Books: April 2014
The Essential Elias Hicks
By Paul Buckley. Inner Light Books, 2013. 162 pages. $25/hardcover; $15/paperback.
Reviewed by Thomas D. Hamm
One can make the argument that Elias Hicks is the single most important Quaker in North American history. John Woolman and Thomas R. Kelly are certainly more widely read today. Lucretia Mott, as an abolitionist and feminist, had a greater impact on the larger American society. But the ministry of Elias Hicks led to the greatest schism in the history of the Religious Society of Friends, one whose effects are still evident in the wide diversity of Quakerism around the world.
In the past few years, Paul Buckley, a member of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting and an adjunct member of the faculty at the Earlham School of Religion, has emerged as the leading student of Hicks’s life and ministry. Before writing this latest book, Buckley edited a new edition of Hicks’s journal (The Journal of Elias Hicks), including material that nineteenth-century editors omitted, and a collection of Hicks’s letters (Dear Friend: Letters and Essays of Elias Hicks), again restoring cuts and omissions of material that earlier editors found problematic or inconvenient, as well as including letters that were previously unknown or unavailable. Now Buckley has completed his Hicksian trilogy with a concise overview of Hicks’s religious thought. All three titles are published by Inner Light Books.
Born on Long Island, N.Y., in 1748, Hicks was recorded as a minister in the 1770s, and before his death in 1830, he traveled widely among North American Friends. By his 70s, he had become a polarizing figure in the Quaker world. Many American Friends saw him as a pillar of traditional Quakerism, a bulwark against innovators, otherwise known as Orthodox Friends, who were attempting to reshape Quakerism with evangelical ideas drawn from Presbyterians and Episcopalians. Hicks’s critics, in turn, claimed that his preaching about the nature of Christ and the authority of Scripture was at odds with historic Quakerism and reflected Unitarian, if not atheistic, influences. The growing conflict led to a series of separations in 1827 and 1828 that fractured American Quakerism.
Buckley, after an explanation of his methods and a brief overview of Hicks’s long life, deals with Hicks’s religious thought topically. Much of what he has to say on some topics, such as the Bible, God, Jesus Christ, and the Inward Light, will not be surprising to students of Quaker history. But there is great value in having such a clear, concise, connected overview. Other essays are new and original, such as one on Hicks as an early environmentalist who anticipated much contemporary Quaker thinking. In each section, Buckley is careful to distinguish between what he can prove on the basis of Hicks’s writings and what he suspects to be true, but cannot prove. Particularly striking is Buckley’s argument about the influence that the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews apparently had on Hicks.
This is a book that is intended largely for contemporary Liberal Friends, although scholars of religion will certainly benefit from a careful reading, as will anyone with an interest in Quaker history. I take issue with only one of Buckley’s decisions, and that is to not make use of the extensive corpus of Hicks’s published sermons. After Hicks became the center of controversy in the 1820s, an Episcopalian Philadelphia printer by the name of Marcus T.C. Gould and a few others began attending meetings for worship where Hicks was present and taking down his sermons in shorthand; then they put these sermons into print. As a result, we have more of Hicks’s preaching than that of any other Friend before 1900. Buckley argues that since we do not have any actual manuscripts, the reliability of the sermons is questionable. I think, however, that the published sermons reflect the Hicks that was far better known to Friends during his lifetime than the Hicks as diarist or letter writer. Certainly those who sided with Hicks were far more likely to do so on the basis of hearing or reading his sermons than on the basis of reading anything that he wrote. And, to my knowledge, neither Hicks nor any other Friend at the time asserted that the printed sermons were inaccurate or misleading.
That is not a major fault. Paul Buckley has given us the best work now available in print on Elias Hicks.
Correction: The original version of this article stated that Paul Buckley is a member of Illinois Yearly Meeting. He has been a member of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting for nearly 20 years.
Thomas D. Hamm is professor of history and director of special collections at Earlham College and a member of New Castle (Ind.) Meeting in the New Association of Friends. He is finishing a book on Hicksite Friends in the nineteenth century.
