Books March 2014
February 28, 2014
An Inner Strength: Quakers and Leadership
Edited by Kathy Hyzy. Friends Bulletin Corporation, 2013. 145 pages. $15/paperback.
Reviewed by Michael S. Glaser
An Inner Strength: Quakers and Leadership is published by Friends Bulletin Corporation, the publisher of Western Friend magazine. This book offers a collection of essays on Quaker-style leadership, gathered and edited by Kathy Hyzy, who observes that similar themes recur throughout the essays: “the virtues of humility, obedience, and patience.”
The essays that Hyzy has gathered point us toward the concept that our lives are not so much about us as about the idea that we are a part of something greater than ourselves, unfurling our sails to the Spirit and working to let go of ego in order to become a part of a larger whole.
To address the notion of “Quaker leadership” is, of course, to confront the paradox of the term itself—a challenge that is both essential and also laced with a variety of perspectives, understandings, and frustrations. So I felt grateful for the book’s willingness to embrace the issues—not only of the journey, but also the challenges of being a leader—that have often confused me, sometimes excited me, and occasionally ennobled me.
I have recently been reading some of the writing of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar in the Roman Catholic Church, and have been struck by his claim that paradoxes call upon our deeper resources, challenge us to get out of our own way, and recognize when we are not open to the living water flowing through us. This is the creative tension of which Parker Palmer, a Quaker author, educator, and activist, speaks; it is the understanding that Albert Einstein had when he said, “The problems we face cannot be solved using the same patterns of thought that were used to create them.” The tensions, ambiguity, and paradox inherent in the idea of Quaker leadership are acknowledged in this collection of essays, but rarely addressed as opportunities or as puzzles that can serve as prods to the imagination.
Reading through the essays, I often found myself thinking about Judy Sorum Brown and the ways in which she puts her Quaker experience and understanding to use in her important book, A Leader’s Guide to Reflective Practice. Brown understands, as do these essays, that leadership has little to do with title, but rather is “a way of life, a way of being in the world.” The challenge that Brown addresses, that of staying grounded in the realities of both the world and the soul, is central to the paradox and complexity of the very idea of Quaker leadership.
This idea resonates most strongly in the later essays in the book, essays that speak to Quaker leadership in the public policy sector and which particularly grabbed my attention because I long for leadership that is transformational. I often find myself struggling with our government’s seeming inability to work compassionately toward goals of social justice and environmental preservation, at the greed that seems to trump most efforts of intelligent political action, and at what the future holds for my children and grandchildren. I have no doubt that civil discourse, attentive, genuine listening, and consensus building are essential features of how we get out of the situation we are in. But I also sense deadlines drawn in the sands of time, tipping points that seem to be coming closer and closer at a speed that leaves little space for deep listening, discernment, and the seeking of divine wisdom.
The essay “Leadership in a Quaker Context” by Shan Cretin and Lucy Duncan (two wonderful souls who work with American Friends Service Committee) concludes with the comment that “ultimately, Quaker leadership, like good clerking, requires us as leaders to draw on our best, on that of God in ourselves, to reach out to the best, to that of God in those we seek to lead. We won’t always succeed, but when we do, miracles will occur.” As a supporter of the work of American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, I keep hoping for those miracles.
Perhaps it is always a matter of faith in its many contexts. Stephen McNeil’s thoughtful essay, “Discernment in Action,” begins by quoting Rufus Jones, who wrote, “I pin my hopes on quiet processes and small circles in which vital and transforming events take place.” The impatient question that burns inside of me—but is it enough?—is not answered. Perhaps it cannot be. Perhaps the wisdom of Thích Nhất Hạnh and other Buddhists who say, “Peace is in every step” is enough, or as John Keats put it in a different context, “all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.” Provocative, without doubt, but alas, like the collected essays in An Inner Strength, it does not leave me satisfied.
And then again, I ask myself, how often has any book truly left me satisfied? An Inner Strength: Quakers and Leadership engages me and encourages me to think more deeply on matters which I believe are profoundly important. Fruit enough for my hungry spirit, I think, fruit enough.
