Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly)

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Quaker Jazz

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 1:03pm

This week’s QuakerSpeak interviews musician Colton Weatherston. I love the way he relates the communication and collaboration of jazz musicians to Quaker worship:

Especially artists and musicians, we often don’t have the same point of view or even the same background. Each of us will bring a lot of baggage into the meeting of the musicians and we have to build trust with each other and people need to feel free to express their ideas as a soloist without feeling told by the leader how exactly to play—we have to work it out as an ensemble. And I think that’s very true with meetings also.

Those with long memories might remember that I interviewed Chad Stephenson after he made a comparison between new jazz traditionalists and Convergent Friends at the 2009 Ben Lomond conference (I believe he wrote an expanded version for the Spirit Rising Quaker anthology but I can’t find a link).

How Quaker Meeting is Like Jazz

As a jazz musician, Colton Weatherston finds solace in silent Quaker meeting, where he doesn’t have to to…

Categories: Blogs

I’m not the only one who digs archives

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 12:28pm

Philadelphia Friends are so modest that blog posts on Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s website don’t even have bylines. Or maybe someone forgot to fill out a field. Either way, here’s a first-person account by an anonymous Philadelphia-area Friend in their early 60s who started reading Friends Journal archives: Some Thoughts from the 1955 Friends Journal

I selected the issue closest to my birth date and began reading. The discussion of the Korean conflict, of the arms race, of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, could all have been written today. And for a lunch-time meditation, this article, on preparing for meeting, was just the right size for reading over my soup and sandwich.

Categories: Blogs

Does this need to be said?

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 6:21am

A great piece from newish Quaker blogger Josh Talbot on the personal struggle to follow the peace testimony: Not Falling Into the Fire of My Own Ire.

Losing yourself to anger is possible even with anger focused against injustice and cruelty. You can become so focused on the target of your rage. That you do not notice when you have lost sight of your goals and are only in it for the fight. Even following the Peace Testimony of Non-Violence we need to recognize when we are no longer being Non-Aggressive.

Like many convinced Friends, I came to the society through activism. I had met plenty of people who let righteous anger serve as cover for more visceral hatred. One eye-opening protest in the 90s was in a rural part of Pennsylvania. When one of the locals screamed the cliche of the era—“Go get a job!”—a protestor shouted back, “I’ve got a job and I make more than you.” It was true even as it was cruel and irrelevant and braggy.

I didn’t see this kind of behavior as much with the Friends I saw at various protests, which is largely why I started gravitating toward them whenever possible. I could see that there was something in the Quaker culture and value system that was able to navigate between righteous and personal anger and draw the line in difficult situations. I love Josh’s description of the “Craig Ferguson” method:

I ask myself. “Does this need to be said?” “Does this need to be said by me?” “Does this need to be said by me right now?” Doing this cuts down on moments of spontaneous anger.

This could also describe the Quaker discernment method for ministry. Maybe there’s something to the care we take (or at least aim for) in that process that gives us a little more self-discipline in the heat of protest or that helps us sort through thorny ethical issues that run through our own community.

Not Falling Into the Fire of My Own Ire.

The hardest of the Quaker testimonies for me to personally follow is the Peace Testimony. I’m positive that…

Categories: Blogs

Profiting on empire

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 6:23am

We think of slavery as issue that tore Friends apart as the consensus on its acceptability shifted in our religious society. A review of a book shows that in the U.K., gun manufacturing underwent this shift: Review: ‘Empire of Guns’ Challenges the Role of War in Industrialization

On its face, the decision by the Society of Friends to censure a flagrant arms merchant in its ranks may not seem surprising. Pacifist principles were central to Quaker ideology, as was opposition to slavery. Guns fueled not just war but the slave trade. Yet Mr. Galton’s father, and his father before him — and indeed many other Quakers who long dominated Birmingham’s arms industry — had been unapologetic gunmakers for 70 years without attracting rebuke. What had changed in the interim, in ways that are deeply interrelated, were society and the guns themselves.

