I was moved by the two meditative articles in the February issue of Friends Journal. I feel inspired by Kat Griffith’s description of her prayer practice (“In Which Today’s To‐dos Become Ta‐dahs!”), and I’ve resolved to try it (I probably shouldn’t say “as soon as I find the time”). The ending with its trampoline analogy is delightful and uplifting. Gunilla Norris’s reflections on aspects of the Westerly, Rhode Island meetinghouse are insightful and thought-provoking. As for Jean Schnell’s photos, what can one say except “how lovely!”? I want to visit this meetinghouse.
Let us be bright birds together
Reading “Thou Shalt Wear Comfy Shoes” (FJ Mar.), I was saddened that Friend Suzanne W. Cole Sullivan felt pushed “further out the door of the meetinghouse” by implicit expressions of a “Thou Shalt Be Comfy” creed that presumed a uniform understanding of what one should find comfortable. I was reminded of John Woolman’s journaled concern for his own comfort:
Though I was thus settled in mind in relation to hurtful dyes, I felt easy to wear my garments heretofore made, and so continued about nine months. Then I thought of getting a hat the natural colour of the fur . . . and did so.
I had several dyed garments fit for use, which I believed it best to wear till I had occasion of new ones, and some Friends were apprehensive that my wearing such a hat savored of an affected singularity, and such who spoke with me in a friendly way I generally informed in a few words that I believed my wearing it was not in my own will. . . . trusting that if I kept my place the Lord in his own time would open the hearts of Friends towards me.
As we strive to let all feel welcome to our simple community of silent worship, including those who can afford no more than one set of clothes, let us also welcome those for whom Friends meeting might be the only place where they can feel free to be themselves.
John van der Meer
The unspoken Quaker dress code has been weaponized! Before moving to Florida, I attended a Quaker meeting in the Philadelphia area, where I several times heard a “weighty” Quaker, a cisgender man, disparage Quaker women as “unattractive” or “ugly” because they insisted on “sensible” shoes. In that meeting, several women in fact dressed for meeting for worship—that is, they wore skirts and feminine flats or low heels. Nevertheless, this man felt moved to express his misogynist take on dress among Quaker women.
The gospel of comfy clothes in Quaker meetings is clearly a White, middle-class thing. What an older, White man considers comfortable is much less likely to draw disparaging commentary than what a young, Black man might wear. And a White working-class take on comfortable clothes will make many uncomfortable indeed. Let’s not even discuss grooming (nails! hair! makeup!).
I won’t promise to show up for worship wearing heels or a skirt. But I will do my best to embrace (and applaud!) all sorts of sartorial expressions.
St. Augustine, Fla.
When I started going to Quaker meeting, back in about 1980, my wife came with me. She’s a faithful Anglican so had experience of how the religious classes behave. After meeting one Sunday she said to me, “Is there a rule about shoes?” I pleaded ignorance, but started paying attention to people’s feet. And my wife was right: part of the Quaker uniform was brown, round-toed, flat-heeled shoes. (I would never have noticed myself, partly because I’m just a male of the species but mostly because I just don’t care.)
I might be over-thinking Cole Sullivan’s piece, but it strikes me that shoes are a very good metaphor for much else that afflicts postmodern Quakerism (even if Quakers don’t know they are afflicted). Replace shoes with race, gender, poverty, arms, or any one of a dozen other worthy issues that are close to the Quaker heart, and you will find the same Friends telling you what to think and how to behave in order to be properly “Quakerly.”
The author’s concern with high heels, and dress in general, has me a bit disturbed. Cole Sullivan certainly does not reflect the teachings with which I was raised as a birthright Quaker in New England. Simplicity and living simply was seen as being one of the most important tenets by which we were known. Query seven asks in part “do you observe simplicity and moderation in your manner of living?” Where has this gone? Is not this a universal Quaker tenet?
I am no longer living in New England, and Sunday mornings find me serving in a capacity that prevents me from attending First-day meetings, the closest of which is over an hour away. So I must content myself with solo meditations, the Bible, and periodic reviews of the queries in my old Faith and Practice book. Yes, I wear heels. But thankfully that does not serve to define who and what I am.
When I was growing up, when we went to meeting we put on “Sunday go-to-meeting clothes.” As a child that did not include heels, but nice shiny patent leather shoes. I loved getting dressed up. I understood it was part of the respect shown to meeting for worship. At 69, I still wear my better clothes and shoes to meeting, but I am afraid my feet do not tolerate high heels.
When I am bored in worship, I often look around our circle at the various states of people’s shoes. I then move on to thinking if this person switched socks with that person, the whole “look” would improve. I make a point of wearing shiny shoes, striped socks, and a colorful sweater in winter or a happy blouse in summer. I’ve given up my bangles so as to not disrupt the auditory silence, but remain convinced that clothes with color add depth to life. I like color and you like shoes: let us be bright birds together.
Laureen van Lierop
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Refreshing breeze or stale, hot air?
What a wonderful defence of politics and democracy as a new Quaker testimony (“The Next Testimony” by Andrew Huff, FJ Mar.). It deserves to be more widely read. George Fox, Gerard Winstanley, and John Lilburne would have thought just so.
It would be difficult for me to imagine a more fundamentally flawed statement of Friends principles. Democracy does absolutely nothing to promote Friends faith principles, and neither are Friends principles in any way compatible with democracy. Democracy is a notion of the world. Democracy depends on majority rule. Friends do not. Even if we name democracy as the best political system yet devised, it remains but a worldly notion. Friends seek the will of the Divine Guide and trust only that Authority to lead us. We do not seek majority or even unanimity but rather unity and the sense of the meeting as led by the divine Light. To conflate that spirit-based standard with democratic governance is absurd and a bit sad to read in these pages.
