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Student Voices 2017-18

Mon, 2017-10-09 09:00


2017-2018 SVP Theme: Testimony Stories. The fifth annual Student Voices Project is underway! We welcome submissions from all middle school and high school students (Quaker and non-Quaker) at Friends schools and also Quaker students in other educational venues, such as public schools and homeschooling.

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October Full Issue Access

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:50
Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below). Features: “Let’s Be Salt” by Daniel O. Snyder, “God Still Speaks to the Quakers” by John Amidon, “An AFSC Defense of the Rights of Conscience” by Daniel A. Seeger, “Why Talk about Conscientious Objection with Youth?” by Curt Torell. Online exclusives include: “The Advantage of History” by Timothy Snyder. Poetry: “Voyagers” by🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Among Friends: Is Conscience Coming Back in Style?

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:45

This month’s issue returns to a familiar theme for Friends Journal: Conscience. As a religious community, we’re well known for both practicing and supporting COs, or conscientious objectors. In the 1960s and 1970s, many meetinghouses became part-time draft counseling centers. Large numbers of newly radicalized young pacifists found a spiritual home with Friends because of our conscientious objection stance.

Yet today, conscience as a concept has a slightly dated feel. It’s the province of books on the back of the meetinghouse library shelf from half-forgotten peace organizations with funny acronyms: CCCO, NISBCO, WRL. Military conscription in the United States ended four and a half decades ago. When teens talk about “the draft” these days, you can be certain they’re talking about the NFL or the NBA, or maybe their fantasy football league, not the armed forces.

We’re slowly losing an important history. Many of the obituaries we publish in our monthly Milestones column tell of lives set in motion by a commitment to conscientious objection at age 18. Many of these pacifists and their families went on to  inspirational careers of service. (Seriously, if you’re not reading Milestones, you’re missing one of the most fascinating parts of the magazine!)

 

I think of conscientiousness as one of the more complicated virtues in that it’s inherently anti-social. It is the decision by an individual to refuse to participate in some aspect of society held up as a norm, often because of a divine imperative. A slew of questions instantly arises whenever someone claims it.

One of the most interesting issues is the nature and authority of that divinity. In this issue, Daniel Seeger recounts the role that he and American Friends Service Committee had in shaping U.S. law on this. In 1965’s United States v. Seeger, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that adherence to a classic notion of a Supreme Being wasn’t necessary for a conscientious objection claim to military service. This opened CO status up to the much larger population of draftees that was about to come with U.S. mobilization for the Vietnam War.

Quaker House’s Curt Torell gives a convincing argument of why we continue to talk about conscientious objection almost half a century after the end of the military draft. Most directly, the apparatus of U.S. conscription is still in place and still registering 18-year-old men. But just as importantly for us as a spiritual community, when talking to young people, “we are nurturing a conscientious commitment to peace . . . that the young people carry with them into adulthood.“

Elsewhere, Daniel O. Snyder looks at resources and possibilities for nonviolence education today, and John Amidon brings a classic pacifist witness to that most twenty-first-century manifestations of war: the military drone.

 

Despite our history, Friends’ collective conscience has not always been a reliable guide. Slavery is a telling example. George Fox defended it in sermons, and William Penn was a slaveowner. It was other Friends that helped make opposition to slavery a Quaker testimony. After reluctantly writing a bill of sale for a slave, a young John Woolman reflected, “I thought I should have been clearer if I had desired to be excused from it, as a thing against my conscience; for such it was.”

We’re in a cultural moment in which we’re double-guessing the consciences of past political figures, and we’re in a political moment in which many of us are looking hard at the relationship between citizenry and the political establishment. Our work is incomplete. Perhaps conscience isn’t such a dated concept after all.

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Forum October 2017

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:40
Announcing the 2017-2018 Student Voices Project The fifth annual Friends Journal Student Voices Project is calling all middle school (grades 6–8) and high school (grades 9–12) students to add their voices to the Friends Journal community of readers. This year we’re asking students to tell us a story about how one of the testimonies felt real to them in their life. We welcome submissions from all students (Quaker and non-Quaker) at Friends schools and Quaker students in other educational venues. Select letters will be published in the May 2018 issue, and honorees will recognized by Friends Council on Education🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
Not an FJ member? To read this piece, please join us today! For $28, you'll get:
  • A year of Friends Journal delivered to your mailbox (11 issues) and email
  • Full, instant access to the world’s largest online library of Quaker information: every Friends Journal ever published, going back to 1955
  • Membership in a community that believes in the power of Quaker experience
Click here to join us! Already a member? Welcome back. Please use the Login box to sign in. If you would like to order by phone or have any questions, we’re here to help. Call toll-free: (800)471-6863 or contact us by email.

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Let’s Be Salt

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:35

Via nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its savor, how will it be made salty again? (Matthew 5:13)

When Jesus told the crowd gathered to hear the Sermon on the Mount that they were the salt of the earth, he was speaking to people familiar with the challenges of living under a brutal and oppressive government, one that was in service to power and wealth, and cared little for the poor. Fortunately, we are not in Roman-occupied Palestine, but the dynamics of oppression don’t differ that much across cultures. We are now in a political situation that is increasingly dangerous and is likely to get worse. I’ve been voting in presidential elections for almost 50 years, and although many of my preferred candidates lost, I never thought that the very institutions of democracy were at risk. Now I can almost hear the cracking of the foundations. If I’m hearing something real and our new president turns out to be as destructive as I think he is, we are in quite a stew, and it’s going to need some careful seasoning.How to live faithfully in challenging times—what to think, how to pray, what to do—has never been an easy problem. It’s a three-legged stool: thinking, praying, and acting are all essential. Liberation theologians call this the praxis of theology. Careful thought, serious prayer, and considered action make up the wholeness of faith. Each leg of the stool doing its work makes it possible for the other two to do theirs.

First, let’s think together about the big picture of political systems and how nonviolence works. If every Quaker meeting had a study group exploring the history, strategies, and specific methods of nonviolent action, the dynamics of people power would come into view in a very empowering way. Fortunately, there are wonderful resources easily available. The writings of Gene Sharp, master strategist and theorist of nonviolence, are available through the Albert Einstein Institution (aeinstein.org). The Global Nonviolent Action Database (nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu) maintained by Swarthmore College is an extraordinary resource with a growing number of case studies. Websites promoting and teaching nonviolence abound, including one of my favorites, Waging Nonviolence (wagingnonviolence.org). There are even TED talks that teach the dynamics of nonviolence (search “nonviolence” at ted.com/talks). On the one hand, I can get very discouraged and anxious about our political future, but on the other, I know that never before in history has the extraordinary power of nonviolence been so widely studied, taught, and practiced. That gives me immense hope. Jesus was helping the people recognize a basic truth. We are the seasoning. But if we don’t know that, if we don’t know our own power, then the stew doesn’t get the seasoning it needs. So let’s be salt. If you haven’t already, please go look up resources on nonviolence and begin to learn its methods and strategies. Then share what you learn with your neighbors, and find a piece of this puzzle you can all agree to work on. Nonviolence is our future, our whole future. Without it, we won’t have one.

I have found that regular discipline in prayer ultimately cracks open my assumptions about the nature of self and world. The Divine Comforter is also a Divine Disturber who relentlessly overthrows the internalized regime of my idols.

If you travel in Quaker circles, I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this advice. But there is another aspect to it that I believe is just as critical and a profound source of hope. It is this: The very same dynamics of nonviolence that bring about transformation in the political world are also at work in the inner world. The nonviolence model can also revolutionize how we understand prayer, the second leg of the stool. We are accustomed to thinking of prayer as a place of comfort, and certainly it is that. We are accustomed to the idea that prayer grounds and seasons our outward action, that it refreshes the soul and prepares us to return to the fields of outward engagement. That too is important. But there is yet another critical feature of this leg of the stool that we sometimes fail to consider: prayer itself is a transformational process both in the inner world of the one who prays and in its outward fruits. Transformational work crosses the inward–outward barrier; it may even erase it. Prayer is essential to the praxis of faith because prayer is itself a field of engagement.

