Forum, December 2021

Photo by fauxels on Pexels

Of mice and Friends

I just loved “A Quakerly Method for Mouse Removal” by Jan Hutton (FJ Oct.). It is so tender and funny and full of love. I can see the lady who wrote it is a lovely person with a great sense of humor, the kind I would like to have for myself!

Adela Zepeda
Mexico

This is a delightful article! Thank you, Jan Hutton, for your humanity (rodentity?), good humor, and a fine example of the peace testimony being applied to all of the universe’s creatures. Chocolate, eh? I might have been a mouse in a previous life!

Donna Sassaman
Cowichan Bay, British Columbia

Hmmmm. What happens when we have a mouse plague? Hundreds of millions of mice destroying everything in their path—even sealed plastic containers and insulated electric wires in cars and houses—to get at food.

I’m not sure the good folks in western New South Wales would be convinced by our humble methods.

Kerry Shipman
Dorrigo, Australia

Who speaks for Quakers?

The statement “The truth may be alarming . . .” throws the entire article “Visions of a Strong Quaker Future” by Johanna Jackson (FJ Oct.) into doubt. She has no idea if what she thinks is the truth actually is the truth. It is alarming that she believes that it is, and more alarming that she presents it as such. Perhaps “The information we present may be alarming” might be more accurate.

Be very, very, careful of using the universal “we”; such usage has become all too common in the speech and writing of Quakers. Statements that begin with “We need . . .” or “We ought . . .” are usually incorrect. No one can speak for all Quakers.

George Hebben
Plainwell, Mich.

And then there is racism, which means that Friends welcome some people who come to meeting and not others. Friends invite some newcomers and not others to social hours and committee and business meetings.

And then there is classism, for we are schooled, professionally working, educatedly speaking, and quietly dressed. Others stand out.

And then there is language, specifically Friends’ use of certain words—possibly different in each Friends meeting—to describe what we are, or wish we were, doing. It shows up in introductory handbills about Friends that put history and jargon together and give newcomers no reason to return to meeting.

John Maynard
New York, N.Y.

The author responds:
I agree with George Hebben about the importance of careful speech and avoiding generalizations. However, it is not possible to do the work that I am called to do, some of which is advocacy, without speaking somewhat to the overall picture. In writing this article, I decided to offer difficult truths that had been shared with JT and me. Some of my work in the Quaker community is about pointing out the prevalence of these patterns.

After reading George’s comment, I took a look at the use of the word “we” in the article. I wondered: what would it be like if those statements were not true? Could some of them be untrue? I came up with a list of converse statements, some of which I will share here:

  • Perhaps Quakers are not called to be imaginative and brave in the future.
  • Maybe there are Friends who do not yearn to be together, or who feel they do not have strong hearts and knowledge.
  • Maybe there are those among us who are unable to rise to the call of radical equality.

These statements may be true in some cases; however, they seem to undersell our potential as a group. A question I have remaining for George is this: What part(s) of the article conflict with your personal experience of Truth? What do you envision for a strong Quaker future? That is what I am really curious about.

Reader John Maynard points out many of the cultural problems that are present in the Religious Society of Friends. These include racism, classism, and a consolidation of power, as well as the barriers described in my article. Addressing barriers is urgent and important work! In writing for Friends Journal, I needed to let go of several meaningful topics in order to share about only a specific few.

Fortunately, other Friends out in the world can speak more directly to John’s concerns. These include Ayesha Imani’s QuakerSpeak video, “How Does Culture Influence Quaker Worship?”; Lisa Graustein’s article “Noticing Patterns of Oppression and Faithfulness” (Friendsjournal.org Feb. 2020). Don McCormick’s interview with George Lakey, “The Middle-class Capture of Quakerism and Quaker Process” (FJ Oct. 2020).

All of these Friends have helped me get clear on the kind of Quakerism I want to see in the future. They motivate me to change my life in subtle ways as I begin to work toward that future. Prophetic voices like these sometimes make me uncomfortable. However, they call me into the fullness of life.

Johanna Jackson
State College, Pa.

Confronting our own history

Bob Dockhorn’s article “Beyond Walls and Fences” (FJ Oct.) refers to education of Germans about their past during the Holocaust. I’m reminded of an article I read some time ago on that subject. It said that there are historical signs on German streets bearing notices like “Jews are not permitted to ride the streetcar.” What if something similar were done here in the United States, the writer wondered, to educate us about our past? For example, there could be a sign on Wall Street saying “Twenty healthy slaves to be sold at auction on Saturday at the docks.” Should we not confront our history?

Judith Inskeep
Gwynedd, Pa.

Defending Penn

Francis G. Hutchins’s evaluation of William Penn’s relationship to Native Americans (“Neighbors or Tenants?,” FJ Oct.) seems to be based on two assumptions: (1) William Penn did not treat Native Americans the way we, 340 years later, would have liked him to; and (2) Penn is to blame for the fact that his sons, his heirs, did not treat Native Americans with the same respect Penn did. Both assumptions are irrelevant and lead to an erroneous conclusion. Penn’s relationship with Native Americans was not a disaster, as the author claims; quite the contrary.

Even before he came to Pennsylvania, Penn indicated his attitude toward the Native American population in a letter he instructed his surveyor general, Thomas Holme, to read to their leaders. In it he said he hoped to enjoy his colony “with your love and consent, that we may always live together as neighbors and friends.” While Benjamin West’s painting is certainly a fantasy, historians generally agree that Penn did meet with Native American leaders to express these sentiments personally. Throughout the approximately four years he lived in Pennsylvania, Penn attempted to understand Native American culture, customs, and language; he welcomed them to his home at Pennsbury, and they willingly came.

While what Penn offered to purchase land from Native Americans may not have had equivalent value to the land acquired, he did nonetheless purchase it from them; his intentions were always honorable. Consequently, peace prevailed between Native Americans and colonists throughout his lifetime and beyond—in fact, for 70 years—in contrast to the more violent confrontations between such groups in New England and Virginia.

Penn was not perfect; but had his heirs and subsequent political leaders of this country followed Penn’s example, Native Americans would have been treated much better than they were.

John Andrew Gallery
Philadelphia, Pa.

On becoming a public Quaker 

I appreciate the “Writing a Spiritual Autobiography” video so much (QuakerSpeak.com interview with Don McCormick, Nov.). I have begun to notice that I too am starting to “out” myself as a Quaker in public settings and conversations. I hadn’t thought about describing myself as a public Quaker instead of a private Quaker, but that is a great way to put it.

Thanks too for giving me ideals to aspire to as a public Quaker. Great food for thought!

Carla J Main
Port Townsend, Wash.


Forum letters should be sent with the writer’s name and address to forum@friendsjournal.org. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. Because of space constraints, we cannot publish every letter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on Friendsjournal.org may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.