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Quaker Bestsellers 2017

Fri, 2017-09-01 03:15
Bestsellers at the FGC Gathering in Niagara Falls, New York

© Marta Rusek

1. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got it Right—and How We Can, Too

By George Lakey. Melville House, 2016. 320 pages. $26.99/hardcover; $17.99/paperback; $15.99/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Nov. 2016.)

2. Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice

By Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye. Quaker Press of FGC, 2009. 548 pages. $10/paperback. (Reviewed in FJ Nov. 2009.)

3. Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights

Edited by Harold D. Weaver Jr., Paul Kriese, and Stephen W. Angell, with Anne Steere Nash. Quaker Press of FGC, 2011. 278 pages. $23.99/paperback; $11.95/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Jan. 2012.)

4. Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One Is Incarcerated

By Becky Birtha, illustrated by Maja Kastelic. Albert Whitman & Company, 2017. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover. (Review in FJ forthcoming.)

5. George Fox’s “Book of Miracles”

By George Fox, edited by Henry J. Cadbury. Quakers Uniting in Publications, 2000. 176 pages. $10/paperback.

6. Our Life Is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey

By Marcelle Martin. Inner Light Books, 2016. 230 pages. $30/hardcover; $17.50/paperback; $10/eBook. (Reviewed in FJ Aug. 2016.)

7. Tracking Down Ecological Guidance: Presence, Beauty, Survival

By Keith Helmuth. Chapel Street Editions, 2016. 243 pages. $20/paperback. (Reviewed in FJ Feb. 2016.)

8. Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal

Friends General Conference, 1996. 404 pages. $30/hardcover; $18/spiralbound. (Reviewed in FJ Apr. 1997.)

9. Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality (Second Edition)

By J. Brent Bill. Eerdmans, 2016. 159 pages. $15.99/paperback or eBook. (Reviewed in brief in FJ Apr. 2017.)

10. The Quaker Way

Adapted by the Religious Education Committee of FGC, illustrated by Signe Wilkinson. Friends General Conference, 1998. 70 pages. $7.95/paperback.

Previous FGC Gathering bestseller lists

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Quaker Faith, Quaker Practice, and Quaker Boards

Fri, 2017-09-01 03:10
  Nonprofit boards, religious or secular, have a legal and moral mandate to manage their organizations diligently, prudently, legally, and in ways consistent with their charters. This mandate seems self-evident, but every board encounters pressures that can distract from faithful action. If these pressures are not managed, they can weaken or destroy an organization. An organizational failure is always a failure of the organization’s board🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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A Community Formed for Faithfulness

Fri, 2017-09-01 03:05
Basic to our Quaker faith is our understanding that everyone has direct access to the living God; each of us can receive divine guidance and leadings of the Spirit. We want to hear and respond faithfully, but doing so is not easy. Human beings are hardwired to seek approval, focus on fear, and conform to the beliefs and norms of our culture. Essential to the Quaker🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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A Mysticism for Our Time

Fri, 2017-09-01 03:00
Rediscovering the spiritual writings of Thomas R. Kelly

Thomas R. Kelly, “The Record of the Class of 1914.” Courtesy of Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College, Haverford, Pa.

While doing doctoral studies at Harvard in 1931, Thomas R. Kelly, a Quaker and author of the spiritual classic A Testament of Devotion, wrote to a friend and offered an assessment of famed British mathematician Bertrand Russell. He said that Russell seemed to him like an “intellectual monastic,” fleeing to the safety of pure logic to avoid the “infections of active existence” and the “sordid rough-and-tumble of life.”

When studying the papers of Kelly at Haverford College outside of Philadelphia, cocooned in the safety of the library’s special collections room the week after the presidential election, I was struck by this remark about Russell. I realized that many have leveled the same charge against mystics like Kelly himself. They are the ones, the story goes, who flee into an interior world of spiritual experience to escape the rough-and-tumble of actual existence.

The suggestion is not unfounded. Kelly’s thinking about mysticism was carried out under the long shadow of psychologist and philosopher William James: Kelly worked with James’s understanding of mysticism as the experience of the solitary individual. Kelly was also writing in the period following Evelyn Underhill’s influential Mysticism—its twelfth edition published during the years he was at Harvard—in which she writes that introversion is the “characteristic mystic art” that aids a contemplative in the “withdrawal of attention from the external world.”

That Kelly might be branded, then, a guide to the experiences of the inner life alone seems reasonable. My research has caused me to rethink this assessment; now I see Kelly as a mystic whose life is one of commitment to the world, not escape from it. And he can be a resource for those of us searching for a worldly engaged spirituality.

I started reading Kelly when I was 32. I remember this when seeing the mark I made in the biographical introduction to A Testament of Devotion of what Kelly was doing when he was 32. Because I wanted to explore the inner life of prayer he wrote about and lived, I was as drawn to the story of his life as I was to his writings.

A lifelong Quaker, Kelly was academically ambitious, driven, convinced that success as an academic philosopher would ensure he mattered. He received a doctorate from Hartford Theological Seminary in 1924 and began teaching at Earlham College in Indiana. But he pined for the rarefied intellectual atmosphere and prestige of an elite East Coast college. In 1930 he began work on a second doctorate at Harvard, assuming this would be his ticket east. But when he appeared for the oral defense of his dissertation in 1937, he suffered an anxiety attack; his mind went blank. Harvard refused to let him try again.


This failure proved the turning point in his life. It thrust him into a deep depression; his wife feared he might be suicidal. It also occasioned his most profound mystical experience, and he emerged a few months later settled, having been, as he put it in a letter to his wife, “much shaken by an experience of Presence.”

His friend Douglas Steere, a colleague at Haverford where Kelly was teaching at the time (he made it back east), summarized how many perceived the fruit of Kelly’s experience: “[A] strained period in his life was over. He moved toward adequacy. A fissure in him seemed to close, cliffs caved in and filled a chasm, and what was divided grew together within him.”

Three years later Thomas Kelly, 47 years old, died suddenly while washing dishes. The essays published in A Testament of Devotion were written in those few years between the fissures closing and his death. He died not only a scholar who wrote about mysticism, but a mystic himself, who knew firsthand that experience of spiritual solitude purported to be the essence of religion.

Far from sinking into the solitude of mystical bliss after emerging into his new, centered life, he promptly made an exhausting three-month trip to Germany in the summer of 1938, where he lectured, gave talks at German Quaker meetings, and ministered to the Quakers there who were suffering under Hitler.

The purpose of Kelly’s trip to Germany was to deliver the annual Richard Cary Lecture at the yearly meeting of German Friends. His letters home detail his painstaking preparation. He met frequently with his translator, working through the manuscript for several hours a day to render it in German. In a tribute to Kelly that was sent to his wife following his death, his translator—a Quaker woman of Jewish ancestry—said that his presence and his message were what the German Friends needed in “a time of increasing anxiety and hopelessness.”


From the beginning of the lecture, Kelly’s florid language is on display: he comes across as an evangelist for mystical experience, the “inner presence of the Divine Life.” His purpose is to witness to the inner experience of this divine life, this “amazing, glorious, triumphant, and miraculously victorious way of life.” He’s not offering an argument for it, or a psychology of it, following James, but a description resting upon experience.

Importantly, early on, he rejects any notion that this is a merely otherworldly experience. (In the published version of this lecture more than 20 years after its delivery, Kelly’s son cut out this section, maybe because it’s technically denser than the rest or maybe because it didn’t fit the mold of relevance for spiritual writing.) Kelly believed that the Social Gospel Movement of his time had too narrow a horizon, having bracketed out the persuading, wooing power of the Eternal. It is the one place, he noted, that he agrees with theologian Karl Barth. On the other hand, the experience he’s describing does not issue in withdrawal or flight from the world. “For,” as he puts it, “the Eternal is in Time, breaking into Time, underlying Time.” In fact, the mystical opening to an eternal “Beyond” opens simultaneously to a second beyond: “the world of earthly need and pain and joy and beauty.” There is no either-or.

This is precisely the place where Kelly’s experience makes all the difference. His weeks in Germany brought him into contact with many Quakers. He saw how they were at once struggling to live under the Nazi regime in fear, anxiety, and material want while also serving their suffering neighbors.

We learn this in a 22-page letter he wrote near the end of his trip. (Kelly spent two days in France in order to write and send home this frank letter describing the situation in Germany, fearing his letters sent from Germany were being read.) He notes in the letter that though Germany is “spruced up, slicked up,” its soul echoes hollow. If you were not a Nazi, you were always afraid, he wrote, because there’s “no law by which the police are governed.” He expresses amazement at the difficulty of getting good information, lamenting the lack of a free press because of the government’s stretching its “tentacles” deep in every news source. “There are many, many,” he writes, “who pay no attention to the newspapers. Why would they?”

