Three perspectives on the Friends peace testimony

1. Quakers are a religious society with a stance against participating in war
Quakers are a faith community. They have a collective position that participating in warfare is wrong and against the teachings of Christ Jesus. This is a clear and longstanding corporate witness growing out of Quakers' understanding of Christianity.

2. Individuals must still make their own choices
Even when the teachings are clear, each individual has to decide for himself or herself what is right action in a particular context.

Even though Quakers opposed all war, many individual men signed up for the US Civil War. Many of these volunteers were read out of meeting; and a goodly portion of them were accepted back into fellowship afterwards, especially if they expressed contrition. Even if the official witness of Friends was against the war, Friends supported an end to enslavement, and as a result many could understand why an individual might choose to sign up, even if it was officially outside the Quaker testimony.

Later, many young Quaker men even signed up for World War I, to the consternation of many elders, including Rufus Jones. The American Friends Service Committee was founded in 1917 in part to provide young Quaker men with meaningful service opportunities outside fighting in the military. One option was the Friends Ambulance Corps.

3. An individual may find a different answer than society at large, and need not have all the answers for everyone
Today, most people think of Quakers as not just refraining from serving in the military themselves, but also as people who act to stop war before it begins. This is a relatively modern approach.

Many Quakers involved in peace work have analyzed past wars, diplomacy, and popular movements to understand strategies and tactics to prevent war in the future. There are too many examples to name here, so I'll list just one information resource: Quaker George Lakey led the creation of Swarthmore College's Global Nonviolent Action Database, where you can learn more about popular nonviolent movements. (Side note: And there can be practical benefits to a peaceful approach: According to Waging Nonviolence, in researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan found that nonviolent struggles were successful significantly more often (56%) than violent ones (26%). See their book Why Civil Resistance Works.)

In some cases, Quakers have identified the failure by "good actors" to act in a timely way to prevent demagogues and dictators from rising to power. Once those moments are past and it's "too late," war may seem inevitable in hindsight. For example, theologian Walter Wink faulted the churches in Germany for not speaking out against Hitler and the Nazi putschists in the early 1930s. For another, peace activist David Hartsough and five colleagues were arrested in Kosovo in 1998 while there to support the mass student nonviolent movement against the Serbian dictatorship. Despite the pleas of the students, Hartsough, and others, the nonviolent resistance was not supported by other Western nations and so was crushed, leading to genocide, internecine warfare, and US and NATO bombardments when it was "too late" to support the movement.

So one may intellectually concede that wars of international aggression appear to have no solution besides war -- when they reach that point. They are not inevitable, however, if people of good will and conscience resist before that point.

Finally, even when one or more nations begin warfare, people of good will and conscience have a choice. They can refuse to participate, no matter how just the cause may appear, or seem to appear, in order not to damage their own spiritual well-being. Such a person can know in her or his heart that this is the right action for him or her. Even when the larger societal answer seems to point to war as the answer, the still small voice can still tell that individual, "War is not the answer." And if everyone lived that way and followed that voice, the world would be a different and better place.


WPRB-FM's 75th anniversary website

I'm ridiculously happy to have been chosen as the photographic subject for the Facebook page announcement that WPRB-Stereo 103.3 FM has launched www.wprbhistory.org in this, its 75th anniversary year.

WPRB means a lot to me. It particularly meant a lot to me from fall 1980 to fall 1989, when I either listened to the station pretty much every day or got to be a DJ on it.

A WPRB-themed exhibit will open at Princeton University's Mudd Library this fall.

We're thrilled to introduce a new WPRB History website for DJs, listeners, and college radio historians! Click through...

Posted by WPRB 103.3 FM on Thursday, May 28, 2015

In the words of then-Fall guitarist Craig Scanlon, in a station ID for WPRB in the early 1980s, "Enjoy!"


GFox quotable quote

From the Journal of George Fox, pg. 96:

"So dear Friends live all in the peaceable Truth and in the love of it, serving the Lord in newness of life, for glorious things and precious truths have been manifested among you plentifully, and unto you the riches of the kingdom have been handed."


Notes from the 2014 Cary Lecture by William Graustein

I attended the 2014 Stephen Cary Lecture at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat center in Wallingford, Penna., in April. The following are my notes, pretty much unedited.

A sound recording of the lecture is here.

Bill Graustein – Stephen Cary Lecture, 4/7/2014

“Prophets and Nonprofits: Tending Quaker Roots in Secular Soil”

How do scriptural referents (parables, prophets) appear in the inward experience of the Light?

He went to a high-church Episcopal boarding school; there was some tension around religion with one of his parents. After he graduated he was struck upon meeting a Quaker, who talked easily and simply of her faith. She invited him to meeting for worship in Purchase, NY. When they all shook hands at the close of meeting, he felt very welcomed. Later, he reflected that this was indeed a radical sign of welcome.

Parable of the sower: had heard it back in school, but it came alive for him one time stopping by a farm field one winter evening in December. He realized sowing seeds then would not result in anything; but sowing them in the same location four months later would. So he saw the parable could be about time as well as physical (or spiritual) location.

