Books November 2013
November 1, 2013
Gathered: Contemporary Quaker Poets
Edited by Nick McRae. Sundress Publications, 2013. 164 pages. $16/paperback.
Reviewed by Jim Hood
“Poetry makes nothing happen,” W. H. Auden wrote famously in his 1939 elegy for poet William Butler Yeats. The same could be said of meeting for worship, the kind of gathering from which this anthology of poems takes its name, and which, like poetry for Auden, “survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.” The poems in this collection, all of which glisten with the sheen of careful making, shadow forth just this sort of illumination. Always poised, never overspeaking, they render quite powerfully human relationships, the costs of war, painters, worship, the natural world, poets, and—throughout—the luminous possibilities of seeing more fully and particularly.
The purpose of these poems, as editor Nick McRae explains, lies in creating that worship-like “sense of being enfolded in and nourished . . . of being forced out of myself and bonded to something—a word, a tradition, a community—that [is] more and greater and more meaningful.”
The verses in this anthology do just that, speaking to all walks and conditions, probing everything from the metaphoric valences of making sauerkraut to meditations on Noah’s wife’s interactions with the ark-bound animals. In their most spectacular moments, the poems here bespeak the revelatory possibilities of ordinary existence, as when Martin Willitts Jr.’s “How to be Silent” tells us that nightjars chasing moths make a sound of “less than silence,” which is “hush / spiraling,” or when Phyllis Hoge’s “The Light on the Door” imagines how a flash of “pale light, failing light” seen by chance in passing from the glass oval on an old house door invokes an almost unimaginable sadness. The pieces in this collection propel readers to the center of such quiet moments, connecting us with meaning we would otherwise miss.
Take, as an example, Jessie Brown’s “What We Don’t Know We Know,” a poem that describes many things the human body knows and does automatically, like breathing and sweating and pumping blood and making scabs, as a means of bringing us to a final moment of ironic meditation upon another thing we sometimes forget we know how to do. From its opening stanza about the heart and lungs, the poem wends toward this perfect conclusion:
When to grow old. Where to line
the skin’s tired creases. Why a body,
plunging under, wants to surface again.
When to stop loving, after the loved one has gone.
Deft and delicate, Brown’s poem guides us through the body to the mystery of that love which is of, and not of, it.
There are moments of meaning for all kinds of readers in this anthology. In one poem we follow John Woolman’s mental and physical journeys; two poems consider John Keats’s poetic legacy; a number of pieces take on stories or passages from Scripture—from the immaculate conception to Noah’s wife to Numbers 9:15-23. There are poems about war and the brutality of genocide, accounts of meetings for worship; also included is a lullaby of the William Blake Songs of Experience sort, and a poem that gives the lie to the claim that nature does not exist apart from human consciousness. Here, indeed, is God’s plenty.
Never far from the surface in this volume lies the centuries-old friction for Friends between the claims of art and those of spirit. Esther Greenleaf Murer’s poem “Quakers and the Arts: A History” directly addresses the conflict between the work of artists and work for the Kingdom, recalling stories of Solomon Eccles, the seventeenth-century English composer who burned his music upon becoming a Quaker and Catherine Phillips, an eighteenth-century writer whose Quakerism led her to renounce poetry. But the difficulty lurks unspoken in other places here, as well, in the challenge of writing about unpoetical subjects like meeting for worship or the tension of writing about social justice instead of doing the tangible work thereof. But Murer’s concluding stanza, contrasting the artist “grasshoppers” with the social justice worker “ants,” leaves open the possibility that art heals, too:
We are grasshoppers,
fiddling while ants prize their time,
mending the world’s wounds.
The ambiguity in the syntax here makes it clear that both insect types do “mending.”
Gathered is a lovely collection of poems by 46 Quaker and Quaker-friendly poets that I hope Friends will cherish. As a testament to both specifically Quaker thought and the ordinary concerns of life, it encapsulates the great variety of our experience in language—beautiful and spare (the great majority of poems here are only a page long). At a cultural moment when poetry seems more marginal than ever, this volume does something potent, perhaps in the manner of a Mark Rothko painting. Standing before one of his pieces, like reading a poem for the first time or sitting in meeting for worship, it seems as if almost nothing is happening—only color and a little texture. But if you wait, looking or reading or centering long enough, that to which you attend starts to shimmer, luminous and blessing.
Jim Hood teaches English and environmental studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. He is a member of Friendship Meeting in Greensboro.
Powerful Beyond Measure: The Legacy of Quaker Leadership in the 21st Century
By George Lakey. QuakerBooks of Friends General Conference, 2013. 36 pages. $7.50/pamphlet; $4/eBook.
Reviewed by Anthony Manousos
Probably no Friend is better qualified to talk about Quaker leadership than George Lakey, though the kind of leadership he writes about is not what is most popular among Friends today (i.e. clerking). A peace activist who risked his life delivering medicines to North Vietnam during the 1960s and a teacher, lecturer, and organizer who has given talks and facilitated workshops around the world, Lakey is a “change agent,” a prophetic voice, and a visionary leader. Because he knows and loves the spirit that inspired the Religious Society of Friends, he challenges us to live up to our highest potential and keeps a sense of humor even when dealing with the grimmest of subjects, such as torture or oppression. Powerful Beyond Measure is adapted from a William Penn lecture that was given under the auspices of young adult Friends, who perhaps understand better than many elders the need to recapture the prophetic and edgy spirit of early Friends.
Lakey begins his talk by sharing his personal story as an Evangelical Christian drawn to Quakerism. He is an engaging storyteller who speaks from the heart as well as from the head. After describing six positive traits of Quaker leadership, he addresses the question of why Friends have failed to be leaders in the peace movement since 9/11. His answer is simple, but compelling: most Friends are white, middle-class, and conflict-averse. This case has certainly been true in my yearly meeting where peace concerns are placed on the bottom of the agenda and where we devote ourselves mainly to internal business. Instead of risking active engagement in the social issues of our time, we prefer to listen passively to reports from Quaker organizations and leave activism to the professionals.
Lakey explains that modern Quakers tend to be conflict-averse because of the deep class divisions within our society. He provides a thoughtful analysis of class attitudes, noting, for example, that those in the working class value “being real” and aren’t afraid of conflict. Members of the middle class tend to avoid conflict and are preoccupied with “appropriateness” and “process” since their function is to ensure the smooth running of our plutocratic society. People who are in the “owning class” (the top 2-3 percent) do not have to work for a living, and they have a sense of entitlement, of being “confident that [they] know something even when [they] don’t.” Lakey bases his analysis of class attitudes on what people from these classes have actually said in workshops he has led. His observations have been confirmed by social scientists. Though most Americans (unlike the British) pretend to be unaware of class distinctions, the social class an individual grows up in has a huge influence on his or her attitude and behavior as an adult participating in society.