But he puts a human face on these generalizations. He tells the story of a man who wouldn’t pay into a Nazi-run community fund because he was caring for the wife and children of a man in a concentration camp. This man lost his job and was also sent to a concentration camp. He expresses disgust at the signs everywhere that say “No Jews!” He writes about the courage some people display in not saying “Heil Hitler,” and the crushing blow it is to the conscience of those who do say it because they have children to feed and fear retribution. “It’s all crazy, isn’t it?” he writes. “But it’s real.”

He realizes he can’t ignore this suffering, even as he reflects on returning to the relatively safe, comfortable suburbs of Philadelphia and to his position at Haverford College. God hadn’t just shown himself to Kelly in a solitary moment of mystical experience, for as he says, “The suffering of the world is a part, too, of the life of God, and so maybe, after all, it is a revelation,” a revelation he knew couldn’t leave him unchanged.

This letter describes the context in which he gave the Cary Lecture. He believed these German Friends needed to hear both the message of the possibility of a vibrant inner life, and also how this inner life invites them into a sacrificial bearing of the burdens of their neighbors and a continued search for joy, the divine glory shimmering in the midst of sorrow.

And now we must say—it sounds blasphemous, but mystics are repeatedly charged with blasphemy—now we must say it is given to us to see the world’s suffering, throughout, and bear it, God-like, upon our shoulders, and suffer with all things and all men, and rejoice with all things and all men, and we see the hills clap their hands for joy, and we clap our hands with them.

A decade ago when I read passages like this in A Testament of Devotion, the admonitions seemed tame, tinged with poetic excess. When I read this today, knowing the context of its writing, I see it differently: it’s a summons to a vocation, the vocation of seeing and acting as one in the world settled in God, open both to the deepest pain and the hidden beauty in the midst of suffering—a call to service and to faith.

The very day I was reading this lecture, holding the 80-year-old, yellowing pages in my hands, students at Haverford College were walking out of their classes in solidarity with their classmates who have lived most of their lives in this country, though illegally, to protest President Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies. Similar walkouts were occurring on campuses across the country. That same week, Haverford students were in downtown Philadelphia protesting the police brutality they expect to continue under a Trump “law-and-order” administration.


Kelly’s lecture and letter resonate with these current events, not because of parallels between Nazi Germany and the victory of Trump—some have tried to make them, but that’s not my point. Rather, it is the suffering caused by fear (the fear immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, and refugees feel) that Kelly’s spirituality of a dual beyond—the Eternal Beyond, and the beyond within of suffering and joy—might prove able to guide us through, whenever such fear occurs. Just as Kelly’s presence and message were what the German Quakers needed to hear in their time of “increasing anxiety and hopelessness,” so too might the same message be needed in ours.

But this wisdom is useless if it’s not made concrete. There is no “suffering with all” in general, only concrete commitments to this or that person, this or that situation. Kelly knows this, and his most important point in the lecture is the exploration of the load-bearing wall of Quaker spirituality: the concern. A concern names the way a “cosmic suffering” and a “cosmic burden-bearing” become particular in actual existence. A concern names a “particularization”—one of Kelly’s favorite words—of God’s own care for a suffering world in the concrete reality of the life of this person, of this community. It is a “narrowing of the Eternal Imperative to a smaller group of tasks, which become uniquely ours.”

The Quakers in Germany can’t bear the burdens of all of Germany. But, when sensitized to the Spirit, they could discern how God’s care for the world could be made concrete, particular in their life together: in this caring for a neighbor, in this act of resistance, in this fleeting sharing in joy.

While he was reminding those German Quakers of something at the heart of their spirituality, he offered the rest of us a way out of the sense of being overwhelmed when we view the world’s suffering as a whole. “Again and again Friends have found springing up a deep-rooted conviction of responsibility for some specific world-situation.” For Kelly, mysticism included ineffable, inner experience, but also included a sense of the Eternal’s own turning in love toward the world, made concrete in particular lives and communities.


I left Haverford with these thoughts distilled into one word as I made my way back to my own community of Pittsburgh, a word that I knew, but Kelly gave to me anew: “discernment.” This is the word I want to carry, to offer to my church, the seminary where I teach, to all those who wonder how to live in the midst of suffering and fear—with the occasional upshot of joy. Discernment. How will God make concrete, particular, in my life, in my church community’s life, God’s own concern for the marginalized, displaced, and discriminated against? How will the mystical become flesh-and-blood in life’s rough-and-tumble, here and now, as it so longs to do?

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Morning Thoughts

Fri, 2017-09-01 02:55
Photo © Jo Ann Snover   A songbird awakens the morning just outside, where the fusion of light unfurling through green branches creates curious arching🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Seeing Truth

Fri, 2017-09-01 02:45
It’s true, things stick to the north side of trees— moss, lichen, snow . . . Along Old Pine Hill tree trunks caked in clean snow form a🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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100 Years of Quiet Tenacity

Fri, 2017-09-01 02:40
Friends of Fairhope, Alabama

The Quaker community in Monteverde, Costa Rica, is widely known. But did you know that the group made its exodus from a meeting in the small town of Fairhope in coastal Alabama, with but a few Friends remaining behind to continue on as Fairhope Friends?

As Fairhope Friends approach our hundredth anniversary, we would like to share some of our less well-known stories of those who left and those who stayed behind.

It seems unlikely that in the early 1900s Quakers from various states would settle in a tiny village on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in coastal Alabama. But Quakers by nature are an unlikely group.

Drawn by the mild climate, cheap land, and an interesting tax base, Quakers migrated to Fairhope from Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, North Carolina, and Kansas.

Fairhope, Alabama, was established in 1894 as a single tax colony by a group from Des Moines, Iowa, (the only other remaining single tax colony is in Arden, Delaware) and was loosely based on the single tax theories of economist, journalist, and social reformer Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty (1879). Land was purchased in the name of the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation and then leased under a 99-year renewable lease; ownership of improvements on the land belongs to the lessee.

The monies paid to the Single Tax Corporation by lessees include state, county, and local taxes (thus the name Single Tax), an administration fee, and a “demonstration fee,” intended to demonstrate the usefulness of the single tax theory.

Today about 4,500 acres of land which includes the downtown area and a little less than half of the remainder of the city is owned by the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation and leased out to individuals and businesses. Funds from the demonstration fee continue to be used to enhance the community by supporting such things as 63 acres of parks overlooking Mobile Bay, a 43-acre city nature park, funding for improving the local emergency room, the historical museum, and improvements to roads and sidewalks.

In 1908 there were about 500 total residents in Fairhope. By 1915 there were 20 Quaker families living there. As early Quakers were wont to do, in 1916 they began by building a one-room schoolhouse that was also used for meetings for worship.

Initially the Quakers in Fairhope met under the care of Stillwater Meeting in Barnesville, Ohio; in 1919 the group became Fairhope (Ala.) Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting with 52 members recorded. At that point, the meetinghouse, next to the school, had been completed at a cost of $1,346.65 plus $100 cost for the benches, and a cemetery was established on single tax land set aside from the Herman Battey family’s 80-acre dairy farm.

The meeting continued to grow, and their members set deep roots in the community, building farms, working in various professions, and raising their families.

But then Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1948. On October 26, 1948, Marvin Rockwell sent written notice to the Local Draft Board in Foley, Alabama, advising of his noncompliance by refusal to register on religious grounds, and in December 1948, four young Fairhope Friends were arrested. Each entered a plea of nolo contendere for refusal to register for the draft and presented written statement to U.S. District Court Judge McDuffie in Mobile. The Court records reflect that the clerk read the statement of Marvin Rockwell because it was “a short one:”

I cannot imagine Christ in a military uniform taking training in the art of murder. I do not believe He would give His support to a program which forced the cream of young manhood to learn to take part in war.

Judge McDuffie’s comments at sentencing included these:

This is a government of laws and not of men, and so long as you live here, you should abide by the laws of the land . . . those who oppose the laws of this country and this form of government, even when it goes to war, should get out of this country and stay out.

Now I was wondering what some of you would do, if you were sitting in my place, having sworn to administer the law. There is nothing in the world I can do but sentence you.

Judge McDuffie then sentenced Wilford Guindon, Howard Rockwell, Leonard Rockwell, and Marvin Rockwell to prison for one year and one day, eligible for parole at the end of four months. He concluded, “I have done my duty by my dim lights . . .”

The four young Friends were taken to the Mobile county jail and later transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Flordia, where they served four months and one day. When they were released on parole on February 27, 1950, they again refused to sign their draft registration cards; the Warden of the prison signed the cards for each of the four Friends so they would not be subject to immediate rearrest.

