A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager)

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Chuck Fager -- Writer, Editor
Updated: 19 hours 35 min ago

Spike Lee vs the Klan; and When (Many) Quakers also Loved the Klan

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 11:12pm

Watching Spike Lee’s new film BlackkKlansman yesterday, it was evident that the director/provocateur has skillfully exploited a current of widespread cultural anxiety, which the Klan once embodied on a mass scale. The cinematic result is a timely, skillful and often gripping entertainment.

As a call to social action, however, I think it largely misfires. In organizational terms, the KKK in 2018 is not that big a threat: groups are small, and they dissipate much energy in infighting. In December, 2016, for instance, a Klan “victory  rally” was  announced for North Carolina (the “victory” being the outcome of the 2016 presidential election) . The event was dogged by militant protesters and dissolved in confusion before it even started. Yet there was one casualty: a Klan “leader,” Richard Dillon, said he was beaten and stabbed, by two other Klan “leaders” at a post-rally “meeting” that  devolved into a brawl. The attackers were arrested.

Such atomized, quarrelsome hate groups are dangerous, but not exactly a threat to overthrow the government (which, for that matter, they currently don’t want to do anyway). The slide from last year’s torchlit march and fatal mayhem in Charlottesville to the  resounding fizzle of the “Unite the Right” White House rally a few days ago is another indicator.

The more likely hazard from their ranks and hangers on is more  incidents of terrorism, such as the killing of 9  in a Charleston SC black church by a professed white supremacist; or the 2016 anti-gay massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Florida (though that shooter had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, not the Klan). Or, for that matter,  the cross-burnings and attacks planned by a local Klan chapter in Blackkklansman, which was based on actual police work to foil real, if unmemorable Klan crimes in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Rather than “the organization” (as Lee’s  Klansmen call their group), it’s the spirit of the Klan that’s now resurgent, and is still very much alive and active in American society. It rarely shows up in the old robes, and  its best disciples have switched to politics has found more sophisticated (and effective) means of manifestation, especially via politics.

But I’m not complaining. If Spike Lee had turned overtly earnest and didactic, Blackkklansman would have lost much of its verve. Better for the audience that I was kept far from the project.

Still, as long as the Klan is back in the news, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a  major chapter in Ku Klux Klan history that involves many Quakers. This one is real, nonfiction, solid, and verified — yet Quaker historians have been almost totally silent about it:

Say Hello to Friend Daisy Douglass Barr, popular Quaker pastor, and “Queen” of the Indiana Women’s Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s.

(If thee is tempted to snicker, don’t. The Klan was a very big deal in the 1920s; it made Barr famous and rich. Not to mention its racism and violence, which she evidently ignored, or went along with.)

There’s a fine substantial article about Friend Barr and her eye-popping career online here, by a Hoosier historian, Steven Taylor. Don’t miss it.

I’ve borrowed some info and old photos from it. And another scholar, Leonard J. Moore, has added substantially to what we know in his book, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928.  

Moore builds on the fact that the membership list of the Indiana Klan was preserved (most others were lost or destroyed); and the Hoosier Klan was the nation’s biggest and most powerful in its 1920s heyday.

Moore’s analysis of the KKK list for Wayne County — home of the city of Richmond, numerous Quakers, and the Quaker  Earlham College — offers a startling (to modern  Friends) disclosure:

The religious affiliations of the Klans­men also closely approximated the city’s Protestant spectrum . .  . . The large, traditionally evangelical de­nominations (Methodist, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyte­rian) were strongly represented, but so too were the equally con­sequential German (Lutheran and United Brethren) and Quaker churches. (Emphasis added.)

That is, Indiana Quakers were just as likely to join the 1920s Indiana Klan as members of other churches; and many did.

Daisy Douglass Barr was their star.  She served as pastor in at least five prominent Friends churches, and preached in many more, over many years.

Daisy Douglass Barr in a 1922 newsclip (her maiden name was spelled Douglass, not Douglas, as here.)

She also used her notoriety and her Klan office to make money. The profit came mainly from selling Klan women’s robes and other paraphernalia. When the Indiana Klan could boast several hundred thousand members, and draw tens of thousands to its (white) family-friendly mass rallies, the paraphernalia business was good; nay, it was a goldmine.

By and large, according to Moore, the 1920s Indiana Klan, while committed to white supremacy, was not much into the racial terrorism of the group’s original Reconstruction-era incarnation.

Well, “not much” is a relative term. On August 7, 1930, one of the iconic lynchings of the era occurred in Marion, Indiana, near Daisy Barr’s birthplace. Two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, were dragged from jail and left hanging from a tree, surrounded by a festive mob numbered at 5000, unashamed of the camera’s eye.  Despite the thousands of eyewitnesses, no one was ever prosecuted for the lynchings; a grand jury refused to issue any indictments.

Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, Marion Indiana 1930.

Did I mention that Marion was home then to a large Friends Church? Still is.

Despite such savage incidents, it is still fair to say that even more than race, the Klan’s main “theme” was “Americanism.” That’s what its Indiana Grand Dragon, D.C. Stephenson, who was a political kingmaker for several years, droned on about ad nauseam in his speeches. For that matter, it was even stressed above race in the Klan’s “Kreed”:

The KKK “Kreed” from a 1916 Handbook.

Further, its “Qualifying Interrogatories for new applicants,” #5 asked:
“Do you esteem the United states of America and its institutions above any other government, civil, political or ecclesiastical, in the whole world?”

Quaker Daisy  Barr was all in on this. To quote historian Taylor:

In July 1923, Barr — the only woman on the program — addressed the assembled Grand Dragons of the Klan in Asheville, North Carolina, where she read a poem she’d written.  Starting out in first-person, Barr spoke about my “all-seeing” eye and revelations and “the love of Christ.”  Chillingly, it becomes clear that the “I” of the poem is “the Spirit of Righteousness”: 

“They call me the Ku Klux Klan.
I am more than the uncouth robe and hood
With which I am clothed.
YEA, I AM THE SOUL OF AMERICA.”

Hostility to “new” immigrants (those not from northern, Protestant Europe, along with anti-semitism) was integral to this “Americanism.” It is a cry that echoes to this day.

So while no one should overlook the racial, religious and ethnic aspects here, there is yet another which is central to both “Americanism”  and to KKK history, namely: making money. For the KKK, when it had a mass membership, took in truckloads of money; and its officials seemed unable to stop quarreling over it,  or accusing each other of stealing it.

Daisy Barr wasn’t accused of theft; just good old-fashioned American profiteering. Which there seems little doubt she actively engaged in.

The Greenfield Reporter (at left) put the question baldly, and the answer was more or less yes, though exact figures are not available.

For several years in the 1920s, the Klan and head man, D.C. Stephenson, ran Indiana, and lived high on the hog. But then in 1925 Stephenson, 34, who had an eye for younger women, was arrested and tried for the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, age 28. He was convicted, spent years in jail, and with his fall, down went the Indiana Klan as a major organization.

Daisy Barr went on til 1938, when she was killed in a car wreck. Her name was still on the list of recognized ministers of Indiana Yearly Meeting, and she was prominent in interdenominational and patriotic women’s groups. Her funeral was, unsurprisingly, held in a Friends meeting.

Funeral notice for Daisy Barr, April 1938, Fairmount (Indiana) News.

The rise and fall of the 1920s Klan in Indiana  (and in the rest of the U.S.) is an epic and gripping story, well worth reading more about.  [And shoutout to Spike Lee or other ambitious filmmakers; this is a mother lode of exciting cinematic material!] Yet it’s not so much my subject here. Instead I see it more as a parable that has all too much current resonance. For, whether in white robes or (more likely) not; whether put through the Klan’s laughably ridiculous initiation rites (or more likely not), the Klan agenda of unremitting hostility to new immigrants, especially of color; plus its devotion to the post-Obama-era of repackaged and “sanitized” white supremacy; and its focus on one political party, all are very much still with us.

And that is not all. There remains a big chunk of unfinished business for American Quakers: how and why did so many Indiana Friends, custodians of some of the most honored shrines of antislavery witness, and many of whom had relatives lost or wounded in the Civil War to end slavery, get drawn into this openly racist, anti-immigrant group?  And what do we need to learn now from this dreadful history then?

We won’t learn much from Quaker historians; they are still essentially silent about it. The most detailed treatment I’ve yet seen of this episode was  a novel for teenage readers, called Mim and the Klan, by Cynthia Stanley Russell. In it a young Quaker girl stumbles across the fact that her aged grandparents were part of it, and starts digging out why. In one (fictional, but likely “authentic”) passage, her grandmother sums it up:

“It was a social activity to belong to the Klan in Indiana. There were picnics and rallies for America.

