Books June/July 2013
Discernment: Living Under Divine Guidance
North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), Journal (number 6), 2012. 62 pages. Free download at www.ncymc.org/journal.
Reviewed by Paul Buckley
The role of discernment is one of the things that distinguish Friends from non-Friends and, as a result, there are a number of good resources on the topic. My first thought when I looked at this thin volume was that it could not possibly add anything new or significant to the literature. I was wrong.
The opening article by Lloyd Lee Wilson provides a simple explanation of what discernment is and how Friends use it in decision making. In eight and a half pages, it sketches discernment’s scriptural and historical roots in language that a newcomer to one of our meetings can easily understand.
This provides the reader with a good intellectual understanding of discernment, but the unique contribution comes in the next three pieces. In each, we are invited to appreciate what it feels like to discern the way forward—to utterly trust that God, the Inward Light, will guide you. Each shares a story. Theory is stripped away and we are allowed to feel the sureness of being called, the yearning to know where that call is leading, and the demands on patience that waiting for clarity imposes. We are presented with ordinary people, living ordinary lives—people who seem content when they are confronted with a sense that God has something else in mind for them. What makes these stories so valuable to me is that they engage with this sense of calling by the explicit use of spiritual discernment. This provides another dimension, complementing the more cerebral description of discernment that the first article provided.
The final article is a transcript of a conversation. We are blessed to listen in as two thoughtful and spiritually grounded women explore discernment. The result rounds out this work—filling spaces that the earlier articles left empty.
The Journal of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) has been around since 2001, publishing new volumes at irregular intervals. The previous five issues have been titled “On Vocal Ministry,” “The Queries,” “Wrestling with Our Faith Tradition,” “The Advices,” and “Caring For Creation.” All are worth your time.
Paul Buckley is a member of North Meadow Circle of Friends in Indianapolis, Ind. He is the author of numerous articles and books on Quaker history, faith, and practice. His most recent book is Dear Friend: Letters and Essays of Elias Hicks.
A Quaker Marriage of Philosophy and Art: Words and Pictures of Howard and Anna Brinton
Compiled by Catharine Forbes, with Catharine Brinton Cary and Joan Brinton Erickson. QuakerBridge Media of FGC and Pendle Hill Publications, 2012. 62 pages. $14.00/paperback.
Reviewed by Marty Grundy
This is a surprisingly deep and delightful little book about two well-known and much-loved Friends. Anna Shipley Cox (1887-1969), the subject of a recent Pendle Hill pamphlet and prolific author, and Howard Haines Brinton (1884-1973), author of a number of Quaker books including Friends for 300 Years, were married in 1921. Each year they made a Christmas card using Howard’s verses and Anna’s illustrations. Built on excerpts from these cards and their other writing, their granddaughter, in consultation with two of their daughters, has deftly woven a tapestry of the work and lives of this remarkable Quaker couple. The book is not intended as a biography—it is too brief and leaves out a lot. Nor is it intended as an examination of their thinking about religion, philosophy, art, community, peace, or any of the other topics they pondered—although it does touch on many of them. Rather, it is a celebration of their lifelong engagement with living their principles, and seeking the continuing revelation of love through family and community—along with a delight in “dead languages” and philosophy with its similarities to physics.
Both Howard and Anna had PhDs, taught, and worked for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center rooted in community life. Anna was a classical scholar, with an emphasis on art and archaeology. Howard got one PhD in physics, then another in philosophy. They met while doing AFSC relief work after World War I in Poland and Germany. After World War II, they served with the AFSC for two years in Japan. They taught at Mills and Earlham Colleges, among other places. They succeeded Henry Hodgkin as co-directors of Pendle Hill for thirteen years, then remained in close touch with the community for another twenty.