Today the debate on guns in the U.S. is focused on assault weapons being used by individuals but the Galton debate is more about the role of a Quaker-produced product in war. Britain of course was an empire, an empire held together by force of weapons. Some percentage of the industrial revolution in Britain was financed by war and its products often were employed overseas in the maintenance and extension of the empire (I’m thinking for example of trains).

When I first read John Woolman I was struck by his calling slavery a product of war. I usually think of it as a human rights and dignity issue (and of course it was and Woolman was particularly sensitive to the human dimension) but it was also a type of highly organized warfare. Seeing the systemic nature of the trade as a whole let Friends better see the unacceptability of slavery—and imperial weapons manufacturing.

Review: ‘Empire of Guns’ Challenges the Role of War in Industrialization

In her new book, Professor Priya Satia aims to overturn the conventional wisdom about the role of guns…

Categories: Blogs

Do Friends Query?

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 1:45pm

Doug Gwyn is next up on QuakerSpeak, this time answering What is a Quaker Query?

The Quaker Queries are a wonderful invention of asking ourselves some simple questions… I’ve heard it said that throughout much of our history, we were shopkeepers and business people, and we were used to doing inventory all the time. And the queries are a kind of spiritual and moral inventory that Friends do well to keep track of.

It’s become kind of easy to make fun of queries. The classic use was as questions formally asked and formally answered in Quaker meetings for business. As Gwyn says they were a form of accounting. Local congregations would go though a set list and send them to quarter meetings to sift and answer so they could in turn send it up to yearly meeting sessions. I’ve seen this process followed at Ohio Yearly Meeting. It’s fascinating if a bit tedious.

I could imagine the process being useful if for no other reason that it gave Friends a chance to pry a bit into one another’s lives. Do all the members of our community have their alcohol use under control? Are we really committed to peace in our communities?

These days a form of over-simplistic query is are written on the fly, with an implicit “or” that I don’t always find particularly helpful. “Do Friends avoid the use of styrofoam cups?” [or do you all hate the Earth?]. Used this way, queries risk becoming a list of busybody norms to followed. We congratulate ourselves for not using paper napkins at a conference we flew to.

As Doug points out, it helps to have a little humility when it comes to queries. They’re one of the more useful items in the Quaker toolbox. A good query will have something to say to each of us, no matter where we individually are in our spiritual journey.

What is a Quaker Query?

What is a Quaker query? As shopkeepers and businesspeople, Quakers developed queries as a way of taking “moral…

Categories: Blogs

None of us is a volunteer

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 12:55pm

Sam Barnett-Cormack is a prolific non-theist British Friend. His latest post, Doing It Ourselves, has some thoughts on community discernment that I find interesting.

Quakerism “done right” is not “do it yourself” in either sense… No task is done by one person alone; it is always the work and responsibility of the community, though we might not always clearly see the support and assistance we are given. Some would say that we are “upheld in prayer,” a term that does not speak to my experience, but we are certainly upheld by the love and nurture of our community – unless our community is failing.

Categories: Blogs

Review of Traditional Quaker Christianity

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 12:55pm

Patricia Dallmann reviews a 2004 book by Friends of Ohio Yearly Meeting, Traditional Quaker Christianity:

Though Traditional Quaker Christianity is intended to convey the tradition among Conservative Friends, it may find readers among Liberals and Evangelicals. Should another generation of Quakers come forth and undertake the restoration of “the desolations of many generations,” they could find this book a resource for building up a Quaker Christian society.

I must admit that after spending my work days reading manuscripts and my commutes reading blog posts, the enjoyment of books has gotten a bit squeezed out. This looks like a useful one to try to fit it. Friend Marty Grundy reviewed this title for Friends Journal a few years ago. After posting the link to Patricia’s post, Mackenzie reminded me that Quaker Faith and Podcast has also been going through the book in recent episodes.

