Weymouth NJ Church

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 8:06pm

Weymouth NJ Church

Categories: Blogs

Wait, a new Quaker blog, what retroness is this?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 5:54pm

And just as we’re talking about the continued downward entropy of blogging, here’s a new Quaker blog. Isaac Smith of Frederick (Md.) Meeting (and Twitter) has the first post in a time-limited, “pop-up” blog. He’s calling it “The Anarchy of the Ranters.” I’ll overlook the similarity to this blog’s name in the hope that the people who have been dropping comments on mine since 2004 asking about the difference between Quakers and Ranters will start bothering him now.

The first post is “Defensiveness as a Theological Problem for Friends,” a good blogging debut.

The question of who belongs in the church, which has always been of central importance, is what’s at stake here, and unfortunately, it is often being answered in ways that are hurtful and alienating—the opposite of what the gospel promises.

Categories: Blogs

Jason Kottke on blogging, 2018 edition

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 3:56pm

Two things on the internet that I consistently like are NeimanLab and The former is Harvard’s journalism foundation and its associated blog. They consistently publish thought-provoking lessons from media pioneers. If there’s an interesting online publishing model being tried, Neiman Labs will profile it. Kottke is one of the original old school blogs. Jason highlights things that are interesting to him and by and large, most of the posts happen to be interesting to me. He’s also one of the few breakout blogging stars who has kept going.

So today Neiman Labs posted an interview with Jason Kottke. Of course I like it.

There are a few things that Jason has done that I find remarkable. One is that he’s threaded an almost impossible path that has held back the centrifugal forces of the modern internet. He never went big and he never went small. By big, I mean he never tried to ramp his site up to become a media empire. No venture capitalist money, no clickbait headlines, no pivot to video or other trendy media chimera. He also didn’t go small: his blog has never been a confessional. While that traffic when to Facebook, his kind of curated links and thoughts is something that still works best as a blog.

Although I don’t blog myself too much anymore, I do think a lot about media models for Friends Journal. Its reliance on non-professional opinion writing prefigured blogs. It’s a fully digital magazine now, even as it continues as a print magazine. The membership model Kottke talks about (and Neiman Labs frequently profiles) is a likely one for us going into the long term.

Last blog standing, “last guy dancing”: How Jason Kottke is thinking about at 20

Categories: Blogs


Quaker Mystics - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 11:16pm

sky sighed to the earth

let us make a world


mountains thrust


wind and rain

so soft



wore down all






primordial soup


fed by sunlight




the mind of God

a million million years ago


planned a cell


life began




till capable of carrying

a soul


container for speck

of God’s love


so we could love in return


adding a particle of love

to the universe

Categories: Blogs

The Deaths Of Racism, And Racism In Deaths

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 02/12/2018 - 7:31am

Charlottesville VA – I came here for a panel on Dr. King’s Ill-fated Poor Peoples Campaign of 1968, 50 years past and now aiming to be re-launched.

Charlottesville’s Lee, the (somewhat) hidden monument.

I did my part in the event (having written a book about the 1968 campaign); but I want to admit here that my mind frequently wandered, hankering to head downtown to visit some of Charlottesville’s new & newly-more historic sites while I was nearby.

Two in particular: the shrouded statue of Robert E. Lee, awaiting its fate, and a few blocks away the graffiti wall on the stretch of 4th Street now rechristened “Heather Heyer Way.”

Late that rainy afternoon, the panel finished, and the chance came. My activist photographer friend Laura from Toronto, also a panelist, felt a similar urge, and soon we were in “Emancipation (neé Lee) Park” clicking away. 

The statue’s future is as shrouded as its visage: the city says “Move it!” But the state says, “No!” Perhaps a judge will decide.

And the struggle continues more concretely: several locals told us that the shroud has repeatedly been removed under cover of darkness, leaving some unknown persons’ icon on horseback once more boldly facing the rising sun. These “strippers” remain uncaught, the shroud is quickly remounted; and the cycle goes on.

We had no time to keep vigil to see the next unveiling; daylight was fading, and we wanted to pay respects at the touching Heather Heyer memorial, which feels already timeless though it is entirely of chalk drawn on a brick wall. 

These two sites were impressive enough, but another, unknown to us then, was waiting.

Our gracious hostess Helena, an activist publisher, told us about it: a Confederate cemetery near her house, owned by the University of Virginia.

When we got there a grey morning rain was falling. Helena explained that the cemetery was originally for UVA faculty, and all around us were headstones commemorating the resting places of professors of this & scholars of that.

“Confederate Dead.” “Fate denied them victory. but crowned them with glorious immortality.” A few of the “new” state-supplied headstones for the rebel soldiers.

Then during the Civil War, a sizable chunk of it had been requisitioned by the Confederate army, which set up a field hospital nearby. In its beds — as was true in most such facilities on both sides — disease killed as many or more as formal combat. So the ground here was essentially a mass soldiers’ grave; there were records of the occupants, but their actual locations were hazy.

Here too was the city’s civil war memorial which will likely be left alone, to mark and celebrate the Confederate Dead. (That by the way is fine by me; the bravado of its base inscription rang with an emptiness that ought to be obvious to all but the diminishing ranks of the hard core.)

Still, there were wrinkles even here: Helena pointed out bright, new-looking headstones, dating burials from 1862 to 1865. They not only looked new, but were in fact so, placed by order of the state government, which was funding the refurbishment of such Confederate cemeteries statewide. Further, these new markers do not stand where the soldiers they named yet lie;  but never mind.

Helena then beckoned us through an opening in the low wall, into what seemed an empty field next to the rows of scholars and fighters.

This plot had once been selected to be added to the cemetery (since UVA professors keep stubbornly falling short of immortality, glorious or in). But when archaeologists tested the ground, they discovered that it too was full of graves, unmarked, and previously unknown.

Have you guessed where we’re going with this?
This unmarked and long-forgotten additional cemetery contains the remains of 67 persons of color, many but maybe not all enslaved, who worked for (& likely were owned by) UVA.

Once this fact was verified, the University reacted, with the markers shown here. Note that those listed on the sign Helena is pausing to read (shown below), may include some of those resting here, but that is no more than somewhat educated guesswork, as incomplete as most of the names it records.

We took more pictures, and then went on to join meeting for worship with Charlottesville Quakers. Then I headed home, leaving behind the images of funerary splendor for deceased academics, nameless unmarked grass for their onetime chattels, and continued mawkish attention by the state to those who died to keep them subject to such enforced forgetting.

No wonder Lee’s shroud keeps coming off.  But at least, Heather’s  graffiti is still there.

The post The Deaths Of Racism, And Racism In Deaths appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

February Flashbacks

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 02/09/2018 - 4:16pm

I’m terrible with blogging these days, aren’t I? Actually my last few bits of writing have been for Friends Journal. I’m posting once a month for the Editor’s Desk series highlighting upcoming themes and I’m writing every other introductory column for the print magazine. For example, here’s February’s The Roots of Our Lifestyle. I chime in when a vintage post of mine hits Reddit as happens every so often and I often drop “hey, this would make a interesting article” comments in lively Facebook threads, along with a link to the Friends Journal submissions page.

Well, one way I’m trying to psych myself is to look at my history of blogging every month.

1 Year Ago: February 2017

A rare juicy post of mine from the last few years and one of the few times anyone has followed my blog’s Ask Me Anything link.

AMA: Conservative and Liberal Friends? But even these brief observations are imprecise and can mask surprisingly similar talents and stumbling blocks. We all of us are humans, after all. The Inward Christ is always available to instruct and comfort, just as we are all broken and prone to act impulsively against that advice.

5 Years Ago: February 2013

Some fun!

Sectarian Symptoms: Jumpers, Shakers, Quakers, and… 

10 Years Ago: February 2008

Oh look at that, I was commenting about a Friends Journal article!

Looking at North American Friends and theological hotspots. Over on Friends Journal site, some recent stats on Friends mostly in the US and Canada. Written by Margaret Fraser, the head of FWCC, a group that tries to unite the different bodies of Friends, it’s a bit of cold water for most of us.

15 Years Ago January 2003

I was writing about U.S. foreign policy seemed to be avoiding a growing situation in North Korea. Oh my, too timely still.

Tough Time to Love War(Making). President Bush and his team of war mongerers have been so busy looking at Iraq that they’ve given North Korea just sporadic attention. Recently-declassified reports show that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has known much more about North Korea’s nuclear bomb making over the last dozen years than anyone’s been admitting.

20 Years Ago: Early 1998

This is like one of those Facebook memes where you present a preschooler with a piece of technology that disappeared decades ago and ask them to guess at the use. Hey kids, gather round: have you ever heard of the Polaroid 600 and Spectra series? I had them both.

Burnished Polaroids. This is a style of photography I got into a few years ago. It’s appeal is simple: it takes little technical expertise and the process itself is limited in time. Everything boils down to basic form: a successful photo depends on setting up a good shot and then bringing it’s potential out in the burnishing. 

Categories: Blogs


Quaker Mystics - Tue, 02/06/2018 - 11:18am

It’s late at night

A dangerous time

on the computer


Conscious mind drifts


Out comes my soul

to lead my heart


I am closer to God

when my mind is less –

perhaps grieving, scared

tired, confused


And I remember

There is nothing I can do

to be worthy of God’s love


And I need do nothing

to earn that precious gift


God loves me

Is with me


I am

because God is


All powerful,

I could have been made a bug or tree


I was instead assembled as me

Just the way intended


Set down with only

the faintest memory

of living in God’s heart


Free to wander

this three-dimensional world

trying to figure out


my only task is to love




I feel led to publish a poem each week. Writing in my ministry, and this is a way to let others know how God can work in people’s lives. My prayer is that they will be useful.