His father had founded a company back in the late 1940s. Although it didn’t do well, he started a foundation, too, (later?) named after his late brother, Bill’s uncle. The company was sold much later, for about four times what they thought it would, so they had a lot of money. Holy sh**! He was in the 1%.

They agreed to start a family foundation with his mother’s share. Bill consulted people for guidance. As a geophysicist, he expected data and analysis. Instead, he heard stories and narratives. Meanwhile, his mother’s withdrawn stance was diagnosed as paranoia.

His father, son of an uneducated dairyman, had gone to Harvard, class of 1902. He was friends with Amos Wilson, (one of?) the only African American at Harvard then. He stayed friends with Amos throughout his life, as they found a pile of correspondence from Amos in his dad’s papers. Bill realized racial justice was important to his father [and so could be appropriate for the foundation’s work].

Bill attended a retreat on “emerging ministries” that he heard about at a ministry and worship committee meeting.  He didn’t feel emerging or like a minister, but went anyway. Found that people there had the same story in different forms: many had suffered some hurt, faced facts, chose life, got moving, and now wanted to figure out how to give back.

He organize a planning meeting with 20 people in New Haven. What’s your vision for the future, and what’s getting in your way? He found two major themes:

  1. Yearning to look outside the bounds of their own organizations to work together for something greater;
  2. Seeking support to be more fully alive in community. The work wasn’t necessarily supportive.
He realized he was hearing things that Friends address, for example, listening non-judgmentally.

He founded an organization called the Community Leadership Program. It encouraged storytelling. Then he introduced the clearness process to them. After the first year, they did an evaluation. They learned people of color held back on issues of race, because the two initial leaders were both white. In the second year they brought in a third facilitator who is a woman of color. This helped.

Bill also brought in Donald Davis, who uses the power of storytelling.

Niyonu Spann is now working with him to help transfer the skills and talents of holding space, consciously creating. They have founded an organizaton on co-creation; she is doing most of the day to day work.

He felt his work was difficult, yet there was vitality in failing, and it was rewarding work. The work pulled him away from his meeting, though.

He told the story of a 57-year-old woman on Metro North, who was told not to sit down next to a white man because he didn’t want her black skin touching him. She was shocked, paralyzed, and troubled that no one else spoke up. There was only one other person of color in the car at the time.  Bill was in meeting for worship two days later and thought, “The composition in this room looks like that Metro North car.”

He told the story of a man from a low-income background whose father had left the family. Once he was on a commuter train, where he saw an African American man in a suit and tie and sharp as can be. He resolved to be like this older man. Now he has founded a couple of nonprofits in New Haven to help young men in circumstances he had grown up in. He chanced to meet his father once, in Florida; but he suffered from mental illness, and could not truly see his son. Yet this was hard, as his whole life the younger man had tried to be a man his father could be proud of. Bill could relate because his own mother could not really see him, either.

Quoted Cornel West’s take on Ephesians: “love the people.” Most radical thing Bill ever did was listen.

People in the world outside Quakers are longing to be heard, to be affirmed. Quakers have something to offer. Many Quakers want to “get outside the Quaker bubble,” as the December issue of Friends Journal said.

Renewal : Power flows from the practice of Friends for him. What do we have to offer the world as patterns and examples?

He concluded, “To listen to our neighbors as if they were prophets is a necessary step toward justice.”


Q (J): Sometimes white people want people of color to tell their stories at meetings. But that often doesn’t work well.
A: Yes, there’s an imbalance of power/privilege. Start with questions that are not about issues: “Who’s someone you admire who you wish the others here could know?” (Otherwise it puts the less-privileged person at risk.)

Q: What’s a success and a failure you’ve had?
A: CLP is resulting in collaborations because people see commonality. Personal friendships are growing across difference. Mistake was not getting on the ball sooner. We often make mistakes in CLP and then say, “Oh, okay, what can we learn?” And the biggest mistakes are the ones I haven’t learned anything from yet.

Q (LD): I’m part of a small group of white people who meet to talk about racism. It’s a spiritual practice. One person said, “I used to be able to forget about racism. Now, not a single day goes by when I don’t think about it.” This is important work you’re doing. Can you do this work with national Quaker organizations?
A: (bows = yes) Q (O): Gravest sin is not to recognize the divine in others. My prayer is that we acknowledge the brokenheartedness in not seeing one another.
A: We all need refuge at times. And other times we nee to step out of refuge and into action.

Q (V): RSOF is either at a breaking point or a breakthrough point. How might we step into and through the difficult bits?
A: 1) Boundary between RSOF and outside is more permeable today. Revitalization can come from without as well as within. Patterns of exclusion can be worked on. 2) How do we get people the “psychic Wheaties” to enable them to do the hard work? Sometimes, we nee to ask for help—from elders, accountability partners. Celebrate small steps.