Michael S. Glaser served as a professor and administrator at St. Mary’s College of Maryland for nearly 40 years. Currently a member of the board of directors of the Maryland Humanities Council, he is most closely associated with the Friends meeting in Calvert County, Md.
Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation
By Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox. North Atlantic Books, 2013. 248 pages. $17.95/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Matthew Armstead
Occupy Spirituality captures an image of faith today among young people engaged in looking beyond spiritual traditions in which they were raised in order to build a new spirituality. This emergent path is notably peace-filled for young sojourners, and different practices and beliefs combine in various ways to touch on deeper truths in an abundant life. Through personal stories, the authors bring the reader into a conversation between good friends, who walk through the intimate journey of social activism that faith moves us to and charges us to make an essential part of life. Rather than setting aside time for faith-based activism, we need to integrate it into our whole spiritual being.
This book is packed with spiritual practices, inspiring quotes, and historical analysis of theology combined with personal stories from the young adults of the “Occupy Generation.” One example is the story of Pancho Ramos-Stierle, who while meditating was dragged away by police at Occupy Oakland. The care, concern, and love he expressed for the officers is emblematic of this new spirituality, where prayer, dancing, and listening to the Earth can build a transformative and rebellious practice.
Spiritual revolution is not new; in fact, the authors use the young George Fox as an example, standing up to the religious injustice of his day, turning toward his “inward Light,” and helping found the Religious Society of Friends. The Occupy Generation is building a new and radical spirituality that challenges tradition; it is ecumenical, interspiritual, and post-traditional. It is contemplative and experience-based. It starts from life rather than concepts. Practice goes beyond traditional contemplative exercises. People still practice meditation and contemplative prayer, but this new spirituality understands that the journey needs to include good psychology and shadow work, as well as integration of the body through things like yoga, sacred sexuality, and deep human relationships.
This new spirituality requires action in order to be authentic. But it’s not just about any action: it’s about action that comes from one’s deepest calling. This spirituality does not accept the reality of living a divided life, such as complete withdrawal or a separate career divided from one’s soul and its deepest aspirations. For young people today, the sense of vocation and the sense of a calling become the very doorways into Spirit. So this new spirituality also realizes that the new world can be created only if people incarnate their unique gifts and callings in the world and employ them in the service of compassion and justice.
While Bucko and Fox specifically speak about young adults, they challenge all of us to be courageous, follow the creative energy of the Occupy Generation, and reintegrate bold action into our spiritual practices. One organization I see this happening in is Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), a nonviolent direct action group in Philadelphia, Pa., focused on a just and sustainable economy. Young and old people increasingly experience EQAT as a profound spiritual community outside of a Friends meeting. Combining action with the more familiar contemplation and discernment has deepened the faith of lifelong Quakers and new friends of Friends. When I hear of a decidedly agnostic activist spending time in a jail cell thinking of more formally joining the Religious Society of Friends, I know something spiritual is happening.
This is part of the book’s beauty. For whatever our age, breaking out of our scripts provides a chance to be enveloped in the Spirit of God. And this book serves as encouragement along the way.
This book is one in the Sacred Activism series published by North Atlantic Press. Others in the series include The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein, and Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times by Carolyn Baker.
Matthew Armstead lives in West Philadelphia, Pa., and is currently the coordinator of Earth Quaker Action Team. He is an organizer, community builder, and trainer with Training for Change.
Nonviolent Direct Action as a Spiritual Path
By Richard K. Taylor. Pendle Hill Pamphlets (number 424), 2013. 36 pages. $6.50/pamphlet.
Reviewed by Max L. Carter
In the reflection papers for a recent class I taught on eighteenth-century Quaker social reformer Anthony Benezet, students expressed deep appreciation for Benezet’s ability to combine a vital spiritual life with an impressive record as an activist. They were impressed by his Christian commitment to “love and good works” as the basis for effectively working to abolish slavery, promote the rights of Native Americans, care for refugees, reform education, and address economic inequity. They also criticized the “slacktivism”—passive promotion of good causes through social media and contributions to charity—of too many modern Friends, especially in comparison with the Lamb’s War that Benezet waged.