I know this is a bold claim: prayer is, within its own dynamic and apart from outward action, a type of intervention. There are obvious problems with this claim. Karl Marx named the biggest one: religion (when it is reduced to mere piety) is an opiate, drugging us into complacency. I’m not talking about piety. Here’s another problem: prayer is often taken to mean a type of pleading, an appeal for special intervention. I’m not talking about a request for outside help. Now, here is another: prayer is imagined as being exclusively inward, going to the Well, or a return to Sanctuary. Prayer is a refueling station. This one may be closer to home for many of us Quakers. It is supported in much of our literature, such as in Thomas Kelly’s wonderful line, “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul.” Further on in A Testament of Devotion, however, in a passage that could be easily overlooked, he laments the necessities of time: “linear sequence and succession of words is our inevitable lot and compels us to treat separately what is not separate.” Kelly, like many earlier Quakers, had awakened to an interconnected world.

We Quakers are children of the Enlightenment. We were born into a world that was already defined for us before we got here. Like Kelly, we submit to the necessities of our inward–outward language, but we do not have to accept the worldview it enshrines. I have found that regular discipline in prayer ultimately cracks open my assumptions about the nature of self and world. The Divine Comforter is also a Divine Disturber who relentlessly overthrows the internalized regime of my idols. There is a peace and a deep quietness that comes, but it is on the other side of God’s nonviolent revolution of the soul. Small wonder that Margaret Fell warned that the Divine Encounter “will rip you up and tear you open.” Prayer is serious business if we are willing to submit to its alchemy.

Shortly after World War II, in the rise of the atomic age, the Swiss analytical psychologist C.G. Jung was asked during a discussion at the Psychology Club Zurich if he thought the world could avoid atomic war. His answer was intriguing, and classic Jung. He said, “I think it depends on how many people can stand the tension of the opposites in themselves.” What a beautiful and wise response! Not only is Jung directing us to the essential inner work that must season our outward engagements, he is also calling us to awaken to the extraordinary reality of the collective unconscious, the web of interbeing that is hidden from eyes trained to see only the surfaces of things. When Jung speaks of this kind of inner work, he is talking about a depth that reaches beyond the individual psyche and engages ways of seeing and experiencing that are inaccessible to Western, Cartesian eyes. Jung was thoroughly persuaded that the modern worldview was much too limited. He became fascinated with Native American worldviews; he learned from Elgonyi elders in central Africa, and pored over ancient texts from around the world. One of his students and interpreters, James Hillman, has taken Jung’s work and pushed it further toward what many writers are now calling an ecology of soul. He calls for a “return of soul to the world.” Hillman’s challenge is that we liberate soul from its entrapment in the lonely and isolated prison created by a worldview that is blind to our essential interrelatedness.

Most of us trust the power of prayer implicitly despite being trapped in a worldview that doesn’t allow us to see how it could possibly make a difference. We “hold each other in the Light” and trust that it matters that we do so. Most of us also have stories of openings, resolutions of difficulties, even physical healings that we may not talk about for fear of being thought naïve, gullible, or worse. It’s time we gave up our shyness about such things. Prayer matters. Serious and committed inner work not only prepares us for faithful outward action, it is itself a type of engagement. As Walter Wink writes in his extraordinarily important work Engaging the Powers, “history belongs to the intercessors.” If in addition to study groups learning about nonviolence, every meeting also had committed prayer groups, holding our country in the Light, we would be adding another essential leg to the stool. We are not just refueling in order to return to a field of engagement, we are showing up for the Divine Encounter, presenting ourselves as willing subjects for transformation and as willing instruments for transformation in the world. Prayer has a way of shifting not only how we see the world but also how we see ourselves. We are called to love the world as we have been loved, to confront the world as we have been confronted, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and to be instruments of its healing as we ourselves have been healed. Only the forgiven truly know how to forgive, and only the healed know how to heal. Prayer restores savor to the salt; it returns us to our essential nature. As saltiness is the essential nature of salt, so is ours the Indwelling Spirit. Grace is the ground of our being and the source of our hope.

Seasoned in prayer and schooled in the dynamics of nonviolence, the action leg of the stool is likely to be much more thoughtfully considered and well discerned. The form of our action may be protest, witness, compassionate accompaniment, civil disobedience, or any number of other possible interventions. But whatever form it takes, its underlying purpose and strategy will be in the service of healing. Nonviolence, like prayer, seeks transformation, a re-ordering of the system toward justice and a creative, dynamic peace. It is not unlike what I try to work at in my pastoral counseling practice. What if we were to imagine our country as a suffering patient? We would approach it with compassion, and we would tend to it with a plan of treatment that is based on thoughtful diagnosis. We would observe the symptoms and seek to understand the underlying dynamic of the illness. One of Jung’s greatest contributions was to show us that the symptom is a teacher, a trailhead leading into depths, that faithfully attended will reveal the soul in all its broken beauty.

We are alternately anxious and then angry, frantically searching for solid ground, some way to deal with our painful symptoms. Finding none, we fall into despair.

American biblical scholar, theologian, and activist Walter Wink.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with a wonderful client; she was very committed to her faith, conservative both politically and theologically, frightened by the reports she heard from her friends and Fox News, and wanting pastoral support for listening for guidance. We worked with a variety of modalities, principally dream work. After a number of months, she brought in a dream in which she found herself on a train, riding with the president. Then, to her dismay, she was given a bowl of water and a cloth and was told that her task was to go and wash President Obama’s feet. To her credit, she carried out her assignment and allowed the dream to inform her life. She did not significantly change her political leanings, but her life was now “seasoned” with the compensatory wisdom of soul. Her anxiety was considerably lessened, and she gained an increased capacity to participate in a highly polarized political climate with the added stability that her inner work provided. Now, more than a year after she finished her work with me, I can almost hear her friendly challenge: “Dan, are you able to wash Donald Trump’s feet?” It’s a challenge I take seriously. When I listen for the ecological strivings of my own soul, I hear a call to hold my own judgments and anxiety with tenderness, a call to embrace the shadow that I all too easily disown and project onto our new president.

It’s not all shadow projection, of course. I still believe that he can cause real and significant harm. But I want to clear myself of my reactivity to him and to find the humility to release my judgments of people who voted for him. I want to be able to listen and engage across difference. It is likely that we are going to need broad-based communities of resistance, coalitions that bridge divides that would otherwise simply fall into further polarization. In our age of heightened anxiety, our country is like a client who lives with split-off fragments in the psyche producing dramatic instability. We are alternately anxious and then angry, frantically searching for solid ground, some way to deal with our painful symptoms. Finding none, we fall into despair, only to renew the cycle of unfocused action and depressive inaction. A split psyche can lead to breakdown and further chaos, but it can also lead to breakthrough. What Jung called the “transcendent function” emerges to awaken the psyche to a new orientation that is grounded in a deeper center, with horizons wide enough to hold the formerly polarized opposites in a new and more inclusive whole. Parts and complexes are healed of their extreme positions, and the client experiences a new and more harmonious integration. Once the suffering client experiences the creative advance inherent in the pattern of “breakdown and breakthrough,” it becomes a little easier to trust the dynamics of transformation. Like the individual psyche, so also communities of faith, and even whole countries, need this kind of ongoing nonviolent revolution.

 

Many of us are struggling to get our bearings in this new and troubling political situation. It is tempting to grasp after a restoration of the old structure. But there is another, more hopeful way to look at where we are. When things are out of balance, there is a wisdom that lives deep within that will bring to light what needs healing and that offers an opportunity for creative advance. If we awaken to the challenge, we will bring all three legs of the stool into our praxis of faith. We will learn, teach, and practice the extraordinary power of nonviolence. We will shed worn out ideas about prayer that are too small for the soul, and we will act with healing wisdom and hope. If we attend to these everyday disciplines, we will rise to the challenge of the Sermon on the Mount. We will take to heart its teaching and become salt in this stew.

The post Let’s Be Salt appeared first on Friends Journal.

