Forum, April 2023

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Friends and the liturgical seasons

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate “Lent with the Episcopalians” by Margaret Kelso (FJ Feb.). My childhood included those same stories, but I never even began to meet Jesus. During my last 20 years as a Quaker, I have fellowshipped regularly with people from Catholic, Episcopal, UCC, and other Christian churches. I have developed a loving relationship with my Creator, Spirit, God, and close connection with the Holy Spirit. However, I do not identify as Christian because of not believing in Jesus as the Christ.

Rachel Kopel
San Diego, Calif.

I was raised as an Episcopalian, and my mother was devout. Although I loved the principles of Christianity as they were presented to me throughout my youth, in many ways, I came to feel that the church stood between me and the Jesus I understood. Our original Episcopalian Church was Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and our reverend was an ethics-based speaker who tied Bible readings to real-world behavior. But we moved, and church changed for me. The rotating cast of ministers in our new church, with a falling membership, seemed hollow, as though they were playing a part, not living a creed. I left the Episcopalian church and tried many others, including Congregational, Baptist, and Unitarian, then I found the Society of Friends. Here I found Jesus in the members. It wasn’t about the institution but the soul and the heart. In the Society of Friends, I discovered something else. In the other churches, the whole spirit of the place depended on the particular minister presiding, but in the Society of Friends, I found the Spirit present in the different meetings I attended. It was a living, soulful presence.

Jo Ann Wright
Woodbury, N.J.

Marking the events in the life of Jesus—from his healing, teaching, death, and resurrection—is one way to an inner transformation of our lives through the action of the (Holy) Spirit. Whether in silent Quaker worship or in a liturgical worship, we are ultimately drawn to an Inner Teacher, to the judgment and discernment of the Most Wise.

Martin Demetrios Wheeler
Hartford, Conn.

Quaker representations and identity

I’m all for supporting the leadings of Friends and their calls for social justice (“Friends Ask Quaker Oats to Change Its Name” by Sharlee DiMenichi, FJ Jan. online; Mar. print), but this call against cultural appropriation and the Quaker Oats guy is, frankly, a bit embarrassing.

Alessa Giampaolo Keener
Baltimore, Md.

The name “Quaker” was originally a nickname used by enemies, which the Friends then adopted in a “cultural appropriation.” I agree that through this discussion we are not making the world a better place. Even as Quakers, we only stand on the “shoulders of giants.” What Quakers are known for mostly comes from generations before us.

We don’t know ourselves what Quakers are, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many splits. As a Christian Quaker, I wonder: should they now put the “inner Christ” on the box? Or an empty circle of chairs, as a symbol for a shrinking community? In the seventeenth century, people also spoke badly or wrongly about us. If we hadn’t been talked about at all, we probably wouldn’t exist either.

Olaf Radicke
Krefeld, Germany

The use of the Aunt Jemima character wasn’t cultural appropriation: it was just straight-up racism. Suggesting that a White male in seventeenth-century garb stereotypes modern Quakers as old-fashioned is not even close to a good comparison.

I can understand Friends wanting Quaker Oats to stop using that name since the company has no connection to the Society of Friends, but they shouldn’t be citing the Jemima case as a precedent here.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen
San Francisco, Calif.

There are points in here that feel to me to walk scarily close to asking for a Quaker version of reparations. I don’t like that. While I don’t care for the brand, I have never felt like the Quaker Oats guy was bad publicity. I teach Quakerism to 18–22-year-olds and they think it’s funny and are usually surprised to learn there is no connection. That humor and surprise are teaching tools that open a door to a conversation and curiosity. I think it would be way more interesting to try and find ways to hack the Quaker Oats guy to use him for our own purposes!

PepsiCo using a White, male Quaker mascot reinforces a singular identity: White and male, and now pretty old-fashioned. It fixes that identity in our minds. Using these images and stereotypes, we play into decentering all those Quakers who “do not fit” the stereotype.

Quakers are global, and Quakers are radically diverse: racially, politically, theologically, economically, in gender, sexuality, religiously, etc. Continuing to use brands and mascots of the old, White Quaker man forces a representation that continues to reproduce an image of “a Quaker” that does not serve Quakers (or anyone else for that matter).

I would like to see us Friends do better with the way we talk about, relate to, lift up, and represent Quakerism worldwide, and focus our time and energy on the present concerns and needs of our communities.

C. Wess Daniels
Greensboro, N.C.

Coming to Friends

“From Atheist to Friends” by John Marsh is a beautiful, and for me, reaffirming essay (FJ Feb.). Though raised in a meeting, and though my mother was a member, neither she nor I had a belief in God or Christianity. Still, all my values are completely in tune with Quaker values, and I am very at home in meeting. I guess I feel a sense of Spirit in all things of nature, though I don’t know what that means other than my commitment to nonviolence to the living and nonliving elements of our world.

Kathryn McCreary
Orland, Calif.

I agree with others that John Marsh’s remarks were wonderfully written and entirely authentic. I am also a published author, an academic political scientist, and a Middle East specialist, and I have found my heart’s home at Muncie (Ind.) Meeting. It has been exhilarating for me, and I am grateful for the many who have come before me in establishing the Quaker approach to Joshua of Palestine and to finding ways to engage the Creating by means of him and the “Spirit” forces that (for me), because of him, help me connect to Creation and the Creating.

As for God, I hope Marsh never ontologically finds out what he/she/it is, for when that happens his brain will have departed. We should just let our brains and endocrine system enjoy the silence and become more and more connected to Creation and its sustaining forces.