I hope these same students read Richard K. Taylor’s Nonviolent Direct Action as a Spiritual Path. It will renew their hope in a Christianity that can be on the front lines of the Lamb’s War rather than standing idly by as pressing social issues face us—or worse, standing on the wrong side of what love requires of us.
Many Friends are aware of the radical nonviolent direct action in which Taylor and his wife, Phyllis, have been involved since their days as Freedom Riders in the ’60s. Among those who founded the Philadelphia Life Center, the Taylors have engaged in protests against the American war in Vietnam; fought against housing discrimination; paddled canoes into the Baltimore harbor in an attempt to block arms shipments to Pakistan; and worked against racism, anti-Semitism, economic injustice, and prejudice.
This pamphlet offers a brief memoir of the journey to such radical nonviolent activism and chronicles many of the stirring stories from that work. What sets it apart from many other fine reflections on nonviolent direct action, though, is Taylor’s testimony to the Real Presence of Christ for him in these actions—and I use the term “Real Presence” intentionally. A convinced Friend, Taylor began finding spiritual nourishment also in the Roman Catholic tradition and has drawn on both the witness of radical Catholics and Quakers. He worships both in the Quaker communion with the Real Presence and in the Eucharistic Catholic tradition of the Real Presence. And he testifies to experiencing that Real Presence in direct nonviolent action.
I wish that Taylor had said more about his move toward Catholic spiritual community, for I know that he has expressed sentiments similar to some of my students’ critique of modern Friends “slacktivism.” But that is not a topic he addresses in this pamphlet, even while he ends his reflection with sections entitled “What I Owe to Christ,” “Moving Closer to Christ,” and “Jesus’s Presence in Nonviolent Direct Action,” and feels compelled to admit that this might make some of his Quaker friends uncomfortable.
One of my students ended her paper on Benezet with this question: “I wonder if there are many—or any—Friends today who ‘bear the cross’ to the degree that Benezet did?” That question could be partially answered by reading this pamphlet. I should have assigned it to them along with Benezet’s works!
Max L. Carter is the director of Friends Center and campus ministry coordinator at Guilford College, where he also directs the Quaker Studies program. He taught in the Ramallah Friends Schools as his alternative service as a Vietnam War-era conscientious objector and returns annually to the Middle East, leading work/study groups in RFS and Israeli and Palestinian peace communities. A graduate of the Earlham School of Religion and the PhD program at Temple University in American religious history, Max is a recorded Friends minister in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM).
Let Justice Roll Down: Women Engaging the World
By Rebecca Seiling. MennoMedia, 2012. 69 pages. $8.99/paperback.
Reviewed by Antonia Smith
Rebecca Seiling presents welcomed meditations in her Bible study guide, Let Justice Roll Down, based on the words of the prophet Amos that call people to action in creating a just world—thought explorations that are much needed today. Let Justice Roll Down is divided into a course of 13 sessions, each of which derives from a passage from the book of Amos and includes personal stories or contemporary examples to illustrate the passage. In addition, Seiling provides guiding questions for critical reading and discussion, and queries that help participants examine Amos’s calls to action for our own times. Some themes from Amos include linking worship to justice, establishing justice as a method of redemption, protecting the powerless and promoting just living, and the role of women as “good” leaders of consumption.
Seiling places her women readers at the forefront of the fight against injustice. Just as Amos warned about the hypocrisy of the wealthy Samarian women at the well for their defense of the poor and downtrodden while at the same time oppressing them, Seiling cautions women of today to use their wealth wisely (Amos 4:1–2). Women frequently have unique buying power in American society as the heads of household, purchasing food, clothing, furniture, and appliances. With such power comes the responsibility of women to be thoughtful and educated consumers, to make wise and sustainable choices.