Back in Fairhope, the four rejoined the active young people’s Discussion Group affiliated with Fairhope Meeting. The four were obligated to stay in Alabama until they completed their parole on October 26, 1950, and during this next eight months, deep personal and spiritual issues were addressed in the small Quaker meetinghouse and many Quaker homes. Individual lives as well as the life of their Quaker community had experienced the imprisonment of their young men for refusal to take any part in the military draft, and they had viscerally felt the use of their taxes to support a war economy. These issues were raised against the backdrop of the reality that Fairhope was home. Fairhope was where their families and friends lived; here they had built their homes, their children were born, their loved ones were buried. In this little corner of southeast Alabama, they had worked long and hard to create a stable life by creating farms and developing businesses.

Fairhope Friends were facing the same dilemma presented to Friends in England in the mid-1600s: leave your country to build a new world of religious freedom or remain to work for religious freedom in your home country. A number of families from the meeting came to believe they should, as the judge suggested, “get out of this country and stay out.” Not all of the members of the meeting came to the same conclusion; some would stay, in the belief that here they could better work for and influence a change of the system. Unfortunately, those gleaning sessions were not reported; it is easy to imagine the difficulty individuals experienced in reaching a decision best for their specific circumstances.

For those who would leave, the next question was where to go. Canada was a consideration, but the climate there was too cold. (Remember they moved to Fairhope to get out of the snow.) They decided against Australia and New Zealand because of the distance and expense to return to visit family and friends. The group began to focus on Central America, and finally decided on Costa Rica where the government was stable, the economy sound, the poor were not as poor and the rich were not as rich, there was a large middle class, and the people were friendly. It was a pivotal point that Costa Rica had abolished its army by Constitutional Amendment in 1947.

The records showed 62 members of the meeting on July 12, 1950, and children attended the single-teacher Quaker school adjacent to the meetinghouse. When the parole of the four expired on October 26, 1950, many Quakers in Baldwin County began to make the move to Costa Rica. Those who left in the first wave numbered 31. Early in 1951, there were 44 who had moved. Ages of those moving ranged from two years to eighty.

The group bought 3,500 acres on the side of a mountain for $50,000 U.S. The location was both beautiful and remote. Their new home was 16 miles from an all-weather road. There was a dry weather jeep road within seven to eight miles from their land; the rest was an ox cart road.

There on the side of a mountain in Central America, Quakers from Fairhope, Alabama, cleared new ground and began again—building a school for their children, creating farm and pasture lands, a dairy business, and constructing a new community in a country in which it was unconstitutional for the army to even exist. It was the Quakers from Fairhope who founded Monteverde and set aside for conservation land that would become an initial tract in the internationally recognized Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The Monteverde Quaker community became more active and widely known than its birthplace, Fairhope Friends.

The decision to leave for Costa Rica was not sponsored by Fairhope Meeting but was individual action by each of those making that choice. The minutes of the meeting are intriguingly silent about the discernments, discussions, and clearness sought over the issue of so many leaving their homes and country. There are only a few oblique references in the minutes to this huge upheaval in the meeting community. For example, on November 15, 1950:

Since our present Treasurer is likely to leave us before the regular time for appointing another, the meeting is united in appointing Roy Rockwell to fill the unexpired time. . . . Since our present recorder is soon to leave us, this meeting unites in appointing Isabella Battey to fill the vacancy.

After the mass exodus to Costa Rica, the small group that remained in Fairhope continued on, though times were rough. The school was closed and the building sold, moved to adjoining property to be used as a residence. Bertha Battey, a longtime clerk, said, “From time to time, Fairhope Meeting consisted of three elderly women.” On May 8, 1966, Fairhope Friends sent a letter to Ohio’s Stillwater Quarterly Meeting that said in part, “Due to more reduced active membership . . . our monthly meeting has been discontinued indefinitely. . . . We appreciate your concern in the past and will appreciate your prayers for a better future.” That better future began soon.

Because of the tenacity of the few who continued informally in the small meetinghouse, Fairhope Friends formally began again on November 24, 1967, as Fairhope Meeting Independent. Although it has not rebuilt its earlier membership numbers, it is a strong presence in the community. Each week we gather in the meetinghouse built in 1917, to sit on handmade benches that cost $100 for materials 100 years ago. Though updated, the meetinghouse is much the same. Fairhope Friends remains independent, and we continue to use the Friends’ Cemetery as a final resting place for loved ones.

While those who moved to Costa Rica recreated a farming life on a blank, rough-hewed slate, the Quakers who remained in Fairhope have experienced very different challenges in an evolving secular community. Monteverde and Fairhope are each the reflection of difficult and well-grounded decisions. Both meetings provide salt to their respective communities; each strives to remain in the Light, to listen for God. Fairhope Friends contribute financially to Monteverde; some of our members lived in Monteverde at one time, and though they have returned to Fairhope, they have relatives in Monteverde. You will find many of the same family names on the headstones in our respective cemeteries.

In the years following the great migration in the 1950s to Costa Rica, the makeup of Fairhope Friends has changed to reflect a typical slice of modern Baldwin County. Most of the current members are convinced Quakers; a minority are birthright Quakers. In the winter, the number attending swells as snowbirds from states such as Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York migrate to the warm climate. The old meetinghouse remains much the same, with the original simple wooden pews, but with central heat and air conditioning added for comfort.

As an example of the vitality of this small group, as well as a willingness to listen and act, a Friend recently asked that the meeting consider a minute recognizing and honoring LGBTQ individuals. The clerk asked that person to work with several others to draft and distribute a proposal. At the following meeting for business, a proposal was deeply considered; it was the sense of the meeting to adopt the minute. And then the group moved on—in one meeting for business that lasted one hour.

Fairhope is a bit of an enclave in the Deep South, more like Boulder, Colorado, than its neighbor, Mobile, Alabama. In some ways, we are as isolated as the Monteverde Friends. Southern Quakers is almost an oxymoron. Those of us who are isolated need to look further than the search limit of 100 miles. From Fairhope, the closest meeting to the east is Tallahassee, Florida, 243 miles away. There is Birmingham, Alabama, 290 miles to the north and Huntsville, Alabama, 310 miles away (the only other Quaker meetings in the state of Alabama). There is a meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is a 165 mile drive and another in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 220 miles to our west.

In our own ways, Fairhope Friends respond to the same quiet nudge that propelled part of our group to Costa Rica. Some of our members live in the Fairhope area to be a part of this meeting; people who were drawn to Fairhope for other reasons have found their way to us. One of our members regularly makes a 140-mile round trip to meeting. Perhaps we are like the loam that slowly accumulates at the base of the ancient red woods—worth that is not to be measured in standard units of size or time.

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Wild Birds, Fantasy, and the Possible

Fri, 2017-09-01 02:35

© Maia Dery

Wild Birds

I begin in memory, impression: images and stories.

A boy approaching adolescence—shy, bookish, growing up in south Florida’s perpetual summer—inaugurates a lifelong wonderment with wild birds, spending his free hours perched in ficus and Brazilian pepper trees, watching for warblers and cuckoos. He lives in a lush, tropical place, ten miles from the eastern edge of the Everglades, the wide and sluggish river of grass that flows from the southern margin of Lake Okeechobee ever-so-slightly-down the bottom of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico. Even the names of the birds there tattoo mysterious rhythms into his head: anhinga and ani, egret and heron, flamingo and spoonbill, ibis and bittern, limpkin and gallinule.

With paper route and lawn-mowing money, the boy buys his first pair of binoculars from Sears and his first bird book, Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds: Eastern Land and Water Birds, the 1947 second revised and enlarged edition, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, printed on heavy paper with rain-resistant covers. When he goes shopping for blue jeans, he brings the field guide along, checking to see that it snugs in the back pocket. He begins keeping his Life List in the front of his Peterson’s, especially proud of the following entries:

  • Marsh Hawk, 1/8/1975
  • Bald Eagle, 3/19/1972?
  • Everglade Kite, 12/10/1972
  • Pileated Woodpecker, 1/10/1976

He finds the first sentence of Peterson’s appendix on “Accidentals” mesmerizing: “The great hope of every field man is to see rare birds.” Before long, he will record a few Life List names in the blanks under the “Accidentals, Strays, and Others” heading:

  • Bahama Swallowtail and Bahama Bananaquit, Andros Island, Bahamas, 6/17 to 6/30/1973
  • Scarlet Ibis, Greynolds Park, 6/8/1974

The boy has a recurring dream. In this dream, he can will himself skyward, moving his arms up and then down, firmly but not frantically, in all sorts of Technicolor locales, and he glides over buildings and trees, swooping down from high places and catching an updraft, swimming in air as he can in the water, where he actually spends much of his time.

He reads what will become one of the favorite books of his youth, a novel by Jean Craighead George called My Side of the Mountain. It tells the story of Sam Gribley, a boy about his age, who runs away from a cramped and congested New York City to his great-grandfather’s abandoned farm property in the Catskills and makes his home there in a hollow tree. Sam captures a peregrine falcon nestling, names it “Frightful,” and trains the bird to hunt small game for him. He befriends a weasel that he christens “the Baron.” Eventually, Sam abandons the woods to come home to New York, realizing he needs human contact.

He studies a book given to him for Christmas one year, Survival with Style by Bradford Angier, festooned with drawings of how to erect shelters and descriptions of how to collect condensation in the desert. It includes a section on wild, edible plants. One day, the boy rides his bicycle west to the edge of the river of grass and sets a temporary camp at the side of a canal. He gathers cattail roots to roast and, with a hook, makeshift pole, and line, he catches a bream. Lighting a small fire with flint and steel, he cooks and eats the fish and cattail, the latter of which tastes a lot like muddy canal. After of couple of hours, he climbs back on his bike and heads home for dinner.

The boy’s eighth-grade English teacher—who one Friday afternoon in spring reads aloud “The Scarlet Ibis,” James Hurst’s sentimental story about sibling rivalry, a rare bird, and mortality—encourages his experiments in verse and tells him he can become a great poet. He falls in love with the idea of being hailed as the next John Keats, but he does not find himself compelled to be actually writing. The lure of imagined fame occludes the tangible act that might produce it.

In the summer of his junior year in high school, his former eighth-grade science teacher, Miss Kicklighter, calls on a Saturday morning to tell him that scarlet ibises are nesting at Greynolds Park. He borrows his parents’ car, drives to North Miami Beach with a friend, and meets Miss Kicklighter there to witness spectacular, deep red birds swaying in green mangroves. Like the bird in the short story, these ibises are far from their usual home in the Caribbean and South America. Accidentals.


Such stories trace the imaginative topography of my growing up, a landscape perhaps more featured with desire than accomplishment.

Fast-forward 33 years. I’m preparing to go with a group of Guilford College students on a three-week van camping excursion around California, teamed up with a colleague who’s teaching the course entitled “The American Landscape.” We’re reading about the history of landscape painting and photography, how they shaped American environmental consciousness, and we’ll be taking photographs of iconic landscapes in the Sierras, Mono Lake, Yosemite, and along the Pacific Coast. Prior to our departure, we’re down at the Guilford Lake, and my photographer colleague is teaching us how to see with a camera lens. I keep trying to get pictures of a flitting eastern towhee with my point-and-shoot. I’m ill-equipped and impatient, and the bird is too fast and too far away. I show my colleague Maia the results. She says: “You want what you can’t have, don’t you?”

Reflecting back on all this now, I wonder if the two most besetting sins of my life have been a lack of patience and a tendency to dream the muddled impossibility, to indulge in that truancy of the imagination twentieth-century British novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch calls “fantasy.” For Murdoch, such fantasy takes multiple forms, but her fiction testifies mainly to its witchery in realm of human love. In The Sea, the Sea, her 1978 Booker Prize-winning novel, for example, the narrator, Charles Arrowby, a formerly famed theater director who has retired to a remote ocean-side village, begins to realize how his completely unrealistic attempts to rekindle a relationship with Hartley, his first and truest love, are leading him into emotional paralysis:

Some kinds of obsession, of which being in love is one, paralyse the ordinary free-wheeling of the mind, its natural open interested curious mode of being, which is sometimes persuasively defined as rationality. I was sane enough to know that I was in a state of total obsession and that I could only think, over and over again, certain agonizing thoughts, could only run continually along the same rat-paths of fantasy and intent. But I was not sane enough to interrupt this mechanical movement or even desire to do so.

In a philosophical study, Murdoch echoes this fictional character, claiming:

The chief enemy of excellence in morality (and also in art) is personal fantasy: the tissue of self-aggrandizing and consoling wishes and dreams which prevents one from seeing what is there outside one.

“Almost anything that consoles us is a fake,” she says. Whoosh: there goes every romcom I ever loved. There goes Pride and Prejudice. There goes chocolate.

Murdoch’s call to reject the consolation of fantasy may seem a bitter physic, but she isn’t rejecting human imagination itself, only certain pernicious forms in which it depletes our capacity to engage fully and honestly with the world and other beings. For her, love is the imagination’s poison, but it is also its best medicine. For although love can lead us into the temptations of fantasy, it can also propel us into ethical, possible, real care for others, who exist outside what Murdoch calls “the fat, relentless ego.” Her picture of the ego unleashed as a bloated, self-absorbed Jabba the Hut is not a pretty one, but it helps me to recognize in it a certain resemblance to a boy dreaming of wilderness survival or poetic greatness while not expecting to do anything much to earn it. To manage that admittedly ravenous ego well, however, becomes the key to a radical acknowledgement of the claims of the other, which for some thinkers is the core of becoming ethical. To make charitable, not egocentric, love the first motion (to paraphrase John Woolman) is to embark on the ethical path.

Murdoch’s ideas about love, the ego, consolation, and attention—she also talks about paying attention as a mechanism for counteracting illusion (The Sovereignty of Good)—recall the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, the practice of focusing in the present and filtering out illusion and other forms of wishful thinking. If, as Thomas Lowe Fleischner says, in an essay about mindfulness and keen observation of the natural world, “we are what we pay attention to,” then keeping our attention focused on the possible, in the here and now, seems like a very good thing to be doing. Mindfulness, akin to what Quakers call being “centered,” trains our attention away from fantasy. We could call it the practice of keeping it real, of tending the possible.

The Possible

Becoming centered challenges me to reject romanticized fantasy, to do something more complex and paradoxical. It calls me to live imaginatively in what is possible, in fervent desire for what I and the world can indeed become. I cannot simply sit back and accept everything before me as what is meant to be; nor can I wallow in longing for that which will never come to pass. The same is true for love as for social justice. Neither is possible without reimagining the present into something different and new; neither will come into being without such striving remaining tied at all four corners to what is possible. I could photograph wild birds quite well, but it would take the patience of sitting in a blind, hour upon hour, watching, waiting, and letting things be as they are. I am a writer only when I adopt the discipline of daily composition, the practice that scratches down the furrows into which seed words may fall.

On or around December 1, 2015, a strange bird showed up amidst the ordinary flock of Canada geese that keep cropped the front lawns of the college campus where I work and decorate our brick walkways with greenish leavings. It was an accidental, a Ross’s goose, a large white bird with black wing tips about the size of the Muscovy ducks that plod about the quad occasionally. The Ross’s goose caused a minor sensation in the local birding community. Sometimes they show up in the very northeastern corner of North Carolina, but their main migration routes lie hundreds of miles to the west, down from Canada through the plains states to the Gulf coast of Texas and farther west through Montana and Idaho to California and Mexico for the winter. In Greensboro, North Carolina, this was a rare bird indeed.

That accidental and absolutely real goose reminded me that rare things, while unusual, are possible, and that to conceive of myself or the world as better—without resorting to fantasy—is a good and rightful thing to do. It reminds me today that to work mindfully toward the betterment of all lives, human and non-human, can keep me tending toward the center. The Ross’s goose stayed around the campus and nearby ponds for about a week and a half. More than a few birders dropped over to watch it picking the lawn with Canadian cousins. And then, as is the way in this world, it was gone.

The post Wild Birds, Fantasy, and the Possible appeared first on Friends Journal.

How Far Can We Take Thou Shalt Not Judge?

Fri, 2017-09-01 02:30

Author family photo: Jan, Woody, the author, and Joyce Payne.


Photo of the author’s father, along with his Purple Heart.

My 90-year-old mother reminded me recently of an awful day when Dad was in his final throes of alcoholism. He was home from the Veterans Administration mental hospital, where he spent most of the last six years of his life. They’d released him this time with a bottle of Quaaludes, a depressive drug that, when coupled with alcohol, makes the person swimmy drunk. Falling down drunk. They didn’t tell us that, and of course, when released, Dad went straight to his favorite beer joint. He then tried to drive home, with bad results. He backed into another car, whose incredulous driver was following him when he arrived at our house. He overshot the driveway, so he just turned a big circle in the neighbor’s yard. When the police arrived, following calls by both the driver and the irate neighbor, Dad was lying face down on the garage floor.

Around this time, Mom drove home from work. The officer made no attempt to help Dad and spoke to Mom like she was trash. Mom worked in the local bank, and we lived in a nice house. We were white. Given the racial nature of recent police shootings, I understand that this gave us a chance of being treated like humans. Still, the officer was determined to take this flailing wreck of a man to jail. Mom explained Dad’s frail condition and begged for help. The cop barely squeaked out a word.

Desperate to be listened to, Mom noted the name on his badge and made a connection. She told him that she worked with his best friend’s wife. He looked at her, startled. Suddenly, the tone changed. This time when she told him that Dad was a World War II veteran on leave from the VA hospital, he nodded. They agreed that if she got him back to the hospital they would not jail him. Suddenly, Mom was a person, not trash.

