perpetual headache.

William Penn: A Life is full of illuminating detail, like the fact that Penn first wanted to call his colony “New Wales” but later decided to call it “Sylvania.” Officials made it “Pennsylvania” in royal records despite Penn’s attempt to stop them. Murphy shows that Penn’s treatment toward Native Americans was financially murky and that Penn had no moral qualms about owning slaves.

Penn’s longest standing personal failing was his inability to manage money. He spent lavishly, got into debt, then borrowed from friends and family. After his first wife died in 1694, he remarried two years later to a much younger woman, the daughter of wealthy Quakers. The marriage raised eyebrows, but the influx of cash did little to solve Penn’s self-inflicted money woes.

Penn’s debts finally caught up with him when a Quaker family sued him for unpaid loans. Murphy describes Penn numerous times as “self-pitying” over legal problems that he himself caused through imprudent spending and borrowing.

Murphy does a masterful job of putting Penn’s complicated life into context, explaining the Great Fire of London, epidemics, European political turmoil, colonial expansion, religious battles, and even pirates. Murphy clearly presents the evolution of Quaker beliefs and the Religious Society of Friends’s unique organizational structure.

Murphy is careful when offering speculation about Penn’s life or motives, and sticks closely to his own comprehensive research. He tells readers only what he can support with letters or documents. The comprehensive citations in the book underscore how much research the author undertook to produce this impressive book.

Refreshingly, Murphy is just as quick to tell you what the record doesn’t show: a key example is his noting that the exact circumstances and timing of Penn’s convincement—his conversion to Quakerism—aren’t known. They likely never will be.

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Categories: Articles & News

Quakers in Bolivia: The Early History of Bolivian Friends

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 11:55pm
By Emma Condori Mamani. Publicaciones CALA, 2017. 117 pages. $20/paperback. Buy from the FUM Bookstore

When in 1919 Friends undertook missionary work in Bolivia, it was with Fox-inspired leadings and a decided conviction to succeed. Challenges came with planting a ministry on the heels of missions established by Methodists, Canadian Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Catholics, and Protestants. Early Quaker missionaries had to contend with resistance and problems of language acquisition (Spanish, Aymara, and Quechua), native ancestral religious traditions and practices, the military, warring political factions, a feudal system, economic instability, and shortages of supplies and personnel.

Through the lens of an adult retrospective gaze, Emma Condori Mamani shares with readers recollections of Quechua family life, and her formative education through secondary school among Friends missionaries. She witnesses her parents and siblings contend with embracing Protestant (Friends) over Catholic worship. After a family tragedy, her mother becomes a convinced Friend, while Condori Mamani embarks on a spiritual journey of her own.

When young Condori Mamani attends Santidad Amigos (Holiness Friends) Yearly Meeting for the first time, she is convinced that she is nearing the stage of being “in the Spirit with God.” Enrollment in Manantial (Water Spring) Friends School, and afterward four years at Holiness Friends Yearly Meeting Bible School, leads to an experiential encounter with God, after which Condori Mamani begins to teach Bible school and toil as an evangelist. Encouraged by the presence of God within her, she ceases to feel oppressed as a woman and gathers strength as she navigates Bolivia’s patriarchal society and assumes a leadership role within it. She equates her Christian calling and responsibility to serve God with that of the first pioneers. Condori Mamani’s story ends when she graduates and contemplates relocating to La Paz to pursue higher education.

The author is at her best when describing how the overlapping roles of missionaries as educators, activists, and medical specialists attracted the native populace to worship:

Many Aymara people were drawn to Quakerism because Aymara Friends experienced the transforming power of God in their lives. Aymara converts … inspired the missionaries to do social justice work on a large scale among Bolivians. Through such efforts, the Aymaras felt the sparkle of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, for Aymaras, the Kingdom of God received in their heart was not hidden—it was lived out in their communities.