The choice of the book of Amos is not accidental; the book is a compilation of sayings attributed to the prophet Amos, who was active in the first half of the eighth century B.C.E., during the peaceful reign of Jeroboam II. During this period, Israel reached new heights of territorial expansion and national prosperity never to be seen again. At the time, this prosperity led to gross inequities between urban elites and the poor. Wealthy landowners amassed capital and estates at the expense of small farmers. Amos denounced the opulence and decadence of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and called for justice and righteousness—terms that, at the time, essentially meant the same thing and connoted social equality and concern for the disadvantaged.
If this sounds sadly familiar, then Seiling’s guide may be a good prompt for those seeking to reinvigorate Bible study groups or committee discussions. She draws comparisons between the Northern Kingdom of Israel of Amos’s time and the North America of our time today. For example, in chapter eight, Seiling begins with Amos 5:24, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” She recommends pondering the image of Lady Justice with her scales, blindfolded, holding the sword, and then suggests rethinking the image, perhaps with eyes wide open and partial to the marginalized. The same chapter equates the inequalities exposed and amplified by the Occupy movement to the inequalities that Amos sought to unmask.
Seiling addresses several areas where justice may be fostered, such as in personal dealings, the home, the faith community, and international economic policy forums. What she provides in her guide is a set of simple reminders that we too often forget or push to the sidelines in our daily lives. Seiling reads Amos as a call to action, to change and shake up the status quo, and yet, although this guide is a call to action, the very fact that this volume is intended for Bible study implies that slow deliberation and patient waiting on the divine message are essential components of a thoughtful life.
Seiling wants to shake readers out of complacency and into pushing boundaries and challenging ways of doing and ways of thinking. She calls on us to imagine and work toward “a new world that is aligned with God’s purposes” by speaking out against injustice, listening for guidance, and thoughtfully confronting systems of oppression.
Antonia Smith is a member of Fifteenth Street Meeting in New York City, where she is a student and teacher of history and education.
Stand, Flow, Shine: Caring for the Woman Within
By Judith Waldman and Marilyn F. Clark. Piney Creek Studio, 2013. 141 pages. $12.95/paperback.
Reviewed by Phila Hoopes
There are times in every woman’s life when the demands seem to come from all sides—work, relationships, parents, children, friends, community—until even sleep feels like a luxury and self-care a hopeless dream.
That’s when Stand (tall like the tree), Flow (like the river), Shine (like the sun): Caring for the Woman Within by Judith Waldman and Marilyn F. Clark could save a woman’s sanity, or even her life.
Even if you’re not going down under a tsunami of responsibilities, this book is a well-packed toolbox of simple and very accessible exercises to bring you back to your grounded, empowered inner wisdom (standing tall like a tree), your body awareness and movement (flowing like a river), and your peace of mind (shining like the sun).
Whether you’re 15 or 95, whether you’re just waking up to self-awareness or have been practicing mindfulness for years, you’ll find useful tips or reminders in these pages. They range from quick, easy, and effective mini-rituals for de-stressing, to lengthy guided visualizations for grounding, centering, and processing feelings. Deceptively simple, these are classic, proven tools you’ll find yourself using again and again. Here are a few examples:
- unloading “old stuff” (worries, stresses, negative feelings) into a natural object and then burying it or tossing it into a stream, or writing those thoughts down as a list and then burning, shredding, or burying the paper
- visualizing positive outcomes for upcoming situations that worry you
- practicing specific yoga positions and meditations for anchoring into your body, relieving stress, and achieving self-empowerment
- creating art, singing, or dancing to process feelings and shift your mood
- journaling for self-reflection and understanding
- connecting with the natural world for grounding and perspective
The authors, both experienced psychotherapists, have offered hundreds of self-care workshops for women, and they dedicate a chapter specifically to tools for developing trust, connection, and lasting mutual support in a small, ongoing circle. The book concludes with personal stories from women learning to take care of themselves and realizing the difference that self-care has made in their lives.
This is a book that I would give to a friend in crisis or a stretched, stressed family caregiver. The voices of the authors in my inner ear were those of a soothing trauma counselor, using simple language that reaches directly to the heart. Don’t look for complex, abstract theories here, but tried-and-true tips served up in a quick-to-find structure for immediate use. A necessary toolbox for times such as these!