Categories: Blogs

An Infinite Number of Second Chances: Three Books About Life Between Lives

What Canst Thou Say - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 11:18am

Three Books About Life Between Lives recommended by Rhonda Ashurst and reviewed by Mariellen Gilpin for preparation for the May issue of What Canst Thou Say on the theme “Other Lives”

Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives. Michael Newton, Ph.D. Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN. 1994.

Destiny of Souls: New Case Studies of Life Between Lives. Michael Newton, Ph.D. Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN. 2000.

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives. Brian L. Weiss, M.D. © 1988. Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Michael Newton is a hypnotherapist who began interviewing people with severe pain issues without clear physiological causation. His books record snippets of his conversations/interviews with some of his patients, in which he explores their traumas in earlier lives to learn how to relieve physical ailments in their present lives. Along the way, he began to investigate what a soul’s journey is like between one life and the next. If one were to read Newton’s books expecting to explore his reasoning about whether and how one might have consciousness between a death in one life and a birth into the next, the reader will be disappointed. Newton’s objective is not an argument for the existence of souls based on his interview data, but socio-anthropological studies, if you will, which explore the structure and the milestones of a soul’s journey between lives.

Journey of Souls, first published in 1994 and revised five times by the 38th printing in 2017, focuses largely on the stages of a soul’s journey from one life to the next: first passing the gateway into the spirit world; then one’s homecoming party, so to speak, with others in our group of soul-intimates; our review of our learnings (or not) in one’s past life; choosing a new life and a new body; and the experience of rebirth. He also reviews the journey of a soul as it moves from beginner to intermediate and then advanced soul-hood over the course of many lives, many centuries.

Destiny of Souls, published in 2000 and reprinted 24 times by 2017, explores in some depth various aspects of a soul’s journey: the ways spirits connect with the living; forms and functions souls may take when they wish to stay connected to earth between lives; how souls may undertake to restore themselves between lives on earth; the group systems that souls may choose between lives; how souls undergo evaluation (not judgment and punishment) of their lives; the linkages between spiritual and human families, including reuniting with souls who have hurt us; and some specializations that advancing souls may choose (ethicists or nursery teachers, for instance); and finally, how souls are supported and guided in their choices of future lives.

Once the reader adapts to the lack of support for those of us thrown in at the deep end of Newton’s pool, we can notice that there is actually a great deal of support for souls during their lives between lives. The Universe, according to Newton, seems to understand that we are all in a process of learning how to do things better. There is much less emphasis in Newton’s universe on depicting the horrors of eternal punishment; much more emphasis on reflecting on one’s life and how we can do it all better next time, and the time after that. It is a universe with perhaps an infinite number of second chances; opportunities to do it better. One can hope in Newton’s universe, also, for an infinite number of opportunities to rest, reflect, think it over before trying again.

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives. Brian L. Weiss, M.D. © 1988. Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

This book will provide some of the narrative background for the change in therapeutic methods and thinking one lacked when reading Newton’s works (see above). We can follow the developments when traditional psychotherapist Brian Weiss first interviewed Catherine under hypnosis, and stumbled on something he knew very little about: reincarnation and past-life memories. His scientifically-trained mind resisted, but he couldn’t deny the reality of his observations either. And, as her traumas in past lives emerged under hypnosis, Catherine’s lifelong anxieties and phobias began to diminish—sometimes disappearing entirely after just one session. As they continued to work together, she began to develop psychic abilities, among other things sharing some remarkable revelations about Weiss’s own family and his dead son. She was also able to serve as a conduit of information about life and death from highly-evolved spirit entities. Weiss’s style of questioning Catherine became much less conventionally therapeutic, and her pace of progress much more rapid. Weiss himself was no longer so fearful about his own death, although he continued to scrutinize carefully every new piece of information from their sessions together. Using past-life therapy, he was able not only to cure Catherine but begin an innovative and highly effective treatment modality.

One cannot help but reflect, upon reading Newton and Weiss’s works, how their views of a constantly-evolving human potential over the course of many second chances, many lives, fit with the more traditional psychological framework, which tends to assume that some diagnoses/labels, such as sociopathy for instance, may be organic in origin. Does such a label remain in place for a single soul through the course of many lives? Stay tuned for more information from later researchers.

Categories: Blogs

Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes–Sing us a bit of your famous Blues!

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 8:45am

From Not Without Laughter, by Langston Hughes

It’s Langston Hughes’s birthday (Feb. 1, 1902- May 22, 1967). Known primarily as a poet, Hughes was a versatile writer: by his mid-twenties he had published challenging essays in national periodicals, and two books of poetry. I’m now reading his first novel, Not Without Laughter, published in 1930, when he was 28.

This passage evokes a domestic scene in a small Kansas city, modeled on Lawrence, where Hughes spent several boyhood years. Hughes was proud of his humble roots, and the creativity it wrung from hardship, like the largely homemade blues songs by the itinerant laborer Jimboy. Here he has returned after a long absence seeking work. In Hughes’s prose, we can hear the poetry woven through it.

Jimboy was home. All the neighborhood could hear his rich low baritone voice giving birth to the blues. On Saturday night he and Annjee went to bed early. On Sunday night Aunt Hager said: “Put that guitar right up, less’n it’s hymns you plans on playin’. An’ I don’t want too much o’ them, ‘larmin’ de white neighbors.”

But this was Monday, and the sun had scarcely fallen below the horizon before the music had begun to float down the alley, over back fences and into kitchen-windows where nice white ladies sedately washed their supper dishes. . . .

Long, lazy length resting on the kitchen-door-sill, back against the jamb, feet in the yard, fingers picking his sweet guitar, left hand holding against its finger-board the back of an old pocket-knife, sliding the knife upward, downward, getting thus weird croons and sighs from the vibrating strings:

O, I left ma mother
An’ I cert’ly can leave you.
Indeed I left ma mother
An’ I cert’ly can leave you,
For I’d leave any woman
That mistreats me like you do. . . .

It was all great fun, and innocent fun except when one stopped to think, as white folks did, that some of the blues lines had, not only double, but triple meanings, and some of the dance steps required very definite movements of the hips. But neither Harriett nor Jimboy soiled their minds by thinking. . . .

“Do you know this one, Annjee?’ calling his wife’s name out of sudden politeness because he had forgotten to eat her food, had hardly looked at her, in fact, since she came home. Now he glanced towards her in the darkness where she sat plump on a kitchen chair in the yard , apart from the others, with her back to the growing corn in the garden. Softly he ran his fingers, light as a breeze, over his guitar strings, imitating the wind rustling through the long leaves of the corn. A rectangle of light from the kitchen-door fell into the yard striking sidewise across the healthy orange-yellow of his skin above the unbuttoned neck of his blue laborer’s shirt. 

“Come on, sing it with us, Annjee,” he said.

“I don’t know it,” Annjee replied, with a lump in her throat, and her eyes on the silhouette of his long, muscular, animal-hard body. She loved Jimboy too much, that’s what was the matter with her! She knew there was nothing between him and her young sister except the love of music, yet he might have dropped the guitar and left Harriett in the yard for a little while to come eat the nice cold slice of ham she had brought him. She hadn’t seen him all day long. When she went to work this morning, he was still in bed–and now the blues claimed him.

In the starry blackness the singing notes of the guitar became a plaintive hum, like a breeze in a grove of palmettos; became a low moan , like the wind in a forest of live-oaks strung with long strands of hanging moss. The voice of Annjee’s golden, handsome husband on the door-step rang high and far away, lonely-like, crying with only the guitar, not his wife, to understand; crying grotesquely, crying absurdly in the summer night:

I got a mule to ride.
I got a mule to ride.
Down in the South somewhere
I got a mule to ride.

Then asking the question as an anxious left-lonesome girl-sweetheart would ask it:

You say you goin’ North
You say you goin’ North
How ‘bout yo’ … lovin’ gal?
You say you goin’ North.

Then sighing in rhythmical despair:

O, don’t you leave me here,
Babe, don’t you leave me here.
Dog-gone yo’ comin’ back!
Said don’t you leave me here.

On and on the song complained, man-verses and woman-verses, to the evening air in stanzas that Jimboy had heard in the pine-woods of Arkansas from the lumber-camp workers; in other stanzas that were desperate and dirty like the weary roads where they were sung; and in still others that the singer created spontaneously in his own mouth then and there:

O, I done made ma bed,
Says I done made ma bed.
Down in some lonesome grave
I done made ma bed.

It closed with a sad eerie twang.

“That’s right decent,” said Hager. “Now I wish you-all’d play some o’ ma pieces like When de Saints Come Marchin’ In or This World Is Not Ma Home–something Christian from de church.”

“Aw, mama, it’s not Sunday yet,” said Harriett.

“Sing Casey Jones,” called old man Tom Johnson. “That’s ma song.”

So the ballad of the immortal engineer with another mama in the Promised Land rang out promptly in the starry darkness, while everybody joined in the choruses.

“Aw, pick it, boy,” yelled the old man. “Can’t nobody play like you.”

And Jimboy remembered when he was a lad in Memphis that W. C. Handy had said: “You ought to make your living out of that, son.” But he hadn’t followed it up–too many things to see, too many places to go, too many other jobs.

“What song do you like, Annjee?” he asked, remembering her presence again. . . .


Not Without Laughter is a rich novel, packed with color and insight and compassion. Hughes is frank abut the impact of racism, and the anger many people of color carried because of it. Yet he is also candid about the internal tensions of this community:  lighter vs. darker color discrimination; jagged class distinctions and snobbery; even struggles over religion. 
Yet there is an underlying generosity to his storytelling, a sense of a people being beleaguered but not defeated.


Langston Hughes


The post Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes–Sing us a bit of your famous Blues! appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Some Quick Quaker Responses to the SOTU

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 01/30/2018 - 9:59pm

To respond to the State of the Union address, we’ve invited two special Friendly commentators, who are joining us via our new astral projection uplink. 

