August 2012 Forum

VIEWPOINT: Feeding the World takes more than Backyard Gardens

The main theme of the articles in May’s food issue is the widely held view that only “small is beautiful.” “Think Globally,” which used to be connected to “act locally,” is not of any concern to those producing their food in their own backyards. Locavores, those who eat locally-grown food, feel very smug that they would never use food from any other state in the U.S., much less any grown overseas. They certainly feel little or no concern that people in other parts of the world have enough to eat; nor do they believe in interdependence of world food production.

I grew up in an Iowa village, where we all had backyard gardens, and were surrounded by farms growing things to sell out-of-area in order to make a living farming. At the time “victory gardens” were promoted for World War II, we simply laughed and said we would rename the gardens we always had. But we also had ration stamps for sugar, coffee, butter and meat.

After college, in 1949, I went to India with a group of young Methodists under a scheme which would be a Peace Corps prototype; living in Calcutta, Bengal, I found that the effects of the Bengal famine of 1943 (artificially caused by the war), and the partition of the state into India and East Pakistan at the time of Independence was causing food shortages and food rationing.

In India in 1952, I met a young Quaker agriculturalist, who had been sent by American Friends Service Committee to work at a rural center run by British Quakers in Gandhian style—a small farm, a coop, and health center. John Foster had grown up on a dairy farm, and started to milk cows and pick vegetables for the family farm stand when he was six years old. It was the Depression, and his three-generation household tried to raise everything they needed. After finishing his assignment on the farm as his draft status, John had gotten college and graduate degrees in agricultural economics. By 1952, AFSC was already doing relief work in Pakistan, Bengal, and at an experimental project helping villagers adapt to a dam being built in Orissa, India.

John and I married when we were both back in the U.S., and his career as a professor of agricultural economics frequently took us back in India. This gave us a chance to observe three decades of efforts to feed a population that grew from 300 million to 1 billion people. To increase wheat production, they used the seeds developed by Norman Borlaug, for which he got the Nobel Peace Prize. India, which had gone “cold turkey” on importing wheat from the USA in the 1960s, became self sufficient in wheat, which, along with rice, is the basic food grain.

Now 30 years later, Friends often join in criticizing the accomplishment of feeding people in India, arguing that the food is “not organic” and uses “pesticides and irrigation.” Meeting Friends occasionally shake their heads that it’s “too bad” it is [The previous “it is” looks like it could be deleted.  PQ] that my relatives in Iowa have to grow corn to feed hogs and beef cattle, as if the fields didn’t belong [a preposition is missing here—PQ] the U.S.

I would like to remind Friends who are filling their bunkers with food, and pretending that they do not get wheat, rice, sugar, coffee, tea from places more than 100 miles away, that there is more to feeding the billions of our world than having a backyard garden.

Georgana Foster
Northampton, Mass.

Tenderness of approach

Douglas C. Bennett’s Friends Journal article (“Homosexuality: A Plea to Read the Bible Together,” FJ, June/July) is tremendous, not so much because of what he says but the tenderness with which he approaches the subject. It is relatively easy to know where he comes down on the issues, but he is sensitive to those who might and probably will disagree with his take. I hope the piece has its desired effect, but I fear it will not bridge the gaps between those who are prone to disagree.

One comment: I note that two verses from Romans I, 24 and 26, which he mentions in another context, also say that “God gave them [the idolators] over to shameful lusts.” As the older Calvinists used to argue, don’t verses like this suggest that God is the author of sin (or at least “shameful lust?)? What should modern Quakers say about this?

Larry Ingle
Chattanooga, Tenn.

A heartfelt thank you to Douglas Bennett and Stephen Angell for their sensitive, sensible, and strong pieces about Quaker embrace of “the other.” If Quakers (of any flavor) cannot welcome non-heterosexuals as members and leaders, we are not following Christ’s message. Who’s to say that Jesus Christ himself wasn’t gay? It is cruel and ignorant to equate homosexuality with “sin,” just as it was cruel and ignorant to believe the Bible condoned slavery. I look forward to the day when all variants of Quakers embrace all sexual orientations. We need to beware of the abuse of gays in Africa that some of our own Quaker brethren may perhaps be inadvertently supporting. But ignorance is no excuse.