Review of Traditional Quaker Christianity

As I read and re-read Traditional Quaker Christianity, I felt a spirit of humble diligence intent upon conveying the core substance…

Abiding Quaker
Categories: Blogs

Quakers shake things up

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 12:55pm

Rhonda Pfaltzgraff-Carlson is back with another reflection on light and truth and love, Why Quakers Inspire Social Change. It’s a good reminder that change also needs to come from within and that the Light is also meant for us:

If Friends can see new truth from the Light as coming in love, we will be emboldened to act on our leadings and live lives worthy of our callings. We will also be more open to conflict in our meetings and yearly meetings.

Categories: Blogs

Norval Reece interviewed on MLK Jr anniversary

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 8:10am

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Philadelphia TV station interviewed Quaker Norval Reece: Bucks County Quaker, Civil Rights Activist Reflects On Time With MLK

Reece is a proud Quaker and believes it’s his Quaker roots that sent him to Dr. King’s side. “I was raised to believe all people are equal, are born equal, created equal,” he said. Reece met King in 1967 at the old Robert Morris Hotel in Philadelphia. He spent several hours with the civil rights icon. Reece says that night he, King and a few others planned a poverty march for the following spring, but King never made it.

Norval was an activist with AFSC back in his youth, served as a Pennsylvania secretary of commerce, and became a cable television entrepreneur. He’s pretty ubiquitous in Quaker circles these days, linking the activist and entrepreneurial in interesting ways. My favorite part of the video is when they casually redisplay a picture they had blurred out near the beginning (the one in the preview) and don’t bother naming the guy walking just ahead of him.

Civil Rights Activist Norval Reece Recalls Impact Of Martin Luther King Jr.

David Spunt reports.

Categories: Blogs

And when all my hopes in them and in

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 7:30am

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. 

George Fox

Categories: Blogs

Quakers and Mental Health

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 2:58pm

Well this one hits home for me. The new QuanerSpeak talks to Oregon social worker Melody George in the topic of Quakers and Mental Health:

I really see mental diversity as a gift to a community, and that the folks that I serve and that I’ve worked with are very resilient. If they tell you their stories about how they’ve gotten through their traumatic situations and what’s helped them to keep going, faith is a huge part of that. And we have a lot to learn from their strength and resilience.

My family has had very avoidable and out-of-nowhere conflicts at two religious spaces—one a Friends meeting and the other a Presbyterian church—over easy accomodations for my son Francis. It seems like many of the dynamics that we’ve seen are not dissimilar to those that keep others out of meeting communities. Who are we willing to adapt for? Is comfort and familiarity our main goal?

Melody also wrote for Friends Journal a few years ago, Imagining a Trauma-informed Quaker Community.

Quakers and Mental Health

As a social worker, Melody George feels passionate about what she calls “mental diversity” in faith communities. Are…

Categories: Blogs

The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 7:30am

The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers. This world is a form; our bodies are forms; and no visible acts of devotion can be without forms. But yet the less form in religion the better, since God is a Spirit; for the more mental our worship, the more adequate to the nature of God; the more silent, the more suitable to the language of a Spirit.

William Penn

Categories: Blogs

The Seed as Quaker metaphor

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 12:27pm

From Jnana Hodson’s blog, a look at “The Seed” as a Quaker metaphor:

Considering today’s emphasis on individuality, plurality, and personal psychology, I believe that returning to the metaphor of the Seed holds the most potential for fertile spiritual development and guidance in our own era.

I find the evolution of Quaker metaphors fascinating. Early Quaker sermons and epistles were packed with biblical allusions. I grew up relatively unchurched but I’ve tried to make up for it over the years. I’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover using the One Year Bible plan (like a lot of people I suspect, it took me a little over two years) and have been part of different denominational Bible study groups. I try to look up references. But even with that I don’t catch half the references early sermons packed in.

