Authentic Friends

The long days of Northern Hemisphere summers can paint disjointed emotional landscapes. We have our summer habits—trips to beaches and pools, visits to yearly meeting, travels to see friends, lazy times to read books or catch up with favorite podcasts. 

But these routines of normalcy have been punctured by terrifying reminders of foreboding trends: Children locked in cages along the U.S. border. Record-breaking heat waves. A succession of mass shootings in the name of White supremacy, cheered on in the dankest reaches of the Internet. 

Holding onto optimism and resolve requires a calibrated balancing act. It’s easy to be pulled into the polarities and imagine either that everything is fine or that doom is accelerating. As Friends, we know that truth can embrace both simultaneously and that the light of continuing revelation can both guide us forward and expose past missteps.

This unthemed September issue is a potluck of written ministry, a mix of lessons on living authentic Quaker lives. Our first article is by Andrew Huff, who wrote an essay on material simplicity last fall and has come back to look at spiritual simplicity and explore what it means to be Christlike in our interactions.

Mickey Edgerton faces the ultimate pessimism—a diagnosis of terminal cancer—and decides to think of it as her personal end times. She experiences upwellings of grace followed by a surprising clamor of emotions at unexpected good news, all the while maintaining a clear-eyed, mordant humor.

Next, one of my favorite pieces: Ann Jerome with a warning on the perils of Quaker niceness. When she submitted the essay, she said it had been “several years in the seasoning,” and it shows: her examples are presented without ill-will, her diagnoses have the ring of truth, and her conclusions are incisive and convincing.

A culture of niceness can blind us to the depths of our shadows. One of those is sexual abuse: Quakers communities are not somehow magically immune. Friends schools and yearly meetings have been implicated in recent scandals, but it’s not always easy to get them to go on the record in the midst of legal maneuverings. So we asked our news editor Erik Hanson to look at an insightful process Carolina Friends School went through recently when they learned a teacher and a principal had abused students there in the 1970s. An insistence on integrity and transparency helped the school community come to a place of deeper honesty, despite the surprise of a new tragedy. Quakers can find ways to come to grips with our shadows.

An even-more hidden Quaker shadow is our history of participation in slavery. We wear our abolitionist past proudly on our sleeves, but before Friends denounced slavery, many owned and traded slaves. Katharine Gerbner looks at how early Friends attempted to reconcile their radical message of Christ’s freedom with the institution of slavery. In hindsight, reconciliation could never be possible, but in their doomed attempts they helped shape the modern concept of Whiteness that informs our politics to this day.

We can certainly choose to hide from the responsibilities of past misdeeds. But it seems to me that the more liberatory path is to own them and work to find out what short-circuited and kept us from being authentic Friends of the Truth.

Yours in peace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.