Christine Japely
New York City, N.Y.

Douglas Bennett’s article asks Friends to talk about the Bible together. He concludes: “We will find together that homosexuality is no sin: sinning is failing to love.”

Jesus agrees. He made a statement on the gay issue, according to the Holy Bible translated from the Aramaic (Jesus’ language). Matthew 5:22 reads: “and whoever says to his brother, you are effeminate (Aramaic: abnormal, brutish) is condemned to hell fire.” In the King James version, the word is mistranslated as “fool.” Didn’t you always wonder why hell fire was the fate for calling someone a fool? Indeed, Jesus was referring to something much more serious. Another direct translation from the Aramaic quotes Jesus as saying (Matthew 19:24): “it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle” rather than “camel”—another mistranslation.

Marilyn Roper
Houlton, Maine

Douglas’s appeal for a Quakerly reading of the Bible resonates strongly with me. It is not just in the area of homosexuality that some Quakers over the years have turned to alternative readings in keeping with others who uphold unQuakerly readings of the Bible, but homosexuality is certainly the big one today.

Kelvin Beer-Jones
Dunchurch, Warwickshire UK

An interview with author Doug Bennett can be found on the Friends Journal Youtube channel: He talks about the polarization of attitudes about the Bible and Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) inclusivity, the so-called “clobber passages,” and why liberal Friends should care about the new wave of controversies among Friends in Indiana and elsewhere.


Welcoming younger Friends into leadership

Thanks to Emma Churchman (“Quakers are Way Cooler Than You Think,” FJ, April). This is very thought-provoking. As a slightly older Young Friend, I recognise many of the issues you have raised here. My main concern right now is that capable Young Adult Friends should be welcomed into current leadership positions. Waiting until we’re 60 or a bit older isn’t such a good idea. Unfortunately a lot of Quaker service is geared towards those later in life. Let’s hope we can change that!

John Fitzgerald
Edinburgh, U.K.

I appreciate that Emma Churchman’s article pointed out the transitory nature of my twenty-something age group. Although I have loved the meetings I’ve attended in two different states, I move around so much for my work and education that it’s hard for me to connect full-time with a meeting. As awful as I feel admitting this, I get most of my connection to the Friends through Facebook. I always think to myself that “someday,” I will become a “real Friend,” but for now, this is just how it is for me. I have been feeling the calling in my heart very strongly for a good six or seven years, but my presence with the Friends is more in spirit than in body right now—which I guess is appropriate, in a way.

J. Ashley Odell
Manchester, Conn.

Having grown up through a wonderful society of Friends schools and meetings, I find the main problem with getting young people involved isn’t the philosophy or the principles, it’s simply ignorance. You’d be appalled by the number of people who confuse Quakerism with the Amish, or believe I can’t be Quaker because I drive a car and have tattoos.

I’ve always loved my faith. And I have converted others, simply by chance, because I believe so strongly in it. If young people knew the truth about our religion, they would be more apt to attend meetings. The open acceptance of every soul needs to be spread, so people understand who we are and what we believe.

It’s the beauty of Quakerism that I share with others: the belief that God speaks through you and not at you, the belief that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Nothing scares me more than the idea that wars are fought every day because “my god is better than your god.”

The kindness, charity and caring of the Quakers needs to be shared by everyone. And much more education needs to be done, not only to spread our beliefs, but to let people know that we do care.

Suzanne Callahan
Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

Clear faith of a parent

James Kimmel Jr. and Adam Kimmel’s article (“A Quaker Bar Mitzvah,” FJ, April) moved me deeply. As a 97 year old Quaker I am impressed and even envious of James as a young father being so clear in his faith and confident in his parenting role. The life and teaching of Jesus, the man, has meant much to me ever since my university days.