The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies
Edited by Stephen W. Angell and Pink Dandelion. Oxford University Press, 2013. 672 pages. $175/hardcover; $99.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Brian Drayton
This book is unique in Quaker literature: a collection of scholarly articles, with extensive citation of research literature, intending to provide (I quote from the back cover) “comprehensive coverage of the history, theology, and sociology of Quakerism,” “reflecting the international vibrancy of the movement today.” Thirty-seven individual entries were contributed by more than 40 authors (many of them described as “independent researchers”). Each chapter includes a short selection of references for further reading, but all chapters also draw from the extensive shared bibliography at the book’s end. This is a permanent contribution to the study of Quakerism and, possibly, to the Quaker movement as well.
Part I surveys the history of Quakerism with solid chapters addressing the seventeenth-century beginnings (Rosemary Moore) and the Restoration period of 1660–1691 (Richard C. Allen). Chapters then start to incorporate both theological changes and chronology, with varying success. Robynne Rogers Healy valiantly strives to convey the complexities of the Quietist period (1692–c.1805), as Thomas D. Hamm seeks to encompass the emergence of distinctive Hicksite, Orthodox, and Evangelical strands in the nineteenth century. J. William Frost skillfully treats the welter of movements that can be called Modernist and Liberal Quakers in the period 1887–2010. All three of these chapters are lucid enough, but each subject is so full of undercurrents and local variations that no treatment of this size could be quite coherent. In particular, Healy’s chapter convinced me that we still await a satisfactory exposition of the culture and theology of the unfortunately labeled Quietist strand. The three final chapters in this section are necessarily more focused, and each of the three—“Five Years Meeting and Friends United Meeting, 1887–2010” (Gregory P. Hinshaw); “Evangelical Quakers, 1887–2010” (Arthur O. Roberts); and “Conservative Friends, 1845–2010” (Lloyd Lee Wilson)—are valuable short overviews, with Roberts’s and Wilson’s chapters offering both information and insight, and a tone of engagement that this reader found too rarely in Handbook.
Part II addresses Quaker theology and spirituality. Carole Dale Spencer discusses Quakers in theological context, but it may be that to attempt this within the compass of a single chapter was too ambitious, given the need to portray Quaker complexity against a mosaic backdrop stretching across four centuries. Stephen W. Angell’s treatment of God, Christ, and the Light, and Michael Birkel’s “Leadings and Discernment” (especially the latter) are clear, fresh, and incisive, and would be good resources for meeting discussion groups. Reading Nikki Coffey Tousley’s chapter on “Sin, Convincement, Purity, and Perfection,” I was left with more questions than answers, and a renewed suspicion that there was more continuity between early Quakerism (itself a complex thing) and Quietism than is usually recognized (Rufus Jones’s description of Job Scott as the final exponent of the original Quaker message puts the question in a nice Victorian nutshell). Other chapters handle their subjects usefully enough: “Quakers and Scripture” (Howard R. Macy); “Quakers, Eschatology, and Time” (Douglas Gwyn); “The Kingdom of God and the Politics of Compassion” (Gerard Guiton); “Quaker Women’s Lives and Spiritualities” (Mary Van Vleck Garman); and “Worship and Sacraments” (David L. Johns).
Part III addresses Quaker witness, though many of its topics might just as well have been in the theology section, or vice versa. A case in point is “Ministry and Preaching” (Michael P. Graves), which sketches the history of Quaker sermonizing, but fails to elucidate the Quaker understanding of ministry. Sylvia Stevens’s chapter on traveling ministry gets closer to some aspects of Quaker ministry’s multiple facets, but space prohibits the treatment that the subject deserves, and, as in many chapters, the modern experience outside Anglophone Quakerism gets only a glance, as do other important topics mentioned but undeveloped. In three interesting chapters, Jacalynn Stuckey Welling addresses “Mission,” Janet Scott “Quakers, Other Churches, and Other Faiths,” and Emma J. Lapsansky “Plainness and Simplicity.” Lonnie Valentine’s thin chapter on “Quakers, War, and Peacemaking,” and perhaps Petra L. Doan and Elizabeth P. Kamphausen’s chapter on Quakers and sexuality, round out the chapters which might well have ended up in Part II.