Lakey’s analysis of class attitudes rings true for me. I was raised by working-class, immigrant parents in Princeton, N.J., a well-to-do university town. Being an honors student with a rebellious streak, I absorbed class attitudes from the middle and upper classes, but my heart identifies with the working class. That may be one reason why I don’t shy away from conflict, as many in the middle class do. I don’t feel a relationship is real until it’s been tested by conflict. Because of my working-class heart, I often find myself at odds with the middle-class outlook of most Friends. Lakey comes from a background similar to mine, which helps explain why I feel an affinity with his perspective.
Lakey points out that most of the time significant social change originates with the working class, not the middle class. George Fox, along with many early Quakers, was a working-class leader, as was Jesus. They were catalysts in social movements that drew in members of the middle and upper classes, like William Penn. When movements include and empower members of all social classes (as happened during the Civil Rights era), significant social change is more likely to occur.
Thus, Lakey challenges middle- and upper-middle-class Friends to reach out and form alliances with members of the working class and the marginalized. He believes that by doing so, we will become more authentic and more effective in our desire to transform our society into a place where there is justice and dignity for all—what early Friends called “the Kingdom of God.”
The title of this pamphlet is derived from a quote by Marianne Williamson, who wrote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. It is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Lakey assures us that when we aren’t afraid to let our light shine and to risk conflict with those in power, we can make a difference beyond what we can imagine. That is also what Jesus, one of the world’s greatest and humblest leaders, meant when he said, “Greater things than I have done, you shall do.”
Anthony Manousos, a member of Santa Monica (Calif.) Meeting, is a peace activist, teacher, author, and editor.
Sparkling Still: A Quaker Curriculum for First Day School or Home Use for Children Ages 3–8
By the Sparkling Still Working Group of Friends General Conference. Quaker Press of FGC, 2013. 88 pages. $12.50/paperback; $7/digital PDF.
Reviewed by Sandy and Tom Farley
Many of the Friends meetings and worship groups we have visited across the country struggle with small or irregular attendance at First-day school. Sparkling Still rises to this challenge in a way that inspires volunteers with little teaching experience to spend quality time with the younger children of the meeting. Perhaps this sincerity is due to the authorship committee including Friends from several smaller meetings.
We found the organization of the book logical and empowering. It starts with a section titled “Using Stories and Wondering Questions to Create Your Own Lessons.” Wondering questions invite responses without right or wrong answers—an exercise which can empower children to lead the discussion. The master lesson plan recognizes how each member of a teaching team brings his or her own resources and experience to the program. The template is excellent and flexible enough to be used with short tales for older children and adults.
The only thing we might add is a movement activity or game for the benefit of the antsy ones and those who have just sat in a car for 30 minutes coming to meeting. These children will be asked to sit still during the reading and discussion, as well as during part of meeting for worship. Children need to move.
Unlike the highly structured Godly Play program from which much of the Sparkling Skill material is drawn, this FGC program does not have a teacher-training requirement. There is a more relaxed sense of choice and greater encouragement to adapt.
There is, however, an excellent section of advices for teachers. One short article is particularly germane: “How to Hold the Storybook So All the Children Can See.” We also appreciate the advice regarding gender-neutral language. By referring to “the child” in a story, each young listener finds it easier to put herself or himself into the picture. The quick note that it’s okay to use fifty-cent words affirms our experience of how children acquire language.
The list of art supplies is a well-organized guide for those who want to stock a cabinet or drawer with useful stuff. Don’t go out and buy it all! Just reading the list may inspire you to choose select items that will be appreciated.
All this useful information is followed by seven sample lessons that are ready to use and touch on a variety of themes. We purchased Does God Hear My Prayer?, the recommended book for the first lesson. We found it very inclusive, appropriate, and more useful for a meeting with diverse theological views than we had dared to expect.
Organizing the lists of recommended storybooks by topic is very helpful. We could think of many more titles, but there’s enough here for years of weekly programs. Their list of suggested authors is good, as well. Ask your meeting library committee to consider adding some of the titles to the children’s section. If your meeting doesn’t have a children’s section, Sparkling Still is a good resource to start with, but quite a few of the titles are out-of-print now, and very few are newer than 2008. Note: the publication dates given are often reprint dates, rather than original copyright dates, and most of the ISBNs are 10-digit rather than the 13-digit form in use since 2007. We hope the promised online booklists will update this publication information.
We recommend Sparkling Still for every meeting or worship group that has or hopes to have a strong religious education program for young children—maybe even one copy per teacher. Couple this purchase with a few favorite storybooks, a small box of art supplies, and directions for simple games, and you’ve got a sufficient First-day school kit. When the children arrive, they will be welcomed by someone who is prepared and truly looking forward to having a good time sharing stories with them.
Sandy and Tom Farley are members of Palo Alto (Calif.) Meeting, storytellers, booksellers for the EarthLight bookstore of Pacific Yearly Meeting, and co-authors of Earthcare for Children, a First-day school curriculum.
The Last Runaway
By Tracy Chevalier. Dutton, 2013. 297 pages. $26.95/hardcover; $16/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Karie Firoozmand
Tracy Chevalier has done her homework, as I affirmed by checking a couple of the historical facts she weaves, or should I say quilts, into her latest novel. I knew I was in the hands of a skilled and talented crafter of stories when, on the first page, Chevalier introduces the central character and plot, and then moves into a description of . . . quilts. The Last Runaway is a delight to be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good story. Quakerism’s central role in it will make it a special treat for Friends and friends of Friends, but it is a good read in any case.
Quilts and their materials, patterns, and styles are central to the story. Chevalier uses them as symbolic of what Honor Bright, the young Quaker woman and main character, gives away, leaves behind, grieves, creates, reclaims, and uses to make a place for herself in an unfamiliar society. The story takes Honor from England to America in the antebellum period and sets her down in Ohio. I did not realize that Ohio was not only a cultural crossroad in the mid-1800s, but also part of the most important route for runaway slaves to reach Canada. Once at the shore of Lake Erie, runaways took to the water (or ice) and thus eluded dogs. Slave catchers could no longer trace or follow a runaway’s path unless a boat was at hand.
And so Honor finds herself on the rails of the Underground Railroad, but in the hands of Chevalier, nothing is predictable. One might expect Honor to become a firebrand, an outspoken Quaker Joan of Arc, relying on integrity to guide her through the controversy and light the righteous path for others, who in the end adore her. But her story isn’t that simple, just as life in general isn’t that simple, and Honor is very honorable but she also gets confused.
At times of confusion, grief, or just a need for quietness, what Honor falls back on is (I told you) quilting. She uses her skills to earn her bread for a time and to help her find a place among the corn-loving Quakers of Ohio (whom Chevalier never defines as Hicksite or Orthodox). But the quiet, repetitive, calming, and familiar motions of stitching also help Honor to go deeper. In the work, she returns in memory to her origins in England and connects to her identity there. People she never expected to see again return in memory to comfort and guide Honor; people and their roles in the present assume different shapes as she centers in the work.