John Woolman lived a couple of generations after the first Friends. We Quaker remember his Journal for ministry of its anti-slavery sentiments, finally becoming a consensus among Friends by the time of its publication in 1774. But other religious folks have read it for its literary value. Open a random page and Woolman will have up to half a dozen metaphors for the Divine. It’s packed and rich and accessible. I find a kind of particular Quaker spiritual truth in Woolman’s rotation of metaphors: it implies that divinity is more than any specific words we try to stuff it into.

Lately Quaker metaphors have tended to become more sterile. I think we’re still worried about specifics but instead of expanding our language we contract it into a kind of impenetrable code. The “Light of Christ” becomes the “Inward Christ” then the “Inward Light” then “the Light” or “Spirit.” We’re still echoing the Light metaphors packed into the Book of John but doing so in such a way that seems particularly parochial to Friends and non-obvious to newcomers. A major New Testament theme is reduced to Quaker lingo.

Jnana Hodson’s problem with “the seed” as metaphor is interesting: “‘seed,’ as such, has far fewer Biblical citations than the corresponding complementary ‘light’ or ‘true’ and ‘truth’ do.” I’m not sure I ever noticed that. I like the seed, with its organic connotations and promise of future growth.  But apparently the few biblical allusions were rather sexist (spoiler: it often meant semen) and lacking in biological awareness. It feels like Friends are searching for neutral metaphors like “the seed” these days; we also have a lot of gatherings around “weaving.” I certainly don’t think we should be limited to first century images of divinity but I also don’t think we’ve quite figured out how we can talk about the guidance we receive from the Inward Teacher.

The Seed, initially, is the most problematic of the three central Quaker metaphors

On one hand, it may be seen as the most original, yet it was left as the least…

As Light Is Sown
Categories: Blogs

When we say we are holding someone in

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 7:11am

When we say we are holding someone in the Light, it is wise to remember that holding is an action verb. Sometimes I confuse intercession prayer with placing a short order to a Spirit I treat as a personal complaint department. “You didn’t get my order right, God…she’s even sicker than before!” I love the way Quaker teachings humble me and help me work with love while waiting expectantly for God’s will to be done.

— Bonnie S.  in a recent comment

Categories: Blogs

Hope in the Middle East

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 6:54pm

As the March Friends Journal theme of Quakers and the Holy Land comes to a close, this week’s featured article is one with hope. Sandy Rea shares stories of teaching in various parts of the Middle East with his wife Stephanie Judson:

I fell in love with Lebanon: with the people, the sound of the language, the tastes of the food, and smells of the spices. Views to the Lebanon mountains from Beirut’s seaside boulevards and rooftops are enticing. Mountain villages have preserved their charm by keeping older homes with the blonde stone and red tile roofs. The hard-working and earnest teachers and the smart, business-minded shop owners are always glad to see foreigners. There is an industriousness, resilience, and pride in the Lebanese that contribute to the repeated risings from so many destructions of the city.

Sandy also gives us histories of times in which Christians, Muslims, and Jews have lived together in peace. It is possible. Today Sandy is clerk of the Middle East Collaborative of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which is working  on reconciliation in the region.

What Once Was Can Be Again

Working on a shared vision of equality and a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Friends Journal
Categories: Blogs

I do not believe there has ever been

Tue, 03/27/2018 - 7:30am

I do not believe there has ever been any possible way of salvation but that of a birth of divinity in man.

Categories: Blogs

Ask Me Anything: Do Quakers celebrate Easter and if so, how?

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 6:24pm

A question From Jessica F about Friends and Easter.

On the face of it, this is an easy question. Early Friends were loath to recognize any liturgical practices and they were lower-p puritanical about anything that smacked of paganism. Famously, they didn’t use the common names of the week or months because many of them referred to non-Christian deities, like Thor and Janus.