Several of the other chapters on Quaker witness are noteworthy, especially Elizabeth Cazden’s “Quakers, Slavery, Anti-slavery and Race,” which is rich and provocative, and two “reform” chapters, “Quakers and Penal Reform” (Mike Nellis and Maureen Waugh) and especially “Quakers and Asylum Reform” (Charles L. Cherry), which provide a rich and coherent view of a subject rarely recounted (and closely tied to penal reform). “Quakers and Education” (Elizabeth A. O’Donnell) addresses another area in which Friends engage the world through institutional means, though whether there is a distinctively Quaker education remains unclear. Other chapters in this section include “Quakers, Business, and Philanthropy” (Mark Freeman) and “Quakers and the Family” (Edwina Newman) whose three brief topical sections are, puzzlingly, “Early Quakers and ‘Gospel Family-Order’”; “Nuptuality, Fertility, and Child-care in the Age of Endogamy”; and “The Worldwide Quaker Family in the Age of Evangelicalism.” Perhaps more could have been said. Some of it is said in “Quakers, Youth, and Young Adults” (Max L. Carter and Simon Best).
Part IV embraces “Quaker Expression,” a grab-bag of topics, each handled briefly and idiosyncratically but enough to engage the reader in the search through further reading. Chapter titles in this section take the form of “Quakers and _____” with the contents touching on various topics, including “Print Culture” (Betty Hagglund), “Visual Culture” (Roger Homan), “Philosophy and Truth” (Jeffrey Dudiak and Laura Rediehs), “Science” (Geoffrey Cantor), and “Ethics” (Jackie Leach Skully).
The final Handbook chapter is Margery Post Abbott’s “Global Quakerism and the Future of Friends,” which portrays clearly enough the tension between dismaying weaknesses and encouraging strengths in our small, contentious, dynamic, improvisatory movement. Our future service in the world depends on our faithful and prophetic response to what most Friends have called the Light of Christ known inwardly. Our ability to follow that Light has been an open question every year since 1652, and remains so.
Any book so ambitious will show some unevenness in the quality of the chapters, and every author’s challenge, to address some rich topic in too little space, is severe. Moreover, the claim to comprehensive coverage is always an invitation to the nit-picker, as I shall now demonstrate.
As I completed the book, I found myself thinking about missed opportunities, which might yet be taken up in some future work—a revision of this one or some other. Most obviously, in a volume seeking to reflect “the international vibrancy of the movement today,” there were no authors or co-authors from Africa or Latin America. One chapter (Angell’s “God, Christ, and the Light”) was notable for using multiple quotations from several “Friends from the global south,” but all of these are from one collection of narratives about travel in the ministry. Given the increasingly “southern” nature of our membership, could not some of the chapters at least have involved co-authors from Bolivia, Cuba, or Kenya? This could have also encouraged some Friends from such areas to join in the larger Quaker studies endeavor.
Other topics of interest were missed, e.g., Quakers and electronic culture; Quakers’ interdependence with non-Quaker culture; spiritual formation in Quaker tradition; Quaker understandings of the individual, the meeting, and the Church; Friends and nature; Friends and power; the evolution of Quaker service institutions. Some of these might have been addressed by asking pairs of authors in the current collection to write in dialogue, or even debate, bringing their diverse understandings and insights into creative dialectic.
How is “Quaker studies” as a discipline related to the Quaker movement? There are dangers in the tendency to professionalize activities that have a spiritual component. Yet every religious tradition, Quaker or otherwise, has been enriched as well as encumbered by disciplined scholarship, as long as the scholars are engaged deeply in the spiritual challenges of the times, and bring that engagement to their scholarship.