God Still Speaks to the Quakers

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:30
The December 23, 2016 Nativity scene set up outside Hancock Air Field in protest of the drone assassination program. The banner read: “If Herod had drones, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would have been incinerated!” On Friday, December 23, 2016, our Nativity tableau stood at the entrance to Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Mattydale, New York, near Syracuse. Soon my three friends and I🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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An AFSC Defense of the Rights of Conscience

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:25
The Case of the United States of America vs. Daniel A. Seeger

The author (left) in AFSC’s New York Metro Regional Office, with Jerald Ciekot and J. Collett. Photo courtesy of AFSC Archives.

 

On March 8, 1965, the United States Supreme Court greatly expanded the number of American citizens qualified for classification as conscientious objectors to military service. It did this by striking down the requirement that a conscientious objector must affirm belief in a Supreme Being and must derive his conscientious claim from that belief.

Fifty-two years have elapsed since the rendering of the verdict in the case of United States v. Seeger. I am, perhaps, the least qualified to reflect on its meaning on account of being too personally involved in the matter. With the current uncertain political situation and the prospect of an endless “war on terrorism” looming, a reflection, however inconclusive and possibly flawed, must begin somewhere.

 

Daniel A. Seeger. Photo courtesy of AFSC Archives.

When I wrote to my draft board requesting exemption from military service because of my deeply held pacifist convictions, I was an unchurched youth, having drifted away from the Roman Catholicism of my family and into agnosticism. The draft board sent me a conscientious objector form to fill out, and the first question on the form was “Do you believe in a Supreme Being?” followed by a check box for a “yes” answer and another for a “no” answer. I was startled to be asked such a question by an agency of the government, but having no wish to dissemble—most especially on a matter so close to my deepest convictions—and having no awareness of the legal consequences of what I was doing, I drew a third check box, next to which I wrote, “Please see attached pages.” I had submitted with the form an eight-page personal essay on the ability and the inability to know God.

The religious test was first mandated by section 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1948. In adopting the Supreme Being test for conscientious objectors, Congress was seeking to address a problem which arises in both law and economics: the “free-rider problem,” more commonly referred to as “draft dodging” with regard to the draft. How can society address the issue of people who benefit from a public good while not contributing to the effort? The law was intended to sift out authentic conscientious objectors from people who opted out merely because of a preference for their own convenience over the needs of the nation.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees citizens freedom of religion. It stipulates that the government shall not interfere with the free exercise of religious practice, and it also proscribes the government from behaving in a way that prefers, or “establishes,” a particular faith or group of faiths over others. The main argument in my defense was that Congress, in requiring affirmative belief in a Supreme Being as a prerequisite for exemption from military service, was preferring people of some religious beliefs over people of other religious beliefs or with no religious belief, thereby violating the “disestablishment clause” of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Fifty-two years after the Supreme Court decision, I remain convinced that we are better off acknowledging that we face great and awesome mysteries about our origins and about life and death than we are by claiming to know too much.

When I was single-handedly, and unsuccessfully, attempting to get classified as a conscientious objector in spite of my unorthodox religious views, a college friend finally said to me: “You had better look up the Quakers; they might be able to help you.” I looked up the Quakers in the yellow pages—a paperback directory of local telephone numbers and addresses that existed back in those days—and I found my way to the New York City office of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

At that time, most members of the Religious Society of Friends were routinely receiving their conscientious objector classification. But in the course of their work for peace, Friends and AFSC staff were encountering people whom they regarded as sincere objectors to war but who were being denied exemption on the basis of this dogmatic religious test. They ended up either in jail, fleeing the country, or serving in spite of their convictions. So the impulse to try to change things was natural for many Friends.

Robert Gilmore, who was then in charge of the office, looked over my documents and quickly recognized both the impossibility of my claim, in terms of the law as it then presently stood, and the opportunity it presented for launching a case challenging the law. He was promptly on the telephone with Colin Bell, AFSC’s head of staff, and George Willoughby, who at that time served as the executive secretary of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. As a result of the collaboration of these three Friends, Kenneth Greenawalt was recruited to serve on a pro bono basis as chief attorney, and a defense fund was organized.

Taking on my case was an act of courage and vision on the part of these three Friends, and most particularly on the part of Colin Bell, who bore overall responsibility for AFSC’s mission and well-being. The chance that an effort in the courts would result in the overturning of a key provision of the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1948 was a small one. AFSC in those days was supported by a broad array of Friends of diverse theological views, and many of AFSC’s constituents were skeptical of, if not hostile to, associating with “godlessness,” and thus to the expenditure of time, effort, and resources in this connection.

The government’s argument was that my beliefs were not religious but were merely philosophical, or merely a personal moral code, and that the religious freedom protections of the First Amendment need not be extended to me. The United States Supreme Court, in unanimously deciding the issue in my favor, defined the term “religion” broadly enough to include my unchurched agnostic perspective.

When our challenge was launched in the late 1950s, no one had any idea that a war was in our future. By the time the case was decided in 1965, the first stages of the Vietnam War were underway, and the catastrophe was rapidly escalating into a major national crisis. Conscription meant that many thousands of individuals and families were impacted by the war policy—and by the Seeger case. To this day, I still meet people who, when they’ve learned my name, exclaim that my case was the reason they did not have to go to Vietnam, or to jail, or to Canada.

 

As a result of the case, many conscientious objectors with unorthodox religious beliefs were enabled to do alternative service instead of joining the military. The case did, nevertheless, have its limitations. I was (and am) an absolute pacifist; that is, I am opposed to all wars in any form. So the decision in my case allowed only those who opposed all wars to qualify for alternative service. Although I disagree with people who think that some wars can be justified, I fail to see why, because one regards some wars as necessary, one loses one’s right to decline to serve in a war one sees as unjustified or foolish. There are many wars in U.S. history, from the invasion of Mexico to the Iraq War, that do not pass any reasonable “just war” test.

I believe I can honestly say that the movement in the heart of compassion for those who suffer in wars first motivated me to file my conscientious claim. Later came the strong sense that war cannot achieve any decent political or social goal, and that its cost is never commensurate with its results.

Today I would express my concern more broadly. True peace requires compassion not only for humanity but for the entire biotic community that inhabits planet Earth. True peace will come only when we learn to live in gracious harmony with the animals and plants that are part of Earth’s normally balanced ecological system. If we were to destroy Earth’s many species and their habitats, we certainly would destroy the human estate itself. But a true decency of spirit will sense a reverence and a love for the community of nature, and not seek to preserve it merely for self-interest. We see this enlargement of spirit beginning to take hold among some of our fellow citizens in their restoring monarch butterflies and communities of wolves and dolphins. In the meantime, the degradation of the Earth and the loss of such resources as pure water become the seeds of future wars.

The job that is given to us—we did not choose it—is to lay the foundations for a new civilization. This is a task not to be undertaken with sadness, resignation, anxiety, or desperation, for that would taint the result.

Fifty-two years after the Supreme Court decision, I remain convinced that we are better off acknowledging that we face great and awesome mysteries about our origins and about life and death than we are by claiming to know too much. We can develop a reverence for what is sacred without making extravagant dogmatic claims—claims that always flaunt and fail. While I have become an avid reader of devotional literature from Christian and other traditions and have met many God-fearing people whose purity of spirit has been truly uplifting, I am also increasingly wary of the dangers of religious fanaticism, an age-old problem in every spiritual culture and one which manifests itself with particular virulence today.

I am equally wary of dogmatic atheists. It is only in recent times that whole societies have been organized on atheistic principles, as in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. There is little to inspire confidence there.

