A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager)

Syndicate content
Chuck Fager -- Writer, Editor
Updated: 2 weeks 3 days ago

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

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 9:43am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The royal troops fire on rebels.

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

To find out, order tickets online at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets on sale at the Box Office. Or from:





The post “The Sword of Peace” — 44th Season Opens Thursday appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Four for the Fourth: Holiday Ruminations

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 11:08am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full address is here.

Resistance Poetry, by Meg:

The Picnic

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

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

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

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

4th of July, 2017

More Resistance Poetry.



In the Other News . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border

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

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


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

Categories: Blogs

“Cultural Appropriation” & “Pathway to Freedom”

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 12:52am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe he was one of them; it did happen.

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

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

                                                    Working on the music, with Micaela Bundy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Certainly it is important for survivors of

Where slavery is, open violence is always close by.

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

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

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

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

Oh, and plenty of hard work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post “Cultural Appropriation” & “Pathway to Freedom” appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

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

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 1:17pm

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

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

Mark Sumner

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or Call 336-376-6948.

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

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

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

Categories: Blogs

Philadelphia YM’s Racial Turmoil Continues: Ambushed by URG

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 3:55am

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

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

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

That’s a restrained way to put it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that was the end of that.

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

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

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

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

It wouldn’t be the first time.

Clematis at Pendle Hill, June 2017

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

Categories: Blogs

Quaker History Roundtable — With Webcast!

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 9:53am

It’s Here!

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

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

Background on the Roundtable is at its own webpage, newquakerhistory.net.

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

Thursday – June 8

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


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

Mary Craudereuff: Quaker Archives & Civil Rights &
marginalized groups

Friday – June 9

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

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

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

Guy Aiken: AFSC, Neutrality & Justice

Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch – ESR

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

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

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

5:00-6:00 pm – Dinner – ESR

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

Lonnie Valentine: Quaker Tax Resistance, 20th Century

Saturday June 10

8:00-9:00 am – Breakfast – ESR

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

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

Noon-1:00 pm – Lunch – ESR

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

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

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

Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, Swarthmore College Friends Historical Library

Mary Craudereuff, Haverford Quaker Archives

Gwen Gosney Erickson, Guilford College Friends Historical Collection

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

5:00-6:00 pm – Dinner – ESR

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

Larry Ingle: A Quaker Elite & Whittaker Chambers

Sunday – June 11

8:00 – 9:00 am – Breakfast – ESR

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

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

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

Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Reflection on Memorial Day

Mon, 05/29/2017 - 6:41am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



“You and me against the world.”

“Now we can finally get hitched!”

But first . . .

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

And . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Categories: Blogs

Tell the FCC: NO To Robocall Voicemails!

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 5:29am

Sheesh. Enough is freaking enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Emphasis added.]
Full article here. 

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

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

Categories: Blogs

William Penn & the Fruits of Technological Solitude

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 8:40pm

Last First Day I needed a brief reading to open Meeting. Feeling reflective, a little book by William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude came to mind.  

Some Fruits was first published, anonymously, in 1693, and has been in print most of the 320-plus years since. A copy of it has sat on my bookshelf for a few decades. 

Some Fruits came to be written because Penn was obliged to disappear for a couple of years. He had to beat it because of his longtime friendship with King James II.

This was an odd friendship, for many reasons: For one, Penn was prominent, yet not part of the nobility; but James had known and liked Penn’s father, an admiral in the Royal Navy. It was also odd because, as a Quaker, Penn was poles apart from James religiously, as the king had become Catholic. Nonetheless, James kept calling Penn in to chat and hang out, while leaving his royal councillors, with lots of actual state business for the monarch to conduct, waiting and fuming. 

Penn was not there just to schmooze. He had an agenda, namely nudging James toward issuing a royal declaration of religious toleration, one broad enough to end all persecution of both Quakers and Catholics, both of which were opposed by the Anglican establishment.

Penn felt he was making progress with James; but then in June 1688 his Queen, Mary of Modena, had a son, also named James, who  became his heir, the Prince of Wales, destined to become a legitimate Catholic king of England.

This prospect horrified the Anglican church and most of the British establishment, which had been increasingly Protestant since Henry VIII’s reign 150 years earlier. They decided that the new Catholic prince could not be allowed to succeed. So they hatched a plot.

James also had a daughter Mary, who had been raised Protestant and lived in Holland with her Protestant Dutch husband, William of Orange. British plotters soon came to call and invited them to become joint British monarchs in place of her father.

To cut to the chase, William and Mary accepted. Then James, his Queen and the infant prince were tossed out in an essentially bloodless coup, known to British historians as the Glorious Revolution.

James first went more or less quietly into exile; but soon decided to raise an army and try to retake the crown. He failed, but the fighting put everyone who had been Friendly to James under suspicion of joining plots against William and Mary.

And “everyone” included William Penn, never mind his Quaker protestations of nonviolence.  For awhile he stood up for himself and his reputation, even braving a couple of stints locked up in the Tower of London. Finally, though, he decided it was more prudent to slip away into the country, far from London. He stayed out of sight until the wave of suspicion receded, and he was ultimately cleared of any treasonous schemes.

In the meantime, far from the madding crowd, the bustle of the city and the hazardous whirl of its politics, Penn had time to think, and write.  He had published many essays and books, most of which connected his Quaker convert’s religious fervor to heated issues of the day.  But now, out of the swim, he reflected on more general matters of life.

It is from this time of retreat and reappraisal that his thoughts were refined and compressed into a collection of maxims and advices, that became Some Fruits of Solitude.

