Books November 2012
All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons
By Jay Walljasper, The New Press. 2010. 251 pages. $18.95/paperback. Via Amazon.
Reviewed by Pamela Haines
Some of us long for a distinctive Quaker voice, a light to help illuminate the path forward in the twenty-first century. What we’re looking for may be found in what Jay Walljasper calls “the commons”: the air, water, land, our public places, as well as the culture and knowledge our lives are built upon. The subtitle of this “field guide to the commons” suggests the work before us: “How to save the economy, the environment, the internet, democracy, our communities, and everything else that belongs to all of us.” The real tragedy of the commons is not that it can’t be managed, but how astonishingly unaware we are of what is ours and what has been taken from us.
We’ve tended to see only two organizing choices in the last hundred years—the private market of capitalism or the state control of communism. All That We Share suggests that we’re in a new era, which calls for a new paradigm. We’ve moved from a time when nature was abundant and capital was scarce to being awash in capital and running out of nature. If our old Manifest Destiny was to carve up the commons, our new task is to rebuild it.
Walljasper’s chapter on liberating information and culture from privatization is particularly mind-stretching. What does it mean that Disney took 37 myths and tales from the commons and contributed none back? What would have happened if the Human Genome Project hadn’t completed its work before a private firm was able to snap up all that information for sale? How could music evolve if we weren’t allowed to build on the work of those who came before? The public debate is transformed when we see culture, knowledge, the elements of the periodic table, our genetic code, as a commons that belong to us all.
All That We Share offers a new lens through which to view critical issues of wealth, property, ownership and control, and a framing principle that transcends much of what divides progressives and traditional conservatives. It also addresses ways in which a commons framework could address some of our most pressing problems, such as the pollution and warming of our shared atmosphere.
I found All That We Share to be an easy and engaging read. Quakers should read this book because we are all connected to each other. We are all God’s children, living together on God’s good earth, and what we have of greatest value is all that we share.
Pamela Haines is a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting.
As if Words
By Jeanne Lohmann. Fithian Press, 2012. 98 pages. $14/paperback. Via Amazon.
Is it possible for the poet to conjure, by way of words, the first flush of passion, the slow chill of disenchantment, the mixed blessings of childrearing, the pain of loss, the beauty and ferocity of a life lived alone? This is the challenge Jeanne Lohmann sets for herself in a collection of 62 poems that document a large segment of her life:
As if setting words in order
could return us to that time
and to one another
in the years of happiness
and almost, they do.
In this nuanced and eminently readable collection, Lohmann chronicles the trajectory of her life with and without her husband, Hank, who died in 1985.
In one slim volume she manages to contain all the contradictions—certainty, doubt, warmth, coolness and ambivalence—inherent in a long partnership with another person. Her poems are complex without being complicated, mystical as well as straightforward, observant without being judgmental. Through tales of the small events of ordinary life—painting a house, gardening, sitting at a café—she invokes deep resonances with big questions.
An accomplished and widely published poet, Lohmann makes use of simple structures with great success. When she uses a rhyme scheme, she carries it off in a natural, unforced way. And, when treating dramatic or trivial events, she always seeks the truth that lies beneath:
Though we have hurt one another
love began this adventure and
Finally, she reminds us that poetry is not only important, but necessary:
For the journey of loss
I need the lantern of the poem
swinging beside me in the dark.
Catherine Wald is a poet, author, and member of Amawalk (N.Y.) Monthly Meeting.
The Early Quakers and the ‘Kingdom of God’: Peace, Testimony and Revolution
By Gerard Guiton, Inner Light Books, 2012. 506 pages. Footnotes, glossary, appendices, bibliography, index. $45/hardcover; $25/paper; $12.50/e-book. Via publisher.
This is a very important book for Friends’ understanding of our roots and peace testimony; however, it is a dense and not casual read. With meticulous scholarship studying original sources, Gerard Guiton explores two important themes that he introduced in his earlier book, The Growth and Development of Quaker Testimony (2005). One was early Friends’ experience of actually living in the Kingdom Jesus taught, and the other was the peace testimony integrally present from the beginning. Guiton unpacks what motivated the early Quaker movement, their message, and what made them so convincing to some and so feared and hated by others. He looks at what happened in the months of uncertainty and despair as the Protectorate unravelled and the monarchy was restored in 1659-1660, laying to rest the theory that the peace testimony emerged at that point as a tactical add-on. Guiton posits a “Pentecostal moment” for Friends as a group to describe how Friends came through this time of despair and confusion with renewed courage and determination to preach through their lives and words.