Iris Ingram
Nokomis, Fla.

Sharing Food

I sat down on the trolley beside a young woman this spring, and continued reading Friends Journal’s May 2012 issue on food. After a few minutes she asked me what I was reading. I showed her some of the articles that had caught my attention, we got to talking, and she introduced me to her parents who were sitting behind us. Her mother, who teaches about food at a Presbyterian seminary, was very much interested in the issue and said she would look for it at their library. It wasn’t hard to decide to offer her mine. Several weeks later it came back in the mail with this note: “Thanks so much for sharing your copy of the Friends Journal with me. Because of your kindness, I was able to share its excellent articles with the students in my course, ‘Not by Bread Alone: Theology and the Politics of Food.’ Your kindness to a complete stranger on the Philadelphia trolley will not soon be forgotten.” What a gift all around!

Pamela Haines

Philadelphia, Pa.

I really like the cover photo and enjoyed the “On Food” issue (FJ, May), but was disappointed that it didn’t include any articles by actual farmers. Here in Ohio we are in the midst of a very early corn planting season, and the local organic farms are busy with their intensive crops. While our own farms produce corn and soybeans for the global grain market, we have Quaker neighbors who produce organic vegetables and pastured poultry and eggs, and others who produce grass-fed beef and lamb for the local farmers market system. A case study of Quaker farming practices and products in Ohio or Iowa, for example, would be interesting.

Christine Snyder
Clarksville, Ohio

Does labeling miss the “radical call”?

In “Understanding Ourselves, Respecting the Differences” (FJ, June/July), Isabel Penraeth divides Friends into three disparate branches: “liberal, “conservative,” and “evangelical.” Of course there are Friends who can be loosely recognized under such language, but to reduce Quakerism to that language is to miss the radical call to each and all of us to form a community of faith that is a profound and vital alternative to a culture of getting and spending; strutting and seeming; brutalizing and warring; competing rather than collaborating; valuing appearances over truth, and disregarding the significance of God and Mother Earth.

I have been a member of two Quaker Meetings. In each of these two meetings there have been Friends who are atheists, earth-centered worshippers, Jews, Christians, and just plain seekers who live with compassion and lively hope. They have listened to each other, argued with each other, lost faith in each other, found forgiveness from each other, and moved forward in their microcosm of the pluralistic world in which we live. My experience is of people who listen to where the words come from and are fed by the rich diversity in the meeting, people who are resilient and willing to change when that is necessary.

As I read the New Testament, Jesus hung out with whomever he met and learned from them of the vastness of his father’s love. As I was reading this piece in Friends Journal I was reminded of Hans urs von Balthasar’s phrase, “Only love is credible.”

Timothy Leonard
Cincinnati, Ohio

More letters on the June/July Douglas C. Bennett article

In “Homosexuality: A Plea to Read the Bible Together,” Bennett writes: “I worry about homophobia, internalized homophobia, questions of white privilege and guilt, and how these struggles can get in the way of my listening to the Light and my leadings. I wonder if other people have these struggles as well.”

Yes, I do. It seems to be incessant and please know that you are not alone in your struggles.

I am relatively new to Quakerism, an attender for three years, but one point is absolutely clear: while I believe this is the right path for me, it is by no means the easy choice. I question myself constantly, examining my motivations, trying to discern my ego voice from that quieter one. It would be quite exhausting were it not for glimmers of hope that sometimes shine through the cracks.

Lynne Terzis
Boston, Mass.

Thank you for publishing Doug Bennett’s thoughtful and timely article on reading the Bible together over issues of homosexuality. It is an inspiration and reminder of important work we still have to do among and within ourselves. These issues require us to go beyond both lightweight acceptance of contemporarily popular liberal thought and ill-guided blind “obedience” to a few scriptural passages. Our sexuality is a gift from God, but it is also one of the easiest routes for the prince of lies to deceive us. In a world that increasingly views sexual activity as recreation and uses it at every turn for entertainment and advertising, we would do well to have deep conversations over the Bible and with much prayer about how we as individuals and as a community are led to be faithful on these issues. Then the homosexuality issue will take its rightful place in the whole spectrum. This is hard work, and will require that we let the light into the darkest recesses of our beings, but we will shine more brightly for having done it.