That reason and empirical observation will eventually solve all the mysteries of existence, a claim made by some of the “new atheists” in Europe and the United States, strikes me as extraordinarily naïve. Every deductive reasoning process begins from some un-premised first premise: some sort of stipulated initial principle for which no further underlying justification can be sought. And regarding ethics, it is impossible to argue from what is to what ought to be following scientific and rational procedures, frequent claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

The scientific view of reality is certainly less emotionally and intellectually satisfying than that which is given in the Book of Genesis. We are to believe that a big bang magically emerged from some sort of nothingness, that space is curved, time elastic, and that we change something merely by observing it. Most of the matter in the universe is invisible matter, or dark matter, determined to be there and exerting gravitational force, because if it weren’t, the universe would not behave as we observe it to do. Space itself is expanding even though there is nothing for it to expand into. String theory now proposes that there are many parallel universes. Thus, scientific hypotheses (they can hardly be called discoveries) tend to raise many more questions than they solve. Is it not clear that we are dealing with limitations in the human perceptual apparatus? We are like goldfish trying to figure out the economy of the household based on observations made from inside a bowl, or lobsters speculating about fire.

 

We do know that we are the stuff of stars, that this universe through some mysterious creative process generated us, and that we have a kinship with all that exists. As legend has it, Francis of Assisi recognized this when he sang of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Jesus recognized this when, in the Gospel of John, he prayed “[t]hat they all may be one”(17:21). Religious people who acknowledge that all speech about God is misleading and secularists who nevertheless have mystical experiences in which they feel the exaltation of a loving sense of unity with all that exists are not that far apart.

So, although we are surrounded by mystery, we also, happily, live in an island of light. The most worthwhile endeavor the human spirit can address today is the search for a way in which decency and humanity can be identified and defended in an uncommonly degraded age. We know we live in a time of profound transition—a time when the world’s habitual way of doing things has outlived its usefulness, has exhausted itself, and is foundering on its own internal contradictions. The job that is given to us—we did not choose it—is to lay the foundations for a new civilization. This is a task not to be undertaken with sadness, resignation, anxiety, or desperation, for that would taint the result. Rather, it should be addressed with joy, confidence, and hope. Truth is never without its witnesses; there are always people who are discriminating and independent, yet communicative and responsive, and willing to join with others in the decent management of our common human affairs. We must persevere in our work, planting seeds whose fruits we will not live to see. The arc of history is unmistakable: Whatever good things folly threatens to dissolve will, over the very long run, be restored through the practices of reconciliation and love.

The post An AFSC Defense of the Rights of Conscience appeared first on Friends Journal.

Why Talk about Conscientious Objection with Youth?

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:20

© James Gomez

As a witness for peace in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg (the largest base of military personnel), we at Quaker House see the winds of war on the horizon long before the rest of the country does. Through our GI Rights Hotline and Domestic Violence in the Military counselors and through our presentations, we see the invisible wounds of war: post-traumatic stress disorder, moral injury, and domestic violence. These are the wounds too many of our service members suffer, particularly when the conscience re-awakens to the realities of war.

We are often asked why we work with teens considering conscientious objection. The answer is two-fold: first, we are developing a conscientious objection to war to safeguard them in case a draft is ever reinstated. We would prefer to prepare for an event that may never happen than to be unprepared. The second response, however, is more important: we are nurturing a conscientious commitment to peace, or a testimony of nonviolence, that the young people carry with them into adulthood. Articulating and discerning a stance as a conscientious objector (CO) has both immediate and long-range benefits. It develops a young person’s conscience in meaningful and lasting ways.

We live in a war-illiterate nation. Nationalism is at a high point. We are at war in seven nations and rattle our sabers at others. We have nearly 800 military bases worldwide. The federal budget for the military peaked in 2010, but it is still far too high with a 2017 projected budget of $582 billion. Legislation has been introduced to require women to register for Selective Service. Repeated deployments and stop-loss involuntary extensions of a service member’s active duty service strain both active duty and reserve personnel. Talk of reinstating a military draft gets louder.

Then, sadly, our conscientious objector heroes from previous wars are passing away. These role models represented a living, historical testimony to deeply held convictions. Some went to jail; others fled the country, while some were able to perform alternative service as a way of serving their country. Unfortunately, their voices and living memories are being forgotten as their generation passes away.

Selective Service registration has evolved into an automatic, seamless process. Most teens do not even realize they are being registered because in almost all states Selective Service registration is now linked to an application for a driver’s license.

More than ever, talking about conscientious objection with our youth is exactly what we should be doing.

Has our collective conscience been anesthetized to the realities and implications of our nation’s militarism? Are we losing a core aspect of the peace testimony and the opportunity to explore a path of peace among our youth?

Is conscientious objection fading away from our Quaker consciousness?

Several years ago at a Quaker yearly meeting where I conducted a workshop on conscientious objection, I asked young Friends why they signed up for the session. Their response was universal: “I know conscientious objection is a part of the Quaker peace testimony, so I figured I should learn something about it!”

The session was lively and engaging. The young Friends learned about conscientious objection, explored their beliefs, role-played them before a mock draft board, and understood how they could start articulating and documenting their convictions in a “CO letter.”

Given this enthusiasm, a similar workshop was offered to adults the following year. When asked why they took the workshop, they responded in an equally surprising way: “I’ve been trying to get our meeting to teach our young people about conscientious objection, but no one is interested.”

These two occasions are typical, even in the historic peace churches. How can this be? It was Quakers who in 1656 brought conscientious objection to the New World, and since then, Quakers and other like-minded faiths fought to have it recognized within military legislation. Men of conviction died in prison instead of being part of a war machine. Why is a sense of urgency not part of today’s public purview? Has our collective conscience been anesthetized to the realities and implications of our nation’s militarism? Is it only the 1 percent who serve in the armed forces who are affected by war? Are we losing a core aspect of the peace testimony and the opportunity to explore a path of peace among our youth who are tomorrow’s leaders? These questions are particularly relevant and worth a closer look at Selective Service and how it affects our young people.

© Senior Airman Bradley A.Lail, www.army.mil

Selective Service in a nutshell

Selective Service is very much alive and well. It is part of the federal budget and an independent agency of the executive branch. It has a large and efficient staff, a polished website, and a huge public relations program. It seeks to register virtually every 18-year-old male (and soon every female) living in the United States, including undocumented immigrants.

In essence, the Selective Service System is a draft “ready to go.” Its ultimate purpose is to deliver manpower in case of a war. In non-draft times, it is a registry that holds the name, address, birthdate, and social security number of young men (and possibly women in the future) eligible and ready for military induction. If Congress declares a war or if the president declares a state of emergency, Selective Service transforms into a federal system that drafts young men (and possibly women) into the military. It is the precursor to a draft, and while dormant now, it is a giant ready to be awakened.

By law, failure to register is a felony with a fine up to $250,000 and five years in jail. These penalties have not been applied for decades because of the backlash of negative publicity. Instead, Selective Service developed a different, more subtle and insidious approach: the loss of opportunities, rights, and eligibility including federal college student aid (Solomon Amendment, 1982); federal job training and employment (Thurmond Amendment, 1985); veteran’s dependent benefits; and, if not U.S. born, citizenship. Many states also tie registration to state employment, state educational assistance, and enrollment in state colleges. Over the years, Selective Service even changed its wording from “don’t lose these benefits by not registering” to “register for Selective Service and earn state and federal rights and benefits.”

In the year 2000, Delaware became the first state to link Selective Service registration with an application for a driver’s license, renewal, or state identification card. It was hugely successful and increased the state’s compliance rate to almost 100 percent. Now over 45 states and territories do the same. In most states, a male cannot get a driver’s license otherwise. The system is hidden, automatic, and seamless.

Writing a letter to one’s faith or support community articulating those beliefs is unique. It begins the in-depth soul searching necessary to develop a sincere commitment to peace and nonviolence.

Selective Service and conscientious objection

The three main requirements for conscientious objection as defined by current and past U.S. law are as follows:

  1. The CO must be conscientiously opposed to participating in any war and all war. Opposition is not political or selective. It is against any and all war. No “just” war.
  2. The objection must be based upon moral, ethical, or religious belief. The old law’s belief in a Supreme Being was changed to training and belief.
  3. The claim must be sincere, deeply held, or play a significant role in one’s life. Not only must this position be truly personal, but it must be documented.