I didn’t turn to it because of the turbulent history surrounding its composition, though the contours of it were familiar enough; rather I hoped to find and be able to share a glimpse of this broader, deeper perspective, refracted through three centuries, beyond the tumults of the present.

And so I did. Its Preface struck just the right note for me, and I decided its opening paragraphs would serve for a reading.  And if it proved useful to Friends, I also hoped to find a version of it, online, and likely available there for free.

The Harvard Classics colophon

And sure enough, I found one, in rather distinguished company, part of a set, “The Harvard Classics,” issued a century ago. These are described as a “five foot shelf” of the cream of fiction and nonfiction, as selected by the male mandarins of New England. And Penn was not just on the list with with such worthies as Plutarch and Homer, but at the head of their number, in the first of its volumes.

My research  complete, I read over the passage from the Preface again online, as a hedge against typos and other errors. 

It was grammatically correct; but reading the digital Harvard version was a totally different and jarring experience than seeing it on the printed page. So much so, it seemed to me the disjuncture ought to be shared.

So to open worship, I read the brief passage twice: first, as it was presented in the book.  Next, as it appeared online.

I’d like to do that here, only visually. You’ll see the difference shortly. So let’s hear from William Penn, in seclusion:

Some Fruits of Solitude, from the printed Preface:

READER—This Enchiridion [or collection] I present thee with, is the Fruit of Solitude: A School few care to learn in, tho’ None instructs us better. Some Parts of it are the Result of serious Reflection: Others the Flashings of Lucid Intervals: Writ for private Satisfaction, and now publish’d for an Help to Human Conduct.  

  The Author blesseth God for his Retirement, and kisses that Gentle Hand which led him into it: For though it should prove Barren to the World, it can never do so to him.  

  He has now had some Time he could call his own; a Property he was never so much Master of before: In which he has taken a View of himself and the World; and observed wherein he hath hit and mist the Mark; What might have been done, what mended, and what avoided in his Human Conduct: Together with the Omissions and Excesses of others, as well Societies and Governments, as private Families, and Persons.

And he verily thinks, were he to live over his Life again, he could not only, with God’s Grace, serve Him, but his Neighbor and himself, better than he hath done, and have Seven Years of his Time to spare. And yet perhaps he hath not been the Worst or the Idlest Man in the World; nor is he the Oldest. And this is the rather said, that it might quicken, Thee, Reader, to lose none of the Time that is yet thine.

  There is nothing of which we are apt to be so lavish as of Time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since without it we can do nothing in this World. Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when Time shall be no more. . . .

Now, the ONLINE version:

READER—This Enchiridion [or collection] I present thee with, is the Fruit of Solitude: A School few care to learn in, tho’ None instructs us better.

Some Parts of it are the Result of serious Reflection: Others the Flashings of Lucid Intervals: Writ for private Satisfaction, and now publish’d for an Help to Human Conduct.

  The Author blesseth God for his Retirement, and kisses that Gentle Hand which led him into it: For though it should prove Barren to the World, it can never do so to him.

  He has now had some Time he could call his own; a Property he was never so much Master of before: In which he has taken a View of himself and the World;

and observed wherein he hath hit and mist the Mark; What might have been done, what mended, and what avoided in his Human Conduct:

Together with the Omissions and Excesses of others, as well Societies and Governments, as private Families, and Persons.

And he verily thinks, were he to live over his Life again, he could not only, with God’s Grace, serve Him, but his Neighbor and himself, better than he hath done, and have Seven Years of his Time to spare.

And yet perhaps he hath not been the Worst or the Idlest Man in the World; nor is he the Oldest.

And this is the rather said, that it might quicken, Thee, Reader, to lose none of the Time that is yet thine.

  There is nothing of which we are apt to be so lavish as of Time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since without it we can do nothing in this World.

Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when Time shall be no more . . . .


So, you get the idea. All these popup ads appeared on the page  I was looking at, one after another. I guess one could say that, the FRUITS are still there, I think. But the Solitude is definitely gone.

Fortunately for readers seeking the fruits online, there are other versions of this text, into which the popups have not (yet) seeped.  Which was a relief.  I’m hopeful there will be such an alternative to be found for the volume right next to Penn in the venerable Harvard “canon,” which I could not bear to look at.

Yes, it’s the Journal of John Woolman (with doubtless no extra charge for the free credit report, and plenty of big little lies, and maybe even another toilet lawsuit . . . .)




The post William Penn & the Fruits of Technological Solitude appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

The Art of Fearlessness! Many Events Planned – Including on May 27 at Spring Friends Meeting NC

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 7:41pm

Saturday May 27 at Spring Friends Meeting in Snow Camp NC (Details below).

It’s a “campaign” of Quaker events linked by a common theme, under the umbrella of the Fellowship of Quakers In the Arts:

Here are some visuals from local “fearlessness” events . . .

Kalamazoo, Michigan was on it . . .

Right behind them, down in Florida, Gainesville Friends had theirs on May 13 . . .


And then another Michigan Meeting, in Ann Arbor, kicked one off on May 16, going to May 20. And that’s not all . . . 

But down near DC, a few miles outside the Beltway, is Sandy Spring Meeting, which is gearing up for May 20 . . .

Still, I have to admit my bias here — I think the best of all will be the one at Spring Friends Meeting in snow Camp NC on Saturday May 27. Not that I’m biased,  or just because  I’m helping organize it and will have some stuff in the exhibits, — but never mind that:  just join in!

There’s more information about  Spring’s program at the Facebook page for Spring;  and about the whole project, including other “Art of Fearlessness” events at the FQA page for the project.

And watch this blog for updates.







The post The Art of Fearlessness! Many Events Planned – Including on May 27 at Spring Friends Meeting NC appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs