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The Gathered Meeting

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:40
By Steven Davison. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 444), 2017. 34 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

The first time I read Steven Davison’s pamphlet my heart leapt and I said, “Yes!” The second time I read it, I wept. Why the difference? The first time I united with Davison’s proclamation that the gathered meeting is “one of the great gifts we have to offer the world.” The second time I realized the truth of his acknowledgment that too many Friends have never experienced a gathered meeting and have no idea what they—and we—are missing.

Drawing on Thomas Kelly, William Taber, Patricia Loring, and his own deep experience, Davison brings us along from a description of a gathered meeting, through his own transforming experience of such a meeting, to the essential elements of a gathered meeting and its necessity to our faith as a religious society, and finally to a discussion of what we can do to encourage its more frequent occurrence.

Just what is a gathered meeting? A meeting in which “we experience what we seek as a religious community: inward confirmation in our personal faith, collective unity of purpose in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a profound sense of the Presence.” Davison describes these attributes present in a gathered meeting: energy, presence, knowledge, unity, joy, and holy communion.

Davison’s own most memorable gathered meeting occurred in 1991 at the Quaker consultation in Richmond, Ind., on “Quaker Treasure: What Do We Hold in Trust Together?” Not only did members of the diverse group find themselves in agreement on four essentials of Quaker faith and practice, but were “swept along” to a much fuller agreement. He remembers a “great surge of joy” and a “profound gratitude.” What held it all together was love.

It is encouraging that there are things we can do, individually and as a meeting, to prepare ourselves for the possibility of being gathered. Encourage Friends to sit closer together, perhaps by roping off the back benches. Have “reasonably comfortable seating and climate control.” Recognize that it takes about 20 minutes for a group to center, and this time is extended by latecomers trickling in. It helps to have all latecomers enter at once to shorten the time of disturbance. There is a great deal that individuals can do to prepare for being present in worship. An important practice Sunday morning before meeting is keeping the mind focused on the Spirit by devotional reading and centering at home. Listening to the news or reading the paper distracts from deeply centering, as does being rushed. If those with a concern for the depth of worship are able to come early and begin the worship, that helps. Once in worship, an impulse to speak should be checked by inwardly asking if this message deepens worship or brings folks up toward the surface. Pray for the meeting, that Friends be gathered, that love be experienced by all who are present. Ultimately, of course, a meeting is gathered by a power higher than ourselves, called the Spirit of Christ by earlier Friends. Don’t let the name of the gatherer be a stumbling block. Be open to experience the Love in which and by which the meeting can be gathered.

Davison rightly concludes that the gift of being gathered, whether in a meeting for worship or for business, is our best outreach tool. It is the essence of who we are. If we experience it, we will be changed; if visitors experience it, they are likely to return to taste it again. Young Friends, having experienced it in their home meetings, will be drawn back by more than sentimentality.

Davison concludes with a short bibliography and five discussion questions. It would be good if every Friend read and pondered this pamphlet, and if every Ministry and Counsel Committee studied it carefully and considered implementing its suggestions.

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Coming to Light: Cultivating Spiritual Discernment through the Quaker Clearness Committee

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:35
By Valerie Brown. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 446), 2017. 27 pages. $7/pamphlet. Buy from QuakerBooks

In this short pamphlet, Valerie Brown introduces readers to the Quaker clearness committee, shares personal stories of how they have worked in her own life, and deepens the discussion into the spiritual development and formation that can result.

That’s a lot to do in 27 pages. Brown does it by starting with an acknowledgement of other existing Quaker writings on the clearness committee, which she quotes at various points. She describes briefly the development and traditional use of clearness committees for membership in and marriage under the care of a monthly meeting.

And then the fun begins. It is effective and enjoyable to learn through stories, and Brown tells stories of her own clearness committee experiences. She also recounts using the process during her training and later in her work in Center for Courage and Renewal workshops.

Coming to Light is user-friendly in several ways. Many readers are familiar with Quaker usage of ordinary English words to describe experiences in a way that is peculiar to our worship. “Waiting” and “watchfulness,” for instance, mean something different in a Quaker context, and Brown offers definitions here. Brown does use the word “God” in her writing. She does this early on, and as a reader I found it helpful to know what she meant: “For me as a Quaker and a Buddhist, God is a Spirit of Oneness; the Light or Seed Within All Things; the Energy of Compassion, Love, Understanding, and Peace.” Since this appears on page two, it helped me frame the rest of Brown’s words.

Following that is a section of the elements of the clearness committee; here is a lengthy discussion of querying, deep listening, and the role of silence. In fact, Brown even describes how a chair is placed in the circle and left empty for the presence of silence in a Courage and Renewal clearness committee. It is a powerful reminder of the role of silence: it does what no words can do in holding a space and gathering us in. It becomes holy, and so do we when we mind its power.

Early on, Brown tells us that “the clearness committee supports individual discernment within a living community” and that discernment “arises from faithfulness, unfolding over time as you cultivate your own inner spiritual landscape and relationship with God.” We come to “determine what is truly from God,” see “where God has shaped your life,” and “notice emerging patterns that might bring you closer to God.”

Since the point of clearness for discernment is no less than this, our Friends who query and listen to us are well to feel free from the desire to advise, fix, or offer help. It is here where Brown’s discussion of querying, deep listening, and silence is most helpful. Her words empower us to use this “counter-cultural” tool in ways that honor our commitment—and ability—to gather in the Spirit. As she says, because of the “intensity of presence that is the hallmark of the clearness committee,” it is possible for “committee members [to] perceive whether their own interior movement is aligned with others’ interior movement; they sense God palpably present.”

Brown includes a brief description of times in a person’s life when it is helpful to use the clearness committee and a sample format. The writing is 27 pages, but on pages 28–34 are appendices covering guidelines for asking questions, additional guidelines called “touchstones” from the Center for Courage and Renewal, reflection queries for pamphlet discussion, and endnotes.

If you think that such a short pamphlet is a sprint through a weighty subject, you will be happily surprised by this pamphlet. By treating several aspects briefly, Brown sets aside a large proportion of her text for describing the things that make clearness committees work: querying, deep listening, and silence. This short format is a gift to those of us who need introduction, teaching, and reminding. Brown’s words have power, and so does the practice she invites us to.

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Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:30
By Iris Graville. Homebound Publications, 2017. 260 pages. $17.95/paperback; eBook coming December 2017. Buy from QuakerBooks

This wonderful memoir tells the story of a Quaker woman and her family as they leave city life behind and seek a simpler life deep in the mountains east of Seattle, Wash. Burned out after years of nursing and seemingly fruitless public health interventions, Iris Graville retreats with her husband, Jerry, and their 13-year-old twin son and daughter to an isolated lake deep in the North Cascade Mountains. Her family looks for adventure. She finds solace in the lush landscape, quiet dirt roads, baking, and writing.

The “hiking naked” part of the story does not refer to the like-minded sporting groups you can find online, but to the moment a year earlier when Graville realized she needed to change her life. Hot and exhausted as she and Jerry hike high into the mountains on their yearly getaway alone together, their twins happily staying with a grandmother, Graville stops and wonders if she can walk another step. Slowly she rounds a bend and sees her husband standing there, waiting for her, naked and grinning. It is her sign, and the metaphor for her journey to come—to lighten up, count her blessings, let go of heavy baggage, and hold on to what really matters.

Stehekin—a Salish word that means “the way through”—becomes their next stop together. A tiny community of 85 residents, the village is accessible only by boat, floatplane, or hiking. The kids become the seventh-graders of the one-room schoolhouse. Jerry becomes the bus driver. Iris becomes a baker, bicycling to work in the early morning darkness on the dirt road down to the village. Hours off fill with chores—chopping wood, repairing plumbing, and cooking—punctuated by trail hikes and cross-country skiing.

Food is planned a week ahead, the handwritten list sent by ferry down the lake to the friendly grocer, who sends the boxes back in a day or two. Occasionally a black bear wanders into the backyard; winter snow piles up against the windows; a forest fire threatens to sweep down into the valley; and a spring flood strands them for three days—nature’s way of reminding them of their powerlessness. Trees fall onto power lines, leaving some evenings brightened only by candles and kerosene lamps. With no phone, no TV, no Internet, the family embraces old entertainments anew. They read books, play board games, learn to juggle, make block prints for Christmas, and write letters to friends and family.

Graville embraces this rustic life as a way to simplify—leave behind the noise of highways, crowded urban streets, and schools with hundreds of students. Most important, though, she knows she needs to let go of 20 years of anxieties about her job, in particular, her fears of inadequacy in the face of the overwhelming human needs of her patients.

A practicing Quaker, she feels at home in the deep quiet of the woods. When the summer tourists leave and the bakery closes for the winter, she uses the silent days to write in her journal, waiting for “the still, small voice” as in Quaker meeting, seeking insight into the past that had tied her in knots, and writing her way into a calling to come. As she “attends to what is important”—the tasks of family life in a small, close-knit community and her times alone—she discovers that “the smallest touch, the briefest contact, the quietest diligence can make a difference—can change the course of a river.”

In the end, through solitude amidst the pines, family support, and deep friendships old and new, she finds a spiritual footing to carry her into her next chapter. Their family will move to Lopez Island off the coast of Washington state, larger and more developed than Stehekin but offering similar kinds of quiet and leadings through natural beauty.

And Graville will continue to write. Her essay “Seeking Clearness with Work Transitions” was published in the February 2015 issue of Friends Journal. She has also published the award-winning Hands at Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work with Their Hands; and Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community. Now, she publishes Shark Reef literary magazine. This eloquent memoir shows the move to Stehekin was indeed her “way through” to her new calling as a writer.

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Faithful Sexuality

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:28
By the Working Party on Spirituality and Sexual Ethics. New England Yearly Meeting, 2016. 68 pages. $10/pamphlet; free PDF available at neym.org. Buy from QuakerBooks

At the end of August, a group of evangelicals published a document referred to as “The Nashville Statement,” which explicitly reaffirmed the authors’ orthodox, exclusionary sexual norms and went to the trouble of explicitly disavowing acceptance of any transgender identities. The release of such a document makes “Faithful Sexuality,” a report from New England Yearly Meeting’s Working Party on Spirituality and Sexual Ethics, all the more important in our nation’s debate around sexuality and gender.

In the twentieth century, there have been a few formal efforts to help with discernment for Friends on issues related to sexuality. The approaches have been squarely centered in the equality testimony in that recommendations tend to focus on full inclusion of Friends previously excluded in some way, such as gay and lesbian Quakers and, more recently, transgender Friends. The most widely known example of this is Towards a Quaker View of Sex, a report published by the Friends Home Service Committee of London Yearly Meeting in 1963 that focused primarily on the rising acknowledgement of homosexuality among Quakers in Britain.

In my own lifetime (b. 1980), the sexuality issue I most clearly recall being discussed among Friends is marriage of same-sex couples in meetings. While the dust has mostly settled among liberal unprogrammed Quakers, the issue is not actually dead: more conservative monthly and yearly meetings continue to grapple with homosexuality; recently, the conflict has led to several dramatic splits in yearly meetings. The Nashville Statement makes clear that in many other faith traditions, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals—as well as those who engage in any sexual behavior outside of heterosexual marriage—are unequal and, unless they choose a life of chastity, unwelcome.

Despite the absence of overt rules about sex and sexuality among Friends, New England Yearly Meeting’s young adult Friends community in 2005 formally asked the yearly meeting to take up the question of “What defines a positive and spiritual sexual relationship?” In 2007 NEYM formed a working party to discern answers to this question, and “Faithful Sexuality” is a report on the party’s work over a period of eight years.

Quakers in the United States represent a wide spectrum of values and beliefs about sexuality, sex, and gender. NEYM’s document reflects and will resonate most with those who are liberal. It takes as a given the equality of gender and sexual orientation; that discrimination against people for their sexual identity is not acceptable; and that a variety of forms of sexual expression can be part of normal, healthy, and spiritual relationships.

I particularly appreciated the statements from NEYM monthly meetings about their own discernment processes; these should be instructive to meetings wondering where a process of wrestling with issues related to sexuality and inclusion might take them. While many Friends meetings are havens for those who have been excluded from and wounded by religion because of their sexuality and/or gender identity, the Nashville Statement spells out the ways in which many people—heterosexual and cohabiting, LGBT and not celibate, or trans—may continue to experience exclusion, discrimination, and hurt in their faith communities.

The report demonstrates many years of discernment and work, and is an affirmation of shared liberal values on a spectrum of issues that individuals and meetings might confront related to sexuality and relationships. Given that this document was prepared by members of an unprogrammed, liberal yearly meeting who self-selected into a group to discuss sexuality, I wish that the language used throughout was fully inclusive: cis-normative terms such as “man” and “woman” appear where non-gendered terms could’ve easily been used to make the text inclusive of all who might read it.

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Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:26
By Krista Tippett. Penguin Press, 2016. 288 pages. $28/hardcover; $17/paperback; $12.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

“I’m a person who listens for a living. . . . This book chronicles some of what I’ve learned.” These are a few of the introductory words written by someone who to many Friends may not need introduction. The voices she listens to are her conversation companions in her popular and award-winning radio program On Being. She is the author of the best-selling Speaking of Faith and Einstein’s God.

The narrative of this book knits together excerpts from conversations she has had with a broad variety of partners—in an appendix she lists more than 200. From Tippett’s many conversations she has selected just five “breeding grounds for wisdom” around which she structures her often personal narrative.

Words. Naming things and concepts brings their essence into being, and we are ready for fresh language to approach each other. The word “tolerance,” for instance, no longer reaches far enough; it is too small an idea for our present time. “The point of learning to speak together differently,” she says, “is learning to live together differently,” not merely tolerating. This chapter explores a variety of aspects of the art and skill of truly listening conversations, and Tippett provides excellent examples of how asking incisive and animating questions is a particularly powerful use of words. In these and five more excerpted conversations that appear in the chapter’s endnotes, she lucidly pieces together an astonishing variety of insights.

The body. Mind and spirit join physicality into one inseparable whole. One of the conversations shines an illuminating light on the Jewish concept of the soul as not preexistent but emergent, formed only through physicality and relational experience: “We need our bodies to claim our souls,” she says. Another of the conversational excerpts is an exploration of the worldwide L’Arche communities, illuminating the ways in which the creation of support networks for those with mental disabilities illustrates this spirit–body wholeness, able-bodied and handicapped striving to share each other’s lives. Still another pointed out that Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am” is too cerebral, and should be “I feel, therefore I am”—we must not just think our existence but feel it.

Love. The conversations excerpted here are searches for the strength and resilience behind a word that for Tippett is the most watered-down in the language. It’s not just a feeling but a way of being—searching in “the quiet spaces of the everyday in which we live and move and have our being.” It also involves accepting the difficult task of appealing to the goodness in every human being and never giving up. The reality of this idea has been nowhere more forcefully and personally experienced than by the former civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis of Alabama. Another person interviewed claims that love is “like dark matter, this force that permeates everything.”

Faith. The subtitle of this chapter is “The Evolution.” Truly living faith evolves from a childhood fear of not measuring up, through successive stages toward a mature faith: learning to reckon with the mysteries that make life life. The origins of a deeper and sturdier mature faith are to be found in wondering, and this more or less sums up the diverse ways interviewees saw their evolving faith. Tippett sees a remarkable growth of mature faith: centering prayer, spiritual direction, retreats, and meditation are becoming mainstream as never before. There is frequent exploration—nimbly sidestepping clichés—of the ways in which the mystic and the scientist are converging in their sense of wonder and never-ending discovery.

Hope. It is not wish-based optimism, not an emotion, but a firmly reality-based process. “It is a privilege,” she says, “to hold something robust and resilient called hope.” The L’Arche movement is invoked once again as a prominent example of this deeply rooted confidence in goodness. This final chapter is in many ways the most intense and personal of the book. Tippett never limits herself to simply quoting others, but in personal reflections reminds us of all that these conversations have stirred up in her. She reflects, “I am dazzled by the great good I can discern everywhere out there. I’ve shared a sliver in these pages, just a sliver.”

Has this book shown us routes to “becoming wise”? The two words of the title neatly wrap up the book’s message: becoming—the path always rich with possibility—is wisdom, and the source of wisdom is this becoming. After journeying through all these wide-ranging conversations that she so skillfully knits together, we see that the answer has been at our fingertips all along: “We have it in us to become wise.” All of us do, and it is in opening new conversational spaces that we unlock the wisdom in each other.

The post Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living appeared first on Friends Journal.

War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914–1918

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:24
By Michael Kazin. Simon & Schuster, 2017. 378 pages. $28/hardcover; $17/paperback (January 2018); $14.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

This year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of America’s entry into the First World War, the conflict which, at the time, the world hoped and prayed would be “the war to end all wars.” However, it’s a centenary that has passed with surprisingly little attention. This may be because in the United States, World War I—unlike in Great Britain, France, or even Australia—is not a major part of our collective cultural consciousness. Beyond the occasional late-night airing of Sergeant York on cable, or the high school literature teacher who still assigns A Farewell to Arms, most Americans remain ignorant of the circumstances that drove America into the war, how and by whom it was fought, and the consequences of participating in that horrific conflict. And most of us are certainly unaware of the fact that a very vocal, very well-organized, and almost very successful antiwar movement—led largely by un-enfranchised women—fought its own “war” at home for three years to keep us out of it. This is the story told in Michael Kazin’s exhaustive history of that movement, War Against War: The American Fight for Peace 1914–1918.

Kazin’s chronicle of the anti-Great War movement focuses on the people and personalities at the heart of that movement. At the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, the American people were deeply divided about exactly what their role in the world should be. While celebrating the richness of our resources and the brilliant technological advances within our society, Americans were torn as to whether to assert themselves internationally, especially when a difficult-to-explain conflict broke out 3,000 miles away in Europe in the summer of 1914. Three years and millions of battlefield deaths later—the jaunty swaggering lyrics and music of George M. Cohan’s rousing “Over There” notwithstanding—most Americans still wanted absolutely nothing to do with the charnel house that Europe had become.

The American antiwar movement that began to speak out even before the slaughter in Europe began was populated by some of the most important progressive voices in modern American history. This list includes Samuel Gompers, “Fighting Bob” La Follette, and Nobel laureate Jane Addams, who plays a prominent role in Kazin’s version of events. Lesser-known (to contemporary audiences) leaders included Crystal Eastman, an atheist, communist, and suffragist; and most fascinating to me, Claude Kitchin, a Democratic member of Congress from North Carolina, a “true white son of Dixie who mingled together racist fears with a populist resentment against the wealthy barons of the North.” Pitted against them were the leaders of the so-called “preparedness movement,” led by former president Theodore Roosevelt, who not only wanted America to be ready to fight should it find itself attacked, but who believed that America had a moral, almost holy duty to enter the war, as a way of imposing itself onto the world order and taking what they believed was its rightful place as the preeminent world power. Seemingly stuck in the middle was President Woodrow Wilson, who also believed that America was uniquely situated—indeed destined—to be the leader of the world’s nations, but who struggled mightily for three years to fulfill that role via peaceful means.

While Kazin’s level of detail is remarkable, and the overall story fascinating, as a Quaker, I was left slightly disappointed by this book: I was hoping to find more about the opposition to the war mounted by Quakers and the other traditional peace churches in the United States. Friends get a few mentions throughout the text, but they are few, superficial, and far between. Additionally, conscientious objectors (some of them Friends) get very limited attention. But this book is a political study and those concerns are for another book by another author. What Friends can take from this book is the fascinating confluence of so many disparate elements within American society around the cause of peace. The antiwar movement of 1914–1918 was made up of Southern segregationists, Northeastern industrialists, Midwestern progressives, isolationists, socialists, pacifists, communists, conservatives, suffragettes, civil rights activists, trade unionists, faith leaders, and academics. While the predictable turf battles and personality clashes did occur, what strikes me about the sometimes unified, sometimes shaky coalition Kazin portrays is its dogged determination, its willingness to collaborate, and its ability to adapt and adjust.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the First World War changed the world. Besides causing the deaths of over 18 million people, it destroyed three empires, caused the collapse of a handful of monarchies, re-drew the maps of two continents, completely upset the balance of power in the world, advanced the technology of mass killing, and, unfortunately, laid the foundation for an even greater cataclysm which would begin less than a generation later. Michael Kazin’s book tells an important part of that story, one which can give those of us who still commit ourselves to the cause of peace the hope that movements matter, that coalition building can work, and that the struggle to end war and militarism needs to continue.

The post War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914–1918 appeared first on Friends Journal.

Conscientious Objection: Is This for You? Discerning a Claim and Documenting It with Selective Service

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:22
By Curt Torell. Quaker House of Fayetteville, N.C., 2016. 209 pages. $15/paperback. Buy from QuakerBooks

This book is a niche book, but Quaker meetings and schools make up a large part of its niche.

It is a “teacher’s resource guide” to help young people create documentation for a conscientious objection application for a military draft. One concept that drives such programs is that if there is a draft, the first wave of potential inductees may have as few as nine days to provide viable documentation to support an application to be recognized as a conscientious objector (CO)

This, of course, assumes that there is actual potential for a draft. There is no real reason to believe that the likelihood of a draft has changed significantly in the past few years. The military leadership is the group least interested in a draft, since it is not cost effective to train someone for a two-year stint. Further, where one report says the military is struggling to recruit (even while noting that for decades the military has met its goals), another report says it will meet its goals (after struggling for years).

Torell, a member of the board of Quaker House of Fayetteville, N.C., fortunately includes in this book an excellent summary of the long-range benefit of confronting conscientious objection whether there is a draft or not. Torell does a good job helping youth leaders and young people both understand conscientious objection to war and why, with or without a draft, we should care. Quaker House, which has been located near a major U.S. Army training base at Fort Bragg for decades, gives a chilling but accurate glimpse of what military training is about, as well as goes through the process of creating the documentation of a conscientious objector file.

The two best parts of the book to me, as someone who has done hundreds of these trainings over the years, is the history of the draft and conscientious objection law and the summary of long-range benefits of writing a CO letter. The biggest lack in the book is there was really no discussion of the racism in the military, which, to me, is something that goes hand-in-glove with conscientious objection to war. The young people of color among Friends are likely to have a more difficult time obtaining a CO designation, even as people of color in the military have a harder time receiving a CO discharge.

Of course, there are always liberal military apologists (even among Friends) who claim in spite of facts to the contrary that a military draft will result in fewer wars (even though we had a draft before WWII, Korea, and Vietnam) and a fairer burden (even though disproportionately fewer poor men and people of color received a medical deferment in every war in which we had a military draft). Then the apologists usually top off that suggestion with the idea that, anyway, a military draft (which promotes other people’s children to die) will help our children think deeply about war and conscientious objection.

I recommend that any First-day program or yearly meeting youth program consider using this curriculum (or ask Quaker House, American Friends Service Committee, or the Center on Conscience & War to give a training) to help their youth grapple with these ideas that are so fundamental to so many Friends. It is our responsibility, not Congress’s, to help our young people deeply understand just why Friends keep saying, “War is not the answer.”

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From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:20
By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. Haymarket Books, 2016. 288 pages. $17.95/paperback; $17.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor places the Black Lives Matter movement into a historical framework and explores the most immediate catalysts for the movement. This book is not a quick or easy read; rather it is a thoughtful and thorough engagement with the complexities of the present moment. Each chapter is filled with significant quotations from primary sources as well analysis from scholars. For those interested in the topic but less enthusiastic about the academic nature of the writing, there is a conclusion section at the end of each chapter that reviews the core arguments from that chapter. This book removes any excuse that one might have about not understanding the purpose or tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement.

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation answers the question of “how did we get here?” Taylor explains that “[r]acial discrimination, sanctioned by law in the South and custom and public policy in the North over much of the twentieth century, caused disparities between Blacks and whites in employment, poverty, housing quality, and access to education,” and the book provides ample evidence for each of these points. The book explores how systemic, institutional racism throughout U.S. history led to Black Americans being economically disadvantaged as well as the criminalization of poverty and the association of Black Americans with crime, all of which has led to a U.S. justice system that has “reinforced and reproduced racial inequality.” Taylor also describes that in recent history former President Obama’s inability to deliver on his promises of racial justice and the Occupy movement’s re-legitimization of public protest laid a foundation for a new social movement to emerge.

One of the gifts of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation is lessons to be learned from the development of the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the key lessons highlighted in the book is about the harm the comes from colorblindness. The book features the many ways in which not acknowledging the different lived experiences of people of color lead to Americans not addressing the structural reforms that are necessary to end the racial stratification of the United States. Taylor believes that the narrative that the United States has built about its history and values makes it too hard for Americans to understand the obstacles faced by those on the margins and too easy to falsely point to exceptions as disproving the real patterns. She stresses the importance of understanding intersectionality, defined as the points of intersection between different core aspects of a person’s identity.

Much of the book is dedicated to the connection between racial and economic justice. Taylor writes, “The struggle for Black liberation . . . is not an abstract idea molded in isolation from the wider phenomenon of economic exploitation and inequality that pervades all of American society; it is intimately bound up with them.” Finally, she illustrates how both overt and subtle racism have become part of the discriminatory systems that the Black Lives Matter movement is working to dismantle, as she clarifies that “[i]t is the outcome that matters, not the intentions of the individuals involved.”

Taylor does not simply lay out the national problems that the Black Lives Matter movement is addressing. She also encourages her readers to take personal responsibility for being a part of the solution. She makes me feel proud to be a part of the movement, as she explains that “justice is not a natural part of the lifecycle of the United States, nor is it a product of evolution; it is always the outcome of struggle.” She acknowledges that allies are often slow to embrace actions that have a fast-paced or radical feel, and she shares examples of periods in American history when such fears have been an obstacle to progress. My sense from conversations with f/Friends is that many do not understand the inclusive, nonviolent platform of the Black Lives Matter movement, and many would prefer for activists to work through political means instead of engaging in direct action. Taylor makes it clear that politics and protest are mutually encouraging rather than mutually exclusive.

Overall, the book feels like a call to action, encouraging those who are uncomfortable with the movement to develop an understanding of its work and find a way to plug in. She describes the meaningful impact that the Black Lives Matter movement has on American politics, while making it clear that “Black people in America cannot ‘get free’ alone” and that “[s]olidarity is not just an option; it is crucial, . . . Success or failure are contingent on whether or not working people see themselves as brothers and sisters whose liberation is inextricably bound together.”

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Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation

Friends Journal - Wed, 2017-11-01 00:18
Edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. HarperCollins, 2017. 434 pages. $16.99/paperback; $9.99/eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

This is a book I came to with an open (or should I say blank) mind. As a nonobservant Jew mystified by—but not well-versed in—the intractable rhetoric and endless turmoil of the Middle East, I wondered if it wasn’t time for me to be “woke” about the Palestinian situation. I hoped to gain a better sense of how life has been lived in the occupied territories on the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War and the occupation.

Also, as an essayist myself and a fan of many of the authors represented, the book’s concept interested me. What happens when you invite a variety of talented authors to pay a quick visit to a beleaguered part of the world and write about their impressions in whatever fashion they choose? Would the execution live up to the promise? Could 26 different writers from different countries each find something new to say about the same situation?

It’s also a book I wanted to love. The premise behind this enterprise is not only politically correct but dear to any writer’s heart: that the best way to evoke interest and compassion for the unknown “other” is to reveal the lives of individuals that transcend their particularity to resonate as universal. Or, as Colum McCann puts it in his essay “Two Stories, So Many Stories,” in which he writes of time spent with two families—one Palestinian, one Israeli—who had both lost children to violence: “stories can pry open our rib cages and twist our hearts backwards a notch.” He adds, “In telling our stories we oppose the awful cruelties of the ties and present to the world the profoundest evidence of being alive.”

There is nothing in this book that is not well-written, and each of the 26 pieces engaged my interest. Observing life in the occupied territories, people such as Geraldine Brooks, Anita Desai, Hari Kunzru, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jacqueline Woodson, along with coeditors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, write convincingly and passionately about the daily lives of men, women, and children who are barraged by seemingly senseless and endless obstacles to domestic life, shopping, education, jobs, and travel. I learned about families locked in their homes and forbidden from walking down their own streets; of shepherds arrested for grazing their flocks; of midnight tunneling by Israeli soldiers through apartments in which Palestinians live; of limited water supplies, electricity shortages, endless red tape around work and building permits; of relationships thwarted, travel restricted, and families losing land they had cultivated and lived on for generations.

The essayists joined Palestinians as they awoke at 4:00 a.m to wait in lines for hours to get to their (mostly menial) jobs in Israel or as they dealt with two-hour car rides that should have taken 20 minutes without roadblocks and checkpoints. They heard of young children detained and mistreated in Israeli holding centers, intellects dying for lack of education, olive trees dying for lack of water, and people dying for lack of medical attention.

I learned much that horrified and infuriated me, also much that inspired me. The heroes of the book are survivors, truth-tellers, resisters, and idealists. They are parents of murdered children, both Israeli and Arab, forming grassroots groups to prevent future violence; former Israeli soldiers uniting to speak out, against the grain, about the injustices they were called upon to perpetuate in the line of duty; Israeli activists risking arrest to bear witness to their neighbors’ suffering; artists and musicians who fight against all odds to have their voices heard.

The stories are heartbreakingly realistic and politically acute, and, although I’ve never visited Israel, they began to feel strangely familiar to me. In “Bloated Time and the Death of Meaning” Ala Hlehel, one of the few Palestinians represented in the book, spoke of the occupation as a machine, calling it “a complex, octopus-like regime that functions to exhaust those who are subject to it. It is a regime based on repression under the cover of administrative legitimacy, the courts, and legal authority.” Why did it all sound so familiar?

Then I read in Dave Eggers’s piece, “Prison Visit” about “the countless ways the Occupation makes life less than human for millions of Palestinians and, it’s worth noting, for the Israelis who have to enforce the occupation.” Residents of Gaza, he said, referred to their home as an “open-air prison”—and things began to fall into place in my mind. It occurred to me that, as a member of the Quaker worship group at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Westchester County, N.Y., I too am exposed to the struggle of people to survive—physically, emotionally, spiritually—under the most degrading of circumstances.

This “foreign” Israeli–Palestinian story reminded me of the U.S. prison system. Both confine and restrict the movements of their subjects, while giving them continual awareness of the pleasures and rewards of life outside their boundaries. Both are punitive, treating the “other” as sub-human. Both justify their behemoth-like structures with highfalutin political and religious rhetoric. Both disempower people by subjecting them to innumerable rules and regulations that are haphazardly enforced. Both are framed in ways to make them palatable to the average citizen. And neither stand up well to careful, thoughtful consideration.

This is why the book is successful, yet it also points to a few flaws. There is a bit too much repetition here: too many of the stories begin to sound alike; too many of the brief journeys of the authors cover the same ground; many of the fresh impressions start feeling stale. I’m convinced the book would have been just as impactful—and probably more cogent—at 250 or 300 pages as it did at 400 pages. I agree with other critics who have pointed to the superficiality implicit in a point-and-click first impression exercise that does not require in-depth understanding.

Still I admire and applaud this effort, and I hope to see more like it. The world needs these stories and stories like them; but most of all, it needs people willing to read them.

The post Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation appeared first on Friends Journal.

FCNL Rejects Trump’s Latest Refugee Ban

On October 24, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order outlining changes to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program that will cause massive delays and completely halt the acceptance of certain refugee applications. FCNL denounces this latest executive order as a thinly disguised refugee ban which works to dismantle refugee resettlement in the U.S. This executive order replaces the administration’s previous refugee ban that expired on October 24.

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As Irresponsible as It Is Immoral: Tax Reform in Congress

When most people hear about the tax reform, their eyes glaze over. But the decisions that Congress makes about taxes are moral decisions with enormous consequences. If you want to know about the values and priorities of a nation, just take a look at that nation's tax code.

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Letter from U.S. Faith Communities on Reducing Tensions with North Korea

On October 26, leaders from several faith communities came together to convey to Congress their concerns about the escalating rhetoric between the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

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FCNL Welcomes Transparency in Energy Production Act

FCNL is pleased to announce the introduction of the bipartisan Transparency in Energy Production Act of 2017.

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Organizing white people for racial justice: A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 5

Ending discrimination Black Lives MatterInclusion and Equality

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. He is one of the leading voices in the country calling for and supporting white people to work for racial justice. He joined with white anti-racist leaders around the country to help launch the national anti-racist network Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which works in white communities for racial justice. Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith he works with congregations, seminaries, and religious and spiritual leaders to build up the Religious Left. He lives in Louisville, KY with his partner, and their two kids. Learn more about Chris here. I spoke with Chris and Richie Schulz, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s community engagement fellow, on September 6th, we talked about the current political moment, organizing white folks for racial justice, and the stake white people have in that work. This is the fifth of five posts from that conversation. This wasn’t an interview per se, but a conversation with each of us each contributing.

Richie Schulz: What sorts of things happen within Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations to allow for that deeper action and movement to occur? What are UU congregations doing to empower UUs to be courageous and step into action?

Chris Crass: It's crucial that congregations come alive for racial justice values both within the congregations themselves, within congregational life, but also through experiences partnering with people most impacted by injustice, for example participating in the Latino/Latinx-led immigrant rights movement in Arizona. People there are learning and growing through their experiences of being shoulder to shoulder with people facing off against a racist police force with Sheriff Joe Arpaio at the forefront and with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement opposing the racist system of policing. Similarly, it's critical that people get out of their congregations, UUs of color as well as white UUs, in experiencing the realities of white supremacy.

Whether it's people of faith coming together in Charlottesville, whether it's people of faith coming together against the attacks on the Affordable Care Act and the efforts to tear away health care from working-class people, all of these situations, these moments with DACA are opportunities for us to live our values in a way that then also brings our faith in relationship to multiracial grassroots democratic movements. This can energize and bring alive the best of our faith to continue doing the work within the congregation in a way that is relevant to the broader world and relevant to what our values are related to being in the world. I think right now, through Black Lives Matter (BLM), there's been a much higher level of organizing and organization among UUs of color, Black Lives Matter of UUs and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), but throughout the association in local congregations and also the national association of UUs, the national leadership and staff, that leadership has really been pushing the congregations in a powerful way. There was a racist hiring incident that recently happened where a woman of color was not hired and literally told "You're not the right fit for this all-white staff." That just set off a huge response that was painful and powerful. UUs of color talked about their experiences of either being told "You're not the right fit," or being made to feel like “You're not the right fit”.

There’s also an outpouring of resistance from UUs of color and anti-racist UUs who have been organized and pushing demands for immediate goals around percentages of people of color hired, with a change from this kind of more neo-liberal multicultural, "We really encourage everyone to apply" model, into a "We're committed to becoming a multiracial faith with multiracial leadership as well as creating mechanisms of support, robust recruitment and leadership development." We also challenge the white supremacy that locks the doors on so many people from being able to come in. So, all that has been happening. It's been a simultaneous, "How do we challenge the white supremacy within our faith's tradition and congregations while also being courageous for racial justice out in the streets of this country and in this time. It's a both/and, not an either/or approach. And I think the organization of people of color and the organization of white anti-racists has been creating a culture and a value and a vision that people can rally behind and be galvanized by. I think that has been incredibly important. And so out of this hiring crisis that happened just a few months ago, more than half of the congregations of the UU faith, close to 700 congregations held white supremacy teach-ins over a two-week period that helped the congregations better understand what white supremacy is and how it plays out within our faith. They were reading about POC experiences of racism within the faith, but also reading anti-racist racial justice visions of what the faith can look like and can be in this world.

Lucy Duncan: That's really powerful...

Chris Crass: Yes, I think that it's been tremendously powerful and I think this both/and approach of being in the streets, in the world, in our congregations, in our hearts, in our souls, both/and we do this work together and the work we do in the world helps transform us and the work we do in our congregations transforms us: it's all connected.

Related Posts

This is the time of monsters: A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 1

The precarity and possibility of this political moment: A conversation with Chris Crass, pt. 2

If this faith were a bowl, could it hold me? A conversation with Chris Crass, pt. 3

What's at stake for white people in the struggle for racial justice? A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 4

65 Groups to Congress: Stop Yemen War, Support HConRes 81

Dear Congressmen Khanna, Massie, Pocan, and Jones,

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FCNL’s Yasmine Taeb to Speak at 2017 Muslim Urban Professionals Conference

Yasmine Taeb, FCNL's Lobbyist for Human Rights and Civil Liberties, will speak at the Muslim Urban Professionals Conference on Saturday, October 28th. This group strives to empower and advance Muslim professionals in their careers and communities.

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Bill would prevent violence before it starts

this letter to the editor thanks Senator Tillis for cosponsoring the Elie Wiesel Act and asks Senator Burr to cosponsor it.

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Pass a Clean Dream Act

Congress must protect Dreamers by passing a clean version of the Dream Act of 2017 that doesn't include more wasteful spending on endless and cruel enforcement.

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Native American Legislative Update

Since returning from its August recess, Congress has given most of its public attention to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, providing tax breaks for some of the more fortunate among us, and trying to agree on funding for the government, before it has to shut down.

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Justice and Violence in Indian Country

Nearly 6,000 Native women and girls were reported as "missing" in 2016. Between 2013 and 2016, there were only 14 federal investigations and 2 prosecutions.

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