In nearly 80 pages, Guiton lays out the political, religious, military, and social conditions into which Quakerism was born in England. (It’s one of the best summaries I’ve read.) To this confused, broken, and dysfunctional nation Friends preached a radical message of transformation. Guiton explains at some length the use by Friends—and others in the seventeenth century—of imagery and Biblical metaphors that often sound jarring and violent today. It helps to know what early Friends meant by “the sword,” “Lamb’s War,” and “Kingdom.”
Guiton spells out the internal process of Friends’ conviction and convincement that involves a great deal of interior spiritual and psychological labor. Underlying it all and making it possible was a pervasive experience of divine love. That empowering unconditional love overcame fear and impelled Friends to confront systemic injustice, inequality, and violence. They expected that the suffering inflicted on them as a result and borne with patience would prove the validity of their ministry and witness. “Love” is not always the first word that springs to the mind of today’s readers of early Friends’ impassioned writing. But it is there, if one looks, undergirding and empowering the entire movement.
Guiton examines in detail three documents (included in the Appendix) from 1659-1661 that are frequently quoted as evidence that the peace testimony began at that point. They include the December 10, 1659 pamphlet, “To the Present Distracted and Broken Nation of England” by Edward Burrough and others; the June 5, 1660 “Declaration and Information” by Margaret Fell and others; and the “Declaration from the Harmless & Innocent People of God” of January 21, 1661 by George Fox, Richard Hubberthorne, and others. Rather than staking out new testimony, Guiton shows that they summarized the experience of the first years of the Quaker movement.
Historians have long puzzled over what happened to George Fox during the months he lay ill and depressed as the dream of a genuine commonwealth (albeit tarnished by the Protectorate) ended and the monarchy was re-established. Guiton suggests that Fox and the entire Quaker movement experienced a “Pentecostal moment” that revitalized and galvanized it.
In addition to the three “peace testimony” documents in the appendices, Guiton includes lists of key words, references to Friends condemning war and violence in the 1650s, and references to Christ and Light in early Fox tracts. Guiton’s ideas are vitally important for Friends today, especially in terms of our roots as a radically transformed people. Our founders experienced God’s overwhelming, unconditional love. They responded with steadfast intention to lay aside egos (“take up the cross daily”) in order to listen carefully and obey Christ, who was working among and within them. This is not a faith for people who like to remain in control as they enjoy ideas and good deeds. Rather, this inward Christ guides people to leap whole-heartedly into the arms of the Living God and surrender to their own transformation.
Marty Grundy, Quaker historian, is a member of Cleveland Meeting, Lake Erie YM.
The Evolution of Faith: How God is Creating a Better Christianity
By Philip Gulley. HarperOne, 2012. xi + 212 pages.$24.99/hardcover, $10.19/ paperback, 11.99/ Kindle. Via Amazon.
Phil Gulley, Quaker pastor, speaker and well-known author of If the Church were Christian, If Grace is True, and If God is Love, makes yet another attempt to call fellow Christians back—and in his view, primarily ahead—to a theology based on common sense, human experience, and what he considers the more enlightened aspects of religious tradition: exploration. Exploration is at the center of one’s spiritual journey and helps us traverse what he calls “the difficult terrain of wisdom and discernment.” In The Evolution of Faith, Gulley outlines a new broadly-based faith for today that escapes the narrow limits of past theologies and is based on unrestricted freedom to rely on personal experience.
If we turn once more to the wider historical picture, we remember that voices calling for reform have often faced silencing, persecution and condemnation from the established church. Gulley reminds us repeatedly that on his own local scale, he has felt himself a victim of this same type of opposition. “Even today,” he says, “those who fall outside the accepted worldview of their religion are still subject to harassment and exclusion.” He refers to his own experience: “It is notoriously easy to be charged with heresy. Simply believe something a dominant religion doesn’t and you are guilty of heresy.” A reformer rising today “would meet stiff resistance from the established church…. Change…is the last thing entrenched institutions want.”