Just as in real life, people in this book don’t fall into “good” and “bad” camps, and the right thing to do is not clear at every step. Honor has to discern as best she can, even when she does some rather odd things along the way. Her family is far away, and the Quaker community she is among does not bear down on her with a unified, or even fragmented, demand. Honor relies on them anyway, as much as she can, and on meeting for worship. In other words, The Last Runaway is quite a bit like real life. I recommend it to all readers who love a good story.
Karie Firoozmand is a member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md. She enjoys a good story.
The Quaker Way: A Rediscovery
By Rex Ambler. Christian Alternative Books, 2013. 160 pages. $19.95/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Robert Dockhorn
The Quaker Way: A Rediscovery joins the ranks of books aimed especially at people who are interested in Quakerism, but are not Quakers themselves. The author, British Quaker theologian Rex Ambler, is known as the originator of Experiment with Light groups (see his pamphlet Light to Live By: An Exploration in Quaker Spirituality, reviewed in Friends Journal, May 2003).
Ambler’s approach reflects his long study of the early years of the Religious Society of Friends and his conviction that certain early practices are worth restoring in modern Quakerism—hence the word “rediscovery” in the subtitle.
Ambler commences with a foray into the Quaker understanding of truth and of God—not something that can be viewed intellectually, but “a spiritual idea that answers our own inner longing.” He then addresses the unique Quaker way of finding God: the understanding of “God within”—as George Fox wrote, the “promptings of love and truth in your hearts.” Ambler notes how the views of Friends, especially the assignment of primacy in authority to the “Christ within,” seemed strange to non-Quakers when the Religious Society of Friends emerged. As a means of explaining Quakerism, Ambler offers careful responses to their arguments.
Since Friends eschewed doctrines and beliefs, what remained for them in grounding their faith was pure experience. A central experience in the practice of Friends was worship rooted in silence. Ambler notes, rather succinctly, that the aim of dwelling in silence in this ongoing Quaker form of worship “is first of all to see things more clearly.” With deeper analysis, he takes a psychological perspective. As we sit in stillness, reviewing our experiences and our feelings, our minds are busy identifying and putting aside what comes from our own egocentric desires. This inner exercise helps us isolate what comes from outside the self: a broader consciousness; universal compassion; a feeling of connectedness to a greater reality; a perspective that enables self-criticism, discernment, and growth. The instrument enabling this enlightenment, in traditional Quaker language, is “the seed” or “the Christ within.” What surfaces is “the truth,” a perspective free from our personal distortions.
But this understanding of truth is limited in that we have only our own experience as a base. Here the collective aspect of Quakerism comes into play: we need to join our perceptions and experiences to those of others. Different people have different gifts, and only by uniting can we develop an accurate understanding of, and empathy with, our world and our place in it.
Ambler describes in detail the Friends practice of decision making, which he sees as a natural extension of silent worship. The searching that occurs in meetings for business, like that in unprogrammed meeting, is open to creativity and transformation of thought.
In writing about Friends testimonies, Ambler offers critiques of the ways Friends have understood and grouped them. He probes how they work as a form of outreach. Then he looks at how Quakers carry their experiences into the larger world to influence events around themselves. Here he emphasizes the light touch: not assertive intervention in the surrounding world, but instead, teaching by example and adhering carefully to principles. As a case in point, he lifts up the work of the Quaker United Nations Office in helping parties in conflict communicate effectively and honestly with each other.
The Quaker Way: A Rediscovery is a fresh attempt to comprehend the wholeness of our religious society. It is not a light read, but I anticipate that it will be a welcome introduction for those not well acquainted with the ways of Friends, and equally welcome for seasoned Friends.
Robert Dockhorn is a member of Green Street Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa.
The Dance Between Hope & Fear
By John Calvi. True Quaker Press, 2013. 222 pages. $14.95/paperback.
Reviewed by Eileen Flanagan
In The Dance Between Hope & Fear, Putney (Vt.) Meeting member John Calvi shares his journey through 30 years as a healer with a special gift of “recognizing and releasing the pain that follows trauma.” While this book will particularly interest those concerned with healing, Calvi’s story is more broadly about faithfulness to a leading. It is about one man discovering his unique gifts, trusting his intuition, and keeping his compassion in the face of overwhelming need, financial insecurity, and sometimes burnout. As a result, it’s a story that many Friends can learn from.
Early in the spread of AIDS, Calvi decided to offer massages to anyone with the disease, whether or not they could pay. In that climate of fear, his decision meant that he couldn’t get massage work at spas that would pay well, and so he became dependent on financial gifts to support his ministry, relying on his community in a way we generally associate with Friends of earlier eras. Through the years, Calvi had periods when his own energy was depleted—another problem faced by many who follow a long-term leading—and adopted different strategies to replenish himself, from praying to his guardian angels to spending a term at the Pendle Hill conference center to rest from his demanding work.
Much of Calvi’s work involves helping people to release emotional wounds that are held in their bodies. A gay man rejected by his dysfunctional and sometimes violent family, Calvi shares some of his own wounds and how facing them has helped him to help others. He also shares the miraculous joy of finding a soul mate in his husband, Marshall, and the heartbreak of losing one friend after another to AIDS. Calvi’s willingness to keep showing up to heartbreaking situations was the thing I ultimately found most inspiring in his story. He made me want to be more faithful to my own leadings, even when they are scary or exhausting.
As a writer, I have to say I was disappointed in the book’s structure. It is a compilation of pieces written at different times and for different audiences, including Friends General Conference talks, songs, letters, articles, and other reflections composed over many years. I wish Calvi or his editor had shaped them into one cohesive narrative, though once I sunk into the heart of his sharing, I remembered why I had been moved by hearing him read a bit of his writing at a FGC Gathering several years ago.
While reading The Dance Between Hope & Fear, I found myself jotting down some of Calvi’s insights to use in the Discerning Our Calls class I teach at Pendle Hill. A few examples: our callings are not so much about changing the world as changing ourselves and growing closer to the Divine; a little fear is a good thing in a calling, but you have to pay attention to how much fear you can handle; “no love is ever wasted,” even if the patient dies, or gets deported back to the country where he was tortured; you know your ministry is mature when you can serve with compassion the fool in your meeting “who just fries your butt.” Many of his wisdoms are simple points that resonate deeply.
At the core of Calvi’s story is a deep trust that he’ll be given what he needs when he needs it. Like the journals of early Friends who lived in radical obedience to divine guidance, this book can encourage contemporary Friends in our struggles to do the same.
Eileen Flanagan is a member of Chestnut Hill Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa., and a teacher in the Pendle Hill resident program. She is the author of The Wisdom to Know the Difference and a forthcoming memoir about her midlife calling to environmental activism.
Transitions in Healing: A Journey
By Norma Lee. Balboa Press, 2012. 55 pages. $23.95/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
Abuse Survivors: Self-Guided Retreat, A Memoir of Healing
By Judy Brutz. Pine River Press, 2012. 243 pages. $14.95/paperback; $2.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Diane Reynolds
Two new books, Transitions in Healing: A Journey by Norma Lee and Abuse Survivors: Self-Guided Retreat by Judy Brutz, are interactive texts designed to help people work through pain, self discovery, and/or turning points in their lives.