Condori Mamani’s sympathetic perspective dramatizes Quaker acceptance of the Aymaras’ capacity to embrace Christianity. Bolivia’s indigenous cultures served as the staging ground for proving that God’s grace was visible in the trials of Friends. Quaker missionaries, adept at demonstrating the presence of the Divine in human endeavors, revealed the creative hand of God as manifest on Bolivian soil.

Central to the history of Friends in Bolivia and Condori Mamani’s moving narrative are the original labors of stalwarts such as Mattie Blount, the Hinshaw family (former publisher Alva Holler and Sarah Mabel) from Kansas, Walter E. Langston and Emma Morrow, Esther Hunt, Emma Canaday, William Abel, and Helen Cammack, amongst others, who hailed from parts as diverse as Oregon Yearly Meeting, Central Yearly Meeting of Friends, Indiana Yearly Meeting, and Union Bible Seminary. It was not unusual for working relationships to result in marriages that further empowered commitments. The missionaries’ own body of testimonial prose enriches the content of the book. Print material played an advocacy role in engaging novitiates, and The Friends Minister (1913–1920), a semi-monthly periodical out of Union Bible Seminary, was most influential in raising funds for and extolling the virtues of mission work.

I was captivated by the fact that in 1920 the Hinshaws insisted on shipping a printing press to Sorata. The sheer volume of correspondence, books, diaries, articles, and reports that document those initial years underscores the effectiveness of the missionaries’ spiritual and literary campaign, and offers invaluable ethnographic data on indigenous beliefs and practices.

The third section of the book, “The Current Quaker Bolivian Community,” contains four interviews with Bolivian missionaries, followed by seven with Bolivian Friends leaders representing the country’s six yearly meetings. Despite the departure in 1975 of Friends missionaries, Bolivia possesses the third-largest Quaker community worldwide.

Notwithstanding controversies that arose in their missions, Friends in Bolivia broke through socio-cultural, political, and religious barriers. Condori Mamani’s personal story, informed by the rich legacy of turn-of-the-century pioneers, exemplifies the long reach of missionary labors within the framework of Quaker humanistic values.

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Categories: Articles & News

A Practical Mysticism: How Quaker Process Opens Us to the Promptings of the Divine

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 11:50pm
By Elizabeth Meyer. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 453), 2018. 36 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

This Pendle Hill pamphlet is an excellent explanation and guide to Friends’ way of conducting the business of our meetings because it emphasizes our connection with the Divine. That is the original purpose of our process: to create a method that is predicated on corporate listening for Divine guidance. Meyer points out that for “business meetings to be truly worshipful, all present must engage faithfully, trusting the process.” She then spells out 12 steps to this process—steps it behooves each of us individually and in our meetings to read and ponder carefully.

First is the point that the “Clerk is the Shepherd of the Process.” The emphasis is on the process, not the results. We need to recalibrate away from the secular world into the paradigm of seeking to discern and obey the will of God as we sense it together. To facilitate this, the clerk tends to both the “worshipful nature of the work” and the “blessed community” in which each Friend is included in the process.

Meyer illustrates some of her points with stories from her own experience of clerking. She stresses the need to speak with kindness, and to listen carefully to one another with cell phones turned off. She reiterates the importance of having written reports prepared in advance, and advises that any submitted report is turned over to the meeting and no longer “owned” by the submitter or committee. Humility in offering one’s efforts, rather than defending one’s turf or opinions, is critical.

Meyer faces the sticky issues with clarity. Unity does not require unanimity. Wrestling with thorny issues again and again over time can be transformational—rather than a sign of failure—because they require deeper worship, more effort at letting go of our own need to be right. We can learn that the meeting’s sense of God’s will can be accepted even if we do not like it, because our faith community is more important than being personally right. It is helpful to remember that Friends worship the Living God rather than Quakerism with its beloved and seemingly quirky traditions and practices.

