Thank you for “The Trouble with ‘Strangers’” (Gerri Williams, FJ Feb.). I agree that we need to establish firm limits around people who are intent on mismanaging fear by demonizing others. It is good to maintain a level of compassion for their suffering but never compromise the truth arising from the facts of history. As I see it, the Trump supporters and those who subscribe to fundamentalist beliefs are entrenched in judging themselves and others. It makes them very fearful and angry. They have difficult work to do to recover a sense of their own basic goodness. Policies that support interventions to prevent generational repetition of entitlement and self-criticism need to be implemented and sustained. The Nurse-Family Partnership is one such evidence-based program.
Beginning where we are
Community action seems to go hand-in-hand with lifestyle (“Simple Living Beyond the Thrift Store” by Philip Harden, FJ Jan.). I enjoy donating to the poor, participating in marches and protests, regularly contacting politicians and keeping informed, and recycling and reusing. Now I periodically do energy fasts: deliberately turning off everything but the refrigerator, eschewing the car, and definitely no airplane travel. This is one small and personal way to take responsibility for my carbon footprint. We can begin where we are.
Human diet and climate
Thanks to Lynn Fitz-Hugh for pointing out the many reasons to be a vegetarian in her article “Being a Vegetarian Is a Climate Issue” (FJ Jan.). Unfortunately, eating a plant-based diet has only a small effect on our greenhouse gas emissions. This was pointed out recently in an article by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas: “The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions.” Although seldom mentioned, by far the most effective way an individual can combat climate change is by having a small family, being child-free, adopting, or a being foster parent.
As a physician, I recommend a vegetarian diet, and also recommend being cautious. Vegetables lack a vitamin that humans need: vitamin B12. All vegetarians should take an adequate supplement of this. It is also wise to get a blood test to be certain that you are getting enough.
I am grateful for Lynn Fitz-Hugh’s invitation to make our food choices a witness for peace, equality, stewardship, and justice. So much of my modern American lifestyle has been at odds with the needs of the more-than-human world that surrounds us. It is a great joy to find ways (in this case, such delicious ways) of being able to live up to my principles. The more that I learn about our fellow beings, the more I value a plant-based diet that minimizes my contribution to the pain and needless killing that our species inflicts on others, whether directly on fish and farm animals or indirectly by way of the wasteful and polluting animal agriculture industry.
The author responds: As I have begun to speak out about vegetarianism as a climate issue, I’ve found that it upsets people for multiple reasons, as is apparent in responses to my article. Some are upset that I have not gone far enough, arguing that veganism is what I should argue for. Others feel l have gone too far and am denying people meat that they need. I think both have misstated my actual position. Each party, having an opposite view from the other, feels that I misunderstand the health implications.
In my activism, I have a campaign called the “Food Challenge” (eatingforahealthyplanet.org) that challenges people to eat more organic and more local, and eat less meat and waste less food. By saying that I did not choose vegetarianism for health, spiritual, or animal welfare reasons, I was certainly not criticizing those reasons. Those are all very valid reasons to make the change; they are just not my reasons.
In suggesting that Quaker gatherings try having vegetarian meals, I did not intend to imply that no meat would be available at all! Vegetarian meals could be handled in the way gluten allergies are handled: one line for those who need gluten-free food. As for health issues of not eating meat, all human bodies metabolize protein differently. In general, humans can avoid meat and be healthy; there are many examples of people and cultures who do so.
In considering my article, I hope that Friends can simply question if they have moral reasons to experiment with change.
Privilege and access
The article by Tabitha Mustafa and Sandra Tamari (“Palestine and Israel,” FJ Mar.) raises many important and challenging points for Quakers and others to consider.
We at American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) particularly appreciate the importance of considering the colonial history and context of the United States and European relationships with other parts of the world, and how that knowledge can shape both organizational and individual understanding and approach to work. We must internalize this knowledge and work within anti-racist and postcolonial frameworks, as we engage in programming. We acknowledge that there is always space for growth or improvement.
While appreciating Sandra and Tabitha’s challenge, we also think it important to offer additional context regarding AFSC’s work related to Palestine and Israel, and how we hold ourselves accountable to Palestinians and Israelis as we do our work.
Considering who leads work and how priorities are determined is important. While many of our staff are Palestinian, European and white American staff are serving in several key roles. Particularly in the United States, AFSC would benefit from more Palestinian representation. The current staff structure, however, did not result from a decision-making process that excludes or devalues Palestinian candidates. AFSC is committed to not discriminate but to practice inclusion in its hiring.
While acknowledging staffing gaps, we believe that the identities of staff cannot be the sole measure by which organizational accountability, relationships, and work are judged.
AFSC’s Palestine and Israel global work is guided by priorities developed collaboratively by all AFSC staff working on Israel and Palestine programming, by key Palestinian and Israeli partners, and by outside advisors. That principle applies to AFSC work on this issue taking place within the United States, which is closely coordinated by AFSC staff and partners in the region.