First up is our old buddy, Walter Whitman, late of Camden, New Jersey, where he settled once they named a big bridge there after him. Whitman is known as the author of the best-selling pro-marijuana polemic of all time, Leaves of Grass.

Walt — if you don’t mind me calling you that — you’ve hovered over a lot of these talkfests. So tell us: what was your reaction to what you heard tonight?

Whitman: Why sure, Chuck. I even scribbled a few notes; let me check my pockets. Yeah, here they are:

Walt Whitman’s Caution.

TO The States, or any one of them, or any city of
The States,
Resist much, obey little;
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth,
ever afterward resumes its liberty. . . .

Supporters of DACA hold signs in support of DACA, and the rights of undocumented persons at Colorado State University during a rally in the Plaza on Monday. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian) My Alma Mater!

To a Certain Cantatrice, a female opera singer

HERE, take this gift!
I was reserving it for some hero, speaker, or General,

One who should serve the good old cause, the great
Idea, the progress and freedom of the race;
Some brave confronter of despots—some daring rebel;
—But I see that what I was reserving, belongs to you
just as much as to any.

Oh, and one more thing:

When liberty goes out of a place, it is not the first to
go, nor the second or third to go,
It waits for all the rest to go—it is the last.

When there are no more memories of heroes and
And when all life, and all the souls of men and women
are discharged from any part of the earth,
Then only shall liberty, or the idea of liberty, be dis-
charged from that part of the earth,
And the infidel come into full possession.

So that’s about it, Chuck: Meet the New Boss; Worse than the Old Boss. (But maybe I borrowed that from somebody; can’t remember Who.)

Chuck: Well thank you, Walt, always good to have you on the show.

Our next analyst is James Richardson, Jr., a Unitarian minister from Brooklyn, New York. Jim, and a fast friend of Progressive Friends. I understand you also wrote something about the SOTU — you guys sure work fast. 

Richardson: Why yes, Chuck, I admit I started on it a few days ago, because there was so much material. And that was a good thing, because it came thick and fast tonight. But there was really nothing new in it.  I even put a retro sort-of title to it, tried to sum it up:

The Tyrant’s Ancient Argument: Or, The Dangers of Thought

Cease your thinking, O ye people! shouts the Tyrant, fierce and loud. 
As, with scornful eye, he glances o’er the slowly moving crowd;

Ye were made for toil and labor — mark your hard and brawny hand!
We are God’s appointed Rulers, to obey is his command!

Cease your thinking, lest ye fancy ye can rule yourselves by thought,

And the world’s fair peace and order be to swift destruction brought;
Lest, seduced by idle dreams, ye may fondly think there be
Minds and souls in those rough bodies, and we’re men as well as he.

Cease your thinking, chimes the Rich man, else you’ll soon uneasy grow,
Feeling you must have whatever we your lords and betters do;
I am rich and sleek and happy, my condition’s well enough;
every change my peace endangers, and your grievance is but stuff:

For it makes you fierce and restless, fills your lives with discontent,
Loses present joys in grasping what for you was never meant. . . .
Claiming that mankind are equal, that the bondman should be free,

That the vile, degraded masses all should educated be;
Claiming that the humble labor of the low degraded thrall
Is too worthy, is too noble, to depend on capital.

Cease your thinking, shrieks the Bigot, there’s your Bible, and the creed
To interpret what it tells you, so that all may be agreed;

So that no one thro’ his thinking, daring to dissent from these,
Might blasphemously endanger his salvation and his peace.

Carnal reason’s use is sinful; ‘tis a blind deceitful guide;

I have wondered why ‘twas given us — Satan’s lure is Reason’s pride!
God ordained you Falwell-Graham, who should safely think for you;
Tell you what you must believe in, what you may and may not do.

Chuck: Well, thank you Jim. I guess you’ve shown us again that a man’s Best Friend is His Dog-gerel. (It’s a woman’s Best Friend too, I think.)
Oops — there goes our astral projection uplink, and the password is lost again somewhere in the Akashic records. So I better go look for it. And that’s all from here. Cheer up, folks, there’s no more than seven more of these SOTU’s to get through, max . . .


The post Some Quick Quaker Responses to the SOTU appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Quakers Getting on the DOWN Escalator

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 1:46am

Recently I read the amazing account of the Great Black Migration from the South, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.

It’s a fine, fine book, and its relevance here is that, paradoxically, until it was well underway, there was no such thing as “The Great Migration”; that is, no one named or organized it, no one “joined” it.

Rather, there were individuals & families fleeing for their own survival: seeking escape from the personal costs of official southern racism, grinding poverty and unrestrained violence. Only after such private decisions were acted on by hundreds of thousands, over  decades, did scholars & writers come along to christen, study and begin to chronicle it.

Yet while “spontaneous” and unorganized, the Great Migration was indeed real and momentous, with national impact that’s still being felt.

A change equally unorganized & unheralded, potentially as momentous at least for us is, I believe, underway in the U. S. liberal Quakerism I discovered in 1965 (after ditching pre-Vatican II Catholicism).

This change does not necessarily involve moving from physical places, but rather from one economic and class location to another.

When I found it, Liberal American Quakerism was a solidly middle class “sub-subculture,” nearly all white, with a heavy academic/educational tinge. (I acronym it “EMCWAQE”–“E” now as in “Ex-,” or as vocalized, “EmQuake.“)

I don’t name EmQuake to flagellate anybody (or myself). After all, everybody & every group is conditioned/limited by its surroundings, so let’s just skip the trendy guilt-trips, which don’t fool anybody anyway, except sometimes us.

However, now in my 53nd year in this group, I see more & more of what’s been well-documented by economists/pollsters, etc. on a broader canvas, namely that these segments (the middle class part of EmQuake) are in a steady slide of downward mobility. We are not leaving our economic & class “homes” voluntarily, but like many of those in the Black Migration, being forced out.

This slide lacks the epic scale and the moments of high drama that Wlkerson’s book captures so well. (I mean, her story had lynch mobs, terrorist sheriffs, and years of field labor under a punishing sun. But who’s going to write an un-put-downable memoir about being stuck with student loan debt for most of their working years?) Besides, in the Great Migration, the pilgrims moved with hopes for improving their situation, which many did.

This reverse follows almost 50 years of post-World War Two expansion of EmQuake jobs, income, and seeming influence. And if current Congressional plans come to pass, this slide will take a DEEP new dive for most of us outside the upper middle.

Besides erosion of income & security, another big manifestation of the decline is loss of TIME: people are working more (both spouses in such households); it takes more concentrated effort to keep households together & kids on track to the higher ed that used to maintain middle class status & income, etc. The “weekend” shrinks, even as ever more is crammed into it.

But as in the Deep South, both this downward economic mobility & the time-crunch are experienced & perceived mainly as individual or single family issues –that’s how we’re taught to think & perceive in these Individual States of America. It’s hard for very many of us to see past this tree to even the edge of the forest, or admit that we’re part of it.

What does this shift from the UP to the DOWN class escalator mean for “voluntary associations” (aka churches)?

That too has been well-documented: it makes their old middle class patterns increasingly squeezed & dysfunctional. Church was once central to many families and their communities.

Now it has to compete with work, school, family pressures, politics, invasive media, plain old fatigue, discrediting scandals, and so forth.
Thus [with some interesting exceptions which we don’t have time for here] church, along with many other former social pillars, is increasingly being marginalized for many.

What’s the remedy here, especially for Meetings & Friends churches? That’s not so easy to see.

I hear a lot about new church marketing plans, ways to tweak & repackage the old patterns to corral more of the Squeezed folks and that magic group of their offspring, The Millennials; but I don’t see many results–the slide continues. And it looks to me particularly serious for EmQuakes: our “secure middleness” is gone-with-the-wind, but it seems still baked into our institutional & cultural Quaker bones. The baking started well before 1945, and I’m not at all sure American Quakerism, especially the liberal branches, has a vision of survival without it.

One suggestion, though: what if we could begin to reimagine EmQuakes as a no-longer “solid” middle class group? I don’t think there’s even a name for this condition yet: “ex-middle class”? “Newly-Almost Poor”? “Sliders”? “The Emerging Precariat.” Other ideas?

By whatever name, though, how do non-prosperous folks “do church” (or meeting)? Are there non-prosperous segments of American Quakerism (past or present) to learn from?

And what about the psychological/emotional work such a rethink would involve? To be sure, EmQuakes have always been “concerned” for the “disadvantaged”; but that whole outlook is 100% philanthropic. that is, it moves socially from “above” [i.e., more affluent/powerful] to “below”: We-the-prosperous, aiding Them-the-deprived (particularly the “deserving poor”).

Again, I’m not interested in flagellating ourselves about that; EmQuakes have done a lot of good work for a lot of people in this mode, Thank Thee Very Much. It is what it is.

Or at least, it was what it was.

Yet the point remains that it’s a huge shock (trauma is a better word) to go from one side of that transaction to the other. And that’s where I think many (most?) of us are headed.

Dealing with the impact (PTSD — Post Traumatic Spiritual Distress) will involve more than economics; it will be a heavy-duty religious task. It means the recalibration of our outlook on both our Religious Society & its work in the world.

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t seem like most EmQuakes are well-prepared for any of this, in which case one would expect a time of confusion, grieving, and internal disorder. Which, if you look beyond the diminishing cozy Quaker bubbles, is already plentiful in U. S. Quakerdom.

Where these musings are pointing is toward internal work: seeking & threshing about “American Quakerism During The Big Slide.”

Such labour is not to be confused with the current thrusts of outward Resistance. That must continue (except for those who have arranged not to get old, disabled, de-careered, or sick); yet this internal work is distinct, with its own imperatives. And, to be plain, its own addition to the Time Squeeze. It might start with discussion & study, as well as learning how to minister to each other through such periods. And recovering a once-vigorous practice of mutual aid.