The subtitle: “A Hoosier Quaker Farm Family’s Story.”

We had just come out of World War I when everybody needed to be highly patriotic to weather the war together. And the Klan preached Americanism–put the flag on your window and so forth. And some people didn’t see the dark side of the Klan because they didn’t want to.”

Another way to put this is: these Indiana Quaker Klan members were not aliens or monsters; they were otherwise respectable, even “good”  people; and they are our spiritual forebears (as well as many living Quakers’ relatives).

Some may prefer to send all this down the memory hole, and pretend it did not happen. But it did, with echoes that still reverberate. These stories, even that of Daisy Douglass Barr, are connected to ours. How? And what do they mean?

And we need no “Anonymous” hackers collective to bring it to light; merely an end to denial.

Build a wall to keep out immigrants? Not a new idea: A pro-KKK cartoon from 1928. The caricatured “immigrants” above are , from left to right: Catholic, Jewish & eastern European (or any “radicals”).

Besides a chance to face some of Friends’ hidden history, the resurgence of “Klanism” is also a summons to grapple with the movement’s key themes, because they have much current echoes and resonance in our public life.

I researched these themes and the images in the summer of 2017. And a key to their resilience came in an obscure editorial in one of the few Indiana newspapers to challenge the Klan. In 1925 when the order was riding high in the state, an unnamed, beleaguered editor in South Bend, prophetically wrote:

“Klanism”; it’s a clumsy term, but then the Klan specialized in ungainly verbiage. And the editor was right: the Indiana Klan, followed by other Klan groups, collapsed from internal corruption and scandal by the late 1920s. Yet the attitudes evoked in these images and its standard rhetoric not only survived, they have assumed other guises and continued to flourish in Indiana and national politics.

After all, even in the 1920s many Klan sympathizers were prevented from officially joining by work rules or other constraints. But this didn’t prevent them from sharing the Klan’s signature issues — or from sticking with them when the Klan itself receded.

At its height, the 1920s Klan attracted hundreds of thousands of “respectable” folks: professionals, successful business people, prominent matrons, church leaders. (In fact, Klan leaders made special efforts to recruit ministers and pastors, waiving fees and other requirements, and not shrinking from offering outright bribes.)

One such beneficiary was the famously pugilistic evangelist Billy Sunday (1862-1935), one of whose mottoes was “fighting the devil & sin.”

Billy Sunday, ready to rumble. One of his more memorable quotes was: “A sinner can always repent, but stupid is forever.” Amen.

Once in 1922, Sunday was about to launch into a sermon in Richmond, Indiana (home of Earlham, a Quaker college, and many Quaker Klan members) when, according to the Indianapolis Times, a dozen Klansmen came marching in, “clad in white robes  and attended with much mystery.” They presented  Sunday with a fifty dollar, um, contribution, and a letter of endorsement. (Unlike the devil, Sunday did not fight them off.)

This was no isolated incident; I have found records of the same thing happening in least two midwestern Friends churches, along with many others.

The cross, the flag & especially “America” — these were the 1920s Klan’s main symbols and platform. The common image of the group as being above all obsessed with race hatred directed at blacks misses most of their priorities. Sure, they wanted to keep down African Americans; but in the 1920s, particularly in Indiana, they hardly bothered to talk about that.

The flag, the Liberty Bell, the hovering image of George Washington, the Bible & the cross: The 1920s Klan was all about “Americanism.”

My guess is that this reflected a period that was a low point of civil rights agitation; so the Klan turned to its other targets, of which it had many: immigrants (Europeans and Asian); Catholics, Jews, and anyone  who opposed Prohibition.  There was some violence, but it was subdued and often clandestine. In its frequent public events the Klan emphasized a respectable-sounding, “positive” message, which centered on, as we have seen, “100% Americanism,” casting itself as its premier defender. (And many female members were strong supporters of women’s new right to vote.)

The Klan’s largest ever public rally was held in Kokomo, Indiana on July 4, 1923. Estimates of attendance range to 200,000 and beyond. Credible accounts paint it as a kind of patriotic segregated Woodstock, a family-oriented, day-long affair, with games and picnics, a parade, and many bands.

The climax was a long, tedious address by one D.C. Stephenson, the “Grand Dragon of the Indiana Realm of the Knights of the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan,” who arrived in his own airplane. His topic was not about repressing people of color; it was “Back to the Constitution.”

The occasion’s symbolic climax was the burning of a cross said to be sixty-feet high, accompanied by hymn-singing and fireworks. Numerous other huge Klan rallies were held across the state in those years.

“All in all,” wrote one historian without irony, “there was scarcely a phrase in the speech that would embarrass a major party candidate today.” 

Stephenson was riding high in 1923. He and his Klan had taken over the Indiana Republican party, and seemed to be controlling the state. He  was said to be looking to run for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency, aiming to land in the White House with Klan support as his launching pad.

But instead, his career soon crashed and burned. Despite the order’s much-trumpeted reverence for Prohibition and strict “family values,” Stephenson himself was a notorious drinker and had a charismatic predator’s taste for grabbing young women, consent being optional.

In 1925, a young woman he had kidnapped and raped took poison and left a long, damning deathbed affidavit, made public after her death.  Stephenson was tried and convicted of second-degree murder. He served many years in prison.

The resulting scandals rocked the state Republican leadership, and sent the Klan organization into a terminal tailspin, not only in its onetime national stronghold, but across the country. Respectable people stampeded out the door, and into what I call the Ku Klux Kloset.

The secret character of the Klan now became the cover for its embarrassed members; a vow of silence spread across families and whole communities. In a state where perhaps a third of the adult white Protestant population had been part of the Klan, it quickly became a generation’s shared family secret, one that’s been kept remarkably well.

The vow still persists. How sturdy the Ku Klux Kloset‘s construction could be was shown by a 1995 incident in Noblesville, Indiana. An old trunk turned up in an abandoned barn and was opened — and in it was the membership list of 1920s Klan members in Noblesville and the surrounding area. On it was just about every Protestant white male, and many women.

The list was turned over to the Hamilton County Historical Society. A local historian began retyping the list to preserve it, and was soon shocked to find his father’s name on the list. And soon all hell broke loose. As the New York Times told it:

The historical society, after some debate, voted to accept the Klan list, but to restrict access to it.

“It would be embarrassing to some families” to publish the list, Mr. [David] Heighway [the society’s director] said, adding that threats of boycotts of merchants by the Klan also had to be considered. “There’s an ethical question here, too, since we don’t know how many people were forced to join the Klan.”

The last living person on the list died several months ago, but the roster will still be made available only for scholastic or genealogical purposes. The Historical Society said it would require researchers to gain the consent of all descendants before publishing the name of any Klansman, a requirement that would seem virtually impossible to meet.

The local NAACP objected to this concealment; their protest was ignored.

A similar example occurred among Indiana Quakers. With the Klan’s political collapse, Daisy Barr quit pastoring and faded from the public eye; but she was still quietly prominent in the WCTU and other white women’s organizations. When she died in 1938, sizable obituaries ran in several major papers around the state, some on the front page. Yet not one of the half-dozen I found said a single word about her Klan career. Neither did the memorial notice in the records of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Quakers, of which she was still a member in good standing at her death.

The point here is that, as politics in Indiana have often showed since, in many corners of the state, Klan attitudes persist; but in this Kloseted fashion. No doubt many Hoosiers who uncovered these links in their family histories today would be as shocked as the Noblesville historian: none of their relatives had paraded in a white robe in their lifetimes. Yet in Indiana, the continuity of attitudes, the long shadow of Klanism, is not hard to identify. It is shown in a recent governor’s attempt to ban immigration by Syrian refugees; a vicious anti-LGBT law, and numerous other measures.

So despite the tightly-sealed doors of the Ku Klux Kloset, there are many telltale signs of what is inside. There the Klan’s “brand” survives. Many of the same “platform planks” persist, long after the old robes have moldered, or been forgotten in an abandoned barn. The speakers today can ritualistically denounce the Klan, especially in its minor, often clownish current guise. But the echoes, and more than echoes, ring from a time when it was a major force in U.S. politics, a time when “Klanism” seems to be rising yet again.