Secondly, if we are to have this conversation over the Bible, we will also have to have conversations about passages such as “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We cannot expect our brothers and sisters from “those other branches” to engage with us on the Bible and homosexuality if we are not simultaneously willing to delve deeply into the nature and person of the One who speaks to our condition and sits at the head of our Meeting. Does intellectual pride in being sufficient unto ourselves lead us into “not needing” a relationship with God, let alone Jesus Christ, the one who led our ancestors into this faith we cherish? Can we be “open and accepting” of the LBGTQ community while continuing to exclude or marginalize those who experience a personal relationship with Christ?

Joe Snyder
Portland, Ore.

We might find more clarity in the matter of homosexuality if we left God and religion out of the discussion entirely. So, for the moment, let us put God, the Bible and religion on the shelf. Let them gather dust while we go outside into the clear air and the green earth which nourish us. What do we find there? The absence of prejudice. In its place we find diversity.

The farmer plants white clover seed for hay. It has three leaves and a white blossom which bees love. This same clover is often part of a lawn seed mix. Some find fun in looking for a four leaf clover as a omen of good fortune and not as a symbol of sin against God because it is different from the rest. It is simply part of the natural order of the universe. The farmer does not waste his time plucking the extra leaf from the four leaf clover so that it conforms with the majority.

We are usually unwilling to acknowledge how much the majority shapes who we become. The majority thrives on conformity and believe its numbers ensures its rightness, often to the point of righteousness. The three leaf clover does not view the rare four leaf clover as being bad, simply different and natural. The four leaf clover no more un-natural that the three leaf. How much simpler our lives could be if we viewed homosexuals as four leaf clovers that had no choice in their being what they are. Prejudice, however, is a human condition born of human hubris. As my farmer neighbor said to me once, “Everyone at times, seems to need to have a dog to kick around so that they can feel in control and to which we can feel superior.”

Prejudices are beliefs held and acted upon which have not been verified by reasoned thought. They bring us emotional satisfaction, which is why we hold them. They also raise our personal hubris another notch, which may be satisfying to us, but not to others.

Holding a prejudice against homosexuality is like spitting into a strong wind or throwing a boomerang. While both may sometimes reach their target, the address to which they are sent is unlisted and are returned to the sender.

Henry Swain
Bloomington, Ind.

It helps to know history

To comment on the personnel policy of Friends United Meeting (“Waiting with the Outcasts and Strangers,” Mark Greenleaf Schlotterbeck, FJ, April), it helps to know some history. The current personnel policy was written in the early 80s with approval from all the member yearly meetings, including the five that were dually affiliated with both FUM and Friends General Conference—Baltimore, Canadian, New England, New York and Southeastern. The policy states that Friends in the employ of FUM must remain celibate unless married and defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. This was approved at that time because it was, and still is, a sensible policy for field staff not to have affairs while guests in a foreign country. The definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman was approved because Friends were actively working to end the practice of polygamy in Africa. Same sex-unions were not on our agenda in the early 80s. Gay marriage was not in the public consciousness and Friends were not yet having that conversation,

Today the issue is very painful for Friends on all sides—not just those belonging to both FUM and FGC. It has been an ongoing process for meetings across the country to discern Way forward and will continue to be a struggle for years to come. Knowing that Friends took 100 years to come to unity on approving a minute opposing slavery, we can anticipate another lengthy struggle with this human rights issue. Our patience is called for as we seek to remain faithful.

While Southeastern Yearly Meeting has laid down its membership in FUM, we have affirmed our LGBTQ members and pledged to continue our support of FUM’s Global Ministries. In June I will be going on my fifth trip to Kenya as volunteer field staff, with the blessings of my meeting and SEYM.

Lisa Stewart
Lake Worth, Fla.

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