By current Selective Service law, if a draft were reinstated, the worst case scenario would give a person who receives an induction notice as little as nine days to file an application for a conscientious objection classification. Aside from the challenge of preparing such an application, this allows little time for genuine soul searching, formulation, or articulation of deeply held personal beliefs. It would be woefully absent of extensive documentation that a draft board would need to verify sincerity. Long-held beliefs, especially if documented, are much more persuasive.

So, if Selective Service law does not permit making a claim earlier, what else can be done? The answer is simple. Don’t rely on the Selective Service system. Their mission is to induct people into the military, not to help COs. Here is an alternative.

Conscience is the moral cornerstone that leads a person to claim a conviction as a CO. Conscience is God’s spiritual imprint inscribed on our hearts. Nowhere is conscience so imperiled as in war.

Discernment, decision, and documentation

When my oldest son turned 18—two months before 9/11—I knew that he had to register for Selective Service and, should a draft be reinstated, he would likely seek a CO classification. To my surprise, the registration form had no place to indicate a CO status. Instead, using the recommendation from several peace groups, he wrote “I am a conscientious objector” between the blanks on the form. Two elders from our monthly meeting attested to his statement, and witnessed also on the form. Additionally, he wrote a letter to the meeting, declaring that he was against participation in any and all war; that his belief was based upon moral, ethical, and religious beliefs; and he provided examples. We asked the meeting to accept the letter, minute it, and keep a copy in its lock box. This started a longer journey, and since then almost 50 other teens, both young men and women, have written letters to the meeting.

Through Quaker House, the process has been shared with other monthly and yearly meetings and other faith communities. We sponsor workshops that help young people and their adult mentors explore their leadings toward nonviolence and conscientious objection. We developed a curriculum (see quakerhouse.org) with a full spectrum of references, materials, worksheets, exercises, and procedures that encourage and frame deeper study, discernment, and discussion. We encourage young people to examine the peace testimony from their own personal perspective, not in abstraction: What would you do if forced into military conscription? Can you participate in war? Can you kill another human being? Can you submit to the orders of a commanding officer, even when you know it may bring harm and perhaps death to another? Discernment takes time, some structured exercises, and a safe place to explore deep feelings and articulate them as beliefs in a CO letter. That is how the conscience is developed. It cannot happen nine days after getting an induction notice.

Filling out a claim “between the spaces” and keeping that as a record is a standard method of documentation endorsed by many peace organizations. Writing a letter to one’s faith or support community articulating those beliefs is unique. It begins the in-depth soul searching necessary to develop a sincere commitment to peace and nonviolence, and serves as a more significant piece of documentation should, a few years later, a draft be reinstated and the young person go before a local draft board. Every letter is distinctive, highly personal, and deeply moving. Each time, all those listening are overwhelmed with the eloquence, sincerity, and depth of conviction as these teens speak against violence and the tragic futility of war. But beyond this, the process helps these teens crystallize fundamental beliefs about conscientious objection, nonviolence, and the testimony of peace.

This was evident when we interviewed several past CO letter writers. This is what they said:

  • The writing of CO letters solidified and crystallized my beliefs and convictions on conscientious objection, nonviolence, and the peace testimony.
  • Writing my letter served as a guide for me during subsequent years, as a benchmark of my beliefs, as a reminder of my convictions, and it gave me talking points when discussing nonviolence and peace, especially with those who felt otherwise.
  • When I read my letter to the meeting, I was truly embraced by the meeting and for the first time actually felt like I was part of the meeting.
  • It was like a rite of passage.
  • It gave me assurance that I was more prepared both emotionally and with written documentation should a draft be reinstated.
  • I wouldn’t have known that conscientious objection existed if it wasn’t for my meeting.

Conscience is the moral cornerstone that leads a person to claim a conviction as a CO. Conscience is God’s spiritual imprint inscribed on our hearts. Nowhere is conscience so imperiled as in war. But conscience also must be developed and nurtured. Without attention, a conviction against personal participation in war is simply not considered. Without a focus, it gets lost. Without a focus, it stays hidden. Without planting the seeds of the peace testimony, the fruits of nonviolence never grow. Too often the opportunity to explore this part of the peace testimony lies complacent in our young people when they turn 18 and must register for Selective Service. If left unaddressed, our youth are left ill-prepared and vulnerable to a system where war is left out of the public view, and Selective Service sweeps them up unaware. Our meetings have a responsibility to bear witness to conscientious objection and nurture the conscience that lies deep within our young people.

Related: Author Curt Torell spoke to QuakerSpeak.com in September 2016.

The post Why Talk about Conscientious Objection with Youth? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Voyagers

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:15
In memory of Pauline Eckenrode   On the road south toward home a chevron of geese crosses the gray winter sky, adjusting, rearranging, settling into its pattern. Then another and another, group upon group, navigate in the distance, and the more we look the more we see. Despite the hunters, despite our heedless assaults, they continue,🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Higher Order Thinking

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:10

© Mariusz Blach

What if Eve, eyeing the
red lusciousness of the apple,
feeling the tightening twist of desire
and the yawning chasm of hunger

Had felt so at-One with God,
so grateful for long evening walks
and the trust that cements belonging,
that Love, the compass, kept pointing her true north.

Perhaps she could have paused,
drawing full breath into her earthy frame,
locking her wise eyes with the snakey glint of temptation,
and said cooly, “I see what you did there” and
“no thanks.”

 

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The Advantage of History: An Interview with Timothy Snyder

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:05

Timothy Snyder. Photo © Ine Gundersveen

 

As works of history, your books before On Tyranny were meant to teach, but left readers to draw their own conclusions about where to go from there. You didn’t have to enter the political fray. What compelled you to do so now?

How we think about 9 November 2016 has to do with what happened on that day, but also with everything we have experienced in our lives up to that day. The election of Donald Trump forced me to consider what I thought I understood about history in light of what had just happened. I had spent years learning languages, reading documents, and studying historiography to try to understand how mass killing was possible in the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth century. Because that is where my mind was, it was always obvious to me that “it can happen.”

To have become the person who could write these books, I also had to have certain kinds of experiences. I had to have teachers from eastern and central Europe, people who experienced Communism and Nazism and who took for granted that at some moments the scholar has to be the activist. That’s the tradition of intellectuals in eastern Europe. A teacher is someone from whom we learn, someone like us, part of the same community, as a sharer of thoughts. And so it was also obvious to me that “it can happen to people like us.” I love my country, but I am not an American exceptionalist; I don’t see any particular reason to believe that we would behave better or worse in the kinds of circumstances that I have studied—or which, in the case of new authoritarianisms of the twenty-first century, I have seen for myself. Being a historian of modern eastern Europe means having students from the region, people whose lives have not at all followed the story that we were all given after 1989, namely that the market would bring democracy and democracy would bring happiness. As they have come of age, they have seen democracy and freedom recede, and some of them have done something about it. I have tried to learn from them, and much of what I have learned from them is in the book. Because I also live in a world where many of the processes that we now see in the United States had advanced further, it was clear to me that “it can happen to people like us and it is happening already.”

During 2016 I wrote articles about Donald Trump that seemed radical at the time but which by now are more or less common sense. I wasn’t wise enough to believe that he would win, but I did immediately see his victory as a historic moment, in the sense of a moment where individual actions would begin to matter intensely. The advantage that history gives us is that we can recognize the patterns: the way he used language, his behavior at rallies, and his assault on truth all resonated for me because of what I work on and what I think about. And history actually buys us time: if we can recognize these patterns quickly, we can actually do something when action still matters. I was convinced that Americans would tend to react in two ways: that nothing is actually happening, and therefore nothing needs to be done; or that something was actually happening that is totally new, and therefore we have no basis to act. These were, in fact, very common reactions late last year and early this year. I wanted us to get through that before those reactions became part of a process that doomed us to authoritarianism. And so I wrote the 20 lessons a few days after the election, and the book in December of last year.

 

On Tyranny is structured as a set of 20 lessons. In reading them I was struck by how similar they seemed to be to the Quaker tradition of offering “advices” in place of a formal creed. How do you feel your background as a Friend and familiarity with the advice-and-query format influenced your writing?