I realize this is not much of a detailed program. It’s like correctly noticing that a thick fog has descended all around us in an already gloomy forest: knowing that is useful, but doesn’t shed light on the winding path in and through the gloom. But maybe it’s a starting point.

One younger Friend (younger than me, at least) has just published a kind of manifesto for such deliberation: Scot Miller, of upstate Michigan. His book is Gospel of the Absurd.

I’m planning to discuss Scot’s book with him at Spring Friends Meeting here in North Carolina, on Seventh Day (Saturday), Second Month (February) 24, beginning at 10 AM. Y’all come.

Scot argues that the way forward for EmQuakes (tho he has his own peculiar terminology: he calls them/us Christians), is to embrace the slide, embrace the stripping of our liberal dreams of affluence-that-underwrites-influence, turn all that stuff upside down, and replace it.

With what? With the absurd. Or at least practices that sound absurd to the  well-conditioned declining middle class mind. Such as:

With a communal, small-scale, deliberately marginal set of “ministries,” especially alongside those suffering directly from current injustices. (He lives not far from Flint, Michigan, and works often among the many there who are still without safe water). And he wants this all to be regularly marinated in ongoing Bible study and serious accountability to the group. (Serious = their way or the highway.)

If this sounds to you like something close to the Amish, or maybe the Catholic Worker, or various monastic efforts — then you’re on the right track.

Scot himself dresses plain, runs a dairy farm, and hopes to start one such agriculture-based community on his acreage. He’s a hybrid, Quaker and a Brethren church minister, about equally attached and ticked off at both.

Scot Miller at work (holding the books).

And he’s come to this proposed program, both through a turbulent personal journey, and after a tracking his way through seminary. There he tackled a stack of dense theological tomes, on postmodernist, womanist, social gospel, Yoderian, Cone-ian, Hauerwasian, Derridadian & Macintyrian approaches to theology. (But if you don’t know these names, don’t worry).

Do his ideas make any practical sense? Are there additional unconventional approaches we need to articulate and wrestle with? (Other than the fallback, “More of the same”?)

Personally I’m not at all sure his plan will work for Quakers. But I can’t deny we’re in a tough time, in need of some renewal of thought and discernment, and I respect his thinking and determination. Plus, I have friends in the Catholic Worker movement, and the outsized impact of their version of this approach over 85 years is not to be gainsaid.

Yet, could such an approach really get any traction among the hardened individualism and obsession with formal political activity that preoccupy most American Friends today?

Among those who still feel secure, probably not. But for the EmQuakes, Friends who see their future, and that of their children and grandchildren, riding on that escalator — for those of us who are beginning to realize we may be part of another unwilling, gathering “Great” Migration (downward rather than to one of the compass points), it’s worth at least a serious look.

Spring Friends Meeting, Snow Camp, NC. (It won’t be this green yet on February 24.)

The post Quakers Getting on the DOWN Escalator appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

It’s Almost Here: My Recurring Quaker Nightmare-Jan. 27

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 01/26/2018 - 9:25am

Chamomile tea? St. John’s Wort?
Staying up all night?
Nothing seems to work!

I’d even try Kale . . . . (But I did that last year; no luck.)

Watch This Space. The Clock is Ticking . . .

The post It’s Almost Here: My Recurring Quaker Nightmare-Jan. 27 appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Oh No! My Quaker Nightmare is Coming Again!

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 01/25/2018 - 11:15am

Yes. I can feel it.

I’ve tried everything. but it keeps coming: January 27.

Watch this space.

The post Oh No! My Quaker Nightmare is Coming Again! appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

from George McPherson

Quaker Mystics - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 5:58pm
by Mariellen Gilpin Chris Jocius presented me yesterday with a booklet containing our late Friend George’s State of Society reports for Rolla Meeting, which had an attendance of 7 or 8, over the years. This is the conclusion of the one he wrote for ILYM in 1977. (The first evidence of Rolla Meeting even existing was in 1975): This meeting has had an important influence on every person who has attended with any regularity. Not that every meeting has been a thrilling spiritual experience. But  it has been enlightening to see the Spirit that was in Jesus quietly at work in receptive hearts and minds. The spirit of Christ is its own best evangelist.
The late George McPherson wrote the State of Society report for Friends’ Meeting of Rolla, Missouri – Preparative to Illinois Yearly Meeting in 1977. Reprinted in Friends’ Meeting of Rolla (MO): A Collection of States of Society 1975-2012, written by George McPherson, Jr.
Categories: Blogs

Our Culture is Spinning Out of Control. Only One Thing Can Save Us.

Micah Bales - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 1/21/18, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; and Mark 1:14-20. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

I don’t need to tell you that we’re living in a particularly dark, chaotic time. We can all feel it. Our national government is off the rails in a very visible way with the present federal shutdown. But our dysfunction as a society goes far deeper than this particular game of political brinkmanship. The top leadership of our nation – political, economic, and spiritual – is filled with people who could rightly be described as wicked. Pathological liars who seem willing to do anything to win the game of power, regardless of the cost to our society.

Our culture’s present state of imbalance and disorder is fueled by a whole class of public intellectuals: TV news personalities, members of think tanks, and partisan strategists. They have orchestrated and engineered the toxic soup that we as a society have been drinking in for years. We’re all caught up in this. Regardless of our political commitments, social class, or religious affiliations, we’ve all become disconnected from reality to some degree. We’ve allowed ourselves to be divided into identity- and ideologically-based tribes. We’ve been lied to, bamboozled by the rich and powerful for so long that it’s often hard to tell which way is up.

Can you feel it? Anxiety is gripping our country. The government shutdown is just a symptom. We live in a society with no shared sense of moral commitment, or even historical reality. There is no longer any solid foundation for us to cling to. We look out on the world, and what we see is so overwhelming. “What can I do? What difference can I possibly make in the face of this level of confusion and mayhem?”

In times like these, our membership in the body of Christ is revealed to be so important. As friends of Jesus, we have access to a source of truth that reaches beyond our present state of confusion. Through Jesus, God is reaching into history and speaking directly to us. Regardless of what we see on TV or Twitter, the Holy Spirit is available to us as a trustworthy source of guidance.

We are participants in a tradition that spans back thousands of years. We are part of a people and a community that has survived even worse evil than that which we see in our present context. The church of Jesus Christ is a community capable of living truth boldly, speaking into times of hatred and chaos. In this community, God binds us together in the spirit of love, even in the face of this world’s rancor and blind hatred.

We’ve just passed through the Christmas season. Christmas is a time that we tend to sentimentalize. We think about the joy and wonder of the star and three wise men. We focus on the love of the mother Mary for her infant son. On the sweetness and vulnerability of the Christ child, lying in a manger. Star of wonder, star of light; star of royal beauty bright.

And the light of that star is real. There is joy in the season of our savior’s birth. But we are also cognizant that God had to send that starlight for a reason. That dim light could be so clearly seen in the night’s sky, because it was indeed nighttime in Israel. The age of Jesus was a time of deep darkness, sorrow, and loss.

It was a time when a petty dictator like Herod could slaughter all of the infant children in a town just to eliminate a possible rival. A time when thousands of Jews were crucified by the sides of the road, a testimony to the futility of rebellion against the brutal occupation of the Roman Empire. Only in retrospect can we perceive that the days of Jesus were ones of hope and promise. For those who lived them, it was deepest darkness.

People knew they needed a savior. The common people of Israel flocked to Jesus, because they knew just how desperate their situation was. And not just Jesus. The people of Israel were desperate for healing and liberation, and they were looking for God’s love wherever they could find it. That’s why they came to John by the thousands. That’s why they joined this wild man in the desert, by the side of the river Jordan. That’s why they sought John’s baptism – immersion in water as a sign of repentance.

This is where Jesus began his ministry: immersed in the waters of the Jordan; emerging from the river and seeing the heavens torn open, the Holy Spirit of God descending on him like a dove. This is where Jesus received his call to ministry. A call to be light in the darkness. To take the ministry of John, the call to repentance, and take the next step.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the gospel.” This was Jesus’ first sermon. This is the foundation and core of Jesus’ ministry. The announcement of the reign of God on earth, coming now and immediately. Repentance: turning away from the darkness and wickedness of this present world and throwing our lot in entirely with God.

It can’t be overstated how foolish this message must have seemed to those in the centers of worldly power at that time – in Jerusalem, in Caesarea, and in Rome. The domination of Rome’s empire seemed just as absolute and unquestionable as global capitalism and nuclear-armed military powers seem today.

The idea that a little nobody like Jesus, emerging from a region that even the Jews considered a backwater, could represent a real threat to empire was preposterous. For him to declare the empire of God in the midst of Roman occupation was almost as unbelievable as preaching an economy of love in the midst our culture’s economy of wealth accumulation and income inequality.

But, as implausible as Jesus’ message was, there were some who did believe. Those who were so desperate to see the light that they were ready to die to darkness. Women and men who flocked – first to John, and later to Jesus – immersing themselves first in the waters of the Jordan and later into the power of the Holy Spirit. Despite the darkness of the world around them, their lives were transformed. They became a light shining in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome them.

Are we light in our present darkness? Are we repenting like Jesus calls us to? Are we surrendering our lives to the love, life, and power that Jesus wants to reveal in us?

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes, “brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”

The present form of this world is passing away. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the gospel.

Paul is exhorting the church to become fully repentant, fully given over to the life of God’s kingdom. To be transformed by God’s love, justice, and spiritual power. He invites us into a journey of faith that utterly breaks down the facade of normalcy that we live in. Paul writes that the age of darkness and wickedness is coming to an end. We can no longer act like it’s business as usual.

Do you believe that? Do you feel it in your bones? Can you sense that this present order is passing away? That in the midst of this darkness, the true light that enlightens every person is coming into the world?

Repentance is a tough word. It’s a word that has been severely damaged by two thousand years of human religion. We’ve turned it into a moralistic, goody-two-shoes word that is mostly focused on personal sin and feeling bad about our naughty deeds. But the original meaning of repentance is far deeper than that. It’s not just about changing our behavior and doing fewer bad things.