They were especially grumpy about anything that smacked of latter-day syncretism. Many of the church holidays were seen as pagan festivals with a superficial Christian overlay. I’ll be the first to admit they could get kind of obnoxious this way. Wikipedia explains some of this attitude:

Other Protestant groups took a different attitude, with most Anabaptists, Quakers, Congregationalists and Presbyterian Puritans regarding such festivals as an abomination. The Puritan rejection of Easter traditions was (and is) based partly upon their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6:14–16 and partly upon a more general belief that, if a religious practice or celebration is not actually written in the Christian Bible, then that practice/celebration must be a later development and cannot be considered an authentic part of Christian practice or belief—so at best simply unnecessary, at worst actually sinful.

In Latin, Easter is called Pascha, a reference to the Jewish Passover festival. But in England, Pascha took place in the month the old English called Ēostre after a goddess whose festival was celebrated in that month. This made it doubly hard for English Protestant groups that wanted to cleanse Christianity of “popish” or “pagan” influences. So for right or wrong, they ignored it like they did the day the world calls Christmas.

Symbolically, Quakers love the idea of Easter. One of George Fox’s most key openings was that“Christ has come to teach the people himself!” The idea that Jesus rose again and is with us is pretty central to traditional Quaker beliefs.

These days Easter is largely celebrated by Friends standing up on Sunday to break the silence of worship with nostalgic stories of Easters in their pre-Quaker youth. Sometimes they’ll admit to having attended a Easter service at another church before coming to meeting that morning. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get ministry about flowers or hats.

Categories: Blogs

Hitler jokes and Quaker school

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 3:42pm

The case of a beloved Quaker Jewish teacher being fired from a NYC Friends School for making a Nazi salute as a joke is brings us interesting commentary. Mark Oppenheimer writes in writes in Tablet:

One might call this whole episode the triumph of Waspy good intentions over Jewish common sense… But of course Quaker schools—and Quaker camps, like the one I once attended, and Quaker meetinghouses—are, these days, pretty Jewish places. The Times article has a burlesque feel, with a bunch of Jewish students and alumni performing in Quaker-face.

He also makes interesting points about the cultures of Jewish humor (“We Jews survive because of Hitler jokes”) and that of Friends:

The Quaker practice of silent worship can disposes its practitioners against the loud, bawdy, contentious discourse that infuses Jewish culture. I’m not making claims about individual Quakers—I can introduce you to perfectly hilarious Quakers, some of whom interrupt even more than I do—but at their institutions, the values that come to the fore are Gene Sharp not Gene Wilder. In their earnestness, Quaker schools are David Brooks not Mel Brooks. You get the idea.

I’m always a bit unsure how seriously to take cultural Quaker stereotypes as motivating forces in pieces like these. I wonder how many Friends actually work or study at a Manhattan Quaker school. A more generic headmaster fear-of-conflict seems as likely a cause as anything to do with silent worship. But the Friends Seminary incident seems as good a marker as anything else of the complicated relationships of Friends schools today.

Jewish Teacher Fired from Quaker School for Making Nazi Joke

If there is one lesson to be learned from the sad, strange tale of the firing of Ben…

Tablet Magazine
Categories: Blogs

Love is the hardest lesson in

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 7:38am

Love is the hardest lesson in Christianity; but, for that reason, it should be most our care to learn it.

William Penn, 1693

Categories: Blogs

Only Quakerism?

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 5:26am

Over on the QuakerQuaker discussions, Oregon Friend Kirby Urner wonders whether we need to think of our Quakerism less an identity built around membership status and more as a way of life, No Quakers, Only Quakerism:

I’d be happy to see a branch (fork) of Quakerism which dispensed with membership on the grounds that there’s no way to “be” a Friend, only Friendly, as a modifier to one’s actions, as fleeting as the Now Moment itself. You “are” a Friend now, and again now, but it takes work to “stay in the moment” as such.  It’s a practice.  You don’t get to rest on your laurels, as the Romans put it.  It’d be fun to see how that turned out.


Categories: Blogs