I don’t think that this was a particular influence, although there is a certain resemblance. In the book, I am not offering a particular idea of a political system, although in what I criticize here and there readers can get an idea of where I think injustice lies. I am rather preparing for an emergency in which what we have must be sustained, so that possibilities for something better can be preserved. The resemblance to Quaker thought might be at a deeper level: the call to do something that is felt internally and ethically, though without complete certainty—which is always impossible—about the entire structure of a situation. History is among other things a factory of excuses: we never understand everything about our moment, and we can always use some uncertainty as a reason not to act. But in so doing, we are not evading history but changing it in a certain way. Choosing to act from a kind of intuition or moral instinct is something that I associate with my own education as a Quaker. Others might see this differently, of course. Beyond that, a deep moral logic of the book is that ethically motivated individual action can have disproportionate influence. In the book the authorities for this kind of argument are east Europeans coming from different traditions, such as Vaclav Havel. But you can see a resemblance among individuals from different traditions who have been motivated by ethics.

 

We’re starting this interview days after neo-Nazi groups marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, in a rally where white supremacists committed violent and deadly attacks against peaceful counter-protesters. What was subtext at the dawn of the Trump administration is now more overt. Are Friends’ responsibilities heightened now? Are we especially positioned to join the fight against tyranny in a specific way?

I am in no position to advise Friends generally. I would rather remain in the mode of saying what I have learned from Friends. My own conviction, which applies to everyone and not just to Friends, is that we face not just a series of outrages (we do face that, of course) but a regime change in which each outrage is a kind of symptom. This means that our own actions have to be actions and not reactions. It is important to react, and I react all the time, but what is more important is to have regular forms of action that allow us to make a difference all the time. This is important politically, but it is also important psychologically, because otherwise each outrage can be demoralizing.

 

The book started as a Facebook post that went viral, being viewed by millions of people online. Part of what resonated with people was the specificity of the lessons. For example, two of them are “Do not obey in advance” and “Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.” Specificity makes them easy to apply. I contrast that with Quaker testimonies (statements of strongly held belief) that leave those of us who believe in them with less guidance about what to do. Should Friends be more specific about what we are called to do in this moment, today?

I might put that in a slightly different way. A testimony can be an action as well as a thought. Now is certainly a good time to experiment with new ways of acting in accordance with testimonies. The technical part of On Tyranny is the provision of simple, practical actions. But each of these comes with a political and moral rationale. In the book there are 20 lessons, and some will make more sense than others to certain people at certain times. Not long after I published the lessons, I got an email from someone who said he was following 19 of them, which made me laugh. Nineteen is pretty much impossible. What I hear all the time, and which cheers me to no end, is that activists are finding three or four of them particularly helpful, and following those three or four.

 

Although some Quakers were among the earliest modern abolitionists, it took the Religious Society of Friends decades to arrive at a firm corporate stance against slavery. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, a time frame measured in decades may as well be measured in eons, yet Friends processes of discernment still grind slow. Would you advise Friends to act with more urgency? How?

I actually think that you are referring to a strength of Friends, which is the ability to imagine a different world from the one in which we live. I grew up around people whose sense of politics I sometimes found utopian, but by whom I was nevertheless impressed. It takes some vision of a different world to imagine how we might get from here to there. My gifts, if I have them, might be a little different. On Tyranny is not a book about a better country or a better planet, but rather a book about how to stop things from getting much worse very quickly. Because of who I am and what I do, the book draws mainly from knowledge of how a country and a planet can be much worse. But it also draws from a conviction that each of us can convert these visions—be they positive or be they negative—into meaningful present action.

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News October 2017

Sun, 2017-10-01 04:00
Wilmington Yearly Meeting continues discernment over same-sex marriage At its annual sessions July 27–30, Wilmington Yearly Meeting (WYM) considered the way forward regarding monthly meetings’ differing stances on marriage. WYM, begun in 1892, is comprised of monthly meetings in Ohio and Tennessee. WYM has considered the understanding of marriage in the context of same-sex marriage multiple times in the last 40 years. In 1997, WYM’s permanent board approved a working document stating that the yearly meeting would not “bless” same-sex unions. Individual meetings, including Community Friends Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Cincinnati Meeting, have expressed greater openness to supporting🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Lilli de Jong

Sun, 2017-10-01 03:40
By Janet Benton. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2017. 335 pages. $26.95/hardcover; $9.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Lilli de Jong, a historical work of fiction set in late nineteenth-century Philadelphia, is the debut novel of Janet Benton. Lilli is a young Quaker and a teacher at a Friends school who loses her mother and turns to a young man in her acquaintance for comfort. The man forsakes Lilli, leaving her with no way to contact him. And Lilli is pregnant.

Lilli is cast off from her home in disgrace and finds herself at a bleak establishment for unwed mothers called the Philadelphia Haven for Women and Infants. It is understood that the women there will give up their babies for adoption shortly after they give birth. But Lilli cannot bear to let go of her infant daughter. The novel is presented as a series of entries from Lilli’s notebooks, where she records her and her baby’s struggles for survival.

Though sometimes naïve, Lilli is a perceptive narrator as she chronicles her journey from her Quaker community and the Haven to an affluent home (where she is a wet nurse) to the filthy Philadelphia streets. Virtually every opportunity that exists to support a family is unavailable to Lilli because she is not only a woman but an unwed mother. The scarce choices that she does have are all degrading, unsafe, or both. Through Lilli, Benton explores the treatment and prospects of unmarried mothers, and also elucidates topics such as the history of wet nurses, the grisly conditions in foundling hospitals, the devastation of disease and starvation, and the everyday existence of the impoverished and homeless of the time period.

Such dismal topics are assuaged by Benton’s aesthetic and judicious prose. Her picture of Lilli’s world is tightly drawn, rich, and descriptive while managing a concise presentation of Lilli’s reflections. Though she is not worldly, Lilli is intelligent, and her notebooks are imbued with a sensible eloquence.

As she faces trials and moral dilemmas throughout the novel, Lilli’s spirituality is her touchstone. On important occasions and in moments of crisis, the words of weighty Quakers come to Lilli’s mind. She recalls Lucretia Mott, John Woolman, Isaac Penington, and Caroline Fox. In her reactions to other characters, she recounts what she has been taught by her Quaker mother and other Friends. Other characters notice her plain dress and speech, and her use of “thee” and “thou.” She shares aspects of her beliefs in conversations with other figures in the novel. In the midst of her troubles, Lilli reflects on Quaker ideas, testimonies, and the “buoyant silence of meeting for worship,” which inform the decisions she makes as she pushes forward for the sake of her baby.

Since the novel is intended for a wide commercial audience of both Friends and non-Friends, though, it does not delve too deeply into the complexity of Quaker thought. The core of the narrative is the intense, heartfelt connection between a mother and her baby. This gentle love that Lilli and her daughter share and the distress they experience when separated are among the most powerful expressions of the parent-child relationship that I have encountered in contemporary literature. Friends Journal readers will no doubt feel the depth and urgency of this profound relationship, too.

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A Leisurely Introduction to How a Bible-believing Christian Can Accept Gay Marriage in the Church

Sun, 2017-10-01 03:35
By Becky Ankeny. Meetinghouse, 2017. 42 pages. $3/pamphlet; free eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Evangelical Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting have for some time experienced schismatic turmoil over the issue of same-sex marriage—or, as Becky Ankeny puts it, “full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church.” Although it goes unmentioned in A Leisurely Introduction, it is within this context that Ankeny, general superintendent of the yearly meeting, has written this study guide, which is intended for those “on the fence.” By this, she means Christian readers who are sympathetic to gay rights but afraid they might “throw out the Bible as a source of guidance.” During her yearly meeting debates, Ankeny argued that “the central themes of the Bible support full inclusion.”

The book is essentially composed of various thematic groupings of biblical references, but the value results from the way in which Ankeny not only paraphrases these passages, but boldly extends each one through her own interpretation. It’s not clear to me how well this will play with her audience, but then, I am not a product of evangelical culture.