By the way, a word about the 1920s sketches posted here. They come from an unexpected source: the Pillar of Fire Church, a group which had its headquarters. including a college and a clinic, not in Indiana but in Zarephath, New Jersey, a hamlet smack between the two academic powerhouses of Princeton and Rutgers. The church’s founder and bishop, one  Alma Bridwell White, was both a feminist and an ardent adherent of the Klan.

In the 1920s she published a series of three widely-read books, extolling the Klan as the savior of America, and even a redeemer figure foretold in biblical prophecy.  The books were heavily illustrated by Branford E. Clarke.

That was 93 years ago. But the editor was right. 100 percent. And my hope for Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman is that the film will push many toward the overdue reckoning with our Quaker and national Kan history, and resolve to follow its implications with action.

An illustration from”Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty,” 1926.

PS. For some additional reading, look into these titles:

Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928 (1991); Shawn Lay, ed., The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (1992); Stanley Coben, Rebellion Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America (1991); Kathleen Blee, Women of the Klan: Race and Gender in the 1920s (1991); Nancy MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (1994).

And a 1916 Klan Handbook is reproduced in full online here. 

If you fund this post helpful, please pass it on.

 

 

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Categories: Blogs

What Do You See In What You see? Ask Friend William Bartram

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 12:05pm

Trying To See Like William Bartram

[It’s not easy to keep up with my fellow-traveler/Spirit Guide, Friend William Bartram. He just can’t stay on the beaten path. . . .]

But here he is again, talking about plants, and especially trees. And one kind of tree jumped out at me from his list, the Live Oak. That’s because I’ve seen and been captivated by some magnificent specimens thereof, in a cemetery in Alabama.

There’s lots of human history in that graveyard. But we’re gonna skip all that here, and just dwell on the chlorophyllic history. The place is only a few acres, but I think I could wander in it for hours, maybe days.]

Okay, Take It Away, William . . . .

From Bartram’s Travels, 1791:

The attention of a traveller, should be particularly turned, in the first place, to the various works of Nature, to mark the distinctions of the climates he may explore, and to offer such useful observations on the different productions as may occur. . . .

        THIS world, as a glorious apartment of the boundless palace of the sovereign Creator, is furnished with an infinite variety of animated scenes, inexpressibly beautiful and pleasing, equally free to the inspection and enjoyment of all his creatures.

        PERHAPS there is not any part of creation, within the reach of our observations, which exhibits a more glorious display of the Almighty hand, than the vegetable world. Such a variety of pleasing scenes, ever changing, throughout the seasons, arising from various causes and assigned each to the purpose and use determined.

        IT is difficult to pronounce which division of the earth, within the polar circles, produces the greatest variety. The tropical division certainly affords those which principally contribute to the more luxurious scenes of splendor . . . .

        BUT the temperate zone (including by far the greater portion of the earth, and a climate the most favourable to the increase and support of animal life, as well as for the exercise and activity of the human faculties) exhibits scenes of infinitely greater variety, magnificence and consequence, with respect to human economy, in regard to the various uses of vegetables. . . .

        IN every order of nature, we perceive a variety of qualities distributed amongst individuals, designed for different purposes and uses, yet it appears evident, that the great Author has impartially distributed his favours to his creatures, so that the attributes of each one seem to be of sufficient importance to manifest the divine and inimitable workmanship.

The pompous Palms of Florida, and glorious Magnolia, strikes us with the sense of dignity and magnificence; the expansive umbrageous Live-Oak with awful veneration, the Carica papaya, supercilious with all the harmony of beauty and gracefulness; the Lillium superbum represents pride and vanity; Kalmia latifolia and Azalea coccinea, exhibit a perfect show of mirth and gaiety; the Illisium Floridanum, Crinum Floridanum, Convalaria majalis of the Cherokees, and Calycanthus floridus, charm with their beauty and fragrance.

Yet they are not to be compared for usefulness with the nutritious Triticum, Zea, Oryza, Solanum tuberosa, Musa, Convolvulous, Batata, Rapa, Orchis, Vitis vinifera, Pyrus, Olea; for clothing, Linum Canabis, Gossypium, Morus; for medical virtues, Hyssopus, Thymus, Anthemis nobilis, Papaver somniferum, Quinqina, Rheum rhabarbarum, Pisum, &c. though none of these most useful tribes are conspicuous for stateliness, figure or splendor, yet their valuable qualities and virtues, excite love, gratitude and adoration to the great Creator, who was such to endow them with such eminent qualities, and reveal them to us for our sustenance, amusement and delight. . . .

 Live oaks in the Old Oak Cemetery, Selma, Alabama.

More about William Bartram here.

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Categories: Blogs

Shooting Holes In Justice: Emmett Till & Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorials

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 12:34pm

Some Folks aren’t satisfied with killing people of color; they want to kill the memory of these murders too.

Take Emmett Till, Kidnapped & murdered in Mississippi in 1955,  after someone said the 14 year-old may have whistled at a white woman. His tortured and body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River days later; it took a jury one hour to acquit the men charged with the killing.  Outrage generated by the case gave a boost to civil rights struggles.

In 2007, county leaders established the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to memorialize Till and remember the case and what it represented. The center erected a sign in a rural area near the bank of the river where Till’s body was recovered. But that sign was soon stolen and never recovered.

A second sign was put up. before long, it was full of bullet holes.

This sign was eventually moved inside the Center, itself becoming an object for reflection. And not long ago, a new sign was put up.

The new sign is now collecting bullet holes. This image is only a few days old.

Such posthumous assaults are not limited to Mississippi. In February, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson of Marion, Alabama, who was unarmed, was shot by a state trooper in an attack on a night march during the  historic voting rights campaign based in nearby Selma,.

Jimmie Lee Jackson’s funeral service, March 3, 1965. His death sparked the Selma-Montgomery march, which helped win the Voting Rights act.

Jackson was buried in a small cemetery near Alabama Highway 14 on the outskirts of Marion. His large headstone is impressively carved with a figure of Jesus keeping vigil.

It too has been hit  by numerous bullets. One knocked a chunk off the top, and seven or eight more are visible on close examination, in this 2015 photo.

Emmett Till’s killers walked completely free. The Alabama trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Fowler, shot and killed a second unarmed young black man in 1966. But forty-five years later, Fowler was convicted of manslaughter, and served several months in jail, before being released due to ill health.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, left. James Fowler, right.

The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, located in Sumner, Mississippi, has plans to expand its facility and programs, and upgrade security.

Memories aren’t bulletproof. But they don’t die easily.

 

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Categories: Blogs

Dog Days Reading for Summer Reflection: Wandering With A Divergent Friend

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 8:30am

William Bartram: Divergent Friend

I’ve taken a fancy to do some traveling for the dog Days this year. I plan to join William Bartram, an independent-minded Quaker naturalist and artist, in a  journey through much of the southeast U.S.

This is not the Southeast of today, but that of 1773, so technically there wasn’t a U.S. yet; whatever. Bartram spent four years wandering the Southeast, drawing plants and animals, maps, and doing sketch portraits of Indians he visited with, and he visited with many.

I first noticed Bartram a few years ago, and prepared a series  of posts about him & his solitary exploring journeys for times of reflection. I call him a “Divergent Friend” because he went his own way, following his own leading.  He was not a “rebel” or a troublemaker; yet he was hardly typical or “normal” either.

Consider: at home, a revolution was brewing; slavery was a spreading plague; many diseases threatened. But Bartram was drawn away from all that, the “activism” and the debates, into the natural world: seeking out creatures without voices, and  territories not yet claimed by his ancestral “civilization.” He’s remembered today (by those who remember him) as a pioneer. Leadings are like that: not always driven by the “news of the day,” with significance that may not  be discernible until many years after they were followed.

Here’s the book he produced from his long rambling. Although he returned to his Pennsylvania home in 1777, he didn’t publish the book til 1791; he was in no hurry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is one of his charming, often lovely, plant drawings. I was struck early on, in looking at these, by a feature that comes out more in his writing: while his art was definitely “scientific,” aimed at adding to the knowledge of plants animals and geography, it was also religious (or, if thee insist, “spiritual”). That’s one reason I’m drawn to it for what many churches call “Lent,” a season of reflection.

Some of Bartram’s images have been used  on postage stamps. Here’s one.

It reminds me of one of William Blake’s stanzas:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.

 

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Categories: Blogs

Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 7:26am

Let’s review: In February of this year, officials at Friends Central School in Philadelphia abruptly canceled a speaking engagement by a Palestinian Quaker peace studies professor, then suspended and later fired the two teachers who had planned the visit. Much public controversy ensued.

In May, the two former teachers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by Friends Central.