With art therapy at its core, Transitions in Healing uses 52 color drawings created by Lee to inspire reflection and healing. The interactive workbook asks the reader to cut out 52 strips of paper each printed with the name of a different archetypal image, such as “transformation,” “spiral,” or “web,” and put them in a basket. The next step is to draw out a strip at random and turn to its image in the workbook. The individual is instructed to respond in writing to the image and a set of queries.
I did this exercise with a group that included five people between the ages of 18 to 22. Because it would not work well to pass around the workbook, I tore out the pictures and let each person choose one. We settled into silence and wrote responses to our archetypes then shared our reactions.
All of the participants found the exercise meaningful. The images were lovely, most with rich colors, and reminded people of paintings by the artists Mark Rothko and Paul Klee. For those, like myself, who could not connect with the queries, having visual color, form, and pattern to respond to offered a welcome freedom. Others found the queries helpful and responded to either all or a few of them. This open-ended aspect added power to the exercise and allowed everyone an avenue to inner exploration. Although the workbook was designed for individual practice, the group sharing was especially helpful.
Abuse Survivors arose from abuse memories that surfaced at night while Brutz was pursuing a PhD. Brutz, who has done work related to physical and sexual abuse in the Quaker community, found herself coping with her pain through spontaneous rewritings of the Lord’s Prayer that came to her during this period. Brutz weaves her own story and other people’s accounts of emotional, physical, and sexual trauma in between a series of exercises that include guided meditation and spiritual practices, such as walking a labyrinth and journaling in response to queries.
Although Quakers often reject set prayers, as liberation theologian Leonardo Boff emphasizes, the Lord’s Prayer does not depend on dogmas, creeds, or the afterlife, but rests in the hope of creating on this Earth a mirror image of the kingdom of God. Thus, the Lord’s Prayer is arguably particularly appropriate for a Quaker audience, especially in Brutz’s gentle and gender-free reworkings included in the book.
I found the back and forth between stories and exercises in Abuse Survivors helpful, and I appreciated Brutz’s willingness to not shy away from the existence of systemic evil in the world—or even the uncomfortable issues of abuse within one’s own spiritual community. While not all of us have experienced traumatic levels of cruelty, many have experienced some form of verbal abuse or an acute awareness of injustice in the world, so this book has the potential to be useful to a broad audience.
Transitions in Healing is likely to appeal to people with a New Age orientation, while Abuse Survivors arises out of a Christian worldview, but both books are gentle and inclusive enough to be helpful to people of different faith perspectives. I appreciate the centrality of art therapy in Transitions in Healing and can envision a second book that encourages people to create their own drawings as a form of healing. In Abuse Survivors, I appreciate the way the exercises are embraced in a gentle Christianity that never backs away from evil or offers an easy forgiveness to abusers. Both books focus on personal transformation rather than the political and economic situations that enable evil to flourish, but arguably an emphasis on individual healing is a prerequisite to the change the world so badly needs.
Diane Reynolds is a member of Stillwater Meeting in Barnesville, Ohio, and a former member of Patapsco Meeting in Ellicott City, Md.
The Immanence Bible in Verse
By John Michael Wine. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012. 36 pages. $5.65/paperback; $2.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Kody Gabriel Hersh
It was six or seven years ago that regular reading of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures became a part of my spiritual life. Shortly after I started the practice, I began to collect secondhand Bibles. I’m a thrift store shopper, and almost every thrift store I’ve ever been in has had a Bible or two among the books. I get excited when I find a translation I haven’t seen before; owning a number of translations reminds me that each one is, on some level, an interpretation, and each one helps me approach the text in a different way. When a passage feels particularly meaningful, puzzling, or challenging to me, I like to read it in several translations to expand my sense of what it might mean. I also love finding Bibles that have notes, gift inscriptions, or family names written inside—ones that look like someone has actually used them. Biblical texts sometimes feel far-removed from my life, and these annotations can ground them in the immediate and the personal.
Reading The Immanence Bible in Verse—a newer translation of the well-known Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel and a parallel passage known as the Sermon on the Plain from Luke—evokes the experience of reading a secondhand Bible with handwritten notes. The “literal, less anthropomorphic translation,” as Quaker translator John Michael Wine describes it, aims to bring the reader to the text from a new perspective and broaden the possibilities for what any given passage, phrase, or word might mean. Word choices and phrasings that are, in many cases, dramatically different from previous translations open up new possibilities for imaginative, associative, and analytical engagement with the text. For example, Wine translates a Greek word for the Divine as “Immanence,” emphasizing his understanding of God as immediate and tangible, but unconfined by concepts based in human identities, like the terms “Father” and “Lord.”
Wine’s translation is highly personal; he clearly has a relationship with the text based on years of study and shaped by his individual theology. In addition, his translation has an agenda: to “counterbalance” what he perceives as a distortion of truth in contemporary evangelical theology, in which an “immediate and personal sense of Spirit has been largely lost . . . overshadowed by an unhealthy emphasis on God-as-literally-anthropomorphic.”
Wine’s translations are sometimes radical departures from previous translations, and as such they sharpen the reader’s focus. In chapter six of Matthew’s gospel, for example, Wine renders the Greek word mammon—often translated as “money” or “wealth” or simply transliterated—as “capitalism,” a word that captures some of the broader connotations of the original and illustrates its contemporary spiritual and social implications much more pointedly. His attention to the literal meaning of the Greek leads to other surprising insights and interpretations, like his reading of the phrase, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” which is rendered in the King James and other more traditional translations. Wine’s translation reads, “Blessed, even as they gasp, are the poor,” a profoundly different interpretation based on the multiple meanings of the Greek word pneuma, which literally means “breath” or “wind,” in addition to the figurative “spirit.”
Even with extensive translation notes offering rationales for many of Wine’s decisions, I found my credulity strained at several points. Wine’s rendering of the Greek patros—traditionally, “Father”—as “the very center of who you are” in the IBIV is one example of a stretch that seems more motivated by religious ideology than by the evidence of the source text. His translation is faithful to the rushed immediacy of the present tense in the Greek, which is beautiful in some places, but in others results in awkward phrases, such as “be entering by this focused gate” and “be loving your enemies.”
The Immanence Bible in Verse can’t replace some of the more traditional translations for me in either authority or beauty. However, as an experiment in learning about alternative interpretations of these important passages, I believe the book is useful. Friends who are challenged or turned off by more Orthodox Christian language may find that Wine’s work smooths a path, while those for whom the traditional translations are more comfortable will find much to stretch themselves. New words invite new understandings and fresh critical engagement. Wine’s translation then, with its sometimes awkward, often bold reinterpretations, is an invitation to deeper engagement that we can benefit from accepting.
Kody Gabriel Hersh, a member of Miami (Fla.) Meeting, currently lives in Philadelphia, Pa. He is co-clerk of the Young Adult Quakers of Southeastern Yearly Meeting and of the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns. He cares deeply about vocal ministry, eldering, sexuality, biblical literacy, theological diversity, and dessert.