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.
Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice
By Mary Robinson. Walker & Company, 2012. 308 pages. $26/hardcover; $18/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Pamela Haines
Growing up in Ireland in the 1950s as the only girl among four brothers, Mary Robinson always cared about rights. Ready to be a missionary nun—the only way she could envision a life of meaning as an Irish Catholic woman—she found a different path in the law, breaking gender barriers every step of the way in what would become a remarkable career. Her commitment to human rights over the course of her life has been stunning in both its consistency and its impact.
As a lawyer, she successfully advocated for greater marriage rights for Irish women, using a European Union forum when there wasn’t space in Irish law. As the first female president of Ireland, she risked meeting with community groups in Northern Ireland (controlled by the Irish Republican Army), helping to bring them out of isolation and breathe new life into the peace process. As president she also brought the world’s attention to the famine in Somalia in the early 1990s. As United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she amplified the voices of civilians caught in rights atrocities in Kosovo and Chechnya, East Timor and Tibet, Rwanda and Côte d’Ivoire; nor did she hesitate to speak unpleasant truths about rights violations to heads of state around the world.
On leaving the UN, Robinson worked independently to help governments and civil society organizations understand the connections between human rights and economic security, especially for women. During the same period, she joined the Elders, an international group of respected elder statesmen (and now women) founded by Nelson Mandela to bring a nonpolitical force of morality and decency to bear on pressing global issues. Now, as director of her own organization on climate justice, she uses the contacts she has made over the years around the globe to find new ways of responding to climate change, the ultimate human rights issue.
The first half of this book is slow-going, enmeshed in the culture and politics of Ireland and full of details for which few people unfamiliar with Ireland’s history are likely to have much context. From the point of becoming president of Ireland, however, the frame of reference becomes more familiar, and we can begin to appreciate more fully the way she thinks about how to most effectively wield the influence at her disposal.
This is not an eloquently written memoir. There is no soaring prose. Rather, it is a factual and modest attempt to tell the story of one woman’s life of integrity. While Everybody Matters may not be a book that everyone reads, I wish for us all to know enough to be able to give thanks for the life achievements of Mary Robinson.
Pamela Haines is a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting.
Timothy Matlack, Scribe of the Declaration of Independence
By Chris Coelho. McFarland & Company, 2013. 222 pages. $40/paperback; $24.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Larry Ingle
Although I have spent a lifetime studying American history, I had never heard of Timothy Matlack until I was asked to review this book. No problem; there are lots of people in the past I’ve never come across. I have learned something from studying Quaker history, though, and that is that people who leave the Society of Friends or are disowned are almost always forgotten or ignored; Chris Coelho, a non-Friend, has rescued Matlack from this fate.
Born into a Quaker family in Haddonfield, N.J., in 1729, Matlack left behind few sources for his busy life. (He and Quaker reformer John Woolman shared a grandfather.) He was a radical democrat when that stance assured a person more than a little notoriety in Philadelphia, Pa. He joined a force of militia to put down a 1764 uprising of the so-called “Paxton Boys,” determined to gain better representation in the Pennsylvania legislature so as to keep frontier Indians under white control by force. The following year, Matlack was disowned for this un-Quakerly involvement, as well as for failing to regularly attend meeting and pay his creditors.
As the fires of revolution blazed up, Matlack became prominent among the rebels, a pastime not paying well, a fact that sent him, now in 1768 a brewer, to debtor’s prison. A career of what men like him called “public service” soon became his only option. Known by many, active in the militia, and enforcing laws to boycott English goods, he joined the vanguard of those pushing radical measures against the British and their local Tory supporters, including numerous Friends. He was the first to read the Declaration of Independence to Philadelphians and “may,” says Coelho, have overseen its first printing.
The “may” is revealing, because our author does not have the sources to allow himself to be more definite, here or elsewhere—a major shortcoming. The book is thus replete with probably, likely, and perhaps, as well as may. Even the subtitle is a stretch. His notes are so unusual that a reader is fairly often unable to dig out a source for some detail.