This story makes me think of the way we all judge people, from police to the angry black men who are so fed up they can’t take it anymore.


My husband has a young relative addicted to heroin. Her frantic parents try to keep track of this beloved daughter, though she frequently hides from their attempts to get her help. Last week, they got news that she was ill with infections from her needle usage. They found her and convinced her to let them take her to the emergency room. There, the doctor treated this frightened family as if they were trash. He wouldn’t even treat the young woman, saying she’d just go out and do it again. He was full of contempt, just like the scene with the cop and my mom. Unfortunately in this case, the family is Latino. They weren’t able to pull out a tidbit like knowing the doctor’s best friend to wedge their humanity inside his judgmental attitude.

Author Maia Szalavitz’s 2016 book on addiction, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, concludes that people who become addicted have developmental disorders similar to autism—in childhood, many future drug addicts share similar characteristics, like sensitivity to touch and tastes. Her theory is that there are some signals in the brain that aren’t wired right, and the drugs or alcohol complete that circuit. Addicts often say that with that first taste of the drug, they suddenly felt “right.” She wants us to stop treating addicts like criminals and start treating them as people with brain disorders.


I have one final story: about my own judgment of others that led to great harm. My kids’ dad, Patrick, was addicted to marijuana. In the 1970s, we didn’t give pot much thought. Most everyone my age smoked it. I didn’t like it myself, but Patrick did. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and marijuana was the only thing that calmed him down. I don’t think the term post-traumatic stress disorder had even been coined then. I didn’t realize it, but I fell in love with the “stoned” Pat. He was whip-smart, politically active, and gregarious: a great partner. But as time passed, I found that the non-stoned Pat would get angry to the point of violence. Once our kids were born, I wanted him to get treatment and get over the childish (I thought) pot smoking.

So I became the scorning, judging person. I treated the stoned, happy Patrick like he was trash. But I ran from the angry Patrick in terror. We separated, and I made sure he stayed away from marijuana for the kids’ sakes. Unfortunately, my threats worked, and they grew up with a terrifyingly angry dad.

Years later, once he had died and the kids were grown, I was at an antiwar rally when a veteran took the microphone and pleaded for marijuana to become legal, saying it was the only thing that kept him and many other veterans sane. He told how it kept the demons away after the horrors they’d experienced in combat. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized what I’d done. I’d haunted Pat’s life with my haughty superiority, heaping scorn on him, just like the cop had done to my mom, and just like the doctor had done to my husband’s relatives and their heroin-addicted daughter.

Szalavicz states: “We have this idea that if we are just cruel enough and mean enough and tough enough to people with addiction that they will suddenly wake up and stop, and that is not the case.”

Thou shalt not judge. I have never seen the wisdom of that more than in these troubled days. I hope we all remain open to examining the judging we do—of people of color, the police, or addicts—and spend a little of that negative energy trying to find reasons to understand.

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Earthcare: Finding God in the Garden

Fri, 2017-09-01 02:10

All photos taken in Katie and Phil’s garden. Courtesy of the author.

My mother had a green thumb. She could look at a plant and it would grow strong and bloom. All year long, Mother had flowering potted plants. Our house was on a corner of a suburban neighborhood, and in the summer people used to take the corner slowly in order to admire the colorful flowers.

I appreciate flower gardens, but I don’t have my mother’s chemistry with plants. My husband, Phil, however, does. He grew up in Manhattan, and, as an urban transplant, he takes great joy in his rural Massachusetts garden. We used to grow vegetables, but as time went by, we found that supporting the local farmers was more cost efficient. We switched to flowers, saying they were food for the soul. Phil enjoys working in the garden more than I do, but we both like to be outside. We enjoy many summer activities together, and attending New England Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions is a yearly event that nourishes us both.

I have had the opportunity to lead several workshops with Friends and other groups. As a storyteller, I especially like workshops that elicit stories of early memories about religion, prayer, and spirituality. When I’ve asked Quakers where they have felt close to God, I often hear Friends talk about a favorite place. As Friends, we know that we can have a relationship with God anywhere and anytime. We are less apt to identify a building as a holy place, or as “God’s house.” Often, when I’ve asked Friends to talk about where they feel closest to God, many name places in the natural world. They speak of the peace they feel by the seashore or in the mountains or the forest.

I am the same. I love the natural world. I’ve been fortunate, and I count my blessings. I can look out of the windows in my home in central Massachusetts and see the garden embraced by woods. Working in the garden takes my mind away from daily troubles, and I love seeing the results of my labor, but I feel more at peace when I look past the garden into the woods. God is the gardener for the woods.

The summers are becoming hotter. Sometimes there can be no rain for as long as two weeks. Last summer we had a drought, and by August the trees actually looked thirsty. There were several days when the air was still, the sun was hot, and predicted thunderstorms did not come.

A garden needs care even when it’s very hot. Phil and I wiped the sweat from our brows as we ripped out invasive forget-me-nots and talked about climate change. We wondered how the meager changes we’ve made in our household might help to save the earth for future generations.

Thinking about climate change can be depressing. When Friends tell me that in 30 years Manhattan will be flooded, or when I see photographs of polar bears on shrinking ice floes, it brings tears to my eyes. We write letters, make phone calls to legislators. We recycle, and take care to walk softly on the earth. More and more it seems that prayer and community are essential to the survival of life as we know it. Like many other Friends, we struggle not to be immobilized.

Working in the earth keeps Phil and me grounded. (The pun is intended.)

Last summer, as we were working in the garden, a slight breeze refreshed us. We took a break from our work, and I sat on the deck with a glass of iced tea. A hummingbird visited one of the flower boxes on the deck’s railing. I heard the familiar whirring sound of her wings. She perched, actually landed, on a red nicotiana five feet away from me, and she made a quiet joyful chirp! Then I heard her sip from the trumpet shaped flower. The slightly audible slurp sounded like a child with a straw, greedily enjoying the last drops of a milkshake.

Nature does not perform for us. The mysteries and miracles of life present themselves in unexpected ways. That summer afternoon, as I sat in silence, I heard two sounds that I had never heard before: the voice of a hummingbird and the lusty slurp as the tiny bird took nectar from the flower. I believe these small sounds reflect the joy and the miracle of the interdependence of life. This is God. Just by recalling the experience as I write, I feel refreshed and renewed. I was comforted that hot afternoon by the still, small voice that is available to us.

When I returned to the garden later that afternoon, I gave thanks for those plants that fellow gardeners had shared with us: columbine from Ginny, lily of the valley from Mike, lungwort from Renee, hydrangea from Pat, red daylilies from Tom and Riva, foam flowers from Suze, tall grass from Gerry, red dahlias from Barbara, and most recently, daisies from M.L. How can tending the garden feel like a tiresome chore when I am surrounded by f/Friends?

Every plant in a garden thrives because of the care of the gardeners. Friendships, like gardens, need care and maintenance. Let us make time to be fully present each moment—to attend to each other and to find joy in daily life.

My mother’s garden had a metal garden ornament that now has a place in ours. The once colorful paint on the picture has faded, and most of it has chipped away, but the words are still present:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on the earth.

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News, September 2017

Fri, 2017-09-01 02:05
New U.S. yearly meeting formed Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting (SCYM), a new Christ-centered, LGBTQ+ inclusive yearly meeting in the Pacific Northwest, was established on July 27, during annual sessions of Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) in Newberg, Ore., by Friends of four monthly meetings departing from NWYM as a result of its split announced earlier this year. As reported in the April 2017 issue News column of Friends Journal, NWYM has been contending with differing approaches to sexuality and gender among its monthly meetings since 2015. At that🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist

Fri, 2017-09-01 01:30
By Marcus Rediker. Beacon Press, 2017. 194 pages. $26.95/hardcover; $25.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Should readers choose to read this compelling biography—and those who see this review are hereby forewarned not to deny themselves that experience—they should approach it carefully, wearing asbestos gloves. It glows red hot, both in subject matter and its author’s approach.

Let’s deal with the author first. Not a Friend, Marcus Rediker is distinguished professor of Atlantic history at the University of Pittsburgh and an authority on slavery. But more important for our purposes, he follows the late British historian Christopher Hill, best known among Friends as author of the groundbreaking The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution. Hill depicted Quakers at the cutting edge of demands for upending the established order during the revolutionary period from the 1640s to 1660. Rediker picks up this stance and insists that the eighteenth-century Lay patterned his opposition to racial slavery after those early Friends and insisted that his contemporaries live up to the unfiltered Light implicit in their religion. Modern Friends seldom hear jeremiads like Lay’s in their meetings these days. Rediker’s work implies that we should.

Born in England in 1682, Lay was a third-generation Friend, a hunchback “little person” or dwarf a bit over four feet tall, and an “antinomian” in theology. (Antinomianism is the concept that a Christian, freed of sin by Christ’s grace, is not bound by outward laws; early Friends styled them “ranters,” a term applied to James Nayler, one of George Fox’s closest associates.) For a dozen years after 1703, Lay alternated between working as a sailor and living ashore in London and Barbados. At sea he observed the slave trade and its effects on both Africans and sailors; on land he regularly attending meeting and learned to distrust the ministry of the Society’s leading “Public Friends.” He publicly attacked such ministers, who were, he claimed, “preaching in their own words,” not God’s truth. When he would not promise to cease such affronts and be “tender” and “lowly,” Devonshire House Meeting disowned him.

In 1732, Lay and his wife, Sarah, moved to Philadelphia, Pa., with a certificate of removal because Devonshire House Meeting had finally accepted his apology, but that did not prevent controversy from lurking over the Lays’ credibility. The situation worsened because Benjamin unleashed diatribes against powerful Friends for owning slaves. He also embarked on tactics of what later generations would called guerilla theater: once in winter he stood at the meetinghouse door with his bare foot in the snow outside; when warned that he would catch his death of cold, he responded that slaves Quakers owned had no shoes at all. Two years after the Lays arrived, Philadelphia Monthly Meeting found obstructions with their transfer of membership and revoked it.

But Lay would not be silenced by the mere absence of membership, so, because Quaker meetings were open to all, he turned up again and again. In 1738, he appeared at one of the sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting itself, dressed in a great coat covering a military uniform, a sword, and a hollowed-out book resembling a Bible with a bladder of red pokeberry juice hidden inside. Rising to address this gathering of weighty and politically powerful Friends, he exclaimed that God was no respecter of persons and that slave-keeping was the world’s greatest sin. He ripped aside his coat, pulled out his sword, stabbed it through the book, spattering blood-like liquid among the assembled worthies, and boomed out that thus “God [would] shed the blood of those persons who enslave[d] their fellow creatures.” The same year, printer Benjamin Franklin published Lay’s book, All Slave-Keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates.

Lay’s radicalism shaded over into vegetarianism, and he championed animals, cave dwelling in the last years of his life, and making his own clothes. As he defended enslaved Africans, so he stood staunchly against the power of wealth and the influence of property among Friends. No wonder Abington Meeting, it seems, also disowned him. Although it is unclear when and how Lay joined another meeting after having been read out of Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, there must have been some evidence that Lay did just that. Rediker’s readable, well-researched biography should go a long way to reintroduce this red-hot Quaker to a new generation of Friends, unaccustomed to such levels of warmth in those they know.

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Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

Fri, 2017-09-01 01:25
By Michael Eric Dyson. St. Martin’s Press, 2017. 228 pages. $24.99/hardcover; $11.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Michael Eric Dyson earned his PhD in 1993, but had been ordained as a Baptist preacher 16 years earlier at the age of 19. Tears We Cannot Stop calls heavily on his preaching skills, as he explains early on in the book:

I don’t want to—really, I can’t afford to—give up on the possibility that white America can definitively, finally, hear from one black American preacher a plea, a cry, a sermon, from my heart to yours. If you’re interested in my social analysis and my scholarly reflections on race, I’ve written plenty of other books for you to read. I tried to make this book one of them, but in the end, I couldn’t . . . What I need to say can only be said as a sermon.

Dyson surrounds the sermon with all the standard elements of a Protestant church service: call to worship, hymns of praise, invocation, scripture reading, benediction, offering plate, prelude to service, and closing prayer. The hymns are drawn from music of modern artists such as KRS-One, Lauryn Hill, Tupac Shakur, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Kendrick Lamar. He also uses their work as part of a social justice course he teaches at Georgetown University. The scripture readings are from the writings of Martin Luther King Jr.

The preacher begins his sermon by talking about whiteness—not as a biological reality, but as a designation of that part of society with power and privilege over those who are not regarded as white. He notes, “the paradox is that even though whiteness is not real it is still true. I mean true as a force to be reckoned with.” He illustrates the power of whiteness with stories from his own life and recent events such as the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson verdicts.

He next addresses five dysfunctional ways that those regarded as white respond when confronted with the reality that whiteness is simultaneously artificial and powerful. One such response is willful ignorance of how whiteness has caused black suffering—for example, by means of employment discrimination, segregated and inferior housing and education, and racial profiling in the criminal justice system that makes life dangerous and expensive for many people of color and results in their mass incarceration. A second response is forgetting or dismissing the nation’s racist history and its present-day impact. A third is appropriating black culture without having to endure the oppression that helped form that culture. A fourth is historical revisionism—for example, with respect to the causes of the U.S. Civil War or the impact of slavery on the enslaved. The fifth is the dilution of black struggles by making white individuals the heroes of those struggles.

The sermon also describes dysfunctional ways that black people sometimes respond to white racism. Using examples from his own family, he shows how anti-black racism leads to colorism—the favoring of lighter skin over darker—among many people of color. Concerned with how law enforcement gives greater scrutiny and responds more harshly to black misconduct, some black people punish their own children harshly in an effort to prepare them for the world they will face.

The preacher/professor seeks to help white people find constructive responses to the pain (sometimes called “white fragility”) that they often feel when they come to understand the damage that whiteness inflicts on people of color. He describes how he helps his Georgetown University students of all ethnicities both to understand the pain of racism and to explore how best to respond to it.

The “Benediction” section offers a variety of constructive ways to respond. The author acknowledges that reparations is unlikely to be adopted as national policy, but offers practical suggestions on how individuals might do reparations on a personal basis. Individuals can engage black people to perform services for them and pay them slightly better or tip them more generously than normal. They can give scholarships to deserving black students that they know. He suggests establishing an I.R.A., an “Individual Reparations Account,” to fund creative efforts to support the education of individual black people.

Dyson provides an extensive bibliography that can educate us about black history, life, and culture. He encourages white readers who do become educated to educate other white people and become advocates for racial justice. He also recommends visiting black people in schools, jails, and churches. He believes these practices will lead to empathy for people formerly regarded as “other.” He concludes, “The siege of hate will not end until white folk imagine themselves as black folk—vulnerable despite our virtues.”

The post Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America appeared first on Friends Journal.

What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars

Fri, 2017-09-01 01:20
By David Wood. Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 291 pages. $28/hardcover; $14.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

“War is Hell.” —General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1879

War has probably existed as long as humankind has existed. And contrary to what some believe, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and moral injury have existed as well. There are records of Roman soldiers after 30 years of service becoming homeless, unable to fit into their culture. The Napoleonic wars have stories of veterans coming home with voices in their heads, committing suicide, and abusing spouses.

David Wood, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has covered war for more than 35 years, has written a thoughtful book about the human cost of war from the soldier’s and the soldier’s family’s points of view. Wood is a compelling writer telling a grim tale about moral injury and its ripple effect in American society today thanks to the never-ending wars in the Middle East. But it is not a book for the fainthearted. He includes several graphic stories about war from men and women or their families who participated in the U.S. military. And a few from his own experience covering wars as a reporter.

His point of view, however, is not the usual “Rah, rah. They sacrificed so much. They are heroes.” In fact, he calls out that superficial patriotic support of members of the military for what it is: feel-good patriotism with no real support for the veterans and their families that still suffer from the actions the military takes in our names. In fact, although he’s no longer an active Friend, Wood’s Quaker upbringing peeks out from time to time in his writing—he comments early on about “paying for war” in a way that tips his hand. But it is primarily his journalism skills that shine through in this book, telling individual stories to illustrate various points.

To an extent, What Have We Done is a history of how moral injury became such a large part of the damage of war today. Wood discusses the history of changes in the training of members of the military so that they can kill without thought. And he talks about how that has resulted in an increase of moral injury. He follows the attempts of the military to “resolve” the problem as though, if they gave the right words to members of the military, the issues of PTSD and moral injury would go away or at least lessen to a manageable amount. But it is also a showcase of both the pain and heroism of members of the military and how those connect to each American:

Like it or not, fair or unfair, we are all connected by the wars.

Now what?

Let’s set aside the question of war itself. Like many others, I have considered the idea that killing and destruction are something we should never under any circumstances impose on others. . . . My earlier life as a Quaker and conscientious objector and my experience in war strongly tempt me in this direction. Yes, for a long time I found war captivating. But the man who writhed and bled and died in front of me long ago in a dusty village . . . reminds me it is not [thrilling and meaningful]. It is also true that in war I have seen individual acts of breathtaking generosity and quiet nobility. But from a larger perspective, it’s clear that good rarely comes out of war.

These are words that resonate with most Friends. We can see that we are connected to war and that good rarely comes out of war. But, “Now what?”