Given its price, Friends and meetings may not rush to purchase this Handbook, but Friends interested in our history, faith, or practice—and especially in teaching about them—will consult it to their profit.
Brian Drayton is a member of Weare (N.H.) Meeting.
A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four Ways to Walk With God
By MaryKate Morse. InterVarsity Press, 2013. 251 pages. $18/paperback; $14.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Paul Buckley
Some people treat prayer as a magical incantation. They seem to believe that if particular words are recited, the right bodily postures assumed, and the hands shaped just so, then God will act on their behalf. Worldly goals will be achieved as a result of God’s intervention. This approach seems to view prayer as something a person can do to change and control God. It is an ancient tradition; one that depends on a belief that God is essentially capricious, favoring some people over others. This belief can destroy a person’s prayer life, if he or she prays fervently for something and never gets it. We all know of instances where good people get sick and die, while the wicked prosper. It can be destructive in another way as well. For other people, the idea of a God who is so capricious and who can so easily be manipulated is repellant. In rejecting that concept, they also reject prayer.
There is another ancient tradition—first appearing in the Bible at Deuteronomy 10:17—that God is by nature perfectly fair and impartial. As Jesus reminded his disciples, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. God does not play favorites, and no amount of praying will change this.
So why pray if prayer doesn’t change the One who is prayed to? Real prayer opens a pathway to God. It requires honesty and total exposure, shedding false fronts and casting away the image of God as a sugar daddy. It opens a channel of communication to God, but information flows through it in both directions. By praying, I can come to know God more truly and deeply, but at the same time, I risk spiritual transformation.
Prayer doesn’t change God. Prayer changes me.
In A Guidebook to Prayer, MaryKate Morse details 24 ways to pray: 24 ways to open ourselves to God and risk being transformed. Each chapter addresses a type of prayer—worship, contemplative, healing, conversational, work, play, etc.—but as much as the book presents a taxonomy of prayer, it also provides a thoughtful and compassionate guide to integrating prayer into every aspect of one’s life.
Each chapter contains a concise description of one form of prayer, some guidelines for praying in that manner, and step-by-step directions for engaging in that kind of prayer. Separate directions are given for a group experience, praying with a spiritual partner, and individual practice. These directions are detailed enough that they could be followed even by inexperienced users. The group instructions lend themselves to a variety of settings from a daylong retreat to a weekly study group. In addition, the text is accompanied with snippets of related personal prayer experience from diverse individuals, and each chapter concludes with longer (still less than one page) reminiscences. The result is welcoming to newcomers and deepening to spiritual veterans.
Although you can do it, this is not a book that needs to be read from front to back. First of all, not every chapter will speak to every reader’s condition. I never connected with the “Sacrament Prayer” chapter, but the ones titled “Servant Prayer” and “Simplicity” resonated profoundly in my soul. Moreover, the book is well written to accommodate jumping around as you are led. Each chapter stands on its own. Having read it in order, I would especially recommend starting at the end of the final chapter on how to deal with times when prayer seems dry, formal, and meaningless. Then loop back to the introduction and choose chapters as they call out to you.
This will be a difficult book for some Friends Journal readers. MaryKate Morse, a professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Ore., is a Trinitarian Christian who puts great stock in the Bible and believes in the power of prayer. Jesus is her constant companion. In this, she joins the majority of Friends worldwide. Those readers from the liberal unprogrammed wing of the Religious Society of Friends who want to understand those other kinds of Friends couldn’t ask for a better introduction.
This book may challenge you, but you will be better for reading it.
Paul Buckley is happy to be called a liberal unprogrammed Quaker in Community Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. Paul is well known among Friends for presentations, workshops, and retreats, as well as his many articles and books on Quaker history, faith, and practice, including Owning the Lord’s Prayer and The Quaker Bible Reader. His most recent book is The Essential Elias Hicks.
Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey
By Luci Shaw. InterVarsity Press, 2014. 144 pages. $15/paperback; $12.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Judith Favor
“What is old age? How does it feel? How does it look from the inside?”