The beautifully chosen quotations and succinct summaries provide nutritious food for thought on a variety of topics that engaged the Brintons. “A description of an experience is not the experience itself,” wrote Howard, while emphasizing the importance of trusting that experience. It is tempting to offer a series of pithy quotations, but instead here is a list of a few topics readers may find themselves wanting to bookmark: silent worship (p. 24); the emphasis on publishing by Friends (p. 32); the importance of putting into practice on a small scale how one would like to change the world, which the Brintons envisioned through community and what they consciously molded and built at Pendle Hill (p. 36). They saw community as the middle ground between the extremes of excess individualism and totalitarianism (p. 40). True religion, they realized, embraces paradox (p. 42). They wrote on love, p. 46; pacifism, p. 48; the limits of science, p. 54; and against the soulless mechanism of the proposed Blue Route freeway, originally routed to go directly through their house (p. 55). Finally they shared their thoughts on old age (pp. 56-58).
Throughout are drawings by Anna, often whimsical, including sketches of her children, grandchildren, and pets. The cards often contained quotations in Latin and Greek (with translations thoughtfully supplied). This little book will be treasured not only by those who still remember the Brintons, or who have experienced Pendle Hill, but by anyone who delights in wise insights offered with a light and graceful touch.
Marty Grundy, who has occasionally been to Pendle Hill, is a member of Cleveland (Ohio) Meeting.
Waging Peace: Discipline and Practice
By Pamela Haines. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 420), 2012. 35 pages. $6.50/pamphlet.
Reviewed by Annemiek Wilms Floet
In this pamphlet, Pamela Haines, a longtime member of Central Philadelphia Meeting and a community activist, offers the reader a framework for discipline and practice of the Quaker peace testimony as something that can be exercised daily. Using the comparison of vigorous training at boot camp as preparation for war, the author challenges the reader to exercise muscles that prepare to wage peace. And it does not involve a gym membership!
The concepts of discipline and practice are introduced as seeing hope and reclaiming our ability to grieve, the latter of which is often repressed in modern society. Strengthening these abilities lays the groundwork for the hard exercise, that of facing conflict.
Pamela offers several powerful personal accounts that illustrate what may take the most energy: our willingness to stretch ourselves and to “warm ourselves to conflict.” This can be, for example, recognizing how we often are more alike than different, or how to welcome differences as opportunities for growth. In order to face conflict and wage peace, we need to cultivate attentive, curious and respectful listening, which Pamela calls “bedrock of human interaction.” This practice assists in preventing us from judging quickly, and helps us listen for truth.
The “Welcoming Conflict” chapter is illustrated by a strong personal account of what the author will later describe as a “courage project” that allowed her to “be involved in conflict as [a] flexible instrument, not taking it personally, but…doing [her] part to find a way through to the other side.” This particular “project” involved staying present and able to listen to another’s anger, even when it was directed at the author. Slowly, she and the other person got clear about several helpful things, but it took courage to see the situation as an opportunity and stick with it. “What a gift to all concerned to see such willingness to show anger as a positive development in a journey toward powerful initiative.”
The pamphlet also offers ways to mend and repair what is broken or hurt. We are offered strengthening exercises to trust and listen to what “rings true,” to break down our own defenses, including external (i.e. gun possession) and internal disarmament, allowing us to be more open, and inviting us to engage.
This reading caught my attention on the reading table of our meetinghouse at a time when several members or attenders spoke messages that involved animals, among them birds. The messages were spurred, in part, by last year’s shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, that took the lives of twenty children and six adults, and shook the country.
The cover depicts two birds in the air, staring each other in the eye. Looking at the picture more carefully, one sees a dove facing an eagle, both surrounded by a halo. The eagle appears slightly larger, though both birds hover in the air at equal height. This very striking image, as well as the pamphlet’s content, led me to think about courage projects I could engage in.
I have found many opportunities for daily peace exercises, which sometimes present more as gifts than as effort (without joining the gym). For example, the rich discovery of feeling loved and the gift to love more intently transforms easily into peace practice and a stronger ability to face and transform conflict and adversity.
I found myself reviewing “I to I” rules posted on the refrigerator, which were taught to my children as a conflict resolution model at their school; I have started to apply them more intently. Professionally, in my work as a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, I have started to engage families more consciously in discussions on gun safety, exposure to violent media and concern for conflict or violence in the home. Our meeting coordinator inspired me to wage peace by participation in a march on gun control in our nation’s capital.