In addition to such thematic collections, there are some more technical appendices that discuss homophobia in the various ancient cultures that produced the Bible. And then there are general introductory sections. One offers the observation that biblical rhetoric depends largely upon analogy: “Analogy usually convinces through emotion and imagination, since it is not primarily logical or rational.” Another mentions what psychology tells us about human decision making, for example, the notion of “confirmation bias.” It’s a shortcoming of the book that insights like these are not treated at greater length. Another shortcoming is that the sections devoted to sin take up disproportionate space; are vague, wide-ranging, and ambiguous; and their pertinence to the issue at hand remains unclear.

It is noteworthy that this curious little book does not make overt references to Quakerism. For this reason, it is an interesting exercise to recognize implicitly, or between the lines, so many vital foundational principles of Quaker theology in it. To a naïve eye, they may seem like innocuous commonplaces, but I can recognize them as restatements of dramatic and powerful arguments from the Hicksite schism, which led the Orthodox to react with horror over the “licentious” implications of freedom of conscience under the guidance of the Inner Light: Elias Hicks’s Perfectionism (his proposal that the believer can progress to a sinless state, 1 John 3:4–5); the Hicksite insistence that nothing is a priori unclean (Romans 14:14); the Friendly conviction that laws are meant to serve human dignity, and not the other way around (Mark 2:27); the reminder that the greatest law is the law of Brotherly Love of God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36–40); and of course, that central foundation of Quakerism, “the Light of the World” in human conscience (John 10:27; John 8:12).

I find it particularly striking that when Ankeny stresses the importance of not judging others (Matthew 7:1–3), she adds, “Our neighbors are responsible to God for their own relationships to God.” Hicks insisted on this point in 1824, asking his flock: “How then shall we undertake to give a brother or a father a belief? If we do it, what wicked and presumptuous creatures we are, because we take the place of God . . . Mind thy own business.”

In conclusion, the book’s strengths are its good ideas and very powerful theology; its problem is that they receive such cursory treatment. That leads to a certain lack of framing and perspective. A prime example of this is Ankeny’s fleeting reference to the possibility that the eunuchs mentioned so frequently in the Bible were not literally castrated, but that this was period slang for “gay.”

Ankeny’s book would be more powerful if she had expanded more upon the most critical message: “Encouraging gay and lesbian humans to enter marriage invites them into a good way of life that heterosexuals ought not to withhold.” As a gay Quaker, I can affirm that this is truly the ultimate question, because conservatives believe same-sex love leads away from God, while our own testimony—to all those who have ears to hear—is that our love leads us very much toward God.

In the end, the conclusion of Ankeny’s valuable and thought-provoking contribution rings perfectly true with the values shared by every Friend: “The key is to be in personal relationship to God, where one listens to God and does what one hears God say.”

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Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible

Sun, 2017-10-01 03:30
Written and performed by Peterson Toscano; directed by Samuel Neff. Barclay Press, 2017. 103 minutes. $20/DVD; $14.99/download; $2.99/online rental. Buy from QuakerBooks

I first saw Peterson Toscano’s play, Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible, shortly after it premiered in late 2007. A character revelation in the last scene brought me to tears at that show—and half a dozen times after that, as I showed up to just about every Transfigurations performance I could over the next few years. Though most dramatically presented in that final scene, every character in Transfigurations is revelatory. Unexpected twists and turns are brought to light in often familiar stories by Toscano’s deft and creative scholarship: like Joseph, victim of a gender-based hate crime, or the transgender woman who leads the disciples to her home for the Last Supper. Toscano makes a strong case that not only are gender-variant characters present in the Bible, they are central figures in some of the most important stories of both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Transfigurations accomplishes several fairly extraordinary things. It speaks into the fraught intersection of religion and LGBTQ issues, and, without pretending neutrality, welcomes audience members with widely divergent perspectives. It is accessible to people who have never cracked open a Bible, while offering meaningful insights to biblical scholars and other experts. It is intellectually rigorous but grounded in emotion, spirit, and body.

Toscano’s humor, creativity, and humility open up the space in which all of this is possible. But the immediacy and intimacy of a live one-person play also carries a lot of the power and magic of the piece for me. I was skeptical that a filmed version would be able to preserve that energy.

Of course, the movie version of Transfigurations, directed by Samuel Neff, doesn’t recreate the magic of live performance. But the elegant, sparse production allows the piece to grow into a new form, one that can be shared widely beyond the limitations of one person’s touring schedule, while retaining the integrity of the stories and characters themselves. In fact, the DVD release brings two new forms of Transfigurations into the world: a performance version, featuring Toscano in the roles of various biblical characters, and a lecture-performance hybrid, in which a selection of monologues are interspersed with Toscano’s own reflections on the stories. These two versions, either of which can be easily broken into shorter segments, offer an exciting range of possible uses for the piece in classes, discussion groups, Bible studies, and other events for both faith communities and LGBTQ people—and will hold a special place, I suspect, in the hearts of folks who live at the intersection of those two worlds.

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Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions? A Quaker Zionist Rethinks Palestinian Rights

Sun, 2017-10-01 03:25
By Steve Chase. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 445), 2017. 30 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

Which side are you on? In the Israel–Palestine struggle, this is often the first, main, and only question. A fierce battle for loyalties is being waged and emotions run high. For those who would stand with the oppressed, this choice of sides can be a particularly painful one, since both Israeli Jews and Palestinians have real and tragic experience of oppression.

Steve Chase does us all a service as he traces his journey through this tangled web, with compassion for everyone who is trying to find their way, himself included. He started out with a warm and sympathetic understanding of the oppression of the Jews and the hope of Israel. It was with difficulty, and much reading of history, that he found his way to a similar understanding of the oppression of Palestinians by the state of Israel.

In the process, his understanding of Zionism became much more nuanced. His first love, the spiritual Zionism of Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, remains intact. The vision of a large and vital Jewish community in the Holy Land embodying the prophetic Jewish values of peace and social justice, and helping to create an independent, multiethnic, democratic socialist state in Palestine, is a compelling one. But he had to come face to face with the hard reality of what he calls Territorial Zionism, an active and ongoing intention to take land and rights away from Palestinians for the benefit of the state of Israel.

The journey finally arrives at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, a recent nonviolent Palestinian initiative which has become a touchstone for controversy in the United States and Europe. Pro-Palestinian groups have seized upon it as a moral imperative and a tangible framework for solidarity action, while pro-Israeli forces find the implied link of the Jewish homeland to the atrocities of apartheid South Africa deeply offensive. Chase offers a framework for thinking about the BDS movement that includes historical insight, social context, and commentary on the scope and goals of the movement that should be helpful to anyone seeking to better understand it.

A pamphlet of this length, of course, has its limitations. While there is clear acknowledgement of the U.S. government’s agenda in supporting Israel as a client state so they can act as our agents in the Middle East, no detail is offered. Unmentioned is the continued role of anti-Semitism in our culture, and the ease with which a principled focus on the rights of Palestinians can slip into collusion with the dark forces of anti-Semitism that have been raising their ugly head in recent years and are always ready to scapegoat the Jews.

But what is offered is of great value. If you feel compelled to back the Israeli state as an essential protector of the Jewish people, read this pamphlet, from someone who knows and empathizes with your perspective, to probe further into the complex story of Zionism. If you have firmly thrown your lot in with the Palestinians, read to better understand the history and nuance of Zionism, and to keep from the tendency to demonize Jews. If you are deeply perplexed about the whole conflict, take this opportunity to travel with a clear-headed and compassionate Quaker who has committed to a journey through this challenging territory toward ever-greater integrity and truth.

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The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

Sun, 2017-10-01 03:20
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. Avery, 2016. 368 pages. $26/hardcover; $13.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

I know I am not alone among f/Friends in my desire to cultivate more joy in my own life and in the lives of those around me. In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, two spiritual leaders who exude joy, share their understanding of the qualities of joy and how to sustain it. Joy, they describe, is “much bigger than happiness”; joy is “a way of approaching the world.” The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu spent a week together reflecting on joy; their wisdom, along with highlights of the academic study of joy, is synthesized by their coauthor Douglas Abrams. The two leaders delight in each other’s presence, and throughout the book readers are invited into their joyful world.