New Paltz, N.Y.
I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this article. As a convinced Quaker since 2010, I see that there are many “Quaker Ways” that would help our communities and our world—and yes, our churches too. Stating our democratic beliefs and explaining what that looks like could be a refreshing breeze in the midst of stale, hot air.
How many times have I said this and been told “we don’t do politics”? For me democracy is already one of my foundation testimonies. How else do we seek the truth?
How to have discussions around guns?
Back in 1961, when I was 11, my cousin, Deborah Faith Humphrey, died in a school shooting. Her death became a motivation for me.
Guns are everywhere, and violent actions are often the first ways that people try to settle a conflict (even before they understand what their conflict is about). In response, I have been offering conflict resolution workshops. I hope for more widespread teaching and use of peaceful strategies for resolving conflicts.
Wilton Manors, Fla.
After experiencing my first ever drill for an intruder alert, I have had nightmares of a man with a gun in my dreams two nights running. These aren’t flashbacks to the day I thought I’d die when I saw a gun in my junior high (1976 or so). But they remind me how much this issue touches a nerve for me. My nephew still hasn’t spoken about his experience in the crowd in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. I am so glad you are doing what you can. Many more of us need to too.
Eau Claire, Wisc.
New Zealand had a mass shooting last year which prompted our government to look at the firearms law. They carried out changes to get rid of the semi-automatic and automatic weapons. Over the last 12 months a huge amount of weapons have been handed in to police for destruction. The owners were fairly recompensed for this. I think people in the United States need to make a stand and modify the Second Amendment.
Tokoroa, New Zealand
I had an uncle who was dangerously depressed who died by suicide some years ago. There is no way he should have had access to the shotgun he used to take his life given his depth of depression. I once had a rifle pointed at my head, in my home.
In the face of the above, I still have family members who are rabid about their interpretation of the Second Amendment and fiercely committed to doing away with any and all legislation governing gun ownership. My “Second Amendment” kin can become belligerent and abusive if any suggestion of gun laws is discussed. I hope for a visionary person who can break through that wall and bring reason to those who so tenaciously cling to the availability of any and all firearms and weapons, no matter the cost.
I feel the issue of gun violence is an incredibly complex issue that goes much deeper than the gun itself. I agree with several of the author’s points and feel I have a moderate stance on gun ownership. Misinformation surrounding the removal of guns makes many gun owners defensive and pushes them to take an extremely pro-gun stance. It’s hard to have a calm, thoughtful discussion.
Our country (and perhaps the world) is so polarized that only extreme positions are acceptable. I have not found a safe space where a calm and thoughtful discussion (notice I did not say debate) can take place. By the way, I love the swords to plowshares idea and all that it stands for.
Green Lane, Pa.
My heart is sore with your family’s loss of a young child in such a tragic and preventable way. What a tribute to Daniel and the other children who died that day. I love the idea of making assault weapons into garden tools. May this become a global initiative!
Cowichan Bay, British Columbia
Is the U.S. Constitution itself a graven image? I’ve been pondering that. All innovations eventually breakdown; perhaps that is where we are.
Reviews of book reviews
Over my many decades of appreciating Friends Journal, I’ve learned from—and been moved by—powerful book reviews.
My admiration and gratitude overflows for February’s contributors Pamela Haines, Beth Taylor, J.E. McNeil, Steve Chase, Carl Blumenthal, and William Shetter. Each expanded the learning and sharing that Gabriel Ehri’s editorial found in the articles.
William Shetter’s interesting review of the book Ordinary Mystics: Spirituality for the Rest of Us (FJ Feb.) raised an issue I’d like to see pursued more. He wishes the author had said more about communal discernment. I so agree! I have a master’s in religious studies and have spent much time looking at spiritual practices around the world, including my two years in a convent. I have not discovered anywhere in history or current religious practices anything similar to Quaker communal spiritual practices. I‘m thinking of something more than clearness committees, though they are a precious tradition. Above all, meeting for worship with concern for business is way beyond all individual spiritual practices. To believe that Spirit will unite us when we humbly speak and listen with openness to each other goes beyond personal practices. It’s much easier to decide things in our solitary head than together! The humility, discipline, and trust in a Higher Power required by our meetings for business are enormous spiritual gifts we offer the world. We should be teaching it as a spiritual practice.
After reading Margaret Crompton’s book review of Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story (FJ Dec. 2019), I thought I’d share my personal story.
Ralph Sakamoto was a Japanese American visiting Japan when the war broke out. He was immediately detained and drafted into the Japanese air force, where he became a Japanese bomber pilot flying out of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Just before the war ended he was trained as a kamikaze pilot (airman who was sent as a suicidal bombing missions) but never deployed.
After the war he returned to the United States and began a business career. He traveled often, especially to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He became a Quaker and a member of Manhasset (N.Y.) Meeting on Long Island, where he and I would sit next to each other in worship most every Sunday, the two air veterans (I had flown in the U.S. Army Air Forces). Ralph and I would share combat war stories regarding our physical and mental trauma. After one of his trips he presented me with a book published in Japan which ends with the hymn sung by school children every August 6 at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
I think often of Ralph and his war suffering, and it gives me pause as I reflect on my own experiences, both as an airman and a former prisoner of war. Then I remember the words of “The Coward” by poet Eve Merriam:
You, weeping wide at war, weep with me now.
Cheating a little at peace, come near
And let us cheat together here.
And frightened, we are everyone.
Someone must make a stand.
Coward, take my coward’s hand.