One thing is clear: Matlack was one of the founders of the Free Quaker meeting set up in 1781 when the war was nearly over. Their meetinghouse sits today squarely on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, a galling symbol of what one of the regular Quakers opined was that “their . . . faith was just what Satan would wish it; as, that every Christian had a religious liberty to do whatever is right in his own eyes.” It sounds as though the Free Quakers were the first Hicksites!
The rest of Matlack’s life was downhill as he scrounged for one public job after another in changing political times. He lived a hundred years until his death in 1829. This book gives modern readers a glimpse of some of the contours of Philadelphia’s and Pennsylvania’s internal divisions and the role that a second-level Friend played in them.
Larry Ingle is a historian of Quakerism, having published a history of the Hicksite separation (Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation) and a biography of George Fox (First Among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism). A member of Chattanooga (Tenn.) Meeting, he is retired from the history department of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and working on a study of Richard Nixon and his religion.
By Linda Spalding. Pantheon Books, 2013. 302 pages. $25.95/hardcover; $15.95/paperback; $10.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Donna McDaniel
Quaker novelist Linda Spalding based the story of The Purchase on her ancestor Friend Daniel Dickinson, who left Pennsylvania in 1795 in search of a better life for himself and his family. This complex and compelling novel won Canada’s 2012 Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction. Spalding, an American expatriate, has lived in Mexico and Canada for several decades; she has published several other works of both fiction and nonfiction, and is an editor of the literary magazine Brick.
This historical novel is well grounded in the reality of the Virginia frontier of that time, a wilderness quite beyond our imagination. In researching the book, Spalding and a niece gathered family information at the county courthouse and found the remains of the settlement of Spalding’s great-great-great-great-grandfather. (There is no indication of any relation to the well-known Dickinson Quaker family.) A caution should be shared: this book is not for anyone in the mood for an easy read. The detailed telling of the everyday challenges in this as yet untamed region draws us into a life that could hardly be further removed from our twenty-first-century experiences. It requires some concentration to absorb the narrative and the roles of the many characters.
The Purchase is an intense book which introduces the reader to the formidable spiritual and physical challenges of life on the Virginia frontier. Just as his family was leaving Pennsylvania to create their new life, Daniel’s wife died in childbirth. Left with five children (the youngest being an infant to the eldest, a 13-year-old girl), he hastily married Ruth, a 15-year-old orphan whom he had hired to help the family on the journey. Because Ruth was a Methodist, Daniel’s Quaker meeting both disowned and shunned him, but he was not willing to disavow his Quakerism. His struggle to live according to those beliefs in the realities of the frontier is central to the narrative.
Compared to Daniel, we are oblivious to our environment, and our lives are absent of the challenges of building our shelter, plowing fields for our crops, and slaughtering our own animals. The first test for Daniel comes with the realization that he cannot survive and create a home for his children without some help. For Daniel and others struggling to live on the Virginia frontier, the only help to be found was from slaves, a fact which precipitates Daniel’s agonizing choice to sell a horse and buy a young boy, Onesimus. An abolitionist, Daniel could live with it only by promising himself that he would earn enough money with the help of Onesimus to buy back his horse and free the boy. But what the author calls Daniel’s “bargain with God”—that purchase—and its many unseen and painful ramifications would bedevil him.
Those ramifications also affect others in the tiny settlement whose lives are just as difficult as Daniel’s. The Purchase has many fully-developed characters, and this plethora of equally important people in Daniel’s life—his second wife, his children as they grow up, slaves, a pastor not tolerant of Quakers, itinerant workers, and neighbors—makes the plot both richer and more difficult to read. One of Spalding’s talents is telling the stories of many characters so that we feel we know what is in their heads. Thus the reader is introduced to the cares, feelings, fears, hopes, deceptions, and, yes, the deaths of many individuals. Spalding’s remarkable facility with words makes the painful parts even more painful with her careful painting of full verbal portraits of the various people living in this place on the edge of the wilderness.
I did find myself longing for two things: 1) to read the book a second time and 2) a list of characters; there are many and at times I needed a “who’s who” reminder.
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