A recent article in The New York Times about Quaker schools has ginned up no small controversy within the Religious Society of Friends. The association between individual Quaker meetings and churches and affiliated schools has long been contentious. And it has been contentious in meetings and churches across the country. This issue is especially commonplace on the East Coast, which is historically where most Quakers settled and lived. The Times article correctly notes that these schools have often become bastions of higher income, not of Quaker teaching. Quaker principles often include self-sufficiency, making do, and keeping matters simple.
Tag: Religious Society of Friends
Mar 24 2011
It Does Take a Village After All
I’ve often been interested in genealogy, and have recently discovered that I have some first generation Quaker relatives. A Friend from my Meeting recently asked about my family history after worship, so I thought I might provide that which I know. The people described here all hail from from a village named Hunsdon, which is in Hertsfordshire, north of London. If you need a point of reference, Hunsdon is in the East of England, roughly 25 miles north of London.
Mar 05 2011
Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: A Review
I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. John 15:15, NLT.
For white liberals of a certain generation, the Civil Rights Movement will always be front and center. A struggle for racial equality made significant progress regarding relations between whites and blacks. Though a success, though by no means was it a landslide victory. Nonetheless, many apply a coat or two of heavy gloss, choosing to remember the successes alone, while overlooking the multitude of eyesores that still tarnish our cultural landscape. Every gathering and, indeed, every person must continually resist and overcome. A famous passage, also in the Gospel of John, proclaims that it is Truth that will set us free, not nostalgia.
Jan 31 2011
Egypt’s Struggle is also Our Own
I have watched the violence and the revolt in Egypt with a heavy heart. On one hand, I am overjoyed to see a people long held in shackles struggling to attain freedom. I hope this sentiment will someday encircle the world, so that, as it is written, the wolf and the lamb will live together. As a pacifist, however, it causes me much distress to see police out in the street, blazes set alight, and the familiar signs of overheated passion. In observing everything from a distance of thousands of miles, I am forced to confront my own beliefs. It may be that physical force alone can bring needed reform and change. But, as others far wiser than I have noted, war and warlike impulses are easy, but peaceful solutions are difficult.
Dec 13 2010
Purity is in the Eye of the Beholder
The Quaker artist Edward Hicks is well known among the Religious Society of Friends, but less so among others. Though an adept and respected minister in his own faith, it is for his series of paintings that he is now largely remembered. The reverse was true in his own lifetime. One often considers folk artists like Hicks either charmingly unskilled or unforgivably untrained. Detractors see him as the Grandfather of C.M. Coolidge’s Dogs Playing Poker series. Supporters see a self-taught painter who eventually developed a sophisticated technique. That debate aside, his best known work, The Peaceable Kingdom, has 61 different versions, each modifications from paintings prior.
Jul 08 2010
Plain on the Outside, Fancy Underneath
On Tuesday afternoon, while returning from an errand, I stopped briefly at Union Station here in DC to get some lunch. Union Station has long been a busy depot by which rail and bus traffic arrives and departs, and it also serves as a rail and bus stop for area public transportation. With the passage of time, part of the inside of the terminal has been transformed into a shopping mall of sorts, which frequently satiates the boredom of tourists and passengers. Predictably, it also houses a Victoria’s Secret.
Jul 06 2010
After a Time, All Losses are the Same
This past holiday weekend I visited two Civil War battlefields: Antietam and Gettysburg. While part of my motivation to go was purely the tourist’s curiosity, I also went to remind myself of the multitude of ironies present in armed conflict. It does me well to contemplate what I believe to be the overall futility of warfare, regardless of the context. I certainly found plenty of both. I chose to go in part to celebrate Independence Day in a completely different sort of context. While I do appreciate the sacrifices made to establish a new nation and with it a groundbreaking experiment in Democracy, my pacifist beliefs often leave me deeply conflicted. To move nearly one hundred years forward in time from the Revolutionary War to the conflict that tore a hole in our nation’s fabric seemed much more suited for the occasion.
Jun 17 2010
The Liberal Gospel: Social Justice or Inward Purity?
A Quaker minister recently spoke my mind and, as it turned out, the minds of many. The thrust of his message asserted that we who are people of faith (and even those who do not identify as such) have over the years split into two camps. One of them seeks to love his or her neighbor by means of social justice and direct service. Some build houses for the poor. Others seek to educate and empower those who live in Third World countries. Still others take jobs in helping professions or non-profits designed to assist the less fortunate and the needy. It is this aspect that is emphasized most heavily in progressive faiths and certainly by liberal unprogrammed Friends.
Jun 05 2010
Standing Knee Deep in a River and Dying of Thirst
This morning, as an observer rather than a participant, I witnessed the annual Race for the Cure event here in DC. It is, for those who may be unaware, a charity run/walk that has served as an effective means of raising funds to combat breast cancer. It also memorializes those who have tragically perished from the disease and celebrates those who have survived. Before I begin, I certainly do appreciate the sentiment and the work that goes into it putting it on, but there’s a certain sort of commercialized, jocular, self-congratulatory aspect to the gathering that frequently makes me uncomfortable. At times this morning I felt as though I was in some sort of motivational seminar, the kind that businesses often mandate that their employees must attend. What I experienced firsthand today was a kind of glossy artifice when nothing could be more devastatingly real or raw than any person who finds herself or himself with a diagnosis of malignancy.