Repentance, in the biblical sense, is about a total transformation of character and perspective. It is about becoming a member of the revolutionary God movement. It’s about being baptized into death, and emerging into another life altogether. It’s about awakening from the slumber of this numb and stupefied world, to see reality as God sees it.

Repentance means we have to stop in our tracks and refuse to participate in the everyday evil that surrounds us. Even if it costs us greatly. Even if it puts us out of step with everyone around us. Even if it means discomfort, being socially ostracized, losing our jobs – or worse. Repentance means that we have left the kingdoms of this world and entered into the sovereign power of the crucified savior.

This kind of repentance is not mere pietism. Repentance is not a matter of sentiment or emotional catharsis. It is the very mechanism by which the gospel can be enacted and experienced in our lives, and in our shared life as the people of God.

We learn from the prophet Jonah that repentance is essential to survival. For as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.”

The wrath of God is real. In the face of violence, oppression, deceit, and abuse, God’s anger is real and justified. Just as God sent Jonah to proclaim judgment on the city of Nineveh, he is sending prophets to our own city. God is sending the prophets to preach repentance, before it is too late.

Because this path we’re on as a nation, it leads to death. The wickedness of our city, of our nation, cries to heaven. We’re no different from Nineveh, or Sodom, or Rome. In his very great love, God is sending his prophets to call us to a different way of life. God is calling us out of the death-ways of Babylon and into the beauty and love of the New Jerusalem. As the apostle writes in Second Peter:

“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.”

The day of the Lord is coming. Darkness will give way to the light. What has been hidden will be revealed. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

Will we be like the people of Nineveh, who heard the judgment of God and turned from their evil ways? Or will we be like the people of Sodom, who tried to abuse and humiliate the angels who were sent to warn them? Will we cling to the comforts of complicity and silence, or will we become instruments of transformation so that our city might be saved? God promised Abraham that he would spare Sodom if he could find even ten righteous people in it. Are there ten righteous among us today?

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” This is an invitation to a radical new way of life. “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” We have an opportunity to embrace a kind of love and joy that is presently unimaginable.

What would it look like for us to be a fearless, repentant people in the midst of an empire even greater than Rome? What does it mean for us to repent and proclaim the gospel message to the culture around us? Could we be the prophets that God wants to send?

We must not underestimate the urgency and reality of this call. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. The power and justice of God is present with us, and he will judge us. He will judge us, and he will judge this society that we live in. Are we ready to stand before him and receive that judgment? Is our city, nation, and world ready? How does God want to use us to ensure that every person, every power, every institution will hear the gospel message and have an opportunity to repent?

God is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but that all to come to repentance. But have no doubt: without repentance, we will perish. Without God’s love, we will self-destruct. Without the light of Jesus, we will drown in the darkness.

Will we become the light?

Related Posts: In the Beginning Was the Word Why the Church Is Not And Will Not Be Revolutionary 

The post Our Culture is Spinning Out of Control. Only One Thing Can Save Us. appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs


What Canst Thou Say - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 7:38pm

by Michael Resman

My heart is full of joy

I revel in ecstasy

For God loves me

I carry that piece of god’s love deep in my soul




God is in me

Never to be taken away or lost


A piece of the universe hurtling through

Pulled by the spark within me to that great conflagration

Thank you, oh thank you, my beloved


Categories: Blogs

A Year of #45. My Year of Resistance.

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sat, 01/20/2018 - 1:37am

During the past year, resistance took many forms, and cropped up in many places. It was also exhausting and resisters took many hits. And the struggle(s) are far from over.

I tried to do my share. And in an effort to keep up my own spirits, and maybe offer some tidbits of encouragement to others,  I’ve assembled this personal scrapbook. In the age of phone cameras, such documentation has become much easier. If others are moved to share theirs, I look forward to sampling them.

And it all started, of course, before the new year. After November 8, 2016, like many others, I spent many days reenacting this famous painting of “The Scream,” aloud,  silently, and in between. I don’t know if it helped or not. Denial is more than a river in Egypt. But then . . .

A guy had been hauling this trailer-cum-mobile shrine all over the country for months. This night it was parked in Fayetteville.

Also not sure if it helped to drive down to Fayetteville, my old stomping ground, to see the post-victory rally by #45, but I did.  It was the same old incoherent bombast, made even more chilling as the prelude to executive action; but the jabber all boiled down to one word: Trouble.

By early December there seemed a ray of light, at least locally: NC media trumpeted that a deal had been reached between the new governor and the rightwing legislature to repeal the infamous, ruinous transphobic “Bathroom Bill.” The day before I called a transgender friend, told her I was going down to the legislature in Raleigh to watch this happen, and then would drive out to her place so we could have a celebratory lunch. Deal!

I was there in the hall all day, with activists on both sides doing their thing in the balcony between the NC House & Senate chambers. The sun finally sank, and in the darkness at the end of that long day, there was no vote, no repeal. And no victory lunch. 

Some weeks later a fake kind of “repeal”-but-not-really was voted. The new governor declared victory; the legislature declared victory. The local media declared the story over. Transgender folks did not. Still no victory lunch; not even a victory snack.

Soon the inauguration was upon us.
There were tons of great protest signs; this one may be my favorite.

Rather than watch or listen to the ceremony, I drove south again to Fayetteville. While working at a Quaker peace center there near Fort Bragg, I had taken part in dozens, scores of peaceful vigils and protests.

If you can spot my white beard in the second row, the sign I’m holding says, “I Mourn for My country.” It’s still true.

And some of my old cronies, along with some new ones, were having  vigil of mourning and protest there, downtown at what is called the Market House, the symbolic center of the city.

You may recall that in Washington, the inaugural crowd was measly, pathetic. But our Fayetteville gathering was dogged and uplifting, as it had been so many times before.

And the next day, I didn’t go to the Women’s March, but it was overwhelming anyway. The reverberations all the way down in Carolina felt almost physical; and the Raleigh parallel gathering was huge too.

Yet, in the midst of the outcry and hullaballoo, I couldn’t help but strike a cautionary note: “In consideration for the families of the victims, I urge mourners to hold off on official memorial services at least until the massacre has actually happened.” I’m not sure it sank in, though.

The iconography of the pussy hat inaugurated something else: the age of weaponized humor. The invaders in the White (supremacy) House produced an ongoing supply of howlers as well as endless lies. Mockery was a form of fightback; satire, the crueler the better, was a survival necessity.

Among the early high/lowlights, for me nothing surpassed the historic Bowling Green Massacre, for which one of the administration’s spokeswoman-of-the-moment Kellyanne Conway will long be remembered.

But with most of this humor, the subtext was anything but funny. “Bowling Green” was one small part in the ongoing assault on immigrants, and Muslims. I soon found myself at the Market House in Fayetteville again, to join a protest organized by local Muslims.

This gathering was remarkable in many ways, one being visual: the group was practically wrapped in American flags, some quite large, most being waved by the Muslims.

I count seven American flags visible in this segment of the American Muslims protesting the administration’s anti-islamic policies. There were many more.

Listening to their impassioned words, I soon understood why: all too many had come to the U.S. from nations with repressive and violent governments. For all its previous failings, for these Muslims, America was a land of more freedom, safety and opportunity than they had known. The newcomers were patriots in training, others were confirmed. The idea that they might be expelled, or turned into scapegoats in their new country evoked cries of patriotism.

Not many days later, I joined a huge crowd in downtown Raleigh, who listened to Rev. William Barber declaring that he was not going to “bow down” to the new rulers’ tactics or repressive goals.

One of these goals was, and is, to restrict voting rights, a process well underway in North Carolina. I brought out an experienced sign for the event, which attracted the attention of many cameras. It also drew a photobomb effort that, once I discovered it, was very welcome.

By March, I was working with some fellow Quakers to get our bearings and talk about resistance, individual and collective. For this we organized an “Emergency Consultation” at Spring Friends Meeting.

There interested Quakers and some others intensively discussed numerous issues and action possibilities. We didn’t make decisions — this was not the start of  new organization, but an event to offer information, encouragement & networking. We also had a bell to ring to wake the countryside, and fine singing to lift the spirit.

In April, Marches for Science coursed through many cities, and the one in Raleigh NC was huge. It too featured a large number of bitingly funny, even prescient signs — who knew the nerds could be so witty?? Yet despite the fine weather and lively speeches, this struggle is ongoing and vast, affecting too many fields of science for a layman to even list.

Great sign, but as we’ve seen very recently, making sh*t up not only can be done in the White (supremacy) House, but even happens in the Oval Office, to the shame of Americans of all persuasions.


Some forms of resistance in evidence at the Science March were moving as well as encouraging.

By spring, resistance was not only about big marches, but also about taking citizen concern to members of Congress. I sent dozens of faxes to the two NC Republican senators. I also shared them on social media to broaden their visibility. 

Many other resisters were organizing to descend upon the public meetings of regime-supporting Congressmen & women, a great many of whom did not want to face or hear from their constituents. That was true  of many Members from Carolina, and still is of some. But . . .

A Fax I sent to NC Senator Thom Tillis. he didn’t answer. I shared it widely on social media, where the response indicated it had a wide readership.

One exception, in early May, was Republican Rep. Mark Walker from the Sixth district, in north central NC, an area which includes Spring Friends Meeting and the Snow Camp Outdoor drama, of which we’ll hear more.
Like the other districts, the 6th has been drastically gerrymandered to make Walker’s reelection seemingly safe. So on a May morning he decided to hold a public meeting, and since I had business out that way, I decided to drop in on it — not to speak, since I’m not a resident, but to observe.

Walker at the front, gets the red card treatment for one of his talking points against Obamacare. Waving a red card meant the constituent was not pleased. Maybe the 2018 election in his district will be more interesting than the last few.