Earlier posts on the Friends Central School controversy are:

 here,  here,  here , here & here.

Early last month, Friends Central’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the two teachers had “failed to state a valid claim,” and that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would see the court  become “entangled” in a religious dispute, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

On July 31, the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed his response. Prosaically titled, “PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT,” it asserted that to the contrary, the teachers’ complaint did state valid claims, further that pursuing it would not require any impermissible meddling in religious doctrines, and that the motion to dismiss should be denied and the case be moved to its next phase, which is discovery of documents and other background, in preparation for a trial.

I’m advised that the court could take months to act on the motion to dismiss; so those who are following the case should not hold their breath.

Nevertheless, to update our coverage, here are some key excerpts from the plaintiffs’ July 31 memo.

PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’  MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT
Filed: July 31, 2018 [Note: Full text here.]

“At first blush, this matter deals simply with a motion to dismiss a civil rights case with pendent claims as Defendants claim protection under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution. However, the attack amounts to something much more, something dangerously precedent-setting were it to be approved, namely that a private school and those affiliated with it are exempt from the reach of Federal and State Civil Rights Acts. This is all despite Friends Central’s professed adherence to notions of responsibility, equality and diversity. When the rubber meets the road, these Defendants are insisting that they are untouchable and above it all.

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor. He was approved to speak, then the invitation was abruptly quashed.

However, Defendants fail any applicable test.  In no way do Plaintiffs’ claims require inquiry into religious tenets of Quakerism. Plaintiffs do not make any claims or counts based therein. Rather, Plaintiffs Complaint references guidelines and policies set forth by the school so as to depict the environment in which Plaintiffs worked and to justify their adherence to those guidelines and policies. . . .

Former Friends Central teacher Layla Helwa. suspended, then fired.

Should this Court accept Defendants’ arguments, then there is nothing to keep any purportedly religious school from claiming immunity from the Civil Rights laws, or any other laws for that matter, taking us back to the dark ages in American jurisprudence. . . .

Defendants cherry pick portions of the Complaint, then editorialize and mischaracterize it. Defendants impermissibly argue facts. For example, despite the Complaint’s clear words, Defendants claim that Plaintiffs ‘refused to heed their supervisors.’ The Complaint, is devoid of such assertions or admissions. . . .

Ariel Eure, former Friends Central teacher. Suspended, then fired.

Defendants’ claims are simply astounding; i.e., that ‘Plaintiffs set forth no facts reflecting a hostile work environment, merely repeating that they were disciplined for their failure to comply with their supervisors’ directives regarding reactions to and measures for discussion of the proposed outside speaker.’ This merely reflects their alternate statement of facts and their deliberately ignoring what Plaintiffs have clearly set forth as a “hostile” environment. . . .

Defendants make the extraordinary argument that they are immune from suit, claiming that this Court lacks jurisdiction over them. . . . “

Schwartz agrees that

“. . . the Complaint . . . refers to basic Quaker tenets as espoused by a purportedly Quaker-related institution.” But, he insists, “Doing so does not require the Court to interpret questions of Quaker scripture, doctrine, or canon. There is no mystery here. There are no Quaker hierarchy issues or sect competitions characteristic of Establishment Clause cases. Rather the Complaint sought simply to depict the nature of the environment espoused and Plaintiffs’ adherence to those simple tenets.

Friends Central Head of School, Craig Sellers.

[FCS] Defendants do not point to a single Quaker tenet that would have to be researched and adjudicated by the Court. Instead they simply re-reference the background described by Plaintiffs. Defendants fail to point out any specific problems that would require this Court to divest itself of its clear jurisdiction. They simply make a naked assertion which would exempt Defendants from the reach of civil rights statutes and a host of other statutes, all of which are neutral on their face and application.’

Schwartz notes that the Defendants’ memo copiously cites other cases and decisions, state and federal, to back up their call for dismissal. But he insists that many of these, when closely examined, backfire:

“Defendants cite cases for broad propositions without regard to the actual facts thereof or the procedural context. One must question whether the cases were even read. Many of the cases cited actually support Plaintiffs position. Defendants’ overwhelming reliance upon cases at the summary judgment stage or later, amounts to an admission that discovery should proceed in this case and indeed it should as there is no basis for any of Plaintiffs’ counts to be dismissed. . . . “

Two  examples will suffice here:

In one, Schwartz points to a PA Supreme Court decision in a church-related case, cited by the school but which he insists supports the teachers’ complaint: “’All disputes among members of a  congregation, however, are not doctrinal disputes,” wrote the court. “Some are simply disputes as to meaning of agreements on wills, trusts, contracts, and property ownership. These disputes are questions of civil law and are not predicated on any religious doctrine.’”

The school also cited a case in Massachusetts, but Schwartz finds support for his case there too: “The [Massachusetts] court stated that ‘Both this court and the United States Supreme Court have recognized that the concept of the free exercise of religion involves both belief and activity, and, while the freedom to believe particular religious principles is absolute and may not lawfully be infringed, the freedom to act in response to religious beliefs does not enjoy the same immunity.’”

Schwartz tracks methodically through page after page of additional case citations, finding most irrelevant (or “inapposite”), and more than a few in fact supportive of his clients rather than the school. We won’t follow him through all these, as many involve legal points well beyond my pay grade.

Schwartz skewers the Friends Central leadership in his close, quoting from the school’s website:

“‘…Our pedagogy is grounded in continuing revelation, reflection, integrity, and a willingness to accept responsibility.’

Under the heading ‘A Quaker History of Inclusivity and Diversity’ FCS states the following:

‘When Friends’ Central School was founded in 1845, it was a time of great division among Quakers. Our school was founded to include and serve all Quakers and was, by design, co-educational and open to non-Friends’ from the day it opened. This interest in inclusivity continues today as Friends’ Central strives for racial, religious and socio­- economic diversity in its student body and among its faculty.

We are committed to building and maintaining an inclusive and diverse community. All constituencies-faculty, staff, students, administrators, parents, trustees, and alumni/ae- are responsible for an awareness of and ongoing dialogue around equity issues of race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, privilege, religion, physical ability, and family structure, as well as for enhancing the Philosophy  of Inclusivity and Awareness articulated in our Diversity Statement.'”

Attorney Mark Schwartz

Schwartz continues:

“It is sadly ironic that Defendants profess to accept responsibility, but by their motion hypocritically claim immunity from responsibility under the law. Quite clearly, Plaintiffs ‘ reference to these and other statements do not lead us into a morass of entanglement with religion. Rather, Plaintiffs references provide the Court with insight into the environment in which Plaintiffs worked and how they were led to believe they should act. No consideration of their lawsuit occasions delving into religious doctrine. Rather this lawsuit and its claims prompt a jury to ultimately deciding whether statutory and common law were breached.”

It  may be months before we learn whether Schwartz and the teachers will fend off a dismissal and get the chance to pursue their case further. Stay tuned.

The post Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Time To Do Some History Homework

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 11:09pm

Found a valuable piece on the History News Network: “Why Is Christian America Supporting Donald Trump?” It’s by John Fea, a historian  at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Fea’s piece is not just timely, it’s also important. He homes in on the fact that the “Christians” in Trump’s base are operating on a specific religious reading of American history, one that’s not new, but which has always been false.

In fact, it’s not really an exaggeration to say that our struggle today for a democratic American future is also a fierce struggle to confront & root out a false so-called “Christian” pack of lies about our past. Unfortunately, at the moment the false history charlatans are way ahead, and it makes a real difference. And it could soon make much more.

For many of us it might be a horrifying truth: sometimes to make a revolution (or preserve one; the US was born as a revolutionary idea), we have to sit down and do some serious homework, lots of it, about stuff like history. Why? Here’s how Fea puts it:

Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished in their perceived status as God’s new Israel—His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God. . . .

This “Divine Exceptionalism” had a heyday beginning during the  Civil War and the following decades, under the banner of the National Reform Association (Yes — NRA!) They pushed  a specific political goal, a constitutional amendment declaring the U.S. to be a “Christian nation.” One  version would have changed the existing preamble to the Constitution thus (the proposed change is highlighted):

“We the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, and His revealed will as our supreme authority, in order to constitute a Christian government, to form a more perfect union, … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Note the motto under the title: “Truth for authority, not authority for truth.” –Lucretia Mott

The amendment was introduced in Congress in 1864, 1874 and 1896; it did not pass, but the idea did not disappear. One force that helped stop it in those years was the Free Religious Association, founded in 1867, as an interdenominational liberal association, which was an active defender of a strict separation of church and state. Among FRA’s ten founders were several Unitarians, and one woman: Quaker Lucretia Mott. 