Like Luci Shaw, I navigate the rough terrain of aging by journaling about changes in heart and mind, body and soul. I too am “on the last stretch, the final lap, approaching the longed-for frontier . . . Am I willing to exert myself on this upward ascent? What keeps me from giving up?” Shaw applies patience and persistence to all sorts of expeditions, including climbing, publishing, and aging. “If I can be a forecaster,” Shaw posits, “you may understand this transition more clearly.” And she’s right, I do. Even after closing the book, her poetic song of aging continues to sing within me.
I like this woman. She is 84, ten years older than I am, and expresses great enthusiasm for walking, driving, praying, composing, and serving the homeless. Shaw is the mother of five, a poet, a teacher of writing, and an active Episcopalian. “As I get older,” she says, “I want my inner perceptions to be true to visible and invisible realities, whether or not my physical eyes are dim or cloudy. I like St. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians that ‘the eyes of your heart be enlightened.’”
Wielding a walking stick inherited from her father, the author finds sure footing in chapter titles that use hiking metaphors such as “Feasting on Distances,” “Lightening the Load,” and “Course Corrections.” One of my favorite chapters is “Incidents and Accidents,” in which Shaw conversationally takes readers on a humorous tour of her scars and falls, inviting us to sense God’s presence with her in waiting rooms and surgical suites. “Prayer for whatever needs healing in me becomes a springboard to pray for individuals worldwide who need the same curative touch from God . . . Yes, as the plotline of my life unfolds, each new medical concern provokes the questions behind the questions.”
Shaw’s provocative questions invite me to wonder in new directions. “What is the meaning and value of an insight gained, or a perception captured, along with perhaps some grains of wisdom? Even if it has been shared with kindred spirits, might it not evaporate in a swirl of someone else’s forgetfulness? What lasts, even for a lifetime?”
Shaw sees with clarity, explores weighty matters of doubt and faith with light-hearted humor, and describes everyday activities in short, engaging scenes. Her questions illuminate shadowed aspects of old age. “What will I be like at ninety-five? Will I ever be ninety-five? And is it OK to long for longevity?” I predict that both older and younger Friends will appreciate her wit and wisdom while gaining appreciation for the pilgrimage of aging. Adventure of Ascent is “dedicated to those who have already submitted.”
Judith Favor is a member of Claremont Monthly Meeting. The Edgefielders: Poor Farm Tales of a Great-Grandmother, her Depression-era tale, is available from CreateSpace.
The Heron Spirals: A Commonplace Book
By Caroline Balderston Parry, art by Roderick MacIver. Britannia Arts, 2013. 176 pages. $20/paperback.
Reviewed by Phila Hoopes
I’ll confess: I leaped to review Caroline Balderston Parry’s luminous memoir, The Heron Spirals, at least partially for the artwork and the personal parallels. I have loved the meditative watercolors of illustrator Roderick MacIver ever since my late husband introduced me to them, and every year until his death, I’d given him a holiday subscription to MacIver’s periodical Heron Dance. But this was only a small part of the resonance I found in this heartfelt book of all-too-human love and loss, healing and self-discovery.
Canadian author and artist Parry was nearly 50 when her husband, David, died suddenly in his sleep, leaving her a widow with two teenage children. The Heron Spirals tells of her inward journey through the turbulent years that immediately preceded and followed his death, and of her slow evolution from a wife in the messy midlife phase of a 27-year marriage to a woman finding herself and her purpose through a conscious communion with Spirit and nature, in particular through her mystical connection with herons.
The book moves with the deliberate grace of its namesake bird through the muddy waters of loss: pausing in contemplation, dipping deep for a struggling insight, and launching into flights of joy and affirmations of love, life, and hope.