The room, at a community college, was nearly full, and most of those present had come to challenge, not to cheer.  A staffer shoved a ticket into my hand when I entered. As I sat down, it was announced that tickets would be drawn from a box to choose questioners.

A refresher for Rep. (ex-Rev.) Walker.

And the first ticket drawn was — mine?? 

Rep. Mark Walker

What? It was true. So I stumbled up to the microphone, trying to think quickly of a question that might get past his well-practiced talking points.

Somehow I succeeded. Walker had previously been a preacher, and so I asked him if he believed in the Ninth of the Ten commandments, the one against “bearing false witness” (i.e., telling lies.) A bit puzzled, he said he did. 

So then I asked what he thought about the tally the Washington Post had been publishing each week since inauguration, tracking and documenting #45’s lies, which were running at about 5 per day. Was he okay with that?

Now Walker was really befuddled. As he stuttered, it appeared he might not be exactly sure what the Washington Post was, and he certainly didn’t know anything about this tally. But after much backing and filling, and under my prodding, he did finally manage to come out more or less foursquare against telling lies, without being more specific. Not his best performance.

Other questions were mostly about health care, aka Obamacare, which he was against. As an accidental resister, I felt afterward that I had done okay that morning.

I had gone into Walker’s district that day not for politics, but to work on the summer productions of the Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre. And that work, beginning in early June, took up most of the rest of the summer.

This Confederate flag, on a pole that is at least 60 feet high, flies freely only a few miles from Snow Camp NC.

While it might not seem like “summer stock” theatre has much to do with resistance, I would contend that this year, these dramas, were very pertinent.

In the year when conflicts over Confederate monuments led to violence, these signs have popped up in the same area as Snow Camp.

For one thing, the two plays we present, The Sword of Peace and Pathway to Freedom, deal with issues that are not just historical,  but very timely: revolution against an oppressive government, and the Underground Railroad and its resistance to slavery. And they also bring into the arena some of the key values of the Quakers who have lived in the region for 300 years, and faced these upheavals directly, not abstractly.

And for another,  these plays bring together an intentionally interracial cast, which has to work together and perform in an area which is host not only to them but to very vocal upholders of the system of slavery and its repressive aftermath.

On a truck bumper, in the same county. The confederate flag on the license plate represents the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The “Feds Out of Dixie” sticker represents something besides nostalgia.

And for a third, the “counter-resistance” represented by the 45 regime is all around in that area. Not that we were subjected to open hostility (that I’m aware of).  But struggles that may be distant for some, are very close by here. and the enthusiastic responses by our audiences suggested repeatedly that the dramas, which were not written with this past year in mid, are nonetheless not merely timely, but even urgent.

Our play “The Sword of Peace” closes with candles being lit one from another, with a plea for an end to “wars and rumors of war.”


They are also a lot of work; and I was helping out there all I could. still am (a viable summer drama program requires year-round effort).

Autumn was a slower time for me; I did a spell in the hospital, and discovered something called “post-surgical depression.” (Yes! It’s not just post- for “partum” any more.) But by late November I was back in the saddle, helping to publicize the hearings of the North Carolina Citizens Commission on Torture , which was an outgrowth of an anti-torture group I’ve worked with for more than ten years. 

(NC provided the base for “torture taxi” planes, run by a CIA front not far from Raleigh) that took many people to torture at “black sites.” Guantanamo, and other places, in violation of U.S. and international law. Most were later proven innocent and released. The regime of 45 has made numerous ominous noises about resuming torture.)

There were two other more personal projects underway then. In my career I’ve mostly been a writer. So for me, resistance has involved many writing projects. One that felt urgent recently was the republication of Uncertain Resurrection, a book that first appeared in 1969, which was an account of Dr. King’s ill-fated Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC) in Washington.

2018 will mark the PPC’s 50th anniversary, and NC’s Rev. William Barber as undertaken to revive the PPC this spring and summer. 

My book is one of the only accounts of the 1968 PPC. I hoped that getting it back in print could make it a resource for the new Campaign and for others interested in it. 

The 1968 effort was marred by numerous  mistakes. To be sure, many conditions are different now than in 1968, but there are also parallels. Perhaps by examining the record, organizers of the new PPC could avoid repeating old mistakes, and sidestep some new ones.

Once that book was edited and available, I turned to another. Since 1999, I’ve edited a journal called Quaker Theology. Some might question the relevance of theology to resistance, and regard Quakers, as a small denomination, as of little consequence in the larger struggles we now face.

But of course, as a Quaker I’m biased, and won’t argue that matter here. All I will say is that it’s a matter of faith for me that Quakers have a useful job to do in the larger canvas of social struggle and work for justice, and figuring out how to do that job involves theology among other matters.

But I had fallen behind in putting out the journal since the earthquake of November 2016. So I set out to catch up. And just a week or so ago I finished a double issue of it, with the theme of “Quakers & Resistance.” And whatever one thinks of theology, it turns out that there were (and are) plenty of serious Quakers who have taken their place in resisting injustice, war and racism over more than 350 years; so I had plenty to work with.

My photo of the candles lighting up the room at the conclusion of the Chapel Hill Friends’ Christmas Eve meeting, 2017.

Along the way, I attended a special Christmas eve service at Chapel Hill Friends Meeting. In it the group reenacted a practice that was begun by a group of German Quakers, who lived in bomb-wrecked Berlin after the end of World War Two. With no electricity, they lit their silence based meeting with candles, starting with one, glowing dimly in the dusk, then added to by others, starting more candles from the earlier one, and watching the light grow even as the outer darkness deepened.

No formal prayers are said during this process, though some speak as they light their candle. I have always found this ritual very powerful and it was again that evening.

In the following days, as I finished the writing and editing of the journal issue, I needed a cover. And it didn’t take long to decide to use the photo of those candles. And now it’s done, and getting out.

So this is my review of haphazard resistance in the first year of #45. I don’t think of it as a model,  and I’m sure others did more, on a larger scale. But it is an example, and I think it shows that, the words of Jesus in Luke 10, “the harvest is plentiful”; that is, no matter what our background, skills, or worldly resources or limitations, there is useful resistance work we can do. And in this time, we ought to be doing it.

Closing this first year of the #45 regime doesn’t mean I’m done with resistance. Although I’m feeling my age (now 75), neither the work nor I am finished. In a few hours, I’ll head out to put in an oar on another project, and still others await.

I’m often tired. And yes, I also often get the blues when I ponder how much there is to be done to get us out of this downward spiral. I’ve been at this, in one way and another, for a long time; maybe too long?

But I still remember what Dr. King used to say, quoting a black woman elder: “We got to keep on keepin’ on.”

A mule train from the Poor Peoples Campaign, 1968. Photo by Laura Jones.



The post A Year of #45. My Year of Resistance. appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Quaker Theology: Highlights of New Double Issue

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 12:04pm

The new double issue of Quaker Theology is titled “Quakers & Resistance.” It considers highlights (and some lowlights) of Quaker resistance to oppression, both inside and outside the Society of Friends.

For example, it recalls  what happened to Lucretia Mott when she showed up in Richmond, Indiana in 1847, at the time when Indiana Yearly Meeting was gathering. She had traveled by stagecoach from Philadelphia, a bone-rattling journey which took many days. She had barely stepped down from the coach when she was confronted by a committee of elders, who told her to “Go home!”

What did Lucretia do then? You can find out more here.

Not that Philadelphia had been free of troubles.

Benjamin Lay, small person, big ideas. And if that looks like a cave behind him, it is. He lived there, though he was not poor.

This issue also hears directly from Friend Benjamin Lay, who was actually carried out of meetings by constables, called by powerful Philadelphia elders who didn’t want to hear any more of his sermons denouncing slaveholding, which was widely practiced among affluent Quakers. Lucky for the constables, Lay was barely four feet tall, and nonviolent. But not quiet.

No, not quiet at all. We invited him in, here.

Even Quaker artists worked to resist war fever in England during World War One. (Yes, there were some Quaker artists by then.) One was Joseph Southall, who produced drawings for a radical antiwar pamphlet, called “The Ghosts of the Slain.”

Southall didn’t have to worry about meeting elders, though. Instead, government censorship of what were deemed unpatriotic publications was a very real threat. How did he get around it? Find out here.  And this is a hint:

But resistance isn’t only a western Quaker thing. Half a world away from England, in Korea, Friend Ham Sok Hon’s “spiritual journey,” which included demands for basic human rights, took him into prisons run first by the Imperial Japanese, then by the North Korean Communists, and then by South Korean dictators. It also left him religiously homeless, til he found the small Meeting in Seoul.

Why is he now hailed as the “Korean Gandhi”? We’ve got the beginnings of an answer.

And have you ever heard of the “Questing Beast?” Friend Chel Avery  reports that “

The Questing Beast is a minor character from the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Think about the peace testimony as I describe her to you.
 She had the head of a serpent, the body of a lizard, the haunches of a lion, and the feet of a deer. And wherever she went, she made a noise in her belly like thirtycouple of hounds questing.

The Peace Testimony?? What? No, wait! Chel can explain; better check it out. (I mean —“thirty couple of hounds questing”?? –it could apply to some committee meetings I’ve been through . . .)

And speaking of Quaker women on a quest, Marion Anderson (not the famous Black opera singer, but a Quaker from Michigan) followed her quest to end the Vietnam War right into the heart of the Pentagon one day in 1970:

I entered the Pentagon. “Where are the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting?” I asked the first officer I saw.

    “They are in the E Ring, but I don’t know the room number,” he responded, pointing.

    I walked on, carrying my . . . box of copies of We  Have Not Shaken Hands With The Troops; We Have Led Them.

    As I continued down the corridors past one guard after another, I kept asking where the Joint Chiefs were meeting. Of course, I had no picture ID around my neck like everyone else in this area, but the box of literature I was carrying probably obscured this fact.