Similar amendments bubbled up again in the next century, during the years of the Cold War and anti-Communist hysteria; none passed. But now the drive is back again, no longer in constitutional amendment form, but as a thick package of incremental statutes, aimed at a conservative Congress, a cooperative White House, and an expected complaisant Supreme court.

Behind the current resurgence is a coalition that has come together since the 1960s. Fea:

Though dissenters have always been present, the Christian culture of the United States remained intact well into the 20th century. But since World War II, the moorings of this culture have loosened, and evangelicals have responded with fear that their Christian nation is about to collapse. . . .

During the 1960s, the Supreme Court removed prayer and Bible reading from public schools, the federal government cut federal funding to Christian academies and colleges that practiced segregation, the country grew more diverse through immigration, and the sexual revolution threatened evangelical patriarchy and gave women the right to choose to have an abortion.

The fear that America’s Christian civilization was falling apart translated into political action. 

In the late 1970s, conservative evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye (the author of the popular Left Behind novels), and a group of politicians who had been closely affiliated with the 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, developed a political playbook to win back the culture from the forces of secularization. Most of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 understood, and continue to understand, the relationship between their faith and their politics through this playbook. 

This playbook, which would eventual become the culture-war battle plan of the “Religious Right,” was tweaked occasionally over the years to address whatever moral issues seemed most important at the time, but it never lost its focus on “restoring,” “renewing,” and “reclaiming” America for Christ through the pursuit of political power. 

When executed properly, the playbook teaches evangelicals to elect the right President and members of Congress who will pass laws privileging evangelical Christian views of the world. These elected officials will then appoint and confirm conservative Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, defend life in the womb, and uphold religious liberty for those who believe in traditional views of marriage.

The playbook rests firmly on the Religious Right’s understanding of American identity as rooted in its view of the American past. If America was not founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right’s political agenda collapses or, at the very least, is weakened severely.

The playbook: Note the logo at bottom right of the ‘Wallbuilders/ProFamily Legislative network.” It’s a vehicle for the bogus “history” pushed for years by fake historian David Barton and his allies. More on Barton below.

To indoctrinate its followers in the dubious claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right has turned to political activists, many of whom claim to be historians, to propagate the idea that the founding fathers of the United States were in the business of building a Christian nation.

The most prominent of these Christian nationalist purveyors of the past is David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization in Aledo, Texas that claims to be “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built—a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”

I can’t help  but interject that the agenda described here is based on a very selective and limited kind of “Christianity,” one that has never been unchallenged. In its early incarnation, it faced strong pushback from an emerging American liberal Quakerism among others. Today, though, this issue shows up on very few of their successors’ agendas.

Fea continues:

For the past thirty years, Barton has provided pastors and conservative politicians with inaccurate or misinterpreted facts used to fuel the Religious Right’s nostalgic longings for an American Christian golden age. American historians, including those who teach at the most conservative Christian colleges, have debunked Barton’s use of the past, but he continues to maintain a large following in the evangelical community. 

David Barton peddles fake news about the American past. . . .
The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made. Yet Barton and [others] invoke these founders and these documents to defend the idea that the United States was founded as a distinctly Christian nation.

***

If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

We do.

We have. 

But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. 

David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

I know this first-hand from some of the negative emails and course evaluation forms I received after teaching a Sunday School course on the history of religion and politics at the Evangelical Free Church congregation where my family worship every Sunday. Because I was a college history professor—even a college history professor at a Christian college with strong evangelical roots—I could not be trusted.

Fea notes that Barton and his allies are well-funded by rich Fundamentalist right-wingers. He calls for progressive evangelical philanthropists to support a counterthrust by truth-minded evangelical scholars.

That’s a good idea, but I doubt many liberal Quakers or other progressive religious folks are ready to sign up for it. [One exception is the Quaker history H. Larry ingle, who took on one of the other main “textbooks” of this fake history in Quaker Theology back in 2005.] Personally, my own sense is that progressives need to do their own homework and strategize to make their own thrust against Barton and his baloney.

One reason why progressives should pay attention is that Bartonism is taking dead aim at some of the issues closest to their hearts and communities.

For an example, here from the current edition of the legislative playbook, is part of a lengthy section on what they call–

“The Marriage Tolerance Act (a/k/a/ First Amendment Defense Act) — which ought to be dubbed the Whole-hog Homophobia Protection Plan. It is:

An act to prohibit discriminatory action against a person who believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage.

Section 1. Title
This act shall be known as the “Marriage Tolerance Act.”

Section 2. Purpose
This act is intended to ensure that the First Amendment’s protections for the free exercise of religion is statutorily enforced in (State) so that no legal ambiguity exists regarding the fact that all persons are free to believe, speak, or act upon their sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage, without fear of discrimination or adverse or discriminatory action initiated or enforced by any governmental entity. . . .

As used in this act, the term:

A. ‘Discriminatory action’ means any action that directly or indirectly adversely affects the person against whom the discriminatory action is taken, places the person in a worse position than the person was in before the discriminatory action was taken, or is likely to deter a reasonable person from acting or refusing to act. It includes, but is not limited to, any action to:

a. Alter in any way state tax treatment of an exemption from taxation under state law;

b. Cause any tax, penalty, or payment to be assessed against a person or deny, delay, or revoke an exemption from taxation under state law;
c. Disallow a deduction for state tax purposes of any charitable contribution made to or by a person;
d. Deny, withhold, reduce, exclude, terminate, reprimand, censure, or otherwise make unavailable any government grant, contract, subcontract, cooperative agreement, loan, guarantee, license, certification, scholarship, accreditation, employment, or other similar position or status from or to a person;
e. Deny, withhold, reduce, exclude, terminate, or otherwise make unavailable any public benefit from or to a person, including for purposes of this act admission to, equal treatment in, or eligibility for a degree from any educational program at any educational facility administered by a government; or
f. Deny, withhold, reduce, exclude, terminate, condition, or otherwise make unavailable access to any speech forum (whether a traditional, limited, or nonpublic forum) administered by a government, including access to education facilities available for use by student or community organizations; or
g. Enter into a contract that is inconsistent with, would in any way interfere with, or would in any way require a person to surrender voluntarily the rights protected by this section.

B. ‘Government’ means the State or any local subdivision of the State or public instrumentality or public corporate body created by or under authority of state law, including but not limited to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches and every department, agency, board, bureau, office, commission, authority, or similar body thereof; municipalities; counties; school districts; special taxing districts; conservation districts; authorities; and any other State or local public instrumentality or corporation.

C. ‘Person’ means any individual, corporation, partnership, proprietorship, firm, enterprise, association, public or private organization of any character, or other legal entity.

D. ‘Public benefit’ means any grant, accreditation, certification, license, advantage, employment, access to public facility, or other benefit conferred in whole or in part by government.

Section 5. Prohibition and Enforcement

(a) Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.

(b) A person may assert a violation of this act as a claim or defense in a judicial, agency, or other proceeding and obtain special damages, a declaratory judgment, or injunctive or other appropriate relief against a government.

(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action under this act may be commenced, and relief may be granted, in a court of competent jurisdiction without regard to whether the person commencing the action has sought or exhausted available administrative remedies. [Emphasis added.]

Note the emphatic repetition of “any action”. “Any action” against LGBTs “in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief” is to be put beyond the reach of any government penalty. It is worth noting here that the biblical texts cited by such “sincere” homophobia advocates mandate, as a key such “action,” the execution of those involved in such “abominations.” If there’s any exception in this bill allowing for prosecution of such “sincere” murders, I didn’t see it.

There’s lots more here, transphobic bills among it, all to be wrapped in “official” labels like “In God We Trust.”

But isn’t this stuff just the rancid raving of sinister wackadoodles with too much rich fanatics’ money to spend? A few years ago it seemed that way. But I won’t belabor the point that that was then, and now we’re in a very different moment, with Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court.

But I will repeat that for liberal Quakers and other progressive church folk, our response starts with a serious homework assignment. Continuing to ignore the history that John Fea lifts up could help leave him and us — and many of our most treasured values — on the ash heap of history.

 

The post Time To Do Some History Homework appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

250,000 Hits Later: Taking Stock of a Quaker Blog

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 5:03pm

Yesterday I spent a few hours hunched over my laptop screen, waiting for a number to arrive: the 250,000th hit on this  blog.

250,000: A quarter of a million. Imagine.