Wood does conclude the book with a solution. Not a solution for all mankind as so many books try to do, but a solution for this particular problem. The answer is very much the same as that of Friends and others working in this field: to listen.

Wood omits, however, a large part of that story: the work of Rita Nakashima Brock to bring the issues of moral injury to the faith community, which so often is the last refuge for those who are broken. In 2010 Brock led a “Truth Commission on Conscience in War” at Riverside Church in New York City, where I was honored to be one of many to speak about the harm of war to the people who fight them. She went on to write Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War in 2012 about the need for spiritual healing. She played a large role in the recognition of moral injury, but was never part of the military world and so was overlooked by many. She is the current senior vice president for moral injury programs at Volunteers of America. There are many who followed her lead to work with veterans in art, such as Tara Tappert at the Arts and the Military project at George Washington University and listening projects such as Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School in Texas, which trains ministers and others in how to listen to veterans to help them heal. Including this part of the story may well have cast a different light on the work of those of us who oppose war. We are people willing to help the warriors but not glorify the war.

Still, Wood gets it right: Don’t pretend to understand what the person has gone through. Admit that you will never completely understand but want to hear more. Don’t say you are sorry or glibly say, “Thank you for your service.” Don’t say it wasn’t worth it. Don’t judge. Just listen.

Listening was never for the faint of heart.

The post What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars appeared first on Friends Journal.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World

Fri, 2017-09-01 01:15
By Peter Wohlleben. Greystone Books, 2016. 251 pages. $24.95/hardcover; $24.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

“After you’ve read Wohlleben’s book, a walk in the woods will never be the same.” That’s what it says on the cover of The Hidden Life of Trees, and it is so very true. I look at the woods that surround our home in Vermont and I recognize the intelligence that resides in the trees that are so bountiful. Did you know that during the winter pine trees insert anti-freeze into their needles so that the freezing temperatures don’t destroy those needles? Did you know that in some tree species the mother tree actually looks out for her offspring by nurturing and protecting them?

Wohlleben doesn’t anthropomorphize the lives of trees. Their intelligence is very different from ours. But they do have a form of intelligence. Each species has its own way of propagating and surviving hard times. Some even move to new locations. Wohlleben writes:

Trees can’t walk. Everyone knows that. Be that as it may, they need to hit the road somehow. But how can they do this without feet? The answer lies in the transition to the next generation. . . . Some species are in a big hurry. They equip their offspring with fine hairs so that they can drift off on the next wind, light as a feather. . . . [Some] enter into an alliance with the animal world. Mice, squirrels, and jays love oily, starchy seeds. They tuck them into the forest floor as winter provisions.

I was fascinated by the myriad of ways that trees have adapted to changing climate, human development, storms, and other big interferences with their habitat. But sometimes they succumb to those interferences. And sometimes, even with humans’ best intentions, they have to struggle to survive. It’s wonderful to have trees in our cities. But according to Wohlleben, they don’t reach their full potential since their roots are often struggling to grow in the compacted soil that surrounds them. Sometimes they don’t have the trees of the same species that they depend on in the forest. Therefore they’re “lonely,” not receiving the nurture and protections of their cousins like they would get in their natural environment.

Wohlleben spent 20 years working for the forestry commission in Germany. He now runs an environmentally friendly woodland, where he works for the return of primeval forest. His extraordinary knowledge of, love of, and respect for trees is evident in every page. I know that what I’ve learned from him will help me as I consider the care of the trees in our woods. I already felt a new camaraderie as I inspected our fruit trees today. I know I will feel a kinship with trees I never felt before.

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Discovering Humor in the Bible: An Explorer’s Guide

Fri, 2017-09-01 01:10
By Howard R. Macy. Cascade Books, 2016. 140 pages. $19/paperback or eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

Quakers have a tradition dating back at least to the mid-twentieth century of writing gently comedic books. Jessamyn West filled her 1945 The Friendly Persuasion with homespun humor (think of Jess hiding the forbidden piano in his attic), and Elton Trueblood‘s 1964 The Humor of Christ brought laughter into the nonfiction world. More recent writers in the humorous Quaker vein include Philip Gulley and J. Brent Bill, among others—and now, Howard Macy with Discovering Humor in the Bible.

Macy expands Trueblood’s focus on comedy from Jesus to the entire Bible, finding ribaldry in stories that might not at first glance look laugh-out-loud funny, such as Sarah conceiving Isaac in her 90s, Tamar seducing her father-in-law, or—yes—the often grim book of Job.

Macy calls his book a “field guide,” similar to a guide for identifying birds, and by that he means he will describe cues that might indicate a Bible story is funny. These include “surprise,” “exaggeration,” and “imagining them smiling” (“them” being the writers and early hearers of the stories). Macy’s explanations are clear and laced with humor; he writes, for example, that “life insurance must cost [the risk-taking biblical court jester] a bundle.” As a bonus, his book happens to provide an apt outline of what bring out the laughs in any story, not just one from the Bible.

The book represents the Quaker comedic strain well, illustrating that homespun humor continues to thrive among Friends.

Before the nineteenth century, however, the prevailing voice in Quaker writing was both intense and sincere. George Fox wasn’t joking when he warned the Turks they would burn in hell, and John Woolman didn’t find rib-tickling humor in the plight of the American slave—nor did he treat his own possible enslavement at the hands of the Indians as a light-hearted comic caper.

Jane Eyre as “plain, Quakerish governess” typified much of the nineteenth-century British view of Friends, who’d gone from being painted as dangerous radicals to the “pure lilies” of Charles Lamb’s early nineteenth-century nostalgic essay “The Quakers’ Meeting.”

Nostalgia began to take over too in American non-Friends’ depictions of Quakers as representing the pure spirit of early Americans, presumably against the immigrants increasingly entering the country from places other than England. It’s not surprising that the nostalgia leaked into Friends’ own self-depictions and that the homespun humor of the modern Quaker fiction was born.

This brings us back to Macy’s book. The bulk of it indexes comic chapter and verse in different parts of the Bible, which Macy invites us to reread with new eyes. Macy includes humor in Genesis and Judges, Esther, the Prophets, the Wisdom books, stories about David and other Hebrew Bible favorites, and then moves into humorous stories from the New Testament.

As Macy generously notes, he’s not the first to detect comedy in Bible tales we tend to read as straight, yet his book serves as a useful reminder, in an age of Bible literalism, that the Bible is a grab bag of styles and genres, of the real and the fanciful, the poetic and the prosaic. It is a work of spiritually inspired art rather than a grimly literal history of God’s presence in the world. As Macy suggests, the authors of the Bible did understand metaphor, word play, and genre. As Dava Sobel points out in Galileo’s Daughter, even seventeenth-century Roman Catholic inquisitors knew that a reference to the four corners of the earth wasn’t meant to be taken literally. With the Bible still so much in a tug of war between those who read it as deadly serious literal truth and those who reject it too passionately, it’s good to have Macy’s reminder that we can all lighten up.

At the same time, as Macy notes, humor encompasses both the homespun and the sharply satiric—and thus maybe the sharply satiric, even if unsettling rather than domesticating, can find a home in Quaker writing. Friends Journal readers may also be interested in the 2016 Quakers and Literature, a collection of essays edited by James W. Hood and volume 3 in the series Quakers and the Disciplines, published by Friends Association for Higher Education (reviewed in the November 2016 issue of Friends Journal).

The post Discovering Humor in the Bible: An Explorer’s Guide appeared first on Friends Journal.

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

Fri, 2017-09-01 01:05
By Anne Lamott. Riverhead Books, 2017. 176 pages. $20/hardcover; $22/paperback; $10.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

“I’m not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the divine and the human: the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is, too.”

Two guys are fixtures in my neighborhood. A handsome Jamaican, with a ready smile and warm greeting, sells me the New York Times every morning at my subway stop. I reward his industry with a big tip and get a fist bump in return.

The disabled panhandler on a nearby corner accosts everyone in reach of his electric scooter at any time of the day. His disposition is as sour as his face is pasty. No matter how often or how much I contribute, he reacts like I’m a giving machine.

First there’s love; then the love gets tougher.

Thus, Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy is like a mirror in which I can view this charitable two-step. The prophet Micah’s query is her agony and ecstasy: “What doth God require of thee but to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God?”

The book consists of mountains—a trip to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, a young friend’s suicide, AA confessions, reports from the Hunger Project in Senegal; and molehills—fishing by her father’s side, experiments with tadpoles, shopping at Zoologie, envy of a colleague, a public speaking gaffe; with meditations in between—on Jonah, the prodigal son; Ruth, the good Samaritan; Lazarus, the thorn in Paul’s side; and the prostitute who gave Jesus water from a well.

Lamott hangs her hat on mercy, but her spiritual coat rack also displays sympathy, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, charity, kindness, and grace.

