Forum, December 2020

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Student Voices Project

The eighth annual Student Voices Project is underway! This year we’re co-hosting two virtual writing workshops with Friends General Conference on December 6 and 19. In January and February, we’ll also be offering some virtual office hours. Register at

2020–2021 Theme: Learning from 2020

It’s been quite a year since the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down. In March 2020, everything about daily living seemed to change or shut down, including schools and meetinghouses. From remote learning and virtual worship services to Black Lives Matter protests and racial justice work to the worsening climate crisis and divisive U.S. politics, there’s a lot to process on a daily basis. Meanwhile, we’re staying home more, being more intentional about connecting with others (thank you, technology), recommitting to our faith communities in new ways, and generally missing the relative ease of life before this whole mess started. Let’s write about it.

Prompt: What have you learned about yourself and your community in the past year?

Submission Guidelines

  • Must be a middle or high school student (grades 6–12) at a Friends school, or a Quaker student in another educational venue.
  • One submission per student.
  • Must have an original title, and it must be typed.
  • Word count: between 300 and 1,500 words.
  • Submit individual entries via Submittable (link on our website).

Deadline: February 15, 2021.
Instructions and details can be found at

Distinctly American worries?

“Western Karma” is an interesting article but seems to have a lot of (American?) worry and anxiety about guilt and cultural misappropriation (Evan Welkin, FJ Nov.). I think this is misplaced.

Ironically it also strikes me as full of distinctly U.S. assumptions of cultural and personal superiority. Why not just accept that all cultures are equally valid in their own terms (a sort of extension to “that of God in everyone”) and equally able to stand up to so-called cultural appropriation?

The East has been coming to the West since Yogananda, Maharishi, D. T. Suzuki, and indeed very much earlier—not appropriated but proselytising in effect.

Trevor Bending
Marple, UK

Middle-class mannerisms?

Respectfully: here we go again, the old “Let’s change Quakerism because it’s not what I want” mantra (“The Middle-class Capture of Quakerism and Quaker Process” interview with George Lakey by Donald W. McCormick, FJ Oct.). Every local meeting takes Quaker tenets and principles and gently puts its own spin on them. Much like any plant, animal, organization, or even religion, all must evolve to survive in the environment in which they find themselves. That is why attending a rural meeting, while still under the umbrella of Quakerism, probably will be a different experience than attending a meeting in a larger town or city. While still being guided by the big Quaker picture, a meeting must reflect its local attendees and members. That being said, I am a firm believer in the statement, “Decisions are made by those who show up.” Thanks to George Lakey for his continued dedication to the causes that we Quakers hold dear.

Dan Battisti
Woolwich, N.J.

Lakey says he is “concerned that Quakerism has been captured by a professional middle-class preoccupation with process,” one which prioritizes avoiding conflict over getting the job done. I’ll grant that we sometimes move more slowly than necessary, but I question whether this is the result of middle-class politesse. It is often the middle-class, managerial sensibility that is most impatient with process, dismissive of dissent, and wants what it wants when it wants it. Process, as I see it, upholds one central value: respectful and loving attention to the voice of every Friend, which entails that most difficult of disciplines: being prepared to see another point of view by stepping back from ego-driven commitment to change one’s mind. 

We do this poorly, so I think we need to be careful not to take a useful corrective like Lakey’s in ways that he clearly would not approve: to validate the imperiousness of the most vocal and forceful Friends. The best guard, as Lakey suggests, is to cultivate a deeper understanding of the actual spiritual purpose of Quaker process. As for the practical need to move forward, a clerk who knows their business can usually make a determination of “the sense of the meeting” that acknowledges the need to act without stifling dissent. If things have to drag on longer than some would wish, well, we are still Quakers, and how we decide is often as least as important as what we decide, or when.

Michael Robinson
Riverton, N.J.

Seeing faces, hearing voices

Cincinnati (Ohio) Meeting has used Zoom for worship and committee meetings since the pandemic began (“Separated Worship” by Ellen McBride, FJ Oct.). We have experienced powerful worship, many times as good as if we were in-person. Our pastor gives a message for about 10 to 15 minutes and the remainder is open worship. When I am in worship in my living room, the Spirit feels as alive as if I were worshiping in the meetinghouse. 