After initially defining joy, the leaders discuss the obstacles to lasting happiness. They share that there is no joy without suffering and that we must embrace the shadows of life to fully appreciate the beautiful moments. They address the power of prayer and reflection to help ease fear, anxiety, and stress, and the power of empathy to help us move beyond our anger and frustration toward others. They also offer advice about how to overcome sadness, grief, despair, loneliness, envy, adversity, and illness. They discuss the importance of developing a “sense of we,” particularly in our communities of faith. They remind readers that the more we celebrate our shared humanity, the stronger we are in building our resilience to all the challenges that we will inevitably face. One of the most inspirational quotes from this section came from the archbishop: “You are made for perfection, but you are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”

After discussing the obstacles to our enduring happiness, the Archbishop and Dalai Lama delve into the eight pillars of joy as they understand them. The four pillars of the mind are perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance. Abrams reminds readers that although some of these values can be viewed as passive, they are meaningful tools when we are in command of them. They also point to four pillars of the heart that we benefit from developing: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. They often return to a theme of the significance of our choosing how we respond to the pain of the world. They invite us to become “an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us.”

Thankfully, these spiritual guides do not leave the readers with only theories. The final section of the book offers techniques for practicing the “mental immunity” they preach. They include suggestions on intention setting, silent retreats, gratitude journaling, fasting, prayer, and generosity practices. They share a variety of meditations, including breathing, walking, analyzing, and visioning, that empower us to develop the space between a stimulus and our response, allowing us to choose our best selves. This section functions as a toolkit from which readers are encouraged to “find what works best” for each of us. Ultimately, they advise that relationships and communities are the greatest joy of all, and they direct readers to “seek out [our] own communities of love.”

The Book of Joy is both beautiful and practical. As interesting and useful as the information would be on its own, it is all the more meaningful because of the book’s collaborative approach. The Dalai Lama often advocates for proactive mental training so that we don’t feel suffering as intensely in the first place, whereas much of Archbishop Tutu’s advice is about what to do once we experience hurt. They both stress that love is at the core of all religions, but that we must do more than “rely on religious faith”; we must put our faith into action. They speak consistently about how recognizing the humanity in all others around the world is at the foundation of our enjoying the fullness of our own humanity, a message that will resonate with Friends and those who appreciate Quaker values. Indeed, I ended up sharing quotes from this book with friends, colleagues, and students throughout the period in which I was reading it. Once I finished I sent pictures of the cover to people in my life with a simple caption: “highly recommend.” The Book of Joy truly lives up to its title.

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I Want You to Be: On the God of Love

Sun, 2017-10-01 03:15
By Tomáš Halík, translated by Gerald Turner. University of Notre Dame Press, 2016. 189 pages. $25/hardcover; $11.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Tomáš Halík, a psychoanalyst and “a hidden priest” of the Roman Catholic Church during the Communist years in Czechoslovakia, is currently a professor of sociology at the Czech Republic’s premier Charles University. In reading this fine book, I have come to see him as a theologian for Friends, especially Friends in the unprogrammed worship tradition of many of Friends Journal’s readers. I count it a blessing indeed that I was asked to review this book and thus introduced to the wisdom of Tomáš Halík.

I Want You to Be is all about love—not the love of adolescent infatuation or romantic fiction, not the love of the narcissist, nor the love of possessions or their acquisition—the deep love in which the ego is transcended and we come into the power that unites without destroying or appropriating. To put it so succinctly is to give you a puzzle, a question, in the guise of an answer because so much needs to be unpacked before the author’s position becomes clear. Halík carries the reader gently and surely through reflections and meditations toward this end, yielding no final answers (as he warns in the first chapter) but only an “interim report” of his own journey. It is well worth accompanying him.

At the outset, Halík tells us that he has come to understand that “God approaches us more as a question than as an answer.” He writes that he now reads scripture with an eye to its questions and finds them more frequently than he finds answers, noting that God’s utterances in scripture are often ambiguous and paradoxical. This last is not a complaint but reflects the ambiguity and ambivalence that are characteristic of the human condition; it also recognizes that ambiguity and paradox manifest God’s remoteness from human frameworks of understanding (God’s transcendence) combined with God’s profound immanence.

Friends have learned by experience how attentive, patient listening in the course of deep sharing can build loving connections among people with manifestly different understandings and commitments. One may initially communicate effectively through one’s silence the willingness to listen respectfully to the whole person, not just to the words uttered. Halík sees this dynamic at work in our relationship with God: “It is clear that God’s hiddenness is the first word God speaks (or more precisely, is silent, because silence is an important form of communication) to those who ask about him.” We need in turn to wait in trusting, hopeful, and loving silence upon God to hear God’s second word. Halík offers guidance for our hearing that second word. He finds his clues in scripture: in Jesus’s two great commandments and in the theology of love in 1 John 4: “We cannot see God and God is no object of our perception—or even of our love—because God is no object at all, but we are asked to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as [we should] ourselves. To really ‘hear God’ is to open ourselves to fully embrace this ‘second word.’” By so doing, Halík holds, we come to love “in God” and in so doing to know and love God. The book unpacks this claim in words that are clear and powerful, though written with humility and without minimizing God’s hiddenness nor God’s amazing closeness, both of which are cloaked in mystery.

Halík writes for a European audience and works to reconcile two European traditions that seem to have drifted into mutual antipathy: Christian and secular humanisms. He sees them as linked, like quarreling brothers, each with something valuable to offer the other, but each no longer seeking the truth the other holds. Their reconciliation, he thinks, is critical for Europe’s future.

I regard Halík as a theologian for Friends because much of what he has to say will resonate with many readers of Friends Journal: his appeal to spiritual experience, his recognition of the importance of silence and waiting upon God, the emphasis on love as the doorway to God, recognition of several varieties of atheism, the role of science as “a necessary ally” of theology, and the necessity of a socially engaged spirituality. He writes of continuing revelation, the imperative to love one’s enemies, of apprehending things in the light, and of being oneself searched by the light. The book is not written in professorial language nor does he write as a theologian addressing other theologians. The theme of each chapter is addressed by a collection of discontinuous but deeply connected reflections replete with many highly quotable sentences. It was a joy to read I Want You to Be.

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Individual Spiritual Discernment: Receiving, Testing and Implementing Leadings from a Higher Power

Sun, 2017-10-01 03:12
By Jerry Knutson. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 443), 2017. 31 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

Pendle Hill pamphlets are by nature short, and this pamphlet neatly divides up an important topic into headings that touch on important questions that Quakers ask when we feel led. Is it from ourselves, or from God? Will it require us to do things we currently think we do not want to do? How can we test a leading? Jerry Knutson offers guidance on these aspects of being led, and he does so in simple language that stays close to the topic. It is important not to be carried away by emotion during discernment; this is not to say emotion has no place, but to clarify how discernment really works. I liked the line, “I am not in agreement with the statement ‘Follow your bliss.’” Indeed, a requirement can feel heavy; Knutson’s pamphlet has many tools to work with so that the yoke becomes light.

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A Gathering in Hope

Sun, 2017-10-01 03:10
By Philip Gulley. Center Street, 2016. 258 pages. $24/hardcover; $14.99/paperback; $9.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

I had the pleasure of hearing Phil Gulley offer a plenary talk at my yearly meeting’s annual session a few years ago. And yes, he included stories! This prolific Quaker pastor and storyteller has been at work again, peopling his latest novel with the members of Hope Friends Meeting and some animal brethren. This time, Hope’s Quakers are tested in a new way: how can they carry out a goal that’s exciting and good for them, and at the same time be respectful of the needs of others? When the others are an endangered type of bat, the conundrum takes on real-life dimensions. It is a lovely treat to wrap a difficult situation in the gentle and warm humor of Phil Gulley.

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