Jun 03 2010
Coming Out as Religious, and Other Stories
I’d rather not entertain current events for a while, and instead tell you a bit more about the Quaker Young Adult gathering I recently attended. Primarily this is because it is supremely depressing to contemplate the oil spill. The beaches on Alabama’s Gulf Coast that I visited every summer as a child and young teen might be forever changed as wave after wave of oil washes ashore. I may return to that at another time, but right now I am avoiding even thinking about it because it hits so close to home. Returning to my original point, there are so many stories to share I hardly know where to begin, but I’ll start with one and go from there.
Apr 22 2010
Minority Views and Majority Realities
Throughout the whole of my life, I have felt outside the norm. The Methodism of my boyhood preached that, as a devout Christian, I should expect to be frequently misunderstood, feared, and at times distrusted by the rest of society. Based on my Southern roots and the political convictions I grew to espouse, in addition to the company I kept, I continued to feel out of step with the majority point of view in all kinds of ways. If this was supposed to be an essential component of living the Christian life, then it was not a difficult one to adopt. When, years later, I became a Quaker, it wasn’t hard at all to accept that many would not comprehend what I believed. Shortly before I converted, I read a book front to cover which stated that Friends were used to being thought of as peculiar and eccentric. Those words cemented my decision to become a Convinced Friend. For years I wore a nonconformist’s identity like a badge of honor, though my secret desire, barely even vocalized to myself, was always that I might find greater acceptance and understanding. Having achieved this, I believe that I would find the comfort granted to those not consistently marginalized and discounted by the majority.
Mar 05 2010
Blessed are the Conflicted
As part of a recent assignment, I was required to write up short, snappy summaries of candidates who are running this election cycle for political office. In so doing, I had to make sure to showcase their legislative accomplishments as well as to provide a bit of the personal to ensure that they seemed human and approachable, rather than robotic policy wonks. In the course of my work, what I couldn’t help but notice was that, regardless of how Progressive a candidate claimed to be, he or she was always very careful to highlight his/her strong support of the military and of those who either currently served or had served in times past. To back up this claim, close family members and other relatives who had served in combat were visibly invoked, as were the specific bills proposed to assist both veterans and military families. This deliberate posturing was true to a person, even candidates who were bold enough to promote themselves as peace-loving doves.
As a rule, Quakers are strict believers in pacifism. Though I was not born into the faith, I have often attempted to reconcile my original thoughts on war with those which I believe now. I find, as is sometimes the case, that the two of them are often in conflict. Those who have studied wars in much detail, as I have, know that there is something about them that translates well to stirring narrative and romantic retelling. In time, the horror of battle subsides, as well as its impact upon the civilians caught in the middle, and we are left with a sort of gloried nostalgia that any sports fan can understand as he or she recalls in conversation some past victory and close defeat. Perhaps this is what Robert E. Lee meant when he said, “It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it.”
Two choices lay before me. I could go out of my way to mention that this particular section of the work went against my religious beliefs, but doing so would draw attention to myself, perhaps unduly and to no good end. I would then be obligated to specify why I found it so objectionable, and while I have no doubt that my reservations would be noted and taken seriously, I’m not really sure that anyone would truly understand why I found the matter so odious and offensive. Or, instead, I could choose complete the task in full, not feeling especially good about it, and simply pass the baton to someone else so that it would no longer be my problem anymore. I regret to report that I chose the latter, since delegating an additional task to someone else already overburdened with work would cause delays and potentially result in resentment from whomever had to pick up where I left off.
Life, of course, is full of such compromises. I have no doubt that those of you reading this have run up against similar circumstances in your own lives. It may be a simple matter of, pardon the expression, knowing how and where to pick our battles. Few of us are fortunate enough to have the ability to be purists in all circumstances. In politics, only those fortunate few who run for office in cities, districts, or states overwhelmingly in support of one particular way of thinking ever truly get the ability to present a public face anything in line with their own private convictions. The game of politics as we know it states, in part, that one is only really indebted to one’s last position statement, and moreover, anything said today can be compellingly rationalized away tomorrow if needed. It isn’t just politicians who have a genius for rationalization. Humans have managed to become masters at the process.
Returning to the earlier point, my own inward leanings against war of any sort take me once again to the Sermon on the Mount and those old, familiar passages that many have committed to heart.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus doesn’t equivocate here. He doesn’t give us any wiggle room. He doesn’t say, “Forgive your enemies, unless you’re in danger of losing your job.” He doesn’t say, “Some of you were taught that if someone were to pluck out your eye, you have a right to pluck out theirs in retaliation, but don’t do that, unless, of course, the laws on the books tell you otherwise.” He doesn’t say, “Love those who hate you, but I certainly concede that there are some people who simply aren’t able to be loved without turning on you.” Jesus wasn’t exactly someone who practiced the art of Triangulation or who talked out of both sides of his mouth.
Emerson famously mentioned that to be great was to be misunderstood and I have always been uncomfortable with the phrasing and the sentiment. It can be easily construed as a justification for egotistical conduct and as a crutch to forgive deplorable behavior. I’d much rather put it another way alogether. To be a servant, putting yourself last and service to your fellow person first, is to be misunderstood. To live a spiritual life is to be misunderstood. To chart a course between pragmatism and idealism is to be misunderstood as well, but don’t forget that to be fully misunderstood is to stick to your convictions even when others don’t understand them. After all,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These words are as shocking now as they were then and just as applicable.