Living in the Kingdom of God
By John Andrew Gallery. Self-published, 2012. 62 pages. $10/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Lisa Rand
Like author John Andrew Gallery, I have spent many years reflecting on the example and teachings of Jesus. As a person who hungers for peace and justice, I try to determine what the messages of the life of Jesus might mean for my own life. This book speaks to my experience while also offering fresh perspectives.
In order to uncover the principles that he perceives as the groundwork of Jesus’s teachings, the author takes us through a reflective study of the parables of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) and the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). He uses these stories, as well as sayings of Jesus that appear elsewhere in the gospels, to create a picture of what it means to live in the kingdom of God. Furthermore, through a study of the statements attributed to Jesus, the author gives a sense of Jesus’s understanding of God and of God’s central qualities.
The book concludes with a brief section on spiritual practice, which is centered on the exciting question: “Was I prepared to change my life to become a person living in the kingdom of God and take on the characteristics of such a person that Jesus seemed to be suggesting?” After all, why do we care about the message of Jesus? If we think his message says something important about how one should live, shouldn’t we try to put those ideas into practice?
Overall, I appreciated the opportunity to travel with Gallery on his exploration. If I wrote a book about my own exploration of Jesus, it would be a different book for certain, yet there is enough in common to make for an interesting dialogue. Sharing our journeys is an important part of creating spiritual community. This book is an interesting read regardless of your personal view of Jesus, and it would make an excellent tool for a monthly meeting wanting to explore varied views on the teachings of Jesus.
Lisa Rand is a member of Unami Meeting in Pennsburg, Pa. She writes the blog Light to Read By at Lighttoreadby.wordpress.com.
The Gospel of Thomas: Wisdom of the Twin (Second Edition)
By Lynn C. Bauman. White Cloud Press, 2012. 246 pages. $16.95/paperback.
Reviewed by William Shetter
Most of us have heard of the Gospel of Thomas, thanks in no small part to Elaine Pagels’s Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. Written in the Coptic language translated from a Greek original, the Gospel is part of the library of manuscripts discovered several decades ago in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Not many of us, however, feel at home in it. Unlike the familiar narrative form of the four canonical gospels, Thomas consists of a collection of 114 separate, though thematically connected, sayings. The less familiar form and often cryptic wording make interpretation a considerable challenge.
Bauman’s clearly presented and enlightening book sets out to show us how much we have been missing. This second edition has added an important feature: an interpretive “Entry Point” paragraph for each saying or “logion” that suggests some interpretations and orients the reader to the context and intricacies of Thomas’s world. Each logion is presented in what he terms a “dynamic translation,” meaning it is a rendering of the sense into natural English and an “academic translation” as faithful to the original as possible.
In Bauman’s translation, this gospel’s Jesus goes by the source’s original Hebrew name, Yeshua, to keep the reader constantly aware that Thomas is speaking to us with the voice not of the familiar Jesus of Western Christianity, but of an earlier tradition. Jesus is presented as a Master of Wisdom—a sage and teacher of the wisdom at the heart of earlier Wisdom Books such as Proverbs, Job, and the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. The Gospel of Thomas is, in Bauman’s view, a less well-known source of Jesus’s original teachings, a “theology of wisdom” long suppressed by the established church in the quest for dogmatic conformity to the theology of salvation through Christ that has overlaid it. This view is something he consistently emphasizes in his Entry Points: Yeshua here challenges his followers “from a timeless, universal place of seeing . . . [and] he calls each of us to the light within all things that blazed forth at the beginning . . . before the soul we are, created outside of time, first donned the body’s shirt and fell into the density of space/time.”
Bauman’s translation of logion 84 can serve as our wedge into Thomas’s world:
When you see your own projection into time and space [i.e., your familiar physical self] it makes you happy. But when the time comes that you are able to look upon the icon of your own being [i.e., your “true self” hidden within] which came into existence at the beginning, and neither dies nor has yet been fully revealed, will you be able to stand it?
Reaching the light of one’s inner self is so important that “[even] the cosmos is not worthy of the one who discovers the Self” (L111), meaning that each of us constitutes and contributes to the universal light, and it is here that our true immortality lies: “Blessed are those chosen and unified. The Realm of the Kingdom is theirs. For out of her you have come, and back to her you are returning” (L49). Bauman comments here, “This way of seeing lies at the heart of Yeshua’s message of wisdom,” and in the Entry Point to logion 77 he writes, “There is no place that consciousness light does not extend.”
The first edition of this book was published in 2003, which we might fairly label a “Wisdom Year” in that it saw the appearance of not only Pagels’s and Bauman’s books but also Cynthia Bourgeault’s absorbing The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart. All three titles seek to recover and help revive the long-unknown Wisdom tradition and make this path more widely available to contemporary seekers.
Friends of many persuasions will find much in Thomas’s representation of Yeshua that is persuasive and even familiar. I join Bauman in dreaming of the day when the “Wisdom Gospel” of Thomas has gained full acceptance into the biblical canon as a book showing “a sage whose wisdom . . . was capable of grasping something far more universal than we have been led to believe.”
William Shetter is a member of Bloomington (Ind.) Meeting. He has recently written a conversation with the personified Lady Wisdom of the Biblical Wisdom books, as she responds to his question for today’s world: “What is wisdom?”
The Essence of George Fox’s Journal
Edited with an introduction by Hunter Lewis. Axios Press, 2012. 260 pages. $12/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Marty Grundy
It is interesting to see a non-Quaker’s take on us. Usually much is correct with only a few omissions and errors and an inherent lack of understanding of the nuances. The Quaker reader is often left with an uneasy feeling that somehow the author has just barely missed the mark. This greatly condensed version of George Fox’s Journal is no exception.
First, I will share the pluses. Hunter Lewis has taken Fox’s Journal and cut out huge amounts of verbiage, cutting it down to fewer than 235 pages of fairly large print. With plentiful ellipses, it reads very well. For Friends who find the nearly 800 pages of John Nickalls’s version too daunting, this book will provide an easy read. Lewis includes plenty of gripping courtroom confrontations, prison deprivations and sufferings, and examples of Fox’s indomitable personality. There is enough of Fox’s theology presented to get a rough idea of what early Friends were about.
But that is also the rub. Friends would probably expect to find any condensation of Fox’s Journal to include: “then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,’ and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.” We would expect the full statement of Fox’s refusal to the offer of a get-out-of-jail-free card for a commission in Cromwell’s New Model Army and the 1660 declaration of the peace testimony. We would expect a mention of Elizabeth Hooton. All of these bits are missing from this version.