Gulley is writing for all who call themselves “Christian.” Those Friends who do not see Christianity as an essential aspect of Quaker faith might be inclined turn away at this point, but that would be to bypass some insights. His concept of Christianity is so broadly based that most universalist Friends will have little trouble with questions like “Why must we continue to act and live as if Christianity is the sole source of spiritual truth and wisdom?” We must be ready to hear the voice of God, Gulley insists, not by accepting what has been handed down, but through the continuing voice of divine revelation. To identify the acting of God, we need to look to all those “enlivened by the Divine Presence.” In his view, Christianity will only survive if it can grow beyond the things he sees as major distractions from authentic living and evolve to a more open and far more inclusive state.
His repeated message is that Christianity must evolve in some new ways, but a few of his more uncompromising comments, such as when he takes issue with “the church’s convoluted and nonsensical attempt in the Trinity, to explain and define the Divine Presence” might make us wonder whether he is setting out to provoke more than just thought.
Still, The Evolution of Faith challenges Friends of all persuasions to ponder the place of Christianity in Quaker faith. Even the playful cover—the fish of Christianity with feet and a broad smile—reminds us of what Gulley feels is the importance of Christianity’s evolution.
William Shetter is a member of Bloomington (Ind.) Meeting.
Friends at the Bar: A Quaker View of Law, Conflict Resolution, and Legal Reform
by Nancy Black Sagafi-Nejad, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2011. 254 pages. $24.95/paperback. Via Amazon.
Even though George Fox inveighed against “going to law,” and early Friends found lawyers anathema to their faith, Nancy Black Sagafi-Nejad recounts the extensive role Quakers and Quaker lawyers have played in shaping modern law. Early Friends were noted also for their civil disobedience in refusing to pay “hat honor” to judges and to swear to tell the truth when testifying in court. These attitudes set them apart from English society and resulted in both prosecution and persecution. A turning point came in 1681 with the crown’s grant to William Penn of what ultimately became known as Pennsylvania. As proprietor, Penn was intent on shaping the laws of the colony to reflect Quaker values. In fashioning new laws for the province, Penn and the Quaker-dominated provincial legislature succeeded in instituting important legal reforms that he, Fox and others had earlier championed in England. What has ensued is the profound influence that Quakers have had in the development of the law—particularly American law—in such diverse areas as the abolition of slavery, capital punishment, restitution and rehabilitation, pro se representation in court (acting on one’s own behalf), civil rights, women’s suffrage, immigration, free speech and assembly, loyalty oaths, Japanese-American confinement during World War II, conscientious objection, miscegenation, government surveillance and payment of war taxes.
But many Quaker lawyers today find a lack of satisfaction in the practice of their profession as they continue to experience a tension between their faith and the demands made by their clients and the system in which they operate. At least, that’s what is indicated by an extensive survey of one hundred American Quaker lawyers conducted by the author. The requirement that they become zealous advocates of their clients’ causes, rather than peacemakers striving to bring warring parties together, too often clashes with their personal and private dedication to furthering the values of truth, harmony and community, and their practice of discerning “that of God” in every person, including opponents in the courtroom. As a result, Quaker lawyers are often left frustrated, even to the point of leaving the profession.
Ms. Black Saghafi-Nejad, herself a retired Quaker lawyer, makes a strong case for the use of mediation and arbitration as alternative methods of dispute resolution (ADR), in lieu of the more bellicose and stressful litigation route. Indeed, use of these processes was advocated by early Friends—often referred to as “gospel order”—and implementation of them in the modern world would be very much in keeping with Quaker practice, values and beliefs. She sounds the call to Quaker lawyers and others interested in legal reform to take the lead in educating a wider segment of society in the use of ADR and its many benefits—acting as pro bono mediators in courts, community justice centers, schools, and neighborhood associations—and by wider use of ADR in their own practices. By such efforts, not only could Quaker lawyers achieve the kind of constructive change in the practice of law that many appear to long for, but our clogged and overburdened court system could be transformed into a more effective and efficient dispute resolution mechanism as well.
This book offers lawyers and those contemplating becoming lawyers—whether or not they are Quakers—an opportunity for an inward view of the practice of law. Although somewhat narrowly focused on the issues faced by litigators (a large segment of the profession is engaged in other aspects of the practice, such as rendering advice and counsel and assistance in transactions), it is a valuable examination of some of the more general moral conflicts of practitioners. Those interested in Quaker and legal history will find those portions dealing with the evolution of Quaker involvement with the law fascinating reading as well.
John W. Steele, III, is a retired corporate lawyer and member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md.
From Parsonage to Prison: Collected Poems
By Janeal Turnbull Ravndal, QuakerBridge, MFGC 2012 138 pages. $12/paperback. Via Quakerbooks of FGC.
In Jeaneal Turnbull Ravndal’s From Parsonage to Prison, the Quaker practices of deep listening and lifting up the important things of our lives captures what Stanley Kunitz meant when he said that the job of a poet is to experience life as fully as possible and then report out. Ravndal’s poems are so humorous, challenging, inspiring, and heart-rending that one might be tempted to call this collection a handbook for how to be genuinely present.
Living a life deeply rooted in the ideas of both pacificism and service, Ravndal writes with conviction and compassion about her experiences as a social worker and a pacifist. Her commitment and patience are the tools she uses to bridge a world of suffering with the world of faith, and through her witness, she illustrates the power of being present to others’ lives. One of the marks of Ravndl’s poetry—and perhaps one of the marks of her faith—is a consistent openness to the mysteries of life, curiosity about the boundaries and barriers we experience, and, always, the harboring of hope. One of the many powerful series of poems contained in the book is a group of poems about the “continued cruelty” of the death penalty and the quiet courage of those who vigil against it:
Let me not limit now God’s miracles
The dream cut off is bitter to the taste;
Still, if I swallow now this boundary in my life
I shall leap barriers of flesh and fire
And when swept clean of that old, haunting hope
The Son of Life may be reborn in me.
Her poems deepen our understanding of “the necessary business / Of becoming real” and seek to find that “glimmer of gold / In this poor world.” They urge us to take the risk of not being safe so that we can genuinely encounter those strangers who are also “going our way.” The lighter poems in this collection are made up of clever, rhyming verses that tickle the mind and remind us of the pleasure a smile can bring to our spirits.
Ravndal writes with such straightforward tenderness that often her poems are powerfully disarming. In her poem, “The Black Scarf,” for example, which begins with newspaper headlines—thirteen miners trapped in West Virginia and a five year old boy who has fallen from a window—she realizes she is mourning the loss of her black scarf. But then she leaps into her customary insight: “Noting one small absence, / everything still here / becomes more precious.”
Metaphorically, these poems are about turning toward the light, but the integrity and consciousness of the author bring a mindfulness and honesty that is achieved by only the very best of poets. Reading this collection ennobles us with a deeper understanding of the human spirit, and thus with hope in the future.
Michael S. Glaser is a retired professor emeritus at St. Mary’s College and served as Poet Laureate of Maryland from 2006-2009.
From the Inside Out: Observations on Quaker Work at the United Nations
Since 1948, the Religious Society of Friends has had a role at the United Nations through the work of the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO). As one of the earliest NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to be credentialed at the UN, the Quaker United Nations Office has maintained a small but steady presence at UN bodies on both sides of the Atlantic. QUNO is sometimes referred to as one office in two locations: New York and Geneva.
At the end of his sixteen years of service to the Quaker UN Office in Geneva, David Atwood was invited by Australia Yearly Meeting to deliver the 2012 James Backhouse Lecture, and this pamphlet contains the text of his lecture as well as useful supplemental content. He tells of his own personal journey and provides considerable insight into how a small, spirit-led organization functions and prospers. A considerable portion of the lecture draws upon his experience as Representative for Disarmament and Peace, including three illustrative case studies focusing on the banning of anti-personnel landmines, the small arms problem, and defining a peace building role for QUNO.
David Atwood’s lecture provides insights into the day-to-day work of representing Friends at the United Nations. He discusses the healthy tensions in this work: idealism versus pragmatism, advocacy versus facilitation, and breadth versus depth, and gives insight into the practicalities of coordination and communication between the two QUNO locations of Geneva and New York and the supporting Quaker bodies. He concludes with his own questions and reflections about our capacity as Friends to speak and act globally, with one voice.
While this publication, by its very nature, is a thin volume, it will make a good addition to meetinghouse and school libraries, serving both as an introduction to an important strand of international Quaker witness and offering glimpses into the life and thinking of a leader in this field. Additionally, the endnotes and bibliography will prove helpful to anyone wishing to delve more deeply into the topic of faith-based work at multinational institutions.
Tom Head is a member of Bridge City Friends Meeting, Portland, Oregon. He is Professor of Economics at George Fox University and has served on Quaker UN Committees in both New York and Geneva.
Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.
By Parker J. Palmer. Jossey-Bass, 2011. 236 pages. $45/hardcover. Via Amazon.
In 2004, Parker Palmer, Quaker author and former Director of Studies at Pendle Hill, was simultaneously experiencing personal depression and despondency over the politics and violence of the post-9/11 world, especially in the wake of the U.S. war on Iraq. As he struggled to find personal equilibrium (helped, among other things, by studying Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with depression), he faced the fact that he was “no longer able to read American culture.” Through encouragement and dialogue with others, he began to reflect anew upon the U.S. political environment. This book is the fruit of that exploration.
Palmer explains near the beginning of this book that he will not offer “techniques” for political action, criticize incumbents, propose a third-party movement, excoriate the role of “big money,” or simply plead for tolerance and better manners. Something else that he avoids is any criticism of the overall design of the American political system. On the contrary, he admires it. He sees genius in the balance of power of American democracy established in the Constitution, particularly in its ability to transform naturally occurring disagreements and tensions into a perpetual motivator for public engagement—and thus into a never-ending force for political stability.
Rather than focusing on structures, Palmer concerns himself with the “heart,” a term he uses to refer to the “core of the self,” a combination of the intellect and emotions. This is an attribute of the individual, but collectively it affects the political environment. He writes that when we are broken-hearted, we have two choices: to be “broken apart” and become bitter or seek revenge, or to be “broken open,” and seek resolution and reconciliation.
Palmer outlines five “habits of the heart” that can promote this second outcome. In summary, they are that we accept we are “all in this together”; that we value diversity (about which he has much to say); that we embrace tension rather than run from it (and resolve it in life-giving ways rather than violent ones); that we engage, express ourselves, and act as individuals; and that we participate in the creation of community.
These “habits” need “pre-political” arenas in which to be practiced, and Palmer cautions that the public spaces where this can happen have gradually been reduced in the last half-century by trends of technology—from the decline of public transportation in favor of automobiles, to the construction of malls where political expression is excluded, to the rise of the Internet. As a latecomer to cyberspace, he recognizes it as a mixed blessing for the practice of democracy.
Palmer focuses on the importance of small gatherings as the venue for the practice of citizenship. As he does so, he detours at one point into a discussion of clearness committees. He also briefly links to his other writings, and to his own Center for Courage and Renewal, which hosts gatherings where individuals can come together to explore their commitments. These digressions may be welcome to readers who are unfamiliar with the larger corpus of Palmer’s work.
Palmer explains his religious roots and articulates the importance for him of the “inner search” for guidance. He is careful to note that without such guidance, the “heart” can inspire evil as well as good—that, for instance, deep emotional commitment can lead some people into racist movements.
As a participant in large-scale political movements, Palmer outlines four steps that such movements take. They begin with individual concern. Next follows nurture in small communities, where a common agenda develops. Then they “go public,” a time when conversations with critics inevitably improve their focus. Finally, movements achieve changes in the political order. The inevitability of such movements is where Palmer grounds his hope.
Researching and writing Healing the Heart of Democracy left Palmer “better equipped” to engage in the democratic process in this new century. This book is rich with insights gathered from various experiences. Reading it has caused me to look afresh at how I perceive my own political engagement. I recommend it to all who feel a need for similar inspiration.
Robert Dockhorn is a member of Green Street Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa.
Immoral Wars and Illegal Laws
By William R. Durland J.D., Ph.D., self-published, 2011. 360 pages. Paperback; no list price. Via Amazon.
William Durland offers in this book a wealth of personal experience traveling and working in the Middle East over the past thirty years. He also shares voluminous research into the complexities of the dueling narratives we are faced with in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The book is divided into three sections with comprehensive maps and a helpful bibliography: 1) Theology, History and the Land; 2) “The Rule of Law and Crimes of War; and 3) Partition Plans, Peace Proposals, Militarism and Peacemaking.