    The people I asked kept getting higher in rank . . . .  Finally a general gave me the precise number of the room where the Joint Chiefs’ meeting was taking place.

I walked by a bored Black guard, past a blond secretary, and a general sitting in an anteroom at his desk, and then there I was, in the meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. . . .

And then what happened? Find out here.

To learn about resistance, of course, Friends don’t need to dwell exclusively among Quakers.  We also consider two such “testimonies.” One is by Larry Derfner, who grew up in California, then moved to Israel. An outspoken eft-liberal, he has spoken out against the Occupation there for years, even as the political climate there has gotten steadily more repressive. In a striking memoir, No Country for Jewish Liberals, he wonders aloud:

“So how do I live with this – being a liberal, a believer in equality, in a country that is not only far less liberal and equitable than the one I left, but that is decisively illiberal and inequitable, that’s running the world’s last colonial military dictatorship, and, worst of all, that offers slim hope of ever changing?

How? His answer is here:.

And then  an equally eloquent but very different testimony comes from Clare Hanrahan in her memoir, The Half Life of  A Free Radical.

Clare grew up Catholic in segregated Memphis, lost two brothers to the Vietnam War, and now continues her witness, which included six months in a federal pen after nonviolent civil disobedience, from Asheville NC. 

These are only eight of twenty-one wide-ranging and mind-stretching articles and essays in this new double issue. It’s meant to begin making the long and rich heritage of Quaker resistance more accessible in today’s tumultuous and, many feel, desperate worldly situation.

Yes that’s theology.  (And by the way, it does this without a single mention of — well, The One That Everyone Talks About all the time these days.)

The issue is available in three forms. On Amazon, in paperback or Kindle; and online here, no charge.

Since 1999.

The post Quaker Theology: Highlights of New Double Issue appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Why You Won't Hear Me Posting About Donald J. Trump Any Longer

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:23pm
I am completely disturbed by many of the words and actions of President Donald J. Trump. And I am not going to tweet, post on Facebook, or blog about him anymore.

I am not going quiet on social media because of my lack of resolve to stand against policies, words, and actions I find contrary to my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am committed to working against these things which I feel are harming the country I live in and am grateful to live in. Rather, I'm going to quit using social media to speak against Trump for a number of reasons.

But first let me say that I do not think Donald J. Trump is unintelligent. He may be impulsive, but I think he knows the power of words and uses them very calculatingly. He knows his base will excuse his vulgarities -- especially when those opposed to him clamor against his vulgarities and nasty talk. He knows that I and others like me will be offended. And I believe he hopes we will speak out so that when we do his supporters will speak out against us and defend him. He can thereby drive a deeper wedge between the peoples of the United States.  I do not believe that he is interested in advancing a culture of care and respect and unification of the people of this country. I do believe he is interested only in his own agenda and views.

No politician is perfect. Presidents Obama, the Bushes, Clinton, Kennedy, Lincoln, Washington et al had their faults. Yet I believe they all acted in what they thought were the best interests of our country as a whole. I do not feel that way about the current occupant of the White House.  I think he is cold and calculating and knows exactly what he is doing -- consequences be damned.

It is precisely because I feel this way that I have to remove any discourse about this from my social media postings.  Here's why.

I am trying, and often failing, to be a Christian. As such, I am trying to hold two scripture passages in my mind and heart as I endeavor to grow more Christlike. One is from Galatians 5 -- "... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." The other is Micah 6:8 -- "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." I am finding that I cannot exhibit "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" or "walk humbly with God" when I tweet, Facebook, or blog about Trump. My words betray those biblical principles.

I am trying , and often failing, to live up to my Quaker faith which urges me to seek that of God in all people and to live at peace with all. When I post on social media, I find that I too easily get caught up in the rhetoric and fall into bombast myself. Likewise, one of the reasons that I am a Quaker is because much of what it calls me to is against my nature. I am not a peaceful person. I love a good argument. I enjoy dismantling by my (imagined) intellectual powers those who oppose my values. Which includes Donald J. Trump. Such actions on my part are not consistent with my trying to live my faith. And so I must stop. It's harming my soul.

Others, and I am glad for this, can use social media to oppose without becoming mean and low. They can retain the high moral ground in their words and intentions. So I shall leave them to this worthy work.  I, on the other hand, will try to post things -- in addition to my usual silliness which I need to refresh my spirits -- that are aimed toward "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." I shall try to post what I am for -- not what I am against.

So, as a start, let me say some of the things that I am for:
  • a country and government that respects all people regardless of ethnicity, gender-identification, sexual orientation, religion (or choosing to have no religion), and so forth.
  • an administration and government that exists to serve all under their care and which recognize that diversity of color, lifestyle, opinion, religion, and more enrich our country.
  • a nation that guarantees and equally protects the rights of all its residents -- again regardless of ethnicity, gender-identification, sexual orientation, religion (or choosing to have no religion), and so forth.
  • a country that emphasizes peace in its actions and spending.
  • a nation that works to ensure that all its residents have the best healthcare, education, housing, worthy work, and food possible. I don't just mean "access to" -- I mean, have these things -- regardless of ethnicity, gender-identification, sexual orientation, religion (or choosing to have no religion), and so forth.
  • a government that encourages civil discourse and acts and speaks with care and respect.
  • civil discourse among peoples of differing views so we can learn from each other.
  • a country that is known for its mercy and justice toward all peoples everywhere.
I am for these things as a person of faith.

Do not think that while I will not be posting against Donald J. Trump's vulgarity in word or deed, that I am accepting them. I will be happy to have personal conversations about these things -- so long as we can talk civilly. And I will be stepping up my direct contact via email and postal mail with the office of the presidency and my elected officials. I will be endeavoring to speak, even in those communications, about what I am for more than what I am against. I need to do that for my own spirit's sake and to ensure that I remain humble and exhibit (as best I am able) love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These feel like times that are fraught with peril. They are also times that are filled with possibility. For those of you who are able to use social media wisely and well in facing the dangers around us -- blessings on you. May God bless us -- every one.

Categories: Blogs

From “Quakers & Resistance” — Tom Fox Paid the Price

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 7:51am

From the Introduction to: Tom Fox Was My Friend. Yours, Too.

Chuck Fager


John Stephens, Quaker House intern, computer artist. he designed our Sergeant Abe , “The Honest Recruiter” character in the summer of 2005.

            John Stephens called me with the news: Tom Fox and three other members of the Christian peacemaker Teams’ group (CPT) in Baghdad had been kidnaped. It was just after Thanksgiving, late November, 2005.

Sgt. Abe turned up nationwide, and was banned in at least one school. Many young people were helped by his carefully accurate materials. A few years later, the army put out their version, “Sgt. Star. (Not nearly as cool.)

            That summer of 2005 John had been an intern at Quaker House in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I was Director. When he applied for an internship, I asked him for a letter of reference; the reference came by email from Tom Fox, in Baghdad.

            John described in his application essay how he knew Tom, from work in a market that became part of Whole Foods. I had met Tom at Langley Hill Friends meeting in McLean, Virginia, where we were both members. I didn’t know him especially well, but his children were the same ages as my younger two, and the four of them grew up in that meeting, conspiring to torment a generation of First Day School teachers, on many a First Day morning. Tom was also very kind to me at some moments of personal need.

            Tom’s path to Iraq and a lonely death there was straightforward. We talked about it in August, 2005 when I saw him for the final time.

            It was at the annual sessions of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, our regional Quaker conference, in Harrisonburg Virginia.

            Spiritually, Baltimore Yearly Meeting had long been home to both of us. The body operates three summer camps, and Tom had been active with them, serving as cook at one.

He had also been a “Friendly Adult Presence” (or FAP) with the yearly meeting’s youth group, even filling in as interim youth staffperson for a period. At the yearly meeting sessions, he frequently worked with the children’s program. Indeed, if it had not been for his leading toward CPT and Iraq, any biography of Tom would have been much more about youth work than peace witness as such.

            When we met in Harrisonburg in 2005, Tom was between tours in Iraq, and we shared a meal and did some catching up.

            We talked first about kids, as older dads will do. His Andrew and Kassie, my Guli and Asa, are in their mid to late thirties now, scattered across the continent, but still in touch. In the early 2000s, our sons started a Quaker Hip Hop group called the Friendly Gangstaz Committee. The band caused quite a stir in our small, staid Quaker world, with its startling, shouted renditions of well-worn hymns like “Simple Gifts.” Tom and I chuckled ruefully about that.

            We also talked about work. From that same faith community, Tom and I had traveled somewhat parallel paths, trying to be true to the meaning of texts like, “Blessed are the peacemakers,”(Matthew 5:9) and “seek peace and pursue it.” (Proverbs 34:14)

            How do you “pursue peace” in a violent world? My own seeking had led, after a series of conventional jobs, to Fayetteville and Quaker House, a long-standing peace project hard by Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases.

Tom in high school, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1969. For young men like him in those years, the next stop was the military draft, and for many, combat in Vietnam. Tom had little money, but he was a fine clarinetist: he auditioned for the Marine band that played at the White House, and got in. The band was a non-combat unit. He sometimes came to Friends meeting in his uniform.

            Tom had grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, then did twenty years in the Marine Corps band in Washington DC, playing bass clarinet – about as unmilitary a soldier as one could feature. He began attending Friends meetings during this time.

After the Marine band, he became a baker and assistant manager at a growing health food supermarket, where he met John Stephens. Tom was good at all this, and his bosses wanted him to move up in management.

            But Tom heard a “different drummer,” especially after September 11, 2001. With at least two wars on, he felt called to “pursue peace” in a concrete way. After much prayer and reflection, he joined the Christian Peacemaker Teams.