Q (S): Say more about the distance with your monthly meeting.
A: I did not feel the meeting was letting me down, more that I was busy, stuck in “facilitators mind” when at meeting for worship, and didn’t know how to invite people along with me. Feel closer to my meeting again, serving on a committee again.

Q: Point is to go forth, not to build meetings. Beatitudes turn everything upside down.
Q (A): I affirm that you choose to do this work. You could choose not to and still have a foundation and have people around you say you’re doing good work. This, this is important work. [Didn’t write much in the way of notes, because I responded to her emotion with my own deep emotion welling up. Definitely felt like a moment of Presence.]… Is there anything that you get angry about in this work? A: I don’t do anger well, but I’m kind of starting to get worked up: Why aren’t more of us doing this work in our culture? There, did I do better [in expressing anger]? [Niyonu shakes head, everyone says “No!” and we all burst out laughing together. Together!!]


Approaches to having children in Quaker meeting for worship

[NOTE: I wrote this as a comment on Wess Daniel's post, "Thoughts on Bringing Children to Meeting for Worship."

[His article in turn also refers to Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby's excellent article in Friends Journal, "Bringing Children to Worship: Trusting God to Take Over from There."]

Green Street Monthly Meeting, our liberal unprogrammed Friends meeting in Philadelphia, is looking at how to better integrate the children with the rest of the meeting -- though I doubt we're ready to ditch Firstday School.

A commenter on Wess's post decried the practice in some unprogrammed meetings of having an occasional "all-ages" meeting that is poorly conceived, and a "poor hash." I can certainly imagine being in an otherwise-unprogrammed meeting that did a semi-programmed one poorly. However, I wanted to share some of my recent experience of the last two years.

Green Street has the children in Firstday School for the first 45 minutes (in two groups, elementary and middle school aged), and to worship the last 15 minutes. The teens generally come to meeting for worship.

On the 5th Sundays, a few times a year, we have a mostly programmed meeting for worship. It's definitely a hash, and a tasty one at that!

The one or two I've attended were led by a Friend who grew up expecting to be a minister in another tradition, so has some ability to lead worship; and more important, who is now a high school teacher, with a real gift for drawing young people at many different ages.

One 5th Sunday I missed featured my older son singing a Green Day song ("21 Guns") with his peers playing electric guitar. Since he has never sung with those peers before or since, I'm sorry I missed it. (And it's not like we're about to organize a worship band or something; I have personally never seen anything more high-powered than an acoustic guitar or a violin, usually around the year-end holidays, at this meeting myself.)

The warmth of the greetings at rise of meeting and expressions of joy following these semi-programmed meetings are enough to reassure me that we are saying something quite positive about our worshiping community. To me, it needn't imply anything negative about expectant waiting worship the other 48 Sundays a year.


Summer living in the city

I appreciate living in a large city again. For the four years before we left the SF Bay Area, we lived in a small city to the south of San Francisco. While technically it was in the suburbs, it was definitely pretty urbanized, but in a fairly unsatisfying way, and so I missed "real" city life.

Now I work in Center City Philadelphia, which I enjoy; I still miss downtown San Francisco sometimes.
This afternoon I'd been meeting with my boss when the fire alarm in our office went off. It was the most bureaucratic recorded emergency instructions I'd ever heard: "Leave the building! Cease operations! Do not utilize the elevator!"

On the sidewalk, I saw several people I knew, as there are two Quaker organizations in the same building where I work. One Friend asked if we could plant-sit again, and I said yes. She said she'd come over tonight with them. I enjoyed seeing her and the other people I knew. And my boss and I continued our meeting on the "front porch" of the Convention Center across the street from our office. It was a great day to be outside.

At home, we live in a section of Philadelphia that is considered one of the oldest "streetcar suburbs" in the country, yet it's most definitely within the city limits. But the trees are tall and mature, and the pace is calmer here than in Center City.

Tonight Son #1 and I had dinner on the back porch, and it was neither cool nor warm, just pleasant. Then we went (by car, alas) to an ice cream parlor for dessert. We sat on the bench right outside the shop on Germantown Avenue, and watched the clouds turn pink and then many shades of gray.

This afternoon he had helped another Friend pack up her moving truck. I had gone by last night with some of our remaining boxes, and to help with packing, and heard that she needed help while I'd be at work today. We moved twice in the last two years, so we owe the universe some help-with-moving karma. I asked Son #1 if he'd be willing, and he said okay. And it was close enough for him to walk—there's that living in the city again.
Robin called shortly after we came home to say hello. She will be one of the keynote speakers at Baltimore Yearly Meeting, on Friday evening.

While we were talking, the Friend came over with her plants. Well, it just so happens that she is a member of Robin's support committee, so I put the phone on speaker so we could both talk to her. In fact, our Friend gave Robin some really good advice and some very kind words of reassurance. I felt enormously blessed to be part of a community in this way.

It's good to remember my blessings. It is practical and useful, as well as probably healthier, to be grateful and to focus on what's good and how to be helpful and loving in life, it seems to me.