The author calls Heron Spirals a “commonplace book”—a “themed personal scrapbook filled with writing of interest to [the] book’s creator.” So in the midst of her narrative of the journey, we come upon quotes to highlight the story: a poem by Wendell Berry or Langston Hughes; an English nursery rhyme; an insight from Ms. Magazine or Gift from the Sea or The Feminine Face of God; a snippet on writing or artistry from Madeleine L’Engle or The Artist’s Way; lines from favorite hymns; and nuggets of shamanic wisdom on animal totems. Parry’s own poetry makes a showing—rich, lyrical highlights of the story being told—and MacIver’s evocative images carry the mood throughout.
Reading her story as a widow myself, I found Heron Spirals both deeply centered and heartfelt, with a raw vulnerability that is utterly authentic. I recognized my own journey in Parry’s cycling through shock, grief, rage; her efforts to heal the jagged edges of a relationship snapped in medias res; her reaching for comfort and love; the reshaping of her relationships with her beloveds and her spiritual circles; her solitary retreats to find Spirit in the natural world; and her ultimate re-grounding, acceptance, and realignment with the Universe.
Her story brought me to healing tears at some points; at others, it sent me back to reconnect with my own sacred spaces in the natural world. Quotes from the book have gathered in my journal; one favorite is “Remember, love would not have carried you this far to let you down . . . Trust on and move on . . . Keep going into the unknowing . . .” (from This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love by Tama Kieves).
The Heron Spirals is a richly rewarding read, a profoundly personal account of the journey from loss to life by one who’s walked it deeply, finding her heart broken open to hold more Light.
Phila Hoopes is a freelance copywriter, poet, and blogger (soulpathsthejourney.org), a student of creation spirituality and permaculture, with a passion for tracking deep connections in the mystical experience of the Divine across faith traditions. She lives in Maryland and is working on her first book. She is a member of Homewood Meeting in Baltimore, Md.
By Letitia VanSant. Self-released, 2012. 13 tracks. $9.99/CD at cdbaby.com/cd/letitiavansant; MP3 album available at letitiavansant.bandcamp.com.
Reviewed by Patricia Morrison
Breakfast Truce, the debut album from Letitia VanSant, a Baltimore, Md., native; member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore; and Friends Committee on National Legislation staffer, is a gorgeous meandering journey through styles and influences, seen through the lens of Americana. It ranges from stark mountain harmonies and singable tunes of songs like “Reunion,” “Macy’s Parking Lot,” and the title track, “Breakfast Truce,” to the polished pop and alternative rock of “As I Was Told” and “Neighbor’s House.”
The overall feel is reminiscent of the soundtrack for the French movie Amelie. It is simultaneously haunting and celebratory, with VanSant’s influences difficult to pinpoint, but her joy in making music evident. Her experimentation and collaboration (in hosting harmony singing nights, jam sessions, and even helping to start the Baltimore Folk Festival) come together in this collection.
The title track (and album name) refers to how during World War I, opposing troops in the trenches would sometimes stop fighting during breakfast to let each other eat in peace. After this explanation on her website, she writes, “Let’s all find brave new ways to make our mutual existence less fearful and more delicious.” Such tiny examples of hope permeate VanSant’s songs, everyday glimmers of light in a challenging urban world.
VanSant hints at the inspiration behind each tune, rather than telling a straightforward story as many folk singers do in their songs. In the end, the music tells more than her beautifully crafted lyrics. An unusual range of instruments form a choir out of which her voice shines as a soloist. Trumpet and cello join ukulele and upright bass.
As a singer/songwriter myself, I tend to put music into one of three categories: that which I tolerate; that which makes me so awestruck that I want to give up, go home, and take up a different art form completely; and that which inspires me to get to work improving my own craft. VanSant’s debut album makes me want to dive into learning to play jazz chords—or find someone who can—and let my voice slip in and out of aching halftones until the melody tells the story on its own. “What is it we have but a song?” she sings in “Breakfast Truce,” and in this album, it seems that may be enough.
Patricia Morrison attends South Mountain Meeting in Ashland, Ore. She is a touring singer/songwriter and founder of Inner Fire, Outer Light, a program which helps overwhelmed creatives to harness their creativity for income, impact, and iridescent lives. Find more information at patriciamorrison.net and innerfireouterlight.com.