This beautiful pamphlet ends with an invitation to cultivate courage by taking personal inventory of times and places where we have been courageous, and celebrate those occasions. We are also invited to look where “our fears keep us quiet and passive” and how we can engage in a “personal bravery campaign.”
It invites to all who want to take action and work together to get involved in making this world a better place.
Annemiek Wilms Floet attends Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md.
The Road That Teaches: Lessons in Transformation Through Travel
By Valerie Brown. QuakerBridge Media of FGC, 2012. 151 pages. $14.95/paperback.
Reviewed by Diane Reynolds
Valerie Brown is a poet and perhaps—more aptly—a songwriter with words. In The Road That Teaches: Lessons in Transformation Through Travel, this Buddhist Quaker shares the sensual beauty of the places she has encountered through pilgrimage: Spain, India, Iona, Japan, New Zealand, New Mexico, and her own backyard. Along the way, she offers wisdom from the Buddhist tradition and the insights of Thich Nhat Hanh.
Each chapter describes a different journey and each journey has a message: Make haste slowly, she learns on the road to Santiago. When you accept what you have, you know you have more than enough to be happy, she learns in India. She discovers over and over that the journey is the reward and that the same lessons must be repeated. Pilgrimage is cyclical, not linear.
Perhaps because of her deep heart resonance with Eastern faith traditions, Brown’s prose sings most fully when she describes her pilgrimages to India and Japan. She comes alive as she describes the Ganges:
Flat-bottomed rafts rest gently on the river illuminated by little boats made of banana leaves, each bearing a lighted candle in the grainy pre-dawn light… The holiness of the place left me stunned … I faced the sun with a deep and new interest as it sprouted over the horizon—a miraculous mystery, the circle of night becoming day.
She experiences more incongruence on the road to Santiago, the island of Iona, and the hills of New Zealand—but to good effect, examining her discomforts as part of a process of revelation. What do we do when all is not congruent? How do we cope? Where is beauty?
Implicit in her project is the importance of embodiment. Brown describes her deep attraction to the beautiful—“I have been addicted to beauty for as long as I can remember, drawn to beauty in all its forms”—and her focus lights on the tangible, the sensual, what eye can see, ear hear, and tongue taste. Movement through space draws her attention, whether it be her body hammered with sharp, blinding snow in New Zealand or enjoying the harmony of a tea ceremony in Japan.
Most lives are a mixture of privilege and pain, and Brown has experienced both. In this book, however, privilege is evident because Brown chooses to focus on far-away places. Yet not everyone has the opportunity to travel as extensively as she has. Thus, perhaps, her most poignant chapter reveals her joy in the beauty of her own tiny garden.
One small quibble is that tenses sometimes shift, throwing the reader out of the narrative, as in the following: “The blue-gray mountains on the horizon meet the purplish sky and aquamarine water. Light faded and the slow motion dance of clouds settled.” Perhaps this can be amended in a second edition. In the meantime, the book teaches calm and acceptance.
Brown is a certain kind of Quaker, a product of a particular time and place: liberal, Buddhist, athletic, well educated, East Coast and urban, an Afro-Caribbean woman with dreads, a yoga teacher and a life coach. Her words paint a lovely, though not idealized, portrait of a Liberal Friend. Her book may become a piece of social history, capturing in sensory language how an influential sliver of Quakerism experienced itself at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Diane Reynolds is a member of Stillwater Meeting in Barnesville, Ohio, and a former member of Patapsco Meeting in Ellicott City, Md.
Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Well-Being
By Margaret Crompton. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 419), 2012. 36 pages. $6.50 /pamphlet.
Reviewed by Claire J. Salkowski
How do we understand, respect and nurture children’s spiritual well-being in our meetings on an ongoing basis? Having worked with children in my own career as a Montessori teacher, teacher trainer and administrator, I find that Margaret Crompton’s approach and basic premise as detailed in this Pendle Hill pamphlet, resonates soundly with what I have also come to know about being with and learning from children. Within the four interconnected Quaker testimonies of equality, simplicity, truth, and peace, she explores this question in depth and cites many examples from her own experience working and being present with children. With each testimony she presents her ideas and illustrates the connection between these cherished ideals and living them out in our work with children. Each section is devoted to one of the four queries and begins with advices that offer a succinct, thoughtful, and beautifully written approach for how to begin what she describes as deep and meaningful work.