The hit counter said that number was near, and it felt like a major milestone for me. Sure, I realize that big time blogs can get close to that many hits in a day or two; but a Quaker blog speaks to what they call a “niche market.” And the blogging here, active and archived goes back to 1998,  but has been significantly active since 2009.

I started out in February 1998, with one of the shortest posts, one which noted some, um, uncertainty. Here’s the whole thing:

  I need a blog like I need a hole in the head.

But it’s clear that these days, it’s an increasingly important way of getting one’s views and convictions into the broader public discussion and debate.  And before it is too late, there are some things I’d like to get into circulation.

My overriding concern now is the mad course down which my country’s rulers are headed, and what faith groups can do about it.   My perspective is “sectarian,” rooted in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers.)  As the saying goes, I’m proud to be a humble Quaker.

But my sense is that people from other faith groups, or none, can learn things from our experience and discussions — and we can learn from others.

So let’s do it.

This hesitant opening was soon followed by what is beyond challenge  the longest post ever: 45800 words, with several thousand more added in followups. It was a nearly-book-length investigative report called “Fleecing The Faithful.”

In the late ’90s, two major church frauds stole tens of millions from Evangelical Friends. It could happen again. (It has, to others.) This shocking report, which took four months of intensive research & writing, showed how.

Not long after that, blogging lagged behind outward events, particularly September 11, 2001, which jolted  me out of my routine in central Pennsylvania, and saw me shipped off to be Director at Quaker House, the peace project next door to FortBragg in North Carolina.

With two big wars getting underway, I was  pretty  busy for several years. But the net kept developing, and by late 2009, the pace picked up.

Since then, along with the hits I’ve accumulated 626 “items” on the blog.

In this outpouring, topics varied, though religion was often nearby. In fact, it was the focus of what is undoubtedly the very shortest post of all 626, from May 21, 2011, Here it is, in full:

Since the world seemed likely to persist for awhile, I went ahead and retired from Quaker House in late 2012. Meantime, the blog had had its share of scoops;  it unearthed two official letters from Kenyan Quaker officials endorsing brutal treatment for LGBTs in its country and region; internal budget documents from Philadelphia YM detailing its budget struggles; breaking the news of appointments to various major Quaker positions; etc.

Soon I began foraging for new blogging subject matter. By late summer, 2014, a dominant new subject dropped into my lap:

The Quaker trouble in North Carolina lasted three full years, and I ended up covering it in three ways: in print and online in the journal Quaker Theology, and through the blog as both a reporter and an engaged member of one of the monthly meetings targeted to be purged. There are too many of these posts to list here, and I won’t try to summarize their many twists and turns.  (A summary/review is here.) It ended in August 2017 with the body involved, North Carolina YM-FUM, committing corporate suicide and going out of business after 320 years. At the same time, purge fever spread to two other yearly meetings, with new splits beginning to boil over.

Some readers who were intrepid enough to keep up with this reporting might think I’m something of Quaker conflict junkie, and I can understand how that impression develops. But just this morning after worship at my meeting, I was prompted to mention to one of our stalwart members that in only a few weeks it will be a full year since all that agony in North Carolina YM-FUM finally went up (literally) in smoke. She and I were both overcome with relief.

Besides, in this struggle’s last year, the catastrophe of Eleventh Month 2016 pushed most of our intramural Quaker squabbling to the margins. (Not entirely; because Quaker divisions here in NC mirror many of those in the larger culture; we still have our discernment and work to do among Friends in this new and very gloomy context.

The evolution of technology also made it possible to be “active” in struggles physically located elsewhere. Say, for example, Standing Rock. I cheered on the pipeline protesters there, but had no leading to join them.

Then, just a few weeks after the 2016 election, I read that the paramilitary contractor TigerSwan, based near Fort Bragg and run by veterans of secret military units, was doing “security services” for the pipeline backers and possibly various police agencies. Beyond the name, few in the outside media knew anything about it.

I knew of it from my time at Quaker House, and dug up a batch of background on the company from public sources, then put up a substantial post on November 26. In 24 hours it drew more than a thousand hits, which is a lot for me — but such independent remote exposure could also be vulnerable to electronic pushback: suddenly, the post and my whole blog disappeared.It took a week of insistent appeals to the host to get the blog back up — and when it reappeared, the TigerSwan post was still gone, completely scrubbed from its files.

Fortunately, with the help of readers who had saved copies, we reconstructed the suppressed post, and uploaded it again; it is still there.  

Yesterday, the “All time” counter, which updated fitfully, abruptly jumped ahead a dozen or so, and flipped right past the number I was waiting to see. Whatever.

I’m still busy, as way opens, keeping up with more recent stories I broke in the “blogosphere,” about the two teachers at Friends Central School in Philadelphia who were fired for inviting a Palestinian pacifist Quaker speaker. That, plus the resistance, the resurgence of racism, and other topics, yield a continuing stream of blogging subject matter, some not so controversial. I’m hoping the blog can still build its readership and that I’ll last until the next big milestone (500,000) is reached.

 

If this post is of interest, pleased pass it on.

 

 

The post 250,000 Hits Later: Taking Stock of a Quaker Blog appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Dandruff on the Boss’s shoulder: Friends Central School Strikes Back

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 4:57pm

The boss has landed the key appointment with the Big Man. He’s almost ready, wearing his special suit.

Just before the Big Man’s secretary opens the office door, the Boss’s assistant notices a tiny white speck on the Boss’s shoulder. The assistant moves fast, raising a hand, ready to brush–

But the Boss is already walking through the door. The assistant sees him reach out to shake the hand of the Big Man–

Dominance behavior: flicking dandruff of an inferior’s clothing.

And then–OMG!–the Big Man is raising his hand, and flicking the speck of dandruff off the Boss’s suit himself.

Oh, the shame. the humiliation. The assistant stands frozen. Of course the instant has been recorded by cameras that will flash it all over the world in minutes. The assistant imagines his career crumbing right before his eyes.

Yeah, this is a clumsy parable of the next round in the Friends Central School (FCS) discrimination lawsuit.

The Big Man stands for the FCS head, Craig Sellers & his fellow defendants. The lawsuit charges that they suspended and then fired two FCS teachers, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa, because they dared to schedule a speech by a Quaker Palestinian pacifist, Sa’ed Atshan.  The speech was canceled.

The other fellow is a younger version of attorney Mark Schwartz, who filed the lawsuit in behalf of the two teachers.

The speck, the fleck of dandruff, is the lawsuit. The FCS authorities are now attempting to flick it away as nothing. And their effort amounts to a show of dominance, aimed initially at the federal court that will evaluate it

The FCS attorneys are from a heavyweight Philadelphia firm (three names before  the ampersand), and on July 3, they submitted a motion for dismissal of the lawsuit, and a supporting memorandum of law. (The full text is here.) In the memorandum, they spend 29 pages asserting, in numerous carefully-phrased ways, that “There’s nothing to see here — and you shouldn’t be looking at it anyway.”

Why not look? Because the biggest objection is that all the plaintiffs’ complaints are essentially religious, and thus out of bounds for civil courts:

Plaintiffs have pointedly and repeatedly couched their Complaint in terms of how well FCS and the other defendants have measured up to the Religious Society of Friends’ guiding principles including with respect to the decision to suspend them and then terminate their employment and regarding the substance of the statement they allege defamed them and placed them in a false light.

Although Plaintiffs may contend that their lengthy allegations are only offered by way of background and do not implicate the Establishment Clause, this contention fails under settled law. Were the Court to countenance Plaintiffs’ dozens of allegations concerning the quality of the parties’ adherence to religious principles vis-à-vis the underlying occurrences, then this would necessitate judicial inquiry into the tenets, doctrine and discipline of the Religious Society of Friends.

Such an inquiry is impermissible under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Well-settled jurisprudence prohibits civil courts from resolving disputes that depend upon inquiry into questions of faith and doctrine.” (Emphasis added.)

But if that’s not enough for dismissal, the FCS memo adds that nothing in the allegations actually constitutes any real instance of discrimination:

. . . if the Court were to retain jurisdiction [in spite of their First Amendment argument], the law is settled that Plaintiffs cannot make out the elements of several of their claims: there are separate grounds for dismissal of facets of the [other] claims in that they fail to meet their required elements . . . .

Which is to say, The charges are out of bounds; but despite that, there’s nothing to see here anyway.

The filing also included a draft order of dismissal. This is for the convenience of a busy judge with crowded dockets: Just sign here,  and it’s done.

A flick of the finger, the dandruff spot is gone and dominance is re-affirmed.