            CPT sets out to bring the “weapons of the spirit” into the front lines of conflict, places where death and life are but a hair’s breadth apart. Tom’s first assignment took him to Iraq. For a respite, he visited the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

            Work in Iraq was dangerous, in a region where conflicts  seem hopelessly intractable. Tom stuck with it. Then, as the Iraq occupation shifted from the foolish illusion of “Mission Accomplished” presidential boasting to the grinding facts of guerrilla and civil war, he headed back there.

The four hostages, from Left; James Loney, Harmeet Sooden, Tom Fox & Norman Kember.

            After Tom was kidnaped, along with Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, and British pacifist Norman Kember, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh sneered that “part of me likes this,” because, “I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality.”

            What’s striking in this comment is not only the mean-spiritedness, but also the ignorance. Tom certainly knew the reality of Baghdad’s dangers, firsthand. He had talked frankly about them over our last August supper. Tom was calm but clear about it: kidnaping, torture, murder were daily fare on all sides there.

Tom, seen in a video released by his captors, early on in their captivity. In later videos he looked more haggard and drawn.

            How could he be so offhand about it? I don’t know, except to say: that was Tom.

            Illusions? Not in CPT. It was a CPT team, after all, that brought the first reports about the toerture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison to reporter Seymour Hersh. They had also seen other unarmed humanitarian workers in Iraq kidnaped and some killed.

            But there’s more to it than simply experience. The Christian Peacemaker Teams take their identity seriously. Their namesake, after all, was another unarmed troublemaker in an occupied country, who was tortured and then suffered a gruesome public execution. One other phrase that comes to mind is Matthew 10:24: “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.”


            But such quotations roll too easily off the tongue. When John Stephens called about the kidnaping, I wanted Tom and his colleagues released, safely, and NOW. But what, John and I asked each other, could we do to help free them?

            John was calling from home in Virginia, where he does web work as a  consultant. We kept returning to this question over the next few days – and we were not the only ones – intensity was rising as a deadline for the captives’ execution approached.

            Experts in crisis situations advised informally that the best approach was to raise the prisoners’ public profile, and seek as much public outcry for their safety as possible. That would raise the political cost to the kidnapers of harming or killing them. There were no guarantees, we understood that. But it was an alternative to blind panic or paralysis.

            Talking this over with John on the evening of December 1, an idea surfaced: what about creating a website and an online petition calling for their release? John’s experience as a webweaver, and such is the accessibility of the internet that within only two hours, he had a site, up and running, with a petition and links to public statements calling for the release of the four captives.

John Stephens designed and uploaded this banner and website in two hours aiming to join with an extraordinary international campaign to head off the hostages execution in early December, 2005, and then work for their release.

            For the first several days of December, there was a growing international chorus of such statements, even from very militant Muslim groups, supporting the CPT workers and their release. Our online petition, along with another, soon gathered more than 50,000 signatures from around the world. There were vigils and rallies. While we were terrified for our friends, the swelling response made this an exciting period.

            The deadline passed, but a video showed they were still alive.  After December 8, when a second deadline for executing Tom and the others passed without killings, momentum shifted.

The flurry of statements died down; news reports dwindled and became routine. From Baghdad there was ominous silence about our friends, amid the noise and cries of ongoing civil war. For John and me, at our website, frantic effort to beat a deadline was replaced by keeping a vigil.

            Every night for the next thirteen weeks, either John or I would scan dozens of wire service reports for news of Tom and the others, and post what we found: with only a few exceptions, the news was “no news,” which we hoped was “good news.” The exceptions were when gloomy videos of the four appeared – and then, on March 7, 2006 a video of just three – minus Tom.

            On March 10, 2006 came the dispatch we dreaded most: confirmation of Tom’s murder. (We were told that early reports  he had been tortured were not confirmed by a later autopsy.) The only relief from this loss appeared on March 23, when the other three captives were freed by British commandos.

            Who killed Tom? And why?

            Few other than the ones who pulled the trigger know the truth, and one wonders how much even they understand. Speculation abounds, of course, with many of my more left-leaning friends imagining a CIA-sponsored conspiracy to silence these noisy pacifist dissenters. Yet from the reading and interviews I have done, the most likely guess seems much more mundanely sordid: it was probably all about money.

            The videos showing Tom and the others were issued by a previously unknown group, “The Swords of Righteousness Brigades.” This name is very likely a fake, a cover for a criminal gang, which simply kidnaped them for ransom. There was, as John and I learned while keeping our vigil, a sizable kidnaping industry in Iraq. Many Iraqis have been thus abducted for profit, as well as citizens of numerous other countries.

            James Loney felt the ransom was wanted to help finance the guerilla insurgency. Many other observers feel that while the kidnapers are Muslims, and many have likely suffered from the invasion and occupation, these crimes appear to be only loosely connected to religious or political grievances. Rather, they are more a specimen of organized crime gangs mushrooming in a devastated and lawless society.

            From this “profit-seeking” perspective, taking CPT team members was not a particularly good “investment”– the group has pledged not to pay, and not to ask anyone else to. Moreover, none of the four had a personal fortune to plunder. But the gang likely figured that regardless of such brave declarations, given enough pressure, someone would eventually cave in and pay. (Harmeet Sooden later told a New Zealand press conference that he suspected a ransom had been paid for him and the other survivors, despite vehement government denials.)

            But if the kidnapers were after money, why kill Tom? There are a number of hypotheses:

Longtime relief worker Margaret Hassan, a good friend of the CPT tea members, was kidnaped in Baghdad in October 2004. Here she pleads for her life in a hostage video. She was murdered a few weeks later. Numerous humanitarian workers in Iraq were kidnapped, and several more were also killed.

            One, to show the friends and supporters of the other three that the kidnapers meant business. Some other hostage killings – for instance, that of longtime relief worker Margaret Hassan, an Iraqi citizen originally from Ireland – were evidently staged to show recalcitrant governments that ransom demands were truly life and death matters.

            Or two: because Tom was an American, and as a veteran had a US military ID card, he was a certified “enemy,” and one for whom the US government would not pay. That made him disposable.

            Or three: if the kidnapers couldn’t get ransom from Tom’s family or government, maybe they recouped something by selling Tom to another Iraqi insurgent gang, one willing to pay for the privilege of shooting a military-identified American. (It is all-too easy to imagine their derision at his protests that he was a musician, not a fighter.)

            Again, no one knows, but these are plausible explanations for the inexplicable.

            With Tom’s death and the freeing of Jim Loney, Norman Kember and Harmeet Sooden, our website morphed into a memorial and an archive, and we wound down our nightly vigil. I felt more than a little guilty about moving on, as the daily discipline of focusing on Iraq’s ongoing agony had hammered home in cruel detail how many thousands more men and women there were being kidnaped, held, tortured, and some killed, by factions from all sides, amid a bloody confusion of agendas.

Before his first tour in Iraq, Tom lived for several months in a small cottage next to Hopewell Friends meeting, near Winchester, Virginia. After his death I visited Hopewell, and found his name still pinned to a bedroom door. Inside was this bookshelf, with only the Bible and the Quran as bookends left of the many books Tom had once kept there.

            With Tom gone, and the other CPTers free, I felt I was abandoning the legions of suffering Iraqis, as I returned to some semblance of everyday routine. It was comforting to read cite this verse from the Qur’an, Surra 4:110: “And whoever does evil or wrongs himself but afterwards seeks Allah’s forgiveness, he will find Allah Oft-forgiving, Most merciful.”


Younger Friends plant a Japanese maple in Tom’s memory near Hopewell Meeting.

            Yet Tom’s story does not stop there. In the founding saga from which his CPT team took its marching orders, death was a tragedy, but not the end of the drama. Further, Tom was a Quaker, and in this tradition, “be patterns, be examples,” and “let your life preach” are among our oldest and most venerable mandates. Moreover, in our yearly meeting, I had worked on religious education, particularly for adults.

            To  this end, I compiled and published a small book, Tom Fox Was My Friend. Yours, Too. It was a memorial and a tribute, meant primarily for study and reflection. I believe Tom would recognize and approve such a project. Indeed, for the epigraph of his blog-journal, Tom used a paraphrase of the quote from which these mottos are taken.

            In the book’s pages, various persons reflected on passages from Tom’s writings, or their memories and impressions of him, and offer comments on the patterns and examples of this remarkable, foreshortened life.

            The views and affiliations there were diverse, and a few entries were unfriendly, even harsh. The latter were included because what they express may be hard to read but are also part of the story, and the teaching. Hearing and learning even from the scoffers is part of our calling. (The book was reissued recently, and is available here.)

            Easy or not, I regarded it all as a prod to this process which is as religious as it is pedagogical. Tom alluded to this in a sermon to a Mennonite congregation between trips to the Middle East: “We did a lot of listening in Iraq with CPT, and the stories we heard were not always easy to hear.”

            “Walk cheerfully” is another Quaker motto. Tom was a naturally cheerful person. But even he had to struggle to maintain this outlook in Iraq. On August 30, 2005 he was struck by a quote from Elizabeth Blackwell: “I must have something in life which will fill this vacuum and prevent this sad wearing away of the heart.”

“This was the quote today in my planner,” Tom wrote, “as I considered the tragedies both great and small, personal and global we are all dealing with. . . . The only ‘something in my life’ I can hold onto is to do what little I can to bring about the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God. It is my sense that such a realm will always have natural disasters. It is the ‘man-made’ disasters that we are called upon to bring to an end.”

            Tom sought to hold on to hope wherever he was. This was a difficult task in the regions where he chose to work. Of one rare encouraging incident, in Palestine, he recalled,

“Here was a seed that can take root. Here were people working through their anger and coming out the other side committed to peace. Here were people listening to their hearts and listening to each other. Here a tiny part of the Peaceable Realm was created. Here was the justice of God taking shape.”

            Can that also happen here?



This true story is excerpted from the new double issue of Quaker Theology.  More information about the issue is here.




The post From “Quakers & Resistance” — Tom Fox Paid the Price appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

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