Crompton’s approach to spiritual well-being is holistic, “identifying spirit as integral and essential, an every-minute presence in everyday life.” The model she uses focuses on one’s inner experience; relationships and caring for others; and involvement with community as they overlap and become integrated elements in our lives. She recognizes the diversity within the Religious Society of Friends and notes that she has framed her model in a way that it can speak to a wide range of Friends and that it is applicable to children everywhere.
To witness the growth of the spirit within a child is indeed a sacred privilege, and Crompton writes lovingly and in great detail about her own experiences with children and what she has keenly observed in others. This is not a “how to” text, but she does offer many meaningful and specific ideas for how to approach children and listen to their hearts and souls so that not only can we “minister to children,” but also “receive ministry from children.” Such an approach requires that we first explore our own thoughts related to equality, and to the power of the spirit that resides within the child.
Margaret Crompton reminds us that not only must we be trustworthy in order to be with children, we must also learn to trust the child and not be tempted to become anxious or overprotective. She advises us to “wait [and] listen and follow the child’s lead” and to practice being fully present, respectful and attentive in our encounters with children. Genuine communication is, of course, the key and “requires respect, directness, wise trust, focus on the other person, and authentic response.” She tells us that we need to bring our whole selves to the encounter within the “framework of discipline to maintain focus, cohesion, and direction.”
She explores the intentions of First-day schools and notes that they often include: exposure to a range of adults; stimulating and engaging activities; discovery of silence and stillness; exploration of Quaker history and beliefs; learning about religions; studying Bible stories and otherwise being safely occupied with play and making friends. If we are authentic to ourselves, our beliefs as Quakers and the inner spirit of the child, we will have a lasting and positive experience with children as we endeavor to nurture their spiritual well-being in our Meetings and in life.
Claire J. Salkowski is a member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md, where she has worked in the First-day and camping programs. She has taught in both public and private schools and founded Free State Montessori School,where she is educational director; she also teaches in the graduate education department at Goucher College.
It’s the Economy, Friends: Understanding the Growth Dilemma
Edited by Ed Dreby, Keith Helmuth, and Margaret Mansfield. Quaker Institute for the Future (pamphlet number 5), 2012. 105 pages. $10.00/paperback; free download at www.quakerinstitute.org.
Beyond the Growth Dilemma: Toward an Ecologically Integrated Economy
Edited by Ed Dreby, Judy Lumb. Quaker Institute for the Future (pamphlet number 6), 2012. 109 pages. $10.00/paperback; free download at www.quakerinstitute.org.
Reviewed by Mitchell Santine Gould
People today should feel quite liberated by the many technological, social, and medical advances of the twentieth century. However, it’s closer to the truth to say that we live in a profoundly unhealthy, alienated, despairing nation—but why? It’s the Economy, Friends, explains the Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF): it’s all about understanding growth:
Humanity faces a profound dilemma… The economies of virtually all nations require growth to function. Yet more growth makes the wealthiest even wealthier, while unemployment, hunger, and violence are widespread, and human economies are already larger than Earth’s ecosystems can continue to support.
This fifth in a series of QIF pamphlets contains essays by various authors that put these issues under the lens of Quaker testimonies; offer introductions to macro- and micro-economic theory; and reflect on the intersections between economic policy, ethical imperatives, and ecological realities. The pressing and ambitious goal is to offer a feasible, fundamental alternative to our growth-based economy before it kills its host, Pachamama (our “mother world”).
