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Attending to a Testimony

Photo by Kuki Ladronde Guevara

 

One morning early last year someone called the Friends Journal office to try to understand a confusing experience at her Quaker meeting. She had innocently suggested that they hold a Valentine’s Day fundraiser asking people to guess the number of candy hearts in a jar. Reaction from Friends in the room was a quick and definitive no: this would be a form of gambling frowned upon by Friends.

She was calling us to see if we had any recent articles that could help her explain the cultural landmine onto which she had inadvertently stepped.

It turned out we didn’t. Over recent years we’d run a few odd pieces comparing the stock market to gambling, but you’d have to go back to the mid‐1980s to find an article on gambling (https://​www​.friendsjournal​.org/​1​9​8​4​0​48/), by Norma Jacobs, who thought that “it’s time to give a little more thought to the current meaning of our traditional testimony,” but conceded that “the issue nowadays is not always entirely easy to distinguish.”

Opposition to games of chance and lotteries had once been one of the most well‐known testimonies of Friends. One of the earliest editions of Faith and Practice had a whole section on “Gaming and Diversions,” and my current copy still includes it among a laundry list of “detrimental practices that interpose themselves against the Inward Light.”

Our cultural opposition to these games and diversions often still exists—see, for example, the Jellybean Affair of 2018—but the lack of any mentions in recent Friends Journal issues suggests that we’ve fallen out of the practice of explaining it to one another and to the outside world. 

I think we lose something important when we casually drop a historic Quaker testimony or let it linger as a kind of quaint artifact observed only within meetinghouse walls. Our testimonies evolved over time via a process‐driven, organic method. Observations were made and developed into concerns, concerns grew into minutes, minutes into books of Faith and Practice, and those books into a lived “Quaker way”—a culture that has kept our community strong enough to adapt and survive for over three centuries.

The process has never been perfect. The negotiation between tradition and continuing revelation is a delicate balance to maintain, especially when ego and issues like class and race get involved. Testimonies that made sense in one era might not apply today. But does our inattention mean that we’ve dropped our testimony against gambling? Three Friends take up that question in this issue.

This is also our annual expanded books issue! Fifteen reviews written by fifteen volunteer book reviewers. The topics range from money to spirituality to pastoring to world politics—the concerns of modern, engaged Friends. 

 

It’s no gamble that we’re going to miss Rosemary Zimmermann, who has served as our poetry editor for the past five years. Her selections have been frequently lovely, often surprising, and always worth re‐reading out loud. In a 2015 interview in these pages, she told us, “I want to publish poetry that is going to speak to Quakers, which is not at all the same thing as Quaker poetry.” She accomplished this and set a new bar for Quaker arts.

Her retirement as our volunteer poetry editor means we’re looking for a replacement. You can learn more and apply at Friendsjournal​.org/​p​o​e​t​r​y​e​d​i​tor.

In Friendship.

Posted in: Among Friends, Gambling

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