Would You Stay?
By Michael Forster Rothbart. TED Conferences, 2013. 147 pages. $1.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Rob Pierson
In this short eBook, Quaker photojournalist Michael Forster Rothbart offers an intimate and haunting portrait of these two places and the people who call them home.
It has been nearly 30 years since the meltdown in the Ukraine spread its ink blot of radioactivity across the European landscape. Rothbart chose to live near Chernobyl to witness life in and around the exclusion zone and was finishing up that project when, eerily, a new radioactive ink blot spread out over the hills of Fukushima Prefecture. So Rothbart spent time in Japan as well, photographing people beginning to come to terms with the limbo of their new reality.
Rothbart’s text recounts the basic events and geography of the disasters, but this is not his focus. His photographs tap a deeper well and tell a richer story about people and their complex relationship to place. Whereas the media insists on telling one story over and over, Rothbart shows that “a disaster is not the same story told a million times; it’s a million different stories told all at once.”
In Fukushima, a child and mother play with pet stag beetles outside their refugee apartment. Near Chernobyl, a boy dives skyward into a sparkling but deeply contaminated pond. In a town near the nuclear plant, abandoned shirts flap on a clothesline, and a fish tank pumps aquarium water, years after the fish have died. In the silent forest, a researcher gently holds out a rare clutch of newly hatched chicks. Mr. Suzuki tends his bonsai garden and dreams of returning to his abandoned farm, while Ms. Nagai puts on her protective mask to head back into the exclusion zone to feed abandoned dogs and cats.
Perhaps most memorably, Sergei Mirnyii pulls on his white protective gear to go to work in the reactor, and in a later photo throws it all off again to roll in the snow after a sauna. Or perhaps I am haunted by the Feshenkos, who squat illegally in a zone where wolves roam their empty village roads, and Maria Urupa offers apples from her tainted orchard. But radioactivity is hardly her driving concern. “If I was to leave this place,” she says, “I’d die already.”
Unlike in the West, where we are often all too ready to pull up roots and move, these places are a reminder that, as Rothbart puts it, “People will fight, even die, for their right to stay rooted.” Thousands of people still commute to work at Chernobyl. A job is a job after all, and a home, even a home with a thousand-year future of radioactive contamination, remains home. Rothbart holds up a mirror to us and asks, “If this were your home, would you stay?”
In a May 2011 Friends Journal article, Rothbart identifies the parallels between photojournalism and Quaker worship. “The first similarity is in our intentions. We are searching for Truth and insight, willing (ideally) to seek this Truth out no matter where it leads us. . . . The very act of listening compassionately, observing, and recording someone’s daily life, empowers those whose troubles have been ignored.”
In Would You Stay? we see Rothbart’s form of Quaker witness in practice. For both nuclear activists and religious contemplatives, this is a book to be read and treasured.
Note: At $1.99, the eBook is an instantly accessible bargain; download it now wherever you sit and carry it wherever you go. Unfortunately, the images, font choice, and page layout end up subject to each eReader’s whims. Do not, for example, attempt to load this eBook on a black-and-white Kindle; the images will dissolve away into digital gray murk. At heart, this is a book of photojournalism, and it is best viewed on your highest-resolution computer screen.
Rob Pierson is a member of Albuquerque (N.M.) Meeting who writes, photographs, and leads workshops related to pilgrimage, sacred time and place, and contemplative photography.
American Quaker War Tax Resistance (Second Edition)
Edited by David M. Gross. Picket Line Press, 2011. 574 pages. $25/paperback; $7.99/eBook.
Gross has made a serious business of investigating and writing about not only the history of war tax resistance, but also tactics that can be used today. In American Quaker War Tax Resistance, Gross uses historical documents to trace the development of war tax resistance among Quakers, and how it was viewed by their contemporaries outside the Society of Friends. He includes writing by famous Friends such as William Penn and John Woolman, as well as individuals less known such as Moses Brown. In a subsequent book, 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance, Gross lays out past campaigns to help war tax resisters of our own time choose from tactics that have already been used.