It is also helpful to remember that done in right order, Quaker process fosters love, and love facilitates unity. Every meeting for business is an opportunity to teach and learn Quaker process. How can we stay away?

Meyer concludes with some helpful advice for clerks. My only quibble is her instruction to “Be sure the minutes reflect all concerns; this signals that all views are respected.” It is only within my lifetime that minutes have attempted to do this, as we have moved toward a secular “democratic” process. In earlier times, the minutes included various tasks or services that were assigned and any decisions that were made. The arguments and opinions preceding the decision were deemed unimportant compared to the sense of the meeting, when that had been discerned. An issue could be laid-over time after time, but the old minutes do not spell out the wrangles. The underlying assumption was theocracy: we meet together to discern the Divine will for us on a specific agenda at a specific time. Each Friend who speaks may offer a piece of that Divine will; it is discerning the will that is important, not who said which part of it.

The pamphlet ends with some thoughtful discussion questions. It would be a good exercise for meetings to consider these questions together.

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Categories: Articles & News

The Healing Power of Stories

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 11:45pm
By Michael Bischoff. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 454), 2018. 27 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

Why do we get cancer? While there are risk factors such as exposure to certain substances, chronic inflammation, alcohol abuse, and bad diet, there are many other causes (known and unknown) for why and how we get cancer. We occasionally ask, as many have, why bad things happen to good people. Why do things happen the way they do?

But that’s not what this Pendle Hill pamphlet is about. The Healing Power of Stories by Michael Bischoff is about healing one’s life while living with cancer. First diagnosed in apparent excellent health at age 44, he started medical treatment and set up his own website where he connected with others to share stories and find support and encouragement. He organized his own storytelling group and then helped others organize their groups.

Many of us learned of his being diagnosed with glioblastoma (the most aggressive kind of brain cancer) in 2016 in Don’t Postpone Joy: Adventures with Brain Cancer, co-written with his wife, Jennifer Larson. Bischoff wrote an update in the January 2018 issue of Friends Journal, where he continued his story.

During that first year of surgeries, chemo, radiation, and experimental treatments, Bischoff started a spiritual practice of sitting at a favorite spot along the nearby Mississippi River. The river invited him to toss out his negative thoughts and let them float away. An old turtle lumbered by, eldering him in the ways of patience and persistence. The graceful flight of a blue heron invited him to find joy in his life. He thought of those moments by the river as he sat in worship with Friends. Wading into the water reminded him that he was wading deeper into the river of life.

This pamphlet continues the narrative, some three years after his diagnosis. Friends continue to follow him on Facebook and share stories of health journeys through, which enables loved ones to connect through personal, private websites.

Bischoff writes: “A good story brings us deeper into life. It keeps us wondering what happens next, bringing us back into the flow of our embodied emotional lives.” He found that we can keep our own story in perspective when we see our lives as part of the larger human experience. Our narratives can touch us as no mere argument can, because they reach our whole selves—body, heart, and mind. Mary Jo Kreitzer, from the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, assured Bischoff that healing is always possible, that we can open up to life even though we may not survive our cancer.

Quite apart from all that one can do to get through an illness, whether or not one survives is ultimately a mystery, dependent on factors such as luck, economics, quality of medical care, privilege (or the lack thereof), geography, and timing. Bischoff writes:

If I die tomorrow, that doesn’t take away from the miracles and healing that have already happened. Healing isn’t a one-time result but an ongoing process that doesn’t stop with death. Seen as a spiritual practice, the primary goal of healing stories isn’t just individual survival and physical health, but union with the larger flow of life moving through us. In response to George Fox’s challenge to us of what canst we say, I answer, “There is a healing river coming for all of us, and it is unavoidable.”

I contacted Bischoff and asked how this pamphlet might be used to help form a healing story group. He suggested that such a group could be started with two people who would be willing to tell a short version of their journey toward healing as they went through an illness or traumatic experience. The sharing could be structured around a set of questions like those suggested here by Jonathan Adler and Annie Brewster in their organization Health Story Collaborative:

  • Whom do you feel connected to and who has been there for you?
  • In what ways have you been an active rather than a passive character in your journey?
  • What do you have control over?
  • What have been the “silver linings”?
  • How do all of the different stories of your life fit together and make sense?