Other niggling complaints include Lewis’s misunderstanding of Friends’ use of the word “professor” to mean someone who professes religion but does not possess its Life. Lewis thinks they are “educated Christian teachers, many of whom were priests.” Fox’s “openings” are defined as “insights”—true, but this interpretation misses Fox’s understanding that they were given by the Spirit, not due to his own intelligence. The reader is never really told why Fox refused to remove his hat. Because Lewis is only dealing with this one book, he makes Fox the founder and leader rather than a catalyst, identifying Francis Howgill and John Audland as “followers of Fox” rather than—as I believe they would have said—of Christ. The introduction mentions Fox establishing “his Church.” A footnote that Fox “always felt himself equal to any emergency which confronted him” misses the point of Fox’s radical dependence on the Spirit. It lacks a description of the importance of Friends as a faith community, that Christ is come to teach his people.
Lewis’s 15-page introduction uses 10 of those pages to reprint prison scenes that are included in his text. He summarizes Quaker faith as a belief “that Jesus speaks to each of us directly, through personal revelation, which takes the form of an inner voice.” Later, Fox is quoted: “Now the Lord God opened to me by His invisible power that every man was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ, and I saw it shine through all.” Lewis explains in a footnote: “This is a central tenet of Fox’s teaching. Each of us has an inner voice, given us by God, which, if listened to, will direct us throughout our lives.” Most of the readership of Friends Journal will probably have no argument with that. But the point is to draw out the essential message of Fox, yet Lewis oddly shrinks Fox’s radical understanding of Christ to a footnote.
The book is part of The Essence of… Series of Axios Institute and its Axios Press. Axios Press publishes “books that provide readers with a great variety of approaches to the study of human choices and values.” Should a meeting add this book to its library? On the grounds that it is better to read this condensation of Fox’s Journal than nothing at all, I would say yes. It is a good introduction and an easy read. But Friends should remember there is so much more to Fox and to our faith.
Marty Grundy is a member of Cleveland (Ohio) Meeting. She reads Nickalls’s fuller version of Fox’s Journal.
Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity
By Lester R. Brown. W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 144 pages. $16.95/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Brian Drayton
While climate change is the overriding challenge of this century, other environmental crises have been unfolding for decades. Water shortages, soil loss, the energy crisis, pests’ evolved resistance to pesticides—all are now interacting, with the pace and intensity heightened by the rising heat and its consequences.
As he has been doing for decades, Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute explains lucidly how all these crises affect one of the simplest and most important of human concerns: food security. While “population growth” can be a coded reason for various kinds of oppression and prejudice, it is also the case that, worldwide, there are minute by minute ever more humans who need food and water and exert their many kinds of influence on the environment. As a society develops economically, the per capita impact of its citizens on shared resources also grows. In a world in which no natural resource is infinite, these facts constitute conditions which demand wisdom to truly understand. The consequences will require wisdom, ingenuity, courage, and tenderness of spirit to address.
The book is intended to provide a broad picture of the current state of affairs with regard to food security—now and in the near future—and also an introduction to several of the key components of the crisis. Chapter titles include: “The Ecology of Population Growth,” “Moving up the Food Chain,” “Food or Fuel?,” “Peak Water,” and “Grain Yields Start to Plateau.” In a remarkably short space, Brown sketches the science, sociology, economics, and politics which affect the struggle for control of agricultural land, the choices about what crops are grown for what purposes, and who gets control over essential factors like water, which would seem to be a basic birthright of any human being.
Yet the perversions of our economic and political systems are also made clear. It makes sense within the so-called “free market” that water should be discussed as a commodity like any other or that a combination of human short-sightedness and rapacious policy would allow the topsoil of the Earth to be blown away on the winds or carried in runoff out to sea. With most agricultural land in the North fully deployed, it makes sense that land in poorer countries would be leased by wealthier nations—farmland in Ethiopia, say, being used to grow food for Chinese consumers—and removed from local use or benefit for decades.
Friends should read this book to clarify their understanding of the world in which we live and to understand how many concerns not typically thought of as “earthcare” are intertwined with the food web in which we are sustained and caught—the geopolitics of the Arab Spring, for example, or the power relations between North and South. Readers who are shy about numbers and charts will not be overwhelmed; readers who want more depth will be referred to the Earth Policy Institute’s website, where much data and analysis are available (though not always organized in the most accessible manner).
This book really has two goals. The first is to present the data about our present condition. The second is to convince readers that action to combat current and future suffering is possible. Powerful information, such as the contents of Full Planet, Empty Plates, can help equip those who feel moved to act.
Brian Drayton is a member of Weare (N.H.) Meeting.
The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature Is Inspiring Innovation
By Jay Harman. White Cloud Press, 2013. 296 pages. $26.95/paperback or eBook.
Reviewed by Rob Pierson
What does aircraft paint owe to shark skin? Wind energy to whale flippers? Medicine to maggots? And what does any of this have to do with Friends?
Well, at first glance, very little. The author of The Shark’s Paintbrush, Jay Harman, is not a Friend. He’s an Australian entrepreneur and the founder of PAX Scientific, a product design firm that offers highly efficient fans, mixers, pumps, and propellers. He’s also an advocate of the principles on which many of those products are built: biomimicry, the imitation of nature’s designs.
Thus, in Harman’s book, we learn how nature is influential in design innovation. We read about propellers inspired by natural whirlpools and how the roughness of shark skin inspired paint that increases aircraft fuel efficiency and how imitating the bumps on whales’ flippers improves wind turbine stability. Connections are also made to benefit the advance of medicine. Harman’s main point is that nature solves problems efficiently without the use of high-power industrial processes or resulting toxic residue.
“I’m on a mission,” writes Harman, “to halve the world’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through biomimicry and the elimination of waste. I’m also on a mission to inspire others to climb on board a new wave of possibility and optimism.”
Occasionally Harman’s optimism waxes fanatical. In particular, the first section promises a “gold rush” toward both a healthier world and lucrative profits, all “without sacrifice.” However, by the middle of the book, one becomes entranced by his vision of the beauty and ingenuity of creation and the practical opportunities for applying its wisdom. Harman leaps from the antibiotic properties of cockroach brains to the intelligence of fungus growth and the self-cleaning nanostructures of a lotus leaf. Given the growing Quaker concern for earthcare and the historical prominence of Friends as observational scientists, Harman’s encyclopedia of natural wonders should resonate with Friends.
But there’s a deeper connection. Kenneth Boulding, a Quaker economist and peace advocate, once wrote (quoted in Dialogue With Friends by Jack Powelson) that the key question remains “how to do good. Good will is not enough. Good skill is what is needed. How do we mobilize good skills in the Society of Friends, in a world that is a complex, total system?” I think Harman offers a viable vision.
In the book’s final section, Harman switches focus from the natural world to the corporate jungle. Tired of watching wildlife refuges cleared and built over by housing developments, Harman left the Australian Department of Fisheries and Wildlife to study economics, psychology, and religion, ultimately traveling the world to study with religious leaders and mystics before propelling himself into an entrepreneurial career.
Too many Friends have forgotten or don’t know about our own historical pilgrimage from mysticism to entrepreneurship. Emerging from the spiritual wildfire and fierce persecutions of seventeenth-century England, Friends embarked on an enormous range of worldly enterprises: mining and woolens, ironworks and cutlery, railways and bridges, clockworks and watch making, botany and medicine. And Friends were able to fund and grow their enterprise through their widespread network of banking and finance. How could this be?