In nine short chapters, she packs more metaphoric punches than Muhammad Ali floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. The beginning of the book is slow going until you get her prose poem’s rhythm and rhyme. Her narrative proceeds neither by chronology nor logic but by free association akin to Jung’s symbolism of everyday life rather than Freud’s dream analysis.

You can dip your toe anywhere in Lamott’s literary waters and feel in touch with the whole ocean of her thoughts. So moving are the author’s words that, by fining me for every tear I shed on Halleluah Anyway’s pages, my library could afford to build a new wing.

To say “I’m kidding” is to invoke one of Lamott’s principal rules: Every time you hit readers on the head with a weighty insight, relieve their burden with a joke about how to lose weight. In other words, one good metaphor begets another, even if her wisdom is as bittersweet as the darkest chocolate.

Try “What if we know that forgiveness and mercy are what heal and restore and define us, that they actually are the fragrance that the rose leaves on the heel that crushes it?” Or “My humility can kick your humility’s butt.” And how about “Trauma . . . seeps out of us as warnings of worse to come.” Another of my favorites: “I often recall the New Yorker cartoon of one dog saying to the other: ‘It’s not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.’”

Just as recited poetry resounds in the ear before making sense to the mind, Lamott often stumps us with her Zen-like koans. Reviewers have called her “an icon of blessed imperfection” bearing “a conflicted message for a conflicted world.” She responds, “I’m the world’s worst Christian.” (Now that’s humility!)

Quakers will respond favorably to the way she weaves together the sacred and the profane. Lamott doesn’t swear oaths because she’s a seeker more than a refuge-taker. She characterizes her sermons as “Jesusy”—a relief for those of us who are spiritual fellow travelers rather than innkeepers of the faith—and gains solace from nature and science. Her words won’t let you center down easily for worship nor will they fit comfortably in a catechism.

But Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Famous” serves as an epigraph: “The loud voice is famous to the silence, / which knew it would inherit the earth / before anybody said so.”

The author of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith; Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith; Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith; and Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Lamott keeps good company with such women seers as Maya Angelou, Julia Cameron, Edwidge Danticat, Annie Dillard, Shakti Gawain, Natalie Goldberg, Sue Monk Kidd, Maxine Hong Kingston, Caroline Myss, Nancy Mairs, Ann Patchett, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and Marilynne Robinson. (I’m partial to the feminine mystique.)

However, she possesses a unique sense of humor that’s sharp as a razor and will make you cry as her epiphanies pour like rain on a desert of disbelief.

The post Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy appeared first on Friends Journal.

Homegoing: A Novel and The Underground Railroad: A Novel

Fri, 2017-09-01 01:00
Homegoing: A Novel. By Yaa Gyasi. Knopf, 2016. 320 pages. $26.95/hardcover; $16/paperback; $11.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks The Underground Railroad: A Novel. By Colson Whitehead. Doubleday, 2016. 320 pages. $26.95/hardcover; $27/paperback; $13.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

As a history teacher, I find the real world the greatest story of all. In recent years, however, I have come to appreciate how fiction can help us gain a new perspective and spark our imagination as we work to shape this real world. As a black woman, I have appreciated the many stories in recent years that have given us a window into the lives that my enslaved ancestors endured. After I saw the film 12 Years a Slave, I sat and sobbed in my car, so grateful for my life and committed to living in a way that truly honors the dreams of those who paved the way. Both Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi and The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead similarly bring us face to face with our history, however we define that—ethnic, national, or global. Whitehead writes in Underground Railroad that “Nobody wanted to speak on the true disposition of the world. And no one wanted to hear it.” Both Whitehead and Gyasi are brave souls willing to show us the extent to which we are shaped by our history, whether or not we want to hear it, because only by facing our past can we build a different future.

Homegoing beautifully weaves together the stories of one African family through two separate branches of their family tree, beginning with half-sisters in eighteenth-century Ghana. One marries a British officer and lives in the Cape Coast Castle, while the other is shackled in the dungeon below the castle as she waits to be shipped to the United States. Each chapter is from a new character’s perspective, always moving forward a generation through alternating branches of the family tree. In Ghana we learn about the pain that war and slavery inevitably bring, the challenges of lives that are guided by custom, and counterproductive missionary work. In the United States we bear witness to slavery, the beginnings of mass incarceration during Reconstruction, the difficulty of finding housing and employment during the Great Migration, and the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. The book speaks meaningfully to the impact of one generation on the next while also showing the power of individuals to break the cycles into which they were born.

Homegoing is excellent historical fiction. Gyasi took great care to research each of the periods that serve as the backdrops to chapters of the book. In her presentation of this history, she has chosen to include a fair amount of attention to the role that Africans played in the slave trade and to the fact that African families would use and abuse those enslaved from other ethnic groups, particularly those captured in war. Some people have deduced from this focus of the book that Americans need not be ashamed of our own history of slavery. Gyasi takes great pains to make it clear that that is not her point. She gives Ghanaian characters close to the slave trade dialogue such as, “The way they treat the slaves in America . . . It is unfathomable. Unfathomable. We do not have slavery like that here. Not like that.” Later, another Ghanaian character recognizes that, “Everyone was responsible. We all were . . . we all are.” Gyasi’s point is not that anyone should feel guilty about slavery, or any other periods of our history, but that we must acknowledge the impact of history on the contemporary world.

As Homegoing travels through time, The Underground Railroad travels through space. Its protagonist, Cora, escapes slavery and visits, via a literal underground railroad, different places across the United States, each of which Whitehead has said represents a different set of possibilities. Cora begins in Georgia, where she suffers the cruelties of slavery, then visits South Carolina with its “mission of colored uplift, especially for those with aptitude,” then goes to North Carolina where they clarify that they have not abolished slavery but “abolished n*ggers,” by literally forcing them out, and then Indiana where she finds a community of blacks caring for each other while knowing that their success infuriates the whites around them. A friend of mine recently shared that she believes that everyone should read Underground Railroad before Homegoing in order to fully appreciate it. I think she’s spot on. After reading the meticulous historical detail of Homegoing, the intentional playing with history that Underground Railroad engages in feels less true. When I recently reread Underground Railroad without Homegoing’s chronology in my head, I appreciated the genius of its language and imagery for the first time and understood why it deserved the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Perhaps one of the most telling passages in The Underground Railroad comes as Cora sets out on her journey. She is directed to “Look outside as you speed through [the tunnels of the underground railroad], and you’ll find the true face of America.” When she looks out, she sees “only darkness, mile after mile.” That seems to be the thesis of the book—there is no escape from slavery and its legacy of racism and brutality. Throughout the United States, Cora finds only white supremacy. It comes in the form of condescension with a smile, derogatory language, and the refusal to acknowledge her humanity. Over the course of her journey, she sees black bodies being used for research, for population control, and ultimately, their corpses hung up as warning. At one point Cora determines that “there [a]re no places to escape to, only places to flee.” She seems to represent Whitehead’s reflections on not only a distinct period of American history but also the world he faces today.

As Gyasi and Whitehead “speak on the true disposition of the world,” they illuminate the tunnel of history for their readers. Each book has a scene in which a sanitized version of slavery is performed for a white audience. In The Underground Railroad this includes Cora sitting at a spinning wheel as a human exhibit in the Museum of Natural Wonders, and in Homegoing there is a jazz show in which actors portraying enslaved men sing about how lazy they are and how lucky they are to have such generous masters. These scenes serve as reminders that we may not want to see the ugliness of our past, but the false stories we tell ourselves are laughable. Toward the end of each book, the authors explicitly acknowledge that the tension between blacks and whites in the United States comes from the cumulative history explored in these works. In Homegoing there is a character who “was forever talking about slavery, the prison labor complex, the System, segregation, the Man. [He] had a deep-seated hatred of white people,” while Underground Railroad simply states, “The Great War had always been between the white and the black. It always would be.” We cannot recognize continuing revelation without leaning into discomfort.

Ultimately, both stories offer the hope of a better future, for those in their imagined worlds and for those of us in this real one. They have storylines that demonstrate how often we are driven by fear, but also storylines that feature the power of love to change the course of history. There are no innocent bystanders in these books; they demand that we understand the significance of the agency that we each possess. We must acknowledge the past, mourn for its darkness, and then build a world of light as we answer that of God in every one.

The post Homegoing: A Novel and The Underground Railroad: A Novel appeared first on Friends Journal.

David Marshall Culp Jr.

Fri, 2017-09-01 00:20
Culp—David Marshall Culp Jr., on February 6, 2017, in his apartment on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. David was born on March 15, 1950, in Huntington, Ind., and during his time in Indiana he lobbied the state legislature to preserve the environment. He moved to Washington in the late ’80s and worked tirelessly on reducing the threat of nuclear weapons for Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), where he was lead lobbyist on nuclear disarmament. His passion for this work and for protecting the outdoors informed his life. He🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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