Such a dismissal would obviously be a major setback for the plaintiffs and their attorney. It would also undermine the seriousness of their charges.

Of course, plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Schwartz will have his chance to rebut the FCS memo. He told me in an email  few days ago that he had not yet reviewed it. But he confirmed one non-lawyer’s reaction that I had.

Indeed, to repeat for the record, I am no lawyer. But many years ago, I was trained as an EEO investigator for the feds, to examine discrimination complaints. And two points stick out for me:

One is that the key to whether discrimination has happened is disparate treatment, whether one set of employees (Eure and Halwa) were treated differently, to their disadvantage, in contrast to other FCS employees that were “similarly situated.”  And that in such inquiries, there are several “purviews,” or kinds of discrimination, and one of them is religion.  Mark Schwartz agreed that “disparate treatment” would be a key factor going forward.

And while it may seem to the FCS attorneys that the lawsuit  complaints were nothing more than “bland scenarios that Plaintiffs here paint as adverse employment actions . . .” we outsiders and laypersons can’t help but notice that Eure and Helwa were suspended for four months, and then very publicly fired — which sure look like  “adverse employment actions” to me

And this happened because they scheduled a speech by a Palestinian Quaker pacifist, at a Quaker school, which espouses a “philosophy” of support for vigorous debate of tough issues (which was thereby stifled, until this  day), and stood up for their action. (More background on the case is  here.)

Was this “disparate treatment” compared to other employees?

I don’t know, but here’s an interesting comparison: on January 13, 2017, a few weeks before Sa’ed Atshan’s speech was scheduled, another outside Quaker speaker, allegedly also a pacifist, came to FCS, and gave not one but two speeches to students, on controversial public issues.

That speaker was me. By invitation, I talked about my experiences in the 1960s civil rights movement, and how many of the same issues were very much in contention again today, fifty-plus years later. (A summary of my talks and visit is here.)

My visit went fine, I thought. The students cheered, the hosts were  friendly, and I hope the staff who set up the event were praised by their superiors.  I fear they later lost face when I blogged about the Sa’ed Atshan/teacher suspension fiasco, when FCS leaders wanted no public comment about this situation (except theirs). But that’s the hazards of dealing with a civil rights worker-turned journalist; some of us take all that seriously.)

None of this may make any legal difference: again, I’m not a lawyer. My sense is that a dismissal-minded judge would find sufficient basis in the FCS memo to  summarily toss the lawsuit. Flick & it’s gone.

Bur Mark Schwartz will get his chance to reply. And whatever happens to the lawsuit, from every Quaker angle I can imagine, this case is a disgrace that stinks to high heaven.

And I do know something about that.

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Categories: Blogs

Frederick Douglass on the Fourth of July

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 4:45am

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the Fourth of July. It is the birth day 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. l 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. . . .

At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness.

Did this law concern the “mint, anise, and cummin”-abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal!-And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to so licit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner.

Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox to the beautiful, but treacherous, Queen Mary of Scotland.

The fact that the church of our country (with fractional exceptions) does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love, and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness.

A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” 

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines, who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. . . .

“What to the Negro is 4th of July?” James Earl Jones Reads Frederick Douglass’ Historic Speech

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A Hospice for Hope: A Quaker War (& Peace) Story

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 8:45am

Lexie dropped the pint bottle of Ensure into her cloth bag, slung the bag over her shoulder, and held the bouquet of dyed pink daisies over it for camouflage. With her other hand, she put the phone back to her ear.

“All right,” she said to Allyson, “I’ve got it. They’ll never notice it under the flowers.”

At the top step, the big automatic doors swung open, not too fast, not too slow, and she walked through the entryway. Turning right into the big hallway, she didn’t glance at the small sign that read, “Hospice Care”; she knew the way.

“This place always gives me the creeps, ” she told her sister. Allyson was sitting safe at home in Cincinnati, more than a thousand miles away.

“Why?” Asked Allyson. “Because it’s full of dying people?”

“Maybe partly,” Lexie said, “but I think it’s more the way they kinda package the whole thing here, like everybody’s getting ready for a birthday party. I mean–

A woman’s voice interrupted. “Can you help me?” It sounded weak, but piercing. “Can you help me?” Again.

Lexie slowed and glanced to her right. In a lounge doorway a woman sat in a wheelchair. Her hair was tousled, her hands outstretched, reaching toward Lexie.

“I, uh — I” Lexie started, then noticed that the woman’s gaze was fixed somewhere behind her, and her eyes seemed unfocused. The image came to Lexie of someone caught in a swirling river at floodtide, about to be swept away.

Lexie swayed uncertainly. Both her hands were full. She heard Allyson saying, distantly, “Are you there?” as if the call had dropped, which it often did. And looking closer, she saw the woman was strapped into the chair, with what looked like a seat belt.

Lexie thought, I bet she’s from the Memory Unit at the other end, and she was parked here while the attendant is outside smoking. She probably doesn’t remember how to unbuckle the belt.

The woman repeated her call, “Can you help me?” and Lexie snapped back to her own reality. “Sorry,” she told the woman, and started walking again. “I’m here,” she said into the phone. “Just got derailed for a minute.”

Lexie was headed for the second last room in the long hallway. Each door she passed had someone’s last name in block black letters on a card in a slot, and she knew most of them by now: Callahan, Bradley, Washington–

— No. Washington’s slot was now empty. Washington — Lexie didn’t know if it was he or she — was dead.

“Looks like another one bit the dust,” she told Allyson.

“Since when?” Allyson asked.

Since yesterday. Lexie explained that hospice staff wasted no time: the body was wheeled out, the room cleaned, disinfected, and aired out for a day or so. Then someone else was moved in, and a new card went into the slot. It was all done very quietly, even the dying too, usually. She remembered an overheard wisecrack in the break room, some big guy, with a gray beard and a semi-booming voice: “Yeah, man, people are just dyin’ to see us.” She hadn’t laughed.

Hancock was the name on the next door. Where she was headed. The door was closed, but the nametag — yes– was still there. “Okay,” she said, “I’m here. Wish me luck.”

“Call me back when you can,” Allyson said, as Lexie touched the red button.

She stood for a moment, fingers on the door handle, remembering the woman on the card, Sally Hancock, before she ended up here.
Lexie let go of the door handle and touched a multicolor dot on her phone screen. A photo album popped open, of Sally the Happy Peaceful Warrior.

Sally had inherited some money from wealthy parents. She gave most of it away, lived simply on the rest, and made a career of protesting every war the USA got into. She spoke about them in the Quaker meeting, maybe a bit too often. She took her protests downtown, every week it seemed like, usually outside the main post office.

Several photos showed her standing alone, holding her big homemade signs. Every April she refused to pay half her income taxes; that part paid for wars, she told the IRS.

There seemed no end of them, the wars that is: the oldest image, a black and white snapshot showed Lexie with Sally denouncing the Vietnam war, Lexie was in second grade. Central America after that, and all along the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. And more, all the way to Iraq & Afghanistan, the wars of today which were supposedly over, except they weren’t.

So the names of the wars on Sally’s signs changed. And her curly hair went from brown to grey to white. But the post office was the same. Along with Sally’s stubborn smile.

And Desert Storm, that mad four day orgy of killing that set off victory parades here and all over. Sally was protesting there too. Lexie still got a little choked up recalling when Sally was knocked down by some hulking teenager in the victory parade afterward. The guy had wrapped himself in wide yellow ribbons. Sally was holding a sign that said “Shame! Shame!”

Later, when Sally sat down in front of the gates by the old airbase, trying to stop buses bringing in troops bound for Iraq, Lexie hadn’t gone with her. Those sitdowns got her arrested, and Lexie wasn’t really up for facing jail, at least not yet. She was grown up, working now, and had school loans to pay back.

But after Sally’s third arrest, the judge sent her off to a federal penitentiary for three months.

Lexie did visit her there, after a long drive across the wintertime desert. Sally was in good spirits, in a bright orange jumpsuit. But Lexie’s more lasting memory was the bleakness of the gray family room, and the quiet desperation in the eyes of so many children there. Families divided and crumbling, all around her.

On her release, Sally was greeted like an antiwar hero at the Quaker meeting. But when Lexie gave Sally a hug, she felt smaller, and fragile.

Sally was, Lexie admitted, getting tired. After all, it had been forty years since Vietnam had ended. She was almost eighty; and Lexie was middle aged herself.