Charles H. Winslow
Muncie, Ind.

What God wants?

It’s not about the kind of God we want, it’s about the kind of person God wants (“Surviving Religious Trauma” by Hayden Hobby, FJ Feb.).

The parable of the prodigal son perfectly illustrates the relationship of our loving God with His/Her loving child. The prodigal son did not return saying, “I am not with sin. I deserve more of your generosity. The problem is with all the evil institutions and others.” First, he returns. Second, he has learned in his gut, and confesses that he was wrong. Third, he humbly asks his father for the minimum required for life. Fourth, he accepts his father’s grace.

Evil in the world and God’s handling of it is a mystery. When Job complained about the world, God blessed him with a question (which is also the answer): “Where were you when I created the heavens and the earth?”

George Powell
Carmel Valley, Calif.

Does it really matter what kind of god we want? Either there is a god of some description and we must learn to deal with a god who loves, despises, or is wholly indifferent to us; or there is no god and we must ask why so many have invented so many.

Elaine Pagels has suggested the apocalyptic writers gave us a Satan to stand in for all the people and forces we hate. Perhaps the gods are invented to stand in for all we fear or despair of understanding, including the possibility of ever being truly loved or happy.

My personal view is that the less we think or talk about God, the happier and more useful, to ourselves and those around us, we can be.

Arnold Karr
Lexington, S.C.

Technology and the Holy Spirit

The commenting Friends about the efficiency and effectiveness of our current available technologies employed to enhance opportunity toward worship ignore one important aspect (“Mixed Blessings” by Sharlee DiMenichi, FJ Mar.). It is this vital issue I wish to address. Presence of the Divine is not bound by contingency. Neither pandemic, nor geography, nor technological awkwardness, nor isolation, nor community hinders the offer of Presence of the Holy. Our very discomfiture may indeed be the vehicle we might find to grow the holiness within. Circumstances, by definition, alter. In this hour of wretchedly shifting certainties, are we not remiss to let ourselves be distracted from that which remains ever constant?

Judith Robinson
Waco, Tex.

​​Some of the comments regarding virtual meetings reflected negatively on virtual meetings and disregarded that spiritual worship with others does not require their physical presence. It seems to me that is fundamental.

Stephen Anderson
Voorhees, N.J.

In defense of hybrid worship 

It took time for me to acclimatize to the online platform for worship, learning, and staff meetings (“Screen-Weary and Lonely” by Helen Berkeley, FJ Mar.). Regarding the Friends online experience, I find the abrupt end to the meeting as I close the browser to be jarring. I am grateful for the tech making the meetings possible, but miss the in-person fellowship after the meeting that eases me back into the day.

Sheila G.
Newmarket, Ontario

This no doubt well-intentioned article shines a light on a growing concern I have for our faith community: that Friends believe what is true for them is also true for others as well. The entire premise of this article is based on the idea that the author’s definition of what is simple and plain is universal for all Friends. I do not believe that this is the case.

Just as some Friends do not agree with me on which baseball team is better, Boston Red Sox or Philadelphia Phillies (please, the answer is obvious!), others do not agree with me on how I feel about using funds for the upkeep of historic meetinghouses.

I believe disagreement between Friends is natural and healthy. I believe we should have rich and vibrant discussions with one another about the things we care about in our faith communities so we can go out into the world and be ready to handle conflict with love and compassion. Rather than assuming we all think and feel the same way about worship and other aspects of our faith, we should be brave enough to have courageous conversations and find out what one another really thinks.

Guinevere Janes
Upper Darby, Pa.

I wonder how I would feel if I was a person who was able to attend worship because of Zoom and I came across this article, finding that my virtual presence in worship has caused someone else to flee to their car and weep.

I have a completely different perspective from the author. I began attending a Quaker meeting for the first time during the pandemic. Although I attend in person, I feel that those who join via Zoom are valuable and treasured presences in our meetings, and I can’t imagine the meeting without them. Even if I have never met them in person, I look forward to seeing them each week and hearing their voices. I would be deeply saddened if any of them thought that providing them the opportunity to join us was somehow diminishing our personal or collective experiences.

It is cliché to say that we live in a different world now, but we do. I believe that Zoom is here to stay, and instead of bemoaning the change from the old way, let’s embrace the new way and work to be as inclusive as possible.

Daneille V.
Dayton, Ohio

In hope of gentler methods than temptation

We’d better not dismiss Jesus’s clear recommendation: to pray that God not expose us to temptation (“Welcoming Temptation” by John Andrew Gallery, FJ Feb.). A legend about temptations that Jesus may well have faced earlier is no justification for welcoming them ourselves. Yes, Satan in the Hebrew scriptures serves as God’s agent for painfully testing human loyalty; and in Walter Wink’s description of Satan’s role in the Christian gospels, Satan’s testing appears sometimes necessary, i.e. to undermine Peter’s naïve confidence (before the Crucifixion) that “I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Whether we attribute temptations to Satan, to ourselves, or to God (as ultimate cause of whatever happens), they clearly help God make us aware of our inadequacies—sometimes with considerable harm to ourselves and others, leaving us with kinds of knowledge we might far rather not have learned, i.e. “what happens if I push this?,” “what does that fruit really taste like?,” “what could go wrong?”

We are far better off when God can bring insight by gentler means, as implied by the prayer’s request not to subject us to such testing.

Forrest Curo
San Diego, Calif.

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