As the wife of a fight master and convinced Quaker, I thank you for attempting to wade in these turbulent waters of gun play (“Viewpoint” by Kevin Inouye, FJ June/July). My husband, David, and I have often discussed the apparent dissonance between what we believe and what he does as his craft and his art. Is he promoting violence? I do not know. I do know that he teaches actors not just realistic-looking stage combat, but also the effects and consequences of violent actions. I think you both work by holding up a mirror to us. Those willing to look might be surprised by what they see.
One thing I love about the Quaker way is our discipline of asking queries. I think if you’re asking how to reconcile the art of staged violence with the path of being a Friend, that’s a rich inquiry.
Amy Ward Brimmer
Childhood and mental health
I appreciate Friend Lynn Fitz-Hugh’s advices for Friends and Friends meetings when engaging with those with mental health issues (“Friends Meetings and Personality Disorders,” FJ May). Much good can come of a better understanding of these conditions, and of learning what is likely possible and what is likely not possible.
However there was one part of Fitz-Hugh’s writing that I found not helpful, and in fact might be harmful to others in some instances. She wrote: “People who have been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder (BPD) have had extremely toxic childhoods. Generally, they have been abused, either sexually, physically, or emotionally.”
The current consensus is that BPD relates to some sort of interaction between genetic and environmental conditions. But to so readily assign blame to the family and those who love the individual simply adds to the pain of blameless family members who have already suffered in dealing with the highly disruptive behavior that is characteristic of personality disorder. Testimony of those with personality disorders needs to be considered in the context of the nature of the disorder, and unreliable testimony is one of its characteristics. As pointed out elsewhere in this issue of Friends Journal, dealing with the mental illness of a family member can disrupt the well-being of an entire family, and we should not add to the challenges they face without clearly established evidence.
The parents of those with mental illness start out like anyone else. That includes some, of course, who are abusive, but far more who are not. What strangers see is a parent yelling at a sweet-faced child or bribing a little brat. What they do not see is the years of accumulated desperation as parents exhaust every possible strategy to intervene in a slow-moving train wreck. The children themselves cannot see their own illness, and yet there is no denying the sadness of their lives, so therefore everything must be their parents’ fault.
I prefer to try to see things as they are, which includes the reality that we have very little control, and that most mental illness is innate to the sufferer. We cannot easily predict how a child will react to our parenting attempts. Whatever our intentions, one thing does lead to another, and our choices will sometimes lead to bad outcomes. If a hurricane destroys a child, how should we feel about the butterfly who fluttered its wings?
The May 2014 issue of Friends Journal on Mental Health and Wellness engaged me from the front cover to the last page. I made it a point to accumulate a few copies of this issue that had been left at my meeting to pass on. The variety of topics and perspectives makes this issue a valuable resource to share widely with both professionals in the mental health field and other families affected by mental illness.
My husband and I have been the safety net for three generations of family members; 25 percent of whom had a major mental illness, needed a safe spot for their children to live while they regained wellness, or had a child with a major mental illness that jeopardized the well-being of their other children. In the past 40 years we have watched the steady decline of residential facilities and day treatment programs, some of which are better closed. But others were excellent, caring facilities and programs that are sorely missed. We have had to contend with the lack of community-based outpatient services, short-term residential stays, and emergency crisis facilities that have not been adequately funded to fill the void. Granted, there are new effective medications, treatment options, and therapies, but these are not always available nor affordable. The daily care and financial cost of dealing with mental illness has fallen on the shoulders of family members and the local community. The situation is especially critical in those states that did not accept the Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act.
People often ask us how we can do what we do. We usually respond that we have little choice, especially when minor children are involved. However, being a Quaker helps keep me centered and grounded so I can respond with love and concern, rather than with anger and force. Although my husband is not a Quaker and doesn’t share my faith, we do share the same values and Alternatives to Violence Project responses to the daily challenges of living with somebody who is often nonfunctional, suicidal, explosive, or confrontational.
I am deeply appreciative of the willingness of the authors to share their individual experiences and the Truth as they see it. Thank you for sharing your stories and how they relate to Quaker testimonies and practice.
Lake City, Fla.
Thank you, C. Wess Daniels, for sharing your wrenching personal story in “Suicide and the Things We Carry” (FJ May). How can we help others who are suffering in similar ways? Whatever we do, it will help to be open about our problems, and to see them from other perspectives, and to get to know them well. We have heard about destigmatizing behavioral disorders like depression and paranoia, but a further step awaits us as we seek to become a more enlightened society: let us destigmatize suicide. Issues like suicide and assisted suicide are not resolved by condemning them as immoral or criminal. While society has an appropriate interest in helping us make informed decisions, I believe I have a fundamental human right to end my own life. It is sad that suicide usually happens in secret. That can’t be good. I urge Friends to give careful and worshipful consideration to end-of-life decisions.