There are some who would prefer in-person worshipping. Our Ministry and Counsel Committee is considering continuing with Zoom worship after the pandemic has concluded, as well as in-person worship. Zoom has also allowed for former members living far away to worship with us as well as traveling friends.

One Sunday I worshiped with Friends in Australia, Connecticut, and my own meeting, which would have been impossible otherwise. During the week I worship with Pendle Hill. In each venue, I feel the “presence in the midst.”

There are some people who choose not to participate, being unfamiliar with the technology. I am of the opinion that if a person can use a cell phone, they are able to participate in Zoom technology.

Dick Patterson
Cincinnati, Ohio

I read the article about virtual Quaker meeting and have such a different take on the COVID-19 separation. I have lived in Leadville, Colo., which is a good two hours into the mountains from Denver, for eight years now. There is no nearby Friends meeting that is accessible all year round so I could not become a member of a Quaker community. My home meeting is in Nashville, Tenn. Before we were asked to shut down, I had been meditating by myself in the front room at the same time as Nashville Friends. I could sometimes feel a connection, but now, I can see faces and hear voices. It has made worship more real for me, and I appreciate the virtual access. I serve on Nashville Meeting’s Prayer Committee and continue to donate quarterly to my beloved community. Zoom meetings have been a lifesaver for me!

Annie Livingston-Garrett
Leadville, Colo.

Are we, as Friends centering in separated meetings, able to continue in the stillness and share our insights with distant Friends through practical media (e.g. phone, Internet, in person at someone’s home)? Can we share thoughts, inspiration, and service gleaned from virtual experience in the silence? Even in live meetings for worship, surely the end goal is then to go out into the world to share our insights and concerns.

Keith Robert Maddock
Toronto, Ontario

Too much discernment, too little action

Kat Griffith’s “Careful Discernment or Spiritual Timidity?” (FJ Oct.) is an article I would have liked to have written; it speaks my mind. Why haven’t I written something similar? The answer is in the article: too much discernment and too little action on my part. We seek unanimity and internal peace at the cost of being ineffective and just bland. A timely piece that deserves wide sharing.

Chris Newsam
North Yorkshire, UK

Meeting for good ideas

Thank you for Michael Wajda’s thoughtful and helpful article, “Process or Faithfulness” (FJ Oct.) My favorite line was the quote from Fran Taber about discernment (99 percent spirituality, 1 percent process). When I talk with other younger Friends about Quaker process, I often hear frustration. Millennial Friends see it as a tool that can shut out our voices. It can be confusing for newcomers to navigate how we do things as Quakers. I have been Quaker for ten years and I’m still fuzzy on Quaker process!

Thank you for the opportunity to look at Quaker process in a more positive light. I think we have a lot of work to do when it comes to reclaiming that 99 percent of discernment.

Johanna Jackson
State College, Pa.

The author responds:

Indeed, we have a lot of work to do to sink back to the 99 percent spirituality, not just in our business process, but also in our worship. When I lead workshops on Quaker worship, I often use a drawing of a Quaker meetinghouse with two entrance doors. The sign over one door says, “Meeting for Worship.” The sign over the door says, “Meeting for Good Ideas.” Then, I ask pointedly, which meeting would you like to attend?

Michael Wajda
Bennington, Vt.

Discern, determine, and decide 

Friends are most certainly my spiritual community; however, modern representative democracy is my “true religion,” in the Latin sense of the word religio (“A Spiritual Response in Times of Division,” Oct.).

If we are to live in an age of reason, we must live in an age of contention, for reason alone can give us opposing and yet valid answers. My own holy trinity of democracy is: abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. There can be no middle ground, negotiated settlement of these issues, yet each side speaks from a valid viewpoint. 

Eventually we have to discern, determine, and decide what our laws say about these and other contentious issues while always allowing for the possibility of change in the future.

David G. Tehr
Bassendean, Australia

Cold pizza for breakfast

I googled something like “Quaker money addiction,” and this is what came up (“Letting the Higher Power Do It,” by Anonymous, FJ June/July 2019). That seems like a sign since I also have a problem with food and thought about going back to Overeaters Anonymous (OA) last week. I am currently web-surfing while avoiding both work, journaling, dishes, and looking for an online OA meeting, after having eaten cold pizza for breakfast (which I know is bad for me). The universe/my Higher Power had other ideas as this article was the first search result. Thank you.

Knoxville, Tenn.

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