In the first section, a key theme is that “God’s promise of the land” is linked with obedience to God’s commandments; the “promise” was conditional, and the terms were not kept. The second section makes the case for applying international law to the conflict; it also critiques Israel’s use of “law” to further its own policies of occupation. A comprehensive listing of UN Resolutions related to the conflict—and US vetoes—raises sobering and insightful questions about how effective the international community can be in addressing the situation. It also questions whether the US can be a “fair broker” in seeking peace with justice in the Middle East. Durland’s third section compares and contrasts Israel’s and the Palestinians’ narratives of the history and causes of the conflict, obstacles to peace, and possible solutions. This section also critiques the various peace plans and describes many of the peace and justice groups seeking harmony in the region.
As a resource for those who want hard data and alternative interpretations about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, this book will be valuable. It will not be warmly received, to put it mildly, by those who are uncritical of Israel, or by Christian Zionists who see the current realities as an unfolding of God’s plan for the End Times. This would not be the book to use in forming an interfaith discussion group on the Middle East, for example. To put it bluntly, the book may be offensive even for those who are critical of Israel’s current policies and the way it has historically manipulated theology, history, and law to further its agenda. Durland’s use of terms such as “holocaust,” “genocide,” and “ethnic-cleansing” in the Israeli/Palestinian context will close the ears of many before they even give his arguments a chance.
For others, inconsistent editing and frequent spelling and grammatical mistakes will be off-putting (the price one pays for self-publishing!). Aside from that and the fact that only those already convinced of the arguments in the book will bother to read it, however, it’s a helpful volume to have as a resource for countering the attribution of virtue to only one side in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Max L. Carter is Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College.
I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters.
Ed. by Michael G. Long. San Francisco: City Lights, 2012. 516 pp. Illustrations, notes, and index. 19.95/paperback. Via Amazon.
Bayard Rustin was one of the most prominent and public Friends of the twentieth century. A leader in the antiwar and civil rights movements from the 1940s into the 1980s, a protégé of activists like A.J. Muste and A. Philip Randolph, he became a trusted advisor of Martin Luther King, Jr. A century after his birth, and a quarter century after his death, he has been the subject of a series of major biographies, and his voluminous papers have been published in a microfilm edition. Now we have this convenient and readable collection of his letters.
When Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1911, his profile was hardly that of a future Quaker leader, given the composition of American Quakerism at the time: he was African American, an openly gay man, and born out of wedlock. The grandparents who raised him, however, had ties with Friends, and Rustin, although he did not join Friends until adulthood, felt Quaker influences from childhood. The first document in the collection is a letter from Rustin to New York Monthly Meeting in 1942 (other sources show 1942 as the year that Rustin joined the RSoF). By the time he turned thirty, Rustin was involved with a variety of pacifist and social justice organizations.
In the summer of 1941, the legendary peace activist A.J. Muste had hired Rustin as a youth secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), which not only opposed U.S. entry into World War II, but also advocated nonviolent action for justice, particularly racial justice. FoR, founded in 1914 with considerable Quaker leadership, was one of the most active and influential pacifist organizations in Europe and the U.S. before 1950. In 1944, Rustin went to jail for refusal to register for the draft. In federal prison, he annoyed officials with his unceasing protests against racial discrimination.
After World War II, Rustin threw himself into peace and racial justice work. He was one of the architects of the FOR’s 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, an attempt to force southern authorities to abide by Supreme Court decisions that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel. He was a vociferous opponent of the reinstitution of the draft in 1948 and of McCarthyism. Working for both FOR and the AFSC, he proved an effective speaker and organizer, particularly on college campuses. In January 1953, however, he was convicted on a “morals “charge of engaging in public homosexual conduct. While some Friends defended him, others were outraged by what they saw as Rustin’s recklessness, and while Rustin had always been relatively open about his sexual orientation, he felt that he had no choice but to resign.
This scandal was hardly the end of Rustin’s activism, however. He found a new position with the War Resisters League. That group sent him to Montgomery, Alabama, early in 1956, drawn by the potential for nonviolent action that it saw in the Montgomery Bus Boycott movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Over the next few years, Rustin forged a close relationship with King, becoming one of his most important advisors. The 1963 March on Washington was largely Rustin’s work.