Iowa City, Iowa
Seres Kyrie has an excellent way of teaching her children (“Quakers and Unschooling,” FJ Apr.). All can learn as they grow. Both of my sons started in a public school system and later converted to online education to actually learn. I agree with Kyrie’s view of many of our public school systems. The standardizing of our students nationally through “industrial education” examinations is not appropriate in teaching. Hopefully, a holistic or Quaker educational view can expand in our global systems. This approach would look at each pupil’s need, as opposed to forcing individuals into a pre-existing industrial economic conformity for each life.
While I respect decisions that individual families make regarding their children’s education, the decision to pull your child out of public school or to send your child to a private school is a personal decision, not a Quaker response to concerns about public education. Most families do not have the luxury of having both parents available to unschool or homeschool full-time, to purchase curricular resources, or to take ten-day-long field trips. At least one of those parents, and in many cases both parents, is working a job with traditional hours and responsibilities. Public education, a system that provides a structure compatible with many working families, educates most of the children in the United States, despite its perceived flaws.
I say “perceived” because I challenge Friends to conduct an honest assessment of one’s local school district rather than simply accepting talking points or making assumptions about the state of public education. As school districts across the country move toward methods of more individualized instruction, they’re moving away from the “skill and drill” methods of instruction many of us may have experienced as children and are providing students with real-world problem solving that incorporates technology, group work, and access to global learning experiences that are difficult to replicate in a homeschool setting.
Rather than decrying the system as broken and choosing not to participate, what are Friends doing to improve the system and the lives of children attending local public schools? Are meetings adopting local public schools to offer provision of material and volunteer resources to supplement limited local and state funding sources? Are Friends providing tutoring services or filling backpacks for children whose parents can’t afford to?
Working in or volunteering for a public school is an opportunity to bear witness to our Quaker testimony of seeing that of God in everyone, regardless of income, learning ability, or political or religious affiliation. There is important work to be done in our public schools, and the system would benefit from having more Friends working within that system to improve it rather than simply choosing not to be a part of it.
Is it an either/or question? I think it’s not that simple. There are lots of ways to support public education. Not all of them require putting one’s child or children through it. As parents, we have the individual child’s needs to consider and to meet the best way we can. As community members, we have a different set of possible roles, including school board member. It’s the one-size-fits-all approach that is in error. Friends are more creative than that!
Queries for healthier conversations
As additional queries to my May article, “Religious Wounding,” elders might consider these questions when Friends habitually wound others in worship:
- What is our meeting doing to invite Friends to talk about their religious wounds, and to actively challenge and support Friends while they process and heal their pain?
- What is our meeting doing to speak directly yet empathically to both our religious wounders and their victims? Do our elders work consciously and consistently to heal their own memories of abuse in childhood, so as to function more effectively in spiritual leadership?
- Does our meeting tell both religious wounders and their victims they have some personal responsibility to work actively to find non-abusive synonyms to describe their experiences?
- Does our meeting instruct both wounders and victims to choose compassion, and require Friends to stop wounding other Friends?
- When vocal ministry uses metaphors that make some uncomfortable, does an adequate period of silence (perhaps seven minutes) follow that ministry? Is there opportunity for other worshippers to receive the message without interference and reflect on what was said, even if some don’t like the language in which the message is clothed? When one person’s message follows closely after the preceding message, is the second speaker always reminded to allow adequate silence between messages?
- Who is available to support a vocal minister who feels censored or shunned? How can that support be provided in ways that heal not only the relationship, but also the entire meeting?
- When a religiously wounding Friend shows no clear pattern of reform over a six-month period of active, compassionate instruction by elders, which is more important: the spiritual health of the worshipping community or continued hospitality to someone who regularly wounds others? When does it become appropriate to advise that attender/member to seek out a different group with which to affiliate? Is this an instance for a modern use of the traditional Friends practice of “reading out of meeting”?
Changing positions on climate change
Friend John Spears’s letter to the Forum praising the virtues of fossil fuels as “vital to human flourishing and prosperity” (FJ June/July) is a letter I might have written not so very long ago. By participating in the development of an Annapolis (Md.) Meeting minute on climate change, however, I now understand that by burning fossil fuels we are rapidly adding carbon dioxide to the Earth’s carbon cycle, thus warming our planet, destroying ecosystems, and putting human civilization at risk.
In response to Mr. Spears’s question, “What would Jesus do?” I believe Jesus would encourage us to do what is right and wean ourselves, as quickly as possible, from fossil fuels. I hope Friends everywhere will provide private examples and public leadership, which are critically needed at this time, on the issue of climate change.
Annapolis Meeting’s minute can be read at fdsj.nl/AFM-minute.
Seeking Poetry Editor
Friends Journal is seeking out a new volunteer poetry editor. Information on how to apply can be found at friendsjournal.org/poetryeditor.