Was it just, as some say, that Friends were barred from other occupations and simply had to settle for a living in the trades? Were they dispossessed from rural land work to more urban occupations? Did their message attract and build a literate entrepreneurial class? Was their work ethic the envy of Protestants and their system of apprenticeship and oversight without equal? Was it their honesty, equity, and simplicity that singled them out for advantage? Or did they simply follow, as in all other matters, where they were led?
Historians argue the details, and some Friends can’t help but see the whole turn to enterprise as a fluke or a failing. Quakers, more than most, have remained self-critical. Yet, ultimately, George Fox’s promotion of both the practical occupations and the study of creation sent ripples through our history. For whatever reasons, the faith and experience of Friends propelled them to take a disproportionate role in science and industry; few historians would deny that Friends drove both technological and social innovations that shaped the industrial revolution.
What Harman’s book envisions echoes that earlier revolution. Speaking from his own experience, he promotes both the study of creation and its practical application, calling for a new wave of small enterprises that are informed by nature and ethics. For Harman, success depends upon the humility and honesty to see nature, including human nature, as it really is. Successful transformation requires integrity, honoring human dignity, resisting human greed, and refusing compromise no matter what others are doing or urging us to do. Transformation also requires supportive community—a collaborative network providing guidance, advice, experience, and, yes, money. If we reflect on our history, isn’t this exactly how the networks of Quaker industry and banking emerged three centuries ago? Why, Friends, should we not do it again?
I heartily recommend Harman’s book to anyone amazed by the wonders of nature and interested in modern technology. But for Friends of a scientific or entrepreneurial bent, especially young adult Friends, I urge you to take up both our Quaker history and Harman’s book . . . and help start a revolution.
Rob Pierson is a member of Albuquerque (N.M.) Meeting, a recent graduate of Earlham School of Religion, and a systems engineer at a small technology company.
Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority
By Tim Wise. City Lights Publishers, 2012. 190 pages. $14.95/paperback; $15.95/eBook.
Reviewed by Donna McDaniel
Many of us understand that if not our generation, then it will be our children’s that can expect to be “the new minority” as the time rapidly approaches when white people will no longer be the majority in America. Author Tim Wise has even more to offer than this prediction. A preeminent anti-racist writer and speaker, Wise reminds us how uncomfortable it can be to know people “with whom it seems impossible to have a conversation about race.” Dear White America, the most recent of Wise’s books, may make these conversations easier and more frequent.
[Note: I am using “white” and “black” or “white folks” and “black folks,” as Wise does. I’m among the white folks, as is Wise.]
The first, perhaps most valuable, takeaway from Dear White America is recognizing the distinction between guilt and responsibility in matters of race. Guilt is what we feel for things we have done. Responsibility is what we take on willingly because of who we are, not because our concerns are the fault of anyone currently alive. The first responsibility for white people is to extinguish any feeling of obligation to make up for the past. Wise is not interested in guilt about the past: “We are not to blame for history—either its horrors or its legacy, but all of us together—black and white—are responsible for how we bear that legacy and what we make of it [today].”
When white folks pass the blame, denying any responsibility for people experiencing problems because of their skin color, we only reinforce the idea that they—“the others”—are just not working hard enough. There is no need, then, for us to feel compassion, and in its place comes indifference.
In Wise’s observations, when we feel guilty we tend to transfer blame to people of African descent. You’ve heard the reasons before: they don’t work hard enough; they would rather have babies than jobs; they choose welfare over work. And since they are at fault, it’s easy to talk about their own particular pathology as the cause for poverty.
How hard it is, then, to have a meaningful conversation. Wise suggests a more fruitful path: “Perhaps we’d do well to listen to the voices of those who have been and continue to be targeted; unlike us, they don’t have the option of ignoring it.” Too many activists define the problem and prescribe how to fix it. That’s racist since it means we believe that we know “their reality better than they.”
Wise offers a new way of looking at what keeps us from moving forward and, in instance after instance, demolishes claims heard so often that people begin to believe them. His book includes an abundance of examples that refute what one reviewer calls the “insidious mythology” that keeps racism alive. Notice how white people tend to give their own poor the benefit of the doubt, after all “deep down they are good people,” while when it comes to black poverty, we speak of “pathology.”
Wise also reports on current surveys which reveal often surprising beliefs about racism held by the majority of white people, including the ill-founded opinion that to focus on racism is to encourage a “victim mentality” that saps initiative. Also: it’s unfair to criticize our own country’s racism and discrimination because, after all, inequality is found in every nation, likely even worse than in the United States. This mentality is a way to avoid looking at ourselves, Wise suggests.
Wise’s work includes an abundance of statistics that defy these kinds of beliefs so often named as “facts.” One familiar—and false—complaint: African American students are given preference in scholarships that aid people of color at the expense of people with European backgrounds. What is true: less than 4 percent of the scholarship money awarded in the country gives race some (but not the only) consideration. Only 0.25 percent of awards are available exclusively for people of color. The other 99.75 percent are awarded with no consideration of race.
On the contrary, Wise points to government programs that have actually excluded African Americans. A prime example is the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. To assure support from southern Congressmen, agricultural and domestic workers (the bulk of African American employment at the time) were excluded from the program.
Wise also observes how white people often object to “big government” but nevertheless have benefited from it at many points in American history. Take for example the Homestead Act of 1862, which confiscated more than 200 million acres of land from indigenous people or Mexicans and made it available for free to white settlers. Skip ahead to 1956, the start of the Interstate Highway System, which benefits and expands the suburbs, often at the expense of inner city neighborhoods. Wise notes he’s not heard of benefactors of those programs offering to pay back what they received in that “socialist” scheme!
Finally, Wise illustrates two of my pet peeves, namely the limited understanding of our history and the distortion of agreed-upon facts by people who like history as long as it fits their views. He tells of watching a Fourth of July parade, complete with marching scouts, minutemen, and of course, the flags. Pleasant enough perhaps, but Wise recognizes the hypocrisy of celebrating the events of 1776 and then when it comes to slavery, saying “time to get over it, that was long ago.”
While this review has concentrated mostly on Wise’s ideas, his books are packed with statistics to support his statements. To conclude, here’s one, a startling reminder of how things still are: even with identical credentials, a white man with a criminal record is more likely to be called back for a job interview than a black man with no criminal record.
Do you ever wonder how to respond to those who insist there is no such thing as “white privilege?” This book would be very helpful.
Donna McDaniel, a member of Framingham (Mass.) Meeting, is co-author of Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice. She is a freelance writer and editor with a special concern to promote racial justice and community.
She Walked for All of Us: One Woman’s 1971 Protest Against an Illegal War
By Louise Bruyn. RSBPress/Distinction Press, 2013. 270 pages. $16.95/paperback.