The Sister of Mary Dyer: The High Price of Freedom
By Ann Bell. Katy Crossing Press, 2013. 371 pages. $15/paperback; $2.99/eBook.
The real-life Mary Dyer was a Quaker hanged in Boston Commons in 1660 for preaching about the Quaker movement. The sister in this novel is a fictional character. This book begins with a map and a list of characters, and indicates which are fictional and which are real people appearing in this work of historical fiction. At the end is a timeline of the life of Mary Dyer. This novel reveals aspects of the impact of Quakerism on American culture.
All God’s Children
By Anna Schmidt. Barbour Publishing, 2013. 314 pages. $12.99/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
This novel is the first installment in the Peacemaker Series, a total of three volumes that tell the stories of a group of American and European characters living in Europe during World War II. The protagonist of this book is Beth Bridgewater, who is a German American and a Quaker pacifist. Inspired by the real-life story of the White Rose Society and its internal German resistance to Nazism, novelist Anna Schmidt develops these characters and their stories involving personal risk, forced emigration, and the types of danger that became common for German resistance workers.
Ladies of the Dance
By May Mansoor Munn. Anemone Press, 2013. 290 pages. $14.95/paperback; $5.99/eBook.
This novel takes place in the period leading up to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Some characters are willing to risk themselves for victory, but others continue with life as normal as possible. Complex situations like this one are often unclear, and the characters in this novel react to the political situation in various ways, some placing their personal goals first, and others seeing personal goals within a larger, newer, and yet unpredictable political reality. The fictional family has already left its original home, so the struggle of being uprooted and the longing for home are important themes that underlie the characters’ various choices.
Speaking of Murder
By Tace Baker. Barking Rain Press, 2012. 178 pages. $12.95/paperback; $5.95/eBook.
Tace Baker is the pen name of contemporary Quaker author Edith Maxwell, a writer in the mystery genre. The Quaker heroine of this novel is a linguistics professor who uses her ear for accents to investigate a murder, and draws dangerous attention to herself. Relationships unravel and change shape as the heroine tries to figure out who is a threat and who an ally as the plot escalates.
Ties That Bind
By James H. Lehman. Brotherstone Publishers, 2013. 404 pages. $15.95/paperback; $5.99/eBook.
In this novel, the ties that bind are examined as characters wrestle with their relationships with each other, with money, and with their congregations, and how those relationships may survive or suffer in the ongoing unfolding of individual lives driven by important decisions and choices. Also woven into the ties that bind are romance, faith experiences, and a civil union that ignites overt conflict within a congregation. The characters struggle with their convictions and questions about their own places in the world.
Love Lost in Translation: Homosexuality and the Bible
By K. Renato Lings. Trafford Publishing, 2013. 625 pages. $38.44/hardcover; $28.44/paperback; $3.99/eBook.
This 625-page book is the result of a great deal of study. Its purpose is to demonstrate mistranslations from the original language that have allowed errors to be made in interpreting the messages of the Bible. Fifteen sections are followed by appendices, glossaries, bibliography, scripture reference index, and name and author indices. With its extensive referencing, this labor of love can serve as a source for scholarship and reading for pleasure.
Outing the Church: 40 Years in the Queer Christian Movement
By Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson. LifeJourney Press, 2013. 151 pages. $14.99/paperback.
Wilson describes her decades-long work in the “queer Christian movement” in this book and another one, Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures. In Outing the Church, Wilson describes queer Christians as an ecumenical “tribe,” that needs to heal its wounds and whose members need to exercise their gifts. She comes from decades when God was “an exclusive, hard-nosed God,” who made us all, but, frighteningly, might not love us all or accept us all into heaven. In a tone full of humor and friendliness, Wilson tells stories to make her points. This book paints our cultural backdrop with a broad brush, yet makes each point or tells each story with fine attention to the craft of writing. Both a subject index and a scripture index are included.