It’s the Economy, Friends begins with a brief, compelling, grounding in Quaker history, covering the insights of observers such as John Woolman and Quaker economist Kenneth Boulding. These could become required reading in every religious education class (including the classes of faiths other than our own). Like its sequel, Beyond, the pamphlet It’s the Economy, Friends conducts very broad analyses in essays that are very short, which runs the risk of spreading themselves too thin. England’s highly-influential Transition Towns movement, for instance, is mentioned in passing, without providing insight into the hope it offers so many eco-pioneers. The middle essays are somewhat dry, but the prospect brightens again nearer the end of It’s the Economy, Friends, in more pointed essays about structural violence and the Norway Example. (“Structural violence occurs when . . . harm results from the conduct of social institutions stemming from . . . policies, rather than being directly caused by overt force,” write Margaret Mansfield and Ed Dreby. “Norway abolished slums and put its population into good housing, gave everyone good health care and a secure retirement, and provided free university education,” explains George Lakey.)
It’s the Economy, Friends, exists as a kind of economic backgrounder to the more solution-oriented approach of Beyond. The latter’s penultimate chapter by Ed Dreby is on an ecologically-integrated economy, and may be the collection’s strongest offering. I felt that both books had a sense of culminating in, or arriving at, Dreby’s essay, which poses ethical questions that must be answered before Quakers, or anyone else, can look forward to anything less bleak than a thoroughly dystopian future. Dreby also mentions a concrete example of reforms that are currently being proposed: HR 2990, proposed by Dennis Kucinich, to modernize U.S. monetary policies. The final chapter by Pamela Haines and Judy Lumb provides “Policy Guidance,” which resembles Quaker queries, but which is compatible with secular policy-making.
Considering both the pros and cons of these pamphlets in the greater context of the many books and internet essays on sustainability, it’s clear that they serve a unique purpose in bringing Quaker values to the most pressing human quandary since nuclear warfare: the fatal consequences of “Business As Usual.” While one clearly cannot rely upon them exclusively, I encourage Friends to acquire them and study them alongside websites such as Resilience.org and documentaries such as Money is Debt and The Story of Stuff.
Can we conclude that, in producing these pamphlets, these authors have responded faithfully to the promptings of Spirit? And if the answer is yes, are Friends also called by the same Spirit to seek out and embrace such vital testimonies? Perhaps our guide should be John 9:4: “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the One who sent us. The night is coming, when no one can work.”
Mitchell Santine Gould enables financial advisors to collect data for use in emergencies. Curator of LeavesOfGrass.org, he is the leading authority on Walt Whitman’s rise among “sailors, lovers, and Quakers.” Together with the LGBT Religious Archive Network, he documents the historical intersection between Quakers and gay people.
Costing Not Less than Everything: Sustainability and Spirituality in Challenging Times
By Pam Lunn. Quaker Books, Swarthmore Lecture, 2011. 160 pages. $18.00/paperback.
The Breaking Light: Cracking the Cosmic Egg
By Lucy Duncan, Beacon Hill Friends House, Weed Lecture, 2012. 20 pages. $4.00/pamphlet.
Reviewed by Karie Firoozmand
The Quaker practice of publishing pamphlets gives us a way to stay abreast of what Friends are thinking and talking about. In the 2011 Swarthmore Lecture at Woodbrooke in England, Pam Lunn says that, “for the generations alive now climate change is the testing issue of our times.” In the 2012 Weed Lecture in Boston, Lucy Duncan says of all our challenges, “God is always striving to be born within us and in the world and our call is to bring our hands and hearts and attention to the task.”
Both are clear calls to Quakers to take action in ways that answer God’s call and our own deep need to hear and respond.
Working together is an effective way to build community, or “lovingly hold what is being birthed…to be awake to the emergence of the spiritual reality that is striving to be born,” in Lucy’s words. Both pamphlets emphasize the true nature of service; in Pam’s words, “it requires a re-orientation to the inward springs which nourish outer action,” or “a powerful outflowing from the depths of our spiritual experiences, because we are impelled, because we can do no other.”
The Weed Lecture focuses on the birthing of new spiritual realities without exclusive focus on one, but the message is clear: willingness to be led will reveal new possibilities. As way opens, we will wake up “to the fierce urgency of now that calls us to transformation.” Lucy’s application of this always-true statement to issues of today is moving.