Reviewed by Dave Austin
“The walk is like a prayer.”
That was the response of a friend of Louise Bruyn in 1971, after she announced to family and friends that she was leaving the safety and comfort of her home in Newton, Mass., to walk—alone—to Washington, D.C., to draw attention to America’s illegal, immoral war in Vietnam. This account of that walk takes us back to a time when our nation was weary of a seemingly interminable war. Bruyn’s words put us in the mind and heart of an “average American” who was so frustrated and saddened by the endless carnage and waste portrayed in the media every day that she felt led to do something about it in a personal and powerful way. It was a leading she could not deny.
Bruyn was led to begin her act of individual protest after reading an opinion piece in the Boston Globe. It was one year after the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and shortly after the invasion of Laos, two years after Moratorium Day, and almost a year after the killings of American college students during anti-war protests at Kent State University by National Guard members and at Jackson State College by police. Stories about mass killings committed by American soldiers at a Vietnamese hamlet called My Lai blanketed the media. The nation seemed locked in a malaise of hopelessness and helplessness. Yet Bruyn felt moved to act, as an individual, to try to snap the American people’s collective attention back to what was being done in their names in Southeast Asia.
And so, with not much experience as either a protester or a hiker, she set out to walk more than 400 miles, solo, in the winter. Along the way, she dealt with poor shoes, inadequate clothing, dodgy weather, and sketchy and sometimes haphazard arrangements for housing at night. She encountered a variety of reactions from those she met along the way, from indifference and cynicism to skepticism and bemusement to open hostility. But what seemed to strike Bruyn the most, as it did me, was the great amount of impassioned support she received, especially when she got the chance to engage people on an individual level and in the small gatherings organized along her route. Those meaningful encounters became a large part of the mission of her walk, a personal “hearts and minds” campaign. She never did manage to have a personal meeting with President Nixon, but these other meetings may have been even more important in relaying her message of peace.
Each chapter of this book chronicles a day of her journey and opens with a quote from a news update on the war from the New York Times to provide us with a context of the current events. Vietnam is the war many of us grew up with, and those news snippets quickly took me back to that time. I was also reminded of the daily reports we get from our own endless war, as I am struck by similar feelings of helplessness regarding when this latest conflict will ever end. The book’s afterword is Bruyn’s reflection on that time and on the rightness of her cause (similar to another recent book, Kill Everything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse, which the author references and testifies to).
Bruyn’s narrative takes the form of a reconstructed diary, and readers might find some of her writing to be a bit stiff and occasionally repetitive. However, I found her voice to be authentic and passionate. Throughout the book, especially early on (and when the weather turns nasty), she seems torn as to whether or not setting out on this journey was worth the effort, but the power of her leading always wins out and drives her forward. It is a leading that continued for years after her walk through her participation in an anti-tax protest against military spending and in her work with the American Friends Service Committee.
I suspect that many of us today feel the same sorts of frustration that led Bruyn to leave her young family and set out on her “prayer.” Her message from that turbulent time is an inspiration to those of us who feel led to somehow, in whatever small way, make a difference.
Dave Austin is a member of Haddonfield (N.J.) Meeting. He lives in Marlton, N.J., where he teaches middle school history and social studies.
By John Fitzgerald. Fairway Press, 2013. 128 pages. $15/paperback.
Cornfield Cathedral is a slender volume of short meditations, each accompanied by study questions, drawn from sermons by the longtime pastor of Leesburg (Ohio) Friends Church of Wilmington Yearly Meeting. This book is a very personal spiritual memoir framed around narratives from the author’s life and of his congregation and surrounding community.
Openings, Leadings, and Dreams: Listening to the Inner Voice of Love
By John Pitts Corry. AAD Distributing, 2012. 299 pages. $15/paperback.
This memoir covers many decades and a lot of ground. It is both intimate and bold, delving into the author’s thoughts about the life of the Spirit and also of the body. Readers should know in advance that sexuality and graphic materials are discussed (though it is not overly dedicated to those topics). A daring memoir in some respects.
Marii Hasegawa: Gentle Woman of a Dangerous Kind
Produced and directed by Janet Scagnelli. Small Steps Films, 2012. 30 minutes runtime. $18/DVD.
A delightful documentary from members of Richmond (Va.) Meeting about the life of Marii Hasegawa, a Japanese American woman who considered herself one without a religion, yet shared the concerns of many religious folks. She and her family lived through the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans. Hasegawa went on to find her life’s work in organizing and collaborating in the struggle for a more peaceful life for all. From 1971 to 1975, she served as the national president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Live interviews with Hasegawa, before her death in July of 2012, make up much of the film.
Stories of Courage, Hope & Compassion
By Richard L. Deats. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011. 102 pages. $9.95/paperback.
Richard Deats may be a familiar name due to his earlier books and his decades-long career with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. This volume is a collection of stories intended to encourage the reader’s exploration of faith operating in life. The stories focus on resilience and response to challenge, loss, and violence with faith, and give a vision of grace and forgiveness.
All American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim
Edited by Wajahat M. Ali and Zahra T. Suratwala. White Cloud Press, 2012. 256 pages. $16.95/paperback or eBook.
This is the second volume in a series called I Speak for Myself from White Cloud Press. It gives readers a valuable chance to hear stories of a varied group of Muslim men told in their own voices. The men come from various locations, some U.S.-born and some not, and various strands of the Muslim tradition. The other books in the series include American Women on Being Muslim (by 40 writers under 40) and Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions.
Quaker Spirituality from Inside/Out
Edited by John Surr, Judith Larsen, and Pardee Lowe Jr. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012. 284 pages. $14.95/paperback.
Friends in Baltimore Yearly Meeting published their spiritual insights over an extended period of time (not regularly, but for some years). The result is this compilation, a labor of true love and a testament to the power of spiritual friendships that encourage Spirit to flower in individual lives. This book is a gift from the lives and hearts of the contributing writers.
Ingrid’s Tales: A Norwegian-American Quaker Farming Story
By Rebecca J. Henderson. Self-published, 2012. 413 pages. $20/paperback.
The stories and photos in this book tell the story of how Norwegian Quakers emigrated to Iowa and give personal details about the author’s family, as well as Paullina Meeting in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Generous time is spent on descriptions of farm and meeting life in 1959 from the point of view of Ingrid Heimberg, the fictional narrator who spends the summer among Paullina Friends.
Yeshu: A Novel for the Open-Hearted
By Charles David Kleymeyer. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. 582 pages. $22.95/paperback.
A look at the author’s lovely website devoted to this novel reveals its origin. As a father, Charles Kleymeyer searched for a book that would keep his teenagers turning the pages to see how a truly gripping story would turn out. When he couldn’t find quite what he was looking for, Chuck wrote it himself. The resulting novel about the life of Jesus is fiction narrated by a young person in Jesus’s village. It covers the ground of Jesus’s whole life, starting in the early and little-known years before he began his mission of preaching. Several chapters have been previously published as pieces in Friends Journal.
Comments on Friendsjournal.org may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.