Nevertheless, in the 1960s, Rustin found himself at odds with many in the peace and black freedom movements. While an opponent of the Vietnam War, he was equally critical of those who, in his view, were blind to the oppressive nature of communist rule. A strong integrationist, he had little use for separatism and blasted Malcolm X for advocating anti-Semitism and violence. He became convinced that social progress depended on working through the Democratic party, and so refused to break openly with Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey in the 1960s. His staunch support of Israel brought him more criticism. And while he welcomed the gay rights movement, he was clear that he considered “sexual orientation to be a private matter” that was not the basis of his activism.
Rustin is thus not an easy Friend to categorize. He was willing to challenge orthodoxies left, right, and center. And therein lay his greatness.
Thomas D. Hamm is professor of history and director of special collections at Earlham College and a member of New Castle monthly Meeting, Indiana. His most recent book is Quaker Writings, 1650-1920, published by Penguin Classics.
John Woolman’s Path to the Peaceable Kingdom: A Quaker in the British Empire.
By Geoffrey Plank, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. 292 pp. $39.95/hardcover. Via Amazon.
This biography of John Woolan is the second to be published in the last four years (the first was Tom Slaughter’s The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman: Apostle of Abolition). Both have strong merits with regard to depth and readability, but while Slaughter’s is more impressionistic, Plank’s comes in as more traditional and places Woolman into a larger context.
That context is the British empire. In Plank’s hands, Woolman gradually comes to the realization that he can help the world of which he is a part exemplify the Kingdom of God. His awareness that slavery is a violation of the natural and divine order of things— the major theme in Slaughter’s book—is still there, but it shares an equal role with Woolman’s realization that the political economy of his society is deeply flawed and needs replacing.
If this summary sounds too scholarly and off-putting, Plank’s prose makes the story soar. His slightly eccentric Woolman embodies “singularity,” the word his contemporaries most often used to describe him: in his undyed white clothing and hat, he stood out, a silent rebuke to all; his mature refusal to use silver eating utensils underlined his insistence that persons of conscience ought to examine every aspect of their lives to see how even minor decisions testified to their values.
This book portrays Woolman the reformer, the simple Quaker who really believed that people could change the world by careful living and behaving well in every situation. Quaker historian Plank deems this approach refreshing and almost “comically naïve” but suggests—following in the footsteps of his subject—that it is possible with God’s intervention. All of this reminds me of the saying that the fanatic is the one who practices what all the others say they believe. May such fanatics increase!
Larry Ingle is a member of Chattanooga (Tenn.) Meeting.
The Little Book of Quaker De-Clutter
Ellie Caldwell has written a friendly, practical and readable booklet to encourage readers, whether Quakers or not, to create space in our lives and our houses so that we can be readily available when the Spirit calls us. She emphasizes how having a home filled with tranquility, comfort and order, instead of cluttered with stuff, can nurture and support us as we seek to make the world a similarly peaceful place for all to live joyfully together.
Just reading the quotations she selects—many from Quaker sources—is inspiring. My favorite is from The Elders of Balby: “Use your capabilities and your possessions not as ends in themselves, but as God’s gifts entrusted to you. Share them with others; use them with humility, courtesy and affection.”
Caldwell accompanies the reader through his or her house, room by room (apartment-dwellers can skip the attic and garage), and reiterates her basic themes:
- Be alive to how each thing you own can be a help or a hindrance.
- Acknowledge that each person has a different style and level of comfort, so make the choices that are right for you.
- Take your time; don’t think you can get it all done in a weekend.
- Keep only items that have a home in a convenient, beautiful spot; let go of items that can find a new home where they can be loved and used.
This little book can help Friends as they try to live daily the testimony of simplicity. There are now hundreds of books on decluttering, many of them excellent, but this one just might speak to your condition. Once you’ve read it, pass it on, perhaps to your meeting’s library.
Sally Campbell is a longtime member of Morningside Meeting in NYC. She’s been a personal organizer for 15 years and has written a song, “Beloved Belongings,” to help her clients and herself to declutter.
An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions
by Andrea Green and Mark W. Harris, Cambridge University Press. 257 pages, $29.99/paperback. Via Amazon.
Quakers and the Interfaith Movement
Being an avid reader of the theology of different traditions and having been Outreach Secretary of Britain Yearly Meeting, I sometimes think that I’ve inhabited several parallel universes at the same time. As a linguist, I am also fascinated to see how people are using various words, not always in quite the same way. These books have helped me to reflect on just what we mean by the word “universalist.”