In the Swarthmore Lecture, which is actually book-length, Pam Lunn wisely points out that “to proceed by scaring ourselves and everyone else will create only paralysis, resentment or denial.” She breaks the problem down into chapters like “We are All Crew” (on spaceship earth) and “The Time is Now” to examine the real-world responses and the spiritual grounding we need to grow the fruits of response. The booklet includes a glossary, endnotes, a study guide, resources and exercises to help readers absorb the large and disturbing reality of environmental damage that exists now, but also the vision that a good life can exist in a radically changed future. Or not, for as she quotes Edward Deming, “survival is not mandatory.” It will cost not less than everything to envision and bring about a sustainable future.
Readers who are active in the eco-justice movement or wish to become so will benefit from Pam’s extensive use of published scientific studies on various aspects of human behavior, climate science, religion, cosmology, and economics.
Karie Firoozmand is a member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md., and is active in the fracking moratorium movement in Maryland.
Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment
By Nina Pierpont. K-Selected Books, 2009. 292 pages. $18/paperback.
Reviewed by Greg Moschetti
Wind turbines are generally believed to be among the most benign forms of generating electricity. They are a key player in any scheme for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in favor of clean, renewable sources of energy. At the same time, some express concern about visual blight (when turbines are placed on ridgelines), environmental degradation (as roads are built to access the sometimes remote sites where they are built), danger to birds in flight and noise pollution. Medical doctor Nina Pierpont takes up the issue of wind turbine noise as the cause of a debilitating syndrome experienced by some who live near wind turbines. This syndrome is characterized by symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus, ear pressure, vertigo, and nausea.
Pierpont’s case study is presented in two forms—the professional version and the lay version. Both are highly readable and easy to follow. When approaching this book, the first question in my mind was what to make of a case study involving only ten families (38 people in all) who were self-selected into her sample because at least one of the family members reported suffering from some of these symptoms after towers were built near their homes. I have to admit I was skeptical before beginning to read this book and less so afterwards.
Pierpont marshals considerable evidence in documenting “wind turbine syndrome” as present when her subjects are in the vicinity of the turbines and absent when they go elsewhere. She also develops a compelling argument for the physics and the physiology through which low-frequency sounds can have the effects she describes. And she presents evidence which “rules out” psychosomatic causes in favor of a genuine medical syndrome for which certain pre-existing conditions which may sensitize people to low-frequency sounds.
She takes the wind industry and government to task for not more thoroughly investigating “wind turbine syndrome” or even giving credence to it. She cautions that wind turbines should be sited a considerable distance from human habitation—1.5 miles away on flat land and 2 miles away in mountains to prevent “wind turbine syndrome.” This would most likely rule out all or nearly all of wind power development in my home state of Vermont and probably in much of the Northeast.
What Pierpont’s work does not tell us is what percent of people living in proximity to wind turbines suffer from this syndrome. As she readily admits, there is much more research to be done, especially in terms of establishing population incidence and, of course, independent validation of her findings.
In the meantime, as Friends consider alternative energy sources as a matter of public policy, they must take both benefits and drawbacks into account within a moral framework. It is not an easy task, as every renewable energy source—hydro, solar and wind—has both pros and cons in complex ways. If the population of sufferers is small and wind companies are willing to relocate them, is that a reasonable trade-off for the public good? Given the overriding moral imperative to abandon our fossil fuel economy in favor of these renewable resources, what situations and compromises are acceptable? Pierpont does not go into these moral questions, but they are exactly the ones we need to ask and answer satisfactorily to ourselves. This book helps to inform the issues. I recommend it to any who live in areas where wind power is being deployed and to those who want a more complete understanding of the public risks of wind power.
Greg Moschetti resides in Dummerston, Vt., and currently attends the West Brattleboro (Vt.) Worship Group. He is active in community efforts to build a resilient regional New England economy based on entrepreneurship and common good principles.
An inadvertent edit of Richard Taylor’s review of “Why Civil Resistance Works” (FJ, March) changed the meaning in such a way that readers were asked to ponder the distinction between nonviolent methods and nonviolent action. Taylor intended us to contrast violent and nonviolent methods, the better to advance the authors’ compelling finding that nonviolence is often the more successful method of social change.