But there were still new wars. And Sally still kept showing up downtown. Her steps were slower, and she didn’t stay in front of the post office as long, especially in bad weather. For awhile she wasn’t alone: another Quaker her age, a widow named Eleanor, “felt a concern” to join her vigils.

Album photos of the two of them showed women who were proudly wrinkled and stubborn: the two of them taking on a trillion-dollar war machine. It could have been completely ridiculous, except somehow it wasn’t. Besides, their signs had new words on them: “Drones,” and “Torture,” and more.

Then last spring, after four years of standing together, Eleanor had a stroke. When she woke up from her coma, she couldn’t speak, or walk, and only occasionally recognized Sally, or the other Quakers who came to sit with her.

And last autumn, Sally got pnuemonia, and was in bed for three weeks. She seemed to bounce back, and was on the corner by the post office the week before Thanksgiving. There she passed out flyers calling for a boycott of the “Black Friday” buying frenzy, urging shoppers instead to send donations to peace groups and homeless shelters.

But that Sunday, at the Quaker meeting, the Clerk announced Sally had asked for a special called meeting the next week, at which she would be sharing some important personal news.

The announcement caught Lexie by surprise. Was this some new protest effort? The Clerk, when she asked, shook her head, but wouldn’t say more, insisting it was up to Sally to do that, and that a special clearness committee had been working with her, and Friends were not to pester her about it beforehand.

Lexie was on edge all week, and showed up at the meetinghouse early, fidgeting in the front row as Friends filled in the seats around her. Then Sally came in, with the Clerk and two other Friends, from the Clearness Committee. They sat down at a small table, and after an opening silence, Sally began to speak.

She spoke calmly, but clearly. In recent years, she said, her body had grown weaker. And during her recent bout of pneumonia, the weakness had increased. As she recovered, it seemed to be sending her a message, that grew clearer and firmer each day: after eighty-five years, her body was done. Finished. It was time to go.

Lexie’s jaw dropped. Surely, Sally couldn’t be saying this.

But she was. This message, Sally went on, was deepened when she had visited Eleanor, now bedridden, unable to care for herself, and who didn’t recognize her. “I felt so sorry for her,” Sally said, wiping tears. “And I have other friends who are in similar shape, or near it.”
Her expression became firm. “I don’t want to spend months or years like that.” She took a breath. “I won’t do it.”

Then a smile, and she raised a finger. “Now don’t anyone tell me I still have a long and happy life to live. I’ve already had one.”

Lexie had to join the chuckles despite her own tears.

“So what am I going to do? I remember a poem by Dorothy Parker. Do you know it?” She quoted it, grinning mischievously:

“Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.”

More tearful chuckles. “But Friend Parker didn’t mention food,” Sally said. “No food, no fuss, no muss. And there’s no law saying you have to eat.”

So that was it. Beginning the next day, Sally intended to stop eating. She had researched this, and after a few days of increasing weakness, she could expect to slide into a kind of coma, and after a few more days, it would be over.

“I’m at peace, and feel happy and free,” Sally said, “and very much loved by my Quaker family here.” She invited the group to close the meeting by singing her favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

As the voices rose, Lexie stood and rushed out of the room, down the walk to her car.

She was devastated, horrified. Sally couldn’t possibly mean it. She couldn’t be ready to do this. It was, it was suicide. She must be depressed.

That was it. Being so sick, then seeing Eleanor, it would depress anybody. She’d snap out of it. Lexie decided she would help her.

And that was why, two weeks later, she was standing here at the door with Sally’s name in the slot, smuggling in contraband.

There was still a chance Sally would change her mind. Or if she was awake, that Lexie could persuade her she still had work to do, and friends who needed her.

She closed the photo album, slipped her phone into the bag and reached for the door handle.

And just then the door was pushed open. Lexie stumbled backward and lost her balance. Her bag and the flowers tumbled to the floor.

A big hand caught her arm, and she scrambled to her feet. Then she was looking into the bearded, alarmed face of the big guy from the break room.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am,” he said, “I didn’t know anyone was there.”

“What–what are you doing here?” Lexie demanded.

“I’m with hospice services,” he said, and pointed to a photo ID on his flannel shirt: “Ken” it read by the thumbnail photo. He leaned down, scooped up her bag, and handed it to her.

“Your phone is over there,” he pointed across the hall floor. “Better check and see if it’s okay.”

Lexie picked it up, her hands a bit shaky. The screen wasn’t cracked, and the buttons seemed to work; there was a text from Allyson waiting. “Later” she typed in, and sent it, no problem.

She was putting it into the bag when he said, “Um, is this yours too?” In his hand was the bottle of Ensure.

“Oh,” she said, suddenly nervous. “Um, yes.”

Ken rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Why don’t you come in.” He opened the door.

Inside, the shades were drawn, and the light was dimmed. A hospital bed was at the center of the room, with the head end elevated a few inches. Sally lay on her right side, almost in a fetal position. She was covered by a large bright afghan, crocheted in Christmas colors, red green and white, in a zigzag pattern. It was one of her favorites, a flea market find; Lexie had been with her when she bought it.

Sally’s eyes were closed; her white hair looked thin. Standing very still beside the bed, Lexie could barely make out the slow, ragged rise and fall of the afghan.

Ken bent across the other side of the bed, and drew his fingers slowly across Sally’s forehead. Lexie noticed that while his hands were large, their touch was gentle, almost tender.

“Won’t be long for her,” he said quietly. He glanced up, “What about you?”

Lexie was flustered by the question. “Me?” She said. “I guess — I guess I haven’t given up hope.”

“Well, ma’am,” Ken said, “I might could say something about that,” he said.

“What?” Lexie said.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Ken said, “worked with, I don’t know, several hundred folks, their families, friends. And overall, it’s been harder for some of the families than for the patients themselves.”

“What do you mean?” Lexie asked.

“To deal with it,” he said. “To let go. After all, by the time most people get here, they get that the die is pretty much cast, know what I mean?”

Lexie nodded.

And some of them are ready to get on with it.” He shrugged. “After all, sooner or later we’ll all end up in the same spot. If we’re lucky, passing through here.”

There was a chair next to the bed. Lexie collapsed into it.

“But even here,” Ken said, “some people are still helping others. Like Miss Sally here.”

Lexie gave him a sharp look. “How is that possible, in her condition?”

Ken half-smiled. “Oh, that’s simple. Sally is showing us how to die.” He scratched at his ear. “I heard her story, from some of the Quakers. And I remember seeing her down by the post office.”

“But she was getting better,” Lexie protested. “She’d been sick with pneumonia, but she beat that.”

“Maybe so,” Ken said, “but she and I talked about it when she first got here, and she said her body told her it was done, and she listened to it.”

He shook his head. “Too many of us don’t listen to our bodies, ma’am. But we all have to live in them, and eventually they give out. Sally listened, in time, and took charge. I really admire that.”

Something buzzed in his shirt pocket. He took out a phone and looked at it.

“I have to go see another patient,” he said. “Feel free to sit here as long as you like, ma’am. And um, if anything changes, just push the call button there.” He closed the door quietly.

Lexie looked down at Sally, under the colorful afghan. “Teach me, Sally,” she whispered into the silence.

And what came out of the silence was an echo. Quiet but clear, from the Dorothy Parker poem Sally had recited to the meeting. Not the mocking list of ways to do oneself in, but the insouciantly upbeat last line: “You might as well live.”

“Sally, you’re right,” Lexie whispered. “I’m sorry I’ve been trying to hold you back for me.” She stood, then leaned down and kissed Sally’s forehead.

Once in the hallway she picked up her pace. But halfway down she was interrupted again. “Can you help me?” Came the plea. “Can you help me?”

The woman in the wheelchair. Lexie turned to her.

“I don’t know if I can help you,” she said. “But I can at least give you a ride. Okay?”

The woman looked confused, as if she didn’t quite understand. But a furtive half smile began to spread across her face.

“Let’s do it,” Lexie said, and began pushing her down the hallway. As she sped up, the woman’s smile got bigger.

Lexie pushed to the end of the long hallway, made a gentle wheelie, and pushed her all the way back, just fast enough that the woman’s stringy hair stirred a bit in the breeze.

“There,” she said. “I hope that was fun. Take care!”

As the big automatic doors swung open, she heard the woman call again, in the distance now, “Can you help me?”

But Lexie was on her phone. Allyson picked up. “How did it go?” She said.

“Better than I expected,” Lexie said. “I’m on my way home now, to make some peace posters.”

“For the corner by the post office?”

“You got it.”

“That,” said Allyson, “is truly awesome.”

 

If you like this story, please pass it on.

 

 

 

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