These relationships are what have led us to organize the No Way to Treat a Child campaign in partnership with the Palestinian organization Defense for Children International–Palestine and the Gaza Unlocked campaign with staff and partners in Gaza. It has also led us to respond to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
In all our work, we strive to use our privilege and access as an American international organization to provide needed support to Palestinian-led initiatives and to open spaces that might otherwise be closed. AFSC never seeks to tell Palestinians how to approach their own liberation.
Working to address the impacts of colonial and racist legacies and structures is part of an ongoing process at AFSC, not only within AFSC’s Israel and Palestine programming but also in the organization’s wider U.S. and international work. Appointing a Palestinian American general secretary and an African American board clerk, prioritizing hiring international staff from the countries where they work, and pushing forward anti-racism training for staff and board members are all steps in this ongoing process of change.
In our Palestine and Israel work specifically, we remain committed to working for freedom, justice, and equality, recognizing that we can always be working closer to our principles and have room to grow.
AFSC general secretary
Attracting and retaining new worshipers
Contemplative practice is what originally drew me to Quakerism (“Can Quakerism Survive?” by Don McCormick, FJ Feb.), but that’s not what has kept me here. What has kept me here is the deep integration of spirituality and governance. I’m a “the means and the ends are the same” kinda guy. The governance of most Christian churches and denominations is hierarchical, when, in practice, Jesus wasn’t. I never liked that when I went to meetings, the spirituality we were supposed to take seriously was given a back seat to “getting things done.” (I was the moderator of a United Church of Christ congregation for a time: sort of equivalent to a clerk, except it’s not.)
I see in Quakers a way to live life in community that puts Spirit (writ broadly, of course) in front of everything else. I guess what I’m saying is that what I see in Quakerism is a model for a new way of living in the world: a way I want more than anything.
Contemporary concerns about aging congregations and the difficulty of attracting young people are hardly unique to the Religious Society of Friends. These days, many denominations (both mainstream and marginal) are struggling to attract and retain new worshipers. I am familiar with a number of monthly meetings in my own state; I also have dear friends in other denominations: Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, etc. All of these faith communities are striving to offer some form of McCormick’s vision for the future: developing programs for children, inviting and welcoming newcomers, engaging in sustained outreach, and participating in peace and justice programs. And still, in most cases, their numbers continue to decline.
In the history of this country, we have repeatedly seen periods of spiritual quiescence alternating with great “re-awakenings.” American culture and society may for a time wander away from the life of Spirit, pursuing instead the accumulation of wealth and material goods, the elaboration of a purely science-based view of the universe, or the cold comfort of amoral nihilism. But eventually we are drawn back, by the Light within and surrounding us, to reach toward some form of the Divine.
There is always more that Friends can do to build more vibrant and welcoming meetings. However, when the next Great Awakening occurs in this country, I believe that potential worshipers will be drawn not so much to faith groups that have focused on organizational adjustments or on changing with the times as to those that have held true to their core historical testimonies, and who can offer the reassurance that these same testimonies can sustain us far into the future.
Sharon L. Shelly
I reluctantly admit to being among those who have drifted away from active involvement in Quakerism. I was a regular attender for a couple of years. A point came when it seemed like I was gathering for a weekly seminar instead of a life-affirming religious experience. Not wanting to give up, I drove four hours to a different meeting. On the third visit, which happened to coincide with a facilitated workshop on Witnessing Whiteness, where white members had spent several weeks beforehand taking a sobering look in the mirror, I discreetly left the meeting and have not been back to a Quaker meeting since. This was about three years ago. At the meeting, one of the outside facilitators (white) quietly asked me (African African) not to participate in the discussion period, because the idea was for the whites in the meeting to speak among themselves about issues surrounding their whiteness. It was definitely a needed discussion, but to be asked not to participate was unsettling. All I could think was here I am the lone black person among a room full of liberal Quakers having a Jim Crow moment.
Just to be clear, the members of the meeting I attended were open and welcoming. It was a non-Friend who was facilitating the workshop being hosted by the meeting that made it a bad experience for me. I try to keep sight of the fact that, all things considered, Quakerism remains a positive influence on the world. It just needs to accentuate spirituality more and use its megaphone better.
It would be nice if Quakerism, particularly unprogrammed Quakerism, survives in the United States, but if it does not, I will find or create another place where balance for nurturing my inward guide, attention to the group’s dynamics in finding unity, and a fiery and focused engagement with the outer world is present. Focusing on saving Quakerism seems misplaced. The focus should be on the Spirit (place your current useful metaphor here) moving in us, us struggling mightily together with love, and getting it on. I will suggest that when we are suburban and middle or upper class, we are lost (this is not the only difficult constellation, but it is surely one). There is no future spiritual path there I can see, but I would be happy to be surprised. Our salvation is wrapped up in being one with the precariat, and painfully facing our racism, xenophobia, economic privilege, and heteronormative patriarchy, and seeing how we are the problem, purifying ourselves as a prelude to action. Let’s quit being so polite and get really uncomfortable together so that the amazing (dangerous, even perilous) life we see in our history becomes present.
South Bend, Ind.
Confession: I invariably fall asleep during Quaker meetings for worship. If you have faced and solved this problem, please write and tell me what to do. Falling asleep and sometimes snoring keeps me away from meetings.