Michael Bischoff has found a path toward healing one’s life. “As we confess ways we are broken, testify about the Spirit’s movement in us toward well-being, and proclaim what we are learning as a core spiritual discipline, we can live out the healing power of stories.”

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Categories: Articles & News

Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 11:40pm
By Gary Dorrien. Yale University Press, 2018. 632 pages. $45/hardcover or eBook; $30/paperback. Buy from QuakerBooks

In Breaking White Supremacy, Gary Dorrien, professor of social ethics at Union Theological Seminary and professor of religion at Columbia University, makes a convincing case that Martin Luther King Jr. should be understood as part of an underappreciated religious tradition, the Black social gospel. Dorrien argues that this “neo-abolitionist theology of social justice” was the animating tradition that informed King’s thought and action, motivated his organization of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and led to many of the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. This book is the follow-up volume to Dorrien’s earlier work, The New Abolition: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel, which won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in Religion in 2017 and covered the emergence of the Black social gospel in the early twentieth century. Breaking White Supremacy can profitably be read on its own, but together the volumes form a remarkably comprehensive study of the role of religion in the struggle for black freedom and are certain to become a standard work on the subject.

The book is a series of biographical accounts of key Black religious leaders, covering their childhoods, educations, and activist careers. Topics include Benjamin May’s efforts to find a way to approach God that would be relevant to the social struggles of African Americans, Boston University chaplain Howard Thurman’s mystically inclined approach to religion, and Pauli Murray’s attempts to develop an intersectional approach to theology that could be both feminist and in favor of racial justice. As one might expect, the figure who receives the most attention is King. Dorrien skillfully documents how King welded together several different streams of thought, from the Black church upbringing he received as the son of a pastor to the white liberal Protestant theology of his graduate training and Gandhian ideas of nonviolent social change.

King’s persistent vision for nonviolent social change and his knowledge that his witness would lead to his death make him seem almost Christ-like; much of the book, however, makes clear he had human faults. Dorrien sees King as a model for laying out a progressive religious vision in his economic agenda, which grew toward democratic socialism and began to include demands for policies like a federally guaranteed minimum income. Quaker readers may find the detailed discussion of how King tried to balance his idealistic devotion to nonviolence with the realism of political action to be particularly helpful. It is quite clear that King stayed committed to his nonviolent vision until the end of his life.

The book rightly portrays the Black leaders it depicts as heroic figures, but it manages to avoid becoming entirely celebratory. One high note is the nuance with which the book dealt with the life of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the Harlem minister turned influential Democratic congressman. Powell was a master of political intrigue who used his talents to advocate for civil rights legislation while living a celebrity lifestyle with numerous extramarital affairs and legally dubious financial practices. Powell was not always a firm ally of King and notably tried to blackmail him with the false allegation that King and Bayard Rustin were a gay couple. Dorrien’s account does not shy away from showing Powell’s ambitious and Machiavellian side, but also takes his religious life and moral commitments seriously, showing how Powell tried to live out his personal vision of Christianity.

This is a book that offers a rich reward to those who want to devote the time to go through it, but it is lengthy and so comprehensive that casual readers or book groups may feel deterred. Breaking White Supremacy is not suited to serve as an introduction to those seeking an understanding of the Civil Rights Movement because it assumes readers know at least the outline of the major events in King’s life. It offers considerable detail on topics that seem of less urgency than the work of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, such as the many pages that are devoted to the career of Mordecai Johnson, the president of Howard University, and discuss Howard’s institutional politics at length. For its intended audience, who already know the basic facts of King’s life but want to better understand his place in American theology, this book is invaluable.

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Categories: Articles & News