First, I want to say that I enjoyed these two books. While they both slightly irritated me, they also illuminated my understanding. An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions gave me an insight into a world of which I knew comparatively little. In fact, the book taught me everything and possibly more than I could have wished to know. It is extremely well researched but bristles with acronyms (I could have done with a list of organizations, as I kept forgetting which of the many committees and conferences were being referred to. An introduction needs to guide gently the one being introduced!) In spite of the excellent first chapter, it was only on page 240 out of 243 pages that I came across the heart of the matter: “For centuries, Unitarianism defined itself in opposition to Catholicism. Universalists defined their theology as a corrective to Christian doctrine that damned some people and saved others.”
The authors are well aware of the dilemma of all of this: if Unitarianism defines itself in opposition to trinitarianism, what is its value in a world where the notion of the divine trinity is largely absent, as in parts of Asia? If cultures do not share a doctrine of salvation and damnation, what is the point of a corrective? In other words, for a faith to survive, it needs more than protest. It needs to affirm.
Throughout the book I had to keep in mind that, despite the overlapping concerns of the two traditions, two different groupings were being referred to, and yet within each, there was a whole diversity of beliefs and a fierce sense of personal independence.
What really struck me here was how many of the dilemmas and concerns expressed overlapped with the concerns of Quakers. Liberal religions all have problems with communication, with the world and with their young people. They tend to be slightly intellectual and suspicious of both religious and administrative authority. They attract refugees (only 10 percent of members of Universalist Unitarian churches were born into the faith; in Britain Yearly Meeting, it used to be 20 percent, but I suspect this is declining). Both Unitarian Universalists and Friends have social activists and those more comfortable with talk of spirituality. They both have some members with an ambiguous relationship with sacred text and traditional language. They both encourage women in authority, are deepening their awareness of a holistic understanding of the role of humans on the planet, the need to be open to other ways of expressing the divine/human story, and a changing appreciation of sexual orientation and attraction. Both have had splits and are embarrassed by historical dissension. They are aware that they are confronted by mystery and that their intellectual traditions have not always coped well with the mystical.
My own prejudices about the coolness and verbosity of much liberal religion were both supported and contested by much of what I read about recent trends among the Unitarian Universalitst. I was moved by the words of Forrest Church spoken at the 2003 General Assembly:
When people tell me proudly that they don’t believe in God, I ask them to tell me a little about the God they don’t believe in, for I probably don’t believe in him (sic) either. God is not God’s name. God is a name for that which is greater than all, and yet present in each.
But what happens when Quakers meet members of other religions which seem more exotic and theologically distinct from our own? Quaker universalism, which I assume to be the conviction that there are many valid ways to encounter and explore divinity, may well be open to truth found elsewhere, but what do we do when we meet with those for whom this conviction is an error? (And I have met this among different branches of the Quaker family, never mind among people of other faiths). How do we respect those who cannot respect us? This is a hard one for liberals.
I had this in mind when reading Quakers and the Interfaith Movement, edited by Anthony Manousos. It is a book full of good things. I did find the arrangement of the contents a bit off-putting, but I then decided to read the book as I would listen to spoken ministry at meeting. Like good ministry, the integrity of the words was based on the authentic experience of each contributor. Towards the beginning we read an account of the Compassionate Listening Project by the editor. It came to me here that a deep interfaith encounter is essentially an interpersonal one. Stories of faith need to be listened to, difference needs to be accepted, and yet underneath them are universal stories of birth, hope, love, suffering, fear, illumination, and death.
It was interesting to notice that in both books, the modernist project of one religion uniting all humanity was played down. If “post-modernism” means anything, it surely refers to the need for us not to paper over the cracks. The very fact of living confers on us the universal gift of walking the path of authenticity, which we express in a thousand ways, with our different gods, traditions, past insights; with our gestures, our limited words, and our silences.
The paradox of universalism is to affirm the universal while respecting the limitations and conditioning of the particular, however differently expressed. These are the challenges for liberals and conservatives, for traditionalists and modernizers alike. These two books are helpful storehouses of insights to help us on the journey.
Harvey Gillman has published several books, led workshops and lectured in many places in the Quaker world. He is a member of Brighton Quaker Meeting, England.