What do you want to see in Friends Journal?
Since 2012, most of the monthly issues of Friends Journal have been set aside for specific themes. Every 18 months or so we poll readers and dream up ideas for future issues. Sometimes we’ll be inspired by a particular article that struck a chord with readers; other times we’ll look at a topic that Friends aren’t talking about enough. There are some relatively perennial themes (race, art, finance, social witness, outreach), but even with these, we try to find hooks that might bring fresh voices to the conversation.
This fall we’ll be coming up with our next slate of issues. Do you have ideas for topics you’d like to see in Friends Journal? Send them along to [email protected] and we’ll add them to our brainstorming list. We’ll also be asking on Facebook and Twitter, so follow us there to be part of the discussion!
A form of alchemy
One goes through a lot of emotions when publicly slandered (“Witness to Quaker Racism: A Cautionary Tale” by Sharon Smith, FJ Oct. 2014): shock, anger, resentment, and grieving. Throughout the long ordeal, other Friends meetings, Friends Journal, and yearly meeting disappointed me.
Readers may wonder: that was ten years ago, why didn’t you say this then so we could understand? I didn’t because it wasn’t your struggle to understand, and frankly, I had my hands full. It was your place not to judge with only one side. Friends were very quick to form opinions on the Quaker racism found on Cape Cod story.
My monthly meeting did its best to support us; they tried to protect us and eventually they wrote out of meeting some of the quarrelsome, bullying people. Ultimately, for me, the greater good was revealed when my 30-year Quaker practice was able to grow into a beautiful relationship with my guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. It is pain that drives us to seek God. I have been blessed with being accepted into the Self-Realization Fellowship, turning my disappointment into blossoms of spiritual energy.
I once read that “The people in power write history; the people that live it write songs.” The history I found on Google: Sharon Smith’s Friends Journal article on our perceived racism is quick to jump out. This person who lived it has danced, prayed, painted, created, and turned the experience into art. It’s a form of alchemy. I will take from life the good and bad, the fair and unfair, the pleasant and painful. This I will gratefully let show me the way to my Lord.
Former clerk of East Sandwich (Mass.) Preparative Meeting
The spirituality of music
I just ache to participate in the kind of gathering Maggie Nelson describes in “Blessed Are the Artists” (FJ June/July)! The part about creating something bigger than the individual especially speaks to me. As I grow older I find myself less and less interested in personal achievement and far more interested in being part of a larger whole. How wonderful to seek this through art of every kind.
In recent years I have recognized that I am a musician. Playing in a group is such a magical and spiritual experience. There’s no need for ego; sometimes one may play a part that stands out or a solo, but, while personally satisfying, its aim is to contribute to the group and the world that needs us so. “May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.”
Traverse City, Mich.
Art without guilt
I have had a passion for art since I was 12 years old, but as a Quaker, I was always ambivalent about this interest (“The Art the World Needs” by Martin Kelley, FJ June/July). I worried that it was somewhat self-centered and frivolous. I felt I should spend energy on more worthwhile and socially useful activities. Everything else had higher priority in my day. I indulged my art periodically; I did not give my art the time required to really develop my art practice. Long periods of abstinence meant when I restarted I had lost the feeling for whatever theme I had been working and would be off in a new direction. I daydreamed at night about works I never realized. I saw myself as a dabbler and a failure. I fretted that I had wasted my talents. Meanwhile, this frustration meant I was unable to enjoy the achievements I had accomplished outside of art.
Then an event gave me validation. A woman came up to me and said I wouldn’t know her but she felt I had saved her life and wanted me to know. She had suffered severe depression and been suicidal over a long period. One day on an impulse, she bought a ceramic plate from her local art shop which spoke to her. I had decorated the plate with a simple line image of a tree in mid winter with only two autumnal leaves and two blackbirds singing in the branches. She hung this on a wall in her bedroom where she could see it when she first woke. Seeing the image every morning gave her the courage to face each day. When she approached me, she had fully recovered and was back at work getting on with her life.
Since that time I have received similar unexpected feedback from others for works from sculpture to painting, all unaware of the spiritual process at the time of creation: I have simply opened my mind and expressed something intuitively, and have no idea which work will speak to another’s condition. I am often amazed at the depth of meaning that another may gain from something I have created spontaneously. I am 73 now and reconsidering taking up art again: this time as a spiritual journey of exploration without the burden of guilt.
More than once I’ve come upon the word “frivolous” leveled at art by Friends, and I hope Friends can disabuse themselves of that view of art. You have written eloquently and compellingly of the power of art to heal and to inspire.
Consider. A 40,000-year-old flute made of vulture bone was discovered in 2008 in southern Germany. It was found with fragments of mammoth ivory flutes. Stunning cave drawings in Chauvet, France, date to about 37,000 years ago. That shows us humanity’s musical roots. Life for humans in that time was a struggle to survive, yet in their hard lives, they were driven to create and enjoy art. Today, we share that drive. That nature within us is anything but frivolous.
Remembering the wrong side of justice
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stipulated that all escaped slaves, upon capture, be returned to the one who purchased or inherited them and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate. Essentially, this law made it illegal for anyone in the United States to provide aid to human beings escaping slavery, mutilation, branding, torture, extortion, and rape.
Fast forward to today, as many as 3.4 million people born in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are now living in the United States, more than double the estimated 1.5 million people in 2000. About 55 percent of them are undocumented.
Why are they risking everything to come here?
According to the Council on Foreign Relations: “El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. El Salvador became the world’s most violent country not at war in 2015, when gang-related violence brought its homicide rate to 103 per hundred thousand . . . all three countries have significantly higher homicide rates than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. . . . Extortion is also rampant.”
I think there is an important comparison to be made between the situation in 1850 and the current migrant crisis happening on the border. Upon reflection, it always strikes me how little is remembered about the slave kidnappers, plantation owners, Fugitive Slave Law enforcers, and politicians who endorsed pro-slavery legislation.
George Cassidy Payne
Finding deep respect
The article by Gerri Williams on Arlie Hochschild’s book, Strangers in Their Own Land, (FJ Feb.) helps to clarify for me the many-layered and challenging task before each one of us as we try to find our way forward in a world full of injustice, anger, and division: deep respect for those who, from their experience of oppression, find themselves unable to scale the empathy wall; unswerving commitment to stand and act against structures of oppression; caution about stereotyping and name calling among easy targets, whether one’s own people or others; a willingness to engage with the complexities of the often charged and poorly understood interplay of class and race. My prayer is that we all can find a solid place to stand, grounded in love, as we strive to widen our circles, be teachable, and reach for that of God in everyone.
In Arthur Fink’s “The Dance Studio Is My Other Meetinghouse” (FJ June/July), the photo of dancers hanging from a building on page 17 does not contain full credit. It should include the indication that the performers are with BANDALOOP dance company.