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Forum, February 2013

Viewpoint: The Waiting Room

Most of us have spent time in a doctor’s office waiting room to see a doctor who may give us guidance regarding our personal health. We may have spent time at an airport waiting for a flight to take us somewhere beyond where we are. In these instances, we sit among strangers surrounded by invisible cones of silence.

There are some similarities of these waiting rooms to our weekly gathering for Sunday worship. We usually have a few new visitors, yet seldom do we know in-depth about the lives of those among us who are not exactly strangers. I think of the meetinghouse room as a kind of waiting room. We wait in silence to make connections that take us beyond where we are.

These connections may come from the spoken word or through the process of communal silence. There is a difference between meditating alone and being in a group. Group silence seems to magnify the energy one senses as the silence continues on, unbroken. It is like an electric motor that starts slowly but eventually reaches maximum power. The power generated by the silence can be sensed and then distributed amongst us according to our needs at the moment.

When I ask people why they come to meeting, their answers are often vague. One replied that he wasn’t certain, but always felt better when he left. Do we come out of habit? Habits are actions we take without thought. We do not brush our teeth by thinking each step of the process. In our meeting with no extensive ritual to follow, silence can become a gathering place for thought and expectation. I prefer to believe our attendance is part of our routine and not a habit.

Whatever benefits we may get from our attendance may come from our expectations. If there are benefits, I believe they are enhanced by the energy that comes from waiting in the silence with others. Especially satisfying to Friends, the benefits derived from the silence are free. The only requirement is our honest participation.

Henry Swain
Nashville, Ind.

The value of silence

I very much enjoyed the latest issue on hospitality (FJ, December 2012), and especially Terry Miller’s article on “Exploring Silence in Higher Education.” I am not a Quaker by practice, but I do have great respect for and have been greatly influenced by Quaker philosophy and practices, initially learned at George School. 20 years after I graduated from the school in 1954, the old Twelfth Street Meeting House was moved from Philadelphia to the George School campus. By the door, there is a welcoming plaque—a quote, if I remember correctly, from a publication of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. I was reminded of it once again as I read Miller’s article. It is the most moving definition of the value of silence that I know:

Silence
is a natural demand
born of a need for God,
felt by young and old,
in all the worlds’ religions.

In silence, we may worship together,
sharing our search for life,
sharing our quest for peace,
sharing God’s gift of love.

Bob Freedman
New York, N.Y.

I enjoyed the December hospitality issue very much. It was warm, loving, and sharing, just as hospitality should be. I especially enjoyed “Letters: My Journey to the Quaker Movement” by Steve Chase. As I was reading it, I found myself wishing I was new to Quakerism and that this was my introduction to it. Then I happily realized that all I had to do was read his book and have a lovely re-introduction.

Madeleine Littman
Cambridge, Mass.

 

With a concern for business

I was pleased to read the letters from Arthur Larrabee and Dave Zarembka who both wrote responses to the October issue on Quaker business. They made some points critical to us as a religious community. They reminded us that Friends business meetings are actually called “meetings for worship with a concern for business.” Business meetings are a form of worship in which we ask for divine Guidance in all things. It is the process that is important to us. Our main focus is not profit but doing God’s will. We trust that, with God’s guidance, the outcome will be good.

Lisa Stewart
Lake Worth, Fla.

Another view of capitalism

David Zarembka gives only one view of free market capitalism. Let’s look at the other side: Microsoft (as well as Google, and other tech giants) offers their employees very impressive packages of salary and benefits. Walmart offers consumers quality products at very reasonable prices. Pollution—I challenge him to compare the quality of air and water in Kenya versus the United States.

Capitalism expands not because it “needs to” but because it succeeds. America tried collectivism before the United States existed: read the Mayflower Compact. It failed.

Is free market capitalism perfect? Of course not. But all the available evidence seems to suggest it is superior to every alternative so far suggested. Can it be improved by the application of Quaker values? Almost certainly. But there’s an old aphorism saying something about babies and bathwater we might do well to remember.

Jim Pettyjohn
Conshohocken, Pa.

 

Mistaking sleepwalking for sanctity?

Continuing the conversation started with “When Quaker Process Fails” (John Coleman, FJ, Oct. 2012): most people who see Quaker process function consider it a marvel. Its problems begin when Quakers approach it as if it were a machine guaranteed to grind out the correct answer instead of a method that deeply human people with joy, fear, anger, integrity and thought can use to come to reasonable conclusions.

In the several years that the Philadelphia financial problem brewed, did no one have a panic attack? Did no one throw a hissy fit? Did no one weep in an open meeting? Did no one pull several weighty Friends to one side and scream “Emergency!” And if they did, did no meaningful mass of people respond with “You are right”? I cannot imagine a large meeting crafting a plan to solve this, but I can imagine it demanding that some smaller group be formed—as appears to have finally happened—to rescue the sinking ship.

I know nothing about Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, but I have seen Quakers insist on grinding forward with a process that ignores the realities of the situation. They crank out the wrong answer too late to be effective. So I would ask Philadelphia if this was their situation. And I would beg others to raise the possibility that the problem is not the process. Perhaps the process is designed for people who are awake and we are sleepwalking, and we are mistaking sleepwalking for sanctity.

John Cowan
St. Paul, Minn.

 

Words can also hurt

Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NIV). I was able to appreciate “The Gluten-Free Pizza Bully” (FJ, Dec. 2012) as a nice example of how a potentially violent encounter could be defused by “gentle words.”

It was the artwork that first attracted my attention. The “Pizza Bully” was depicted as a heavy-set belligerent man. As I read the story, however, I was troubled by the author’s description of the bully. In the illustration, the bully was drawn in a simple plain T-shirt. The artist succeeded in conveying a sense of threat and danger. Was it necessary then, I wondered, to include in the story a description of the shirt as having “Italian flag colors”? Does the description of the shirt add to the narrative? Or, was it a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) reflection of an ethnic bias?

As I continued to read, I learned that the men’s room in Tony’s Pizza had a photo of Al Capone. Again I wondered, why did this need to be said? Many pizza places that I have been in have had photos of honest, successful Italian Americans. Were these types of photos, which portray positive role models, absent in Tony’s pizza?

My final concern came when the bully announces his ethnicity. Again, was that really necessary? What does that one declarative sentence add to the story? What effect would the narrative have if that sentence were omitted? I wondered sadly if the real purpose was to reference, consciously or not, ugly ethnic stereotypes.

The Quaker commitment to nonviolence is well known. Does not that commitment extend to words as well as behaviors? While the “pizza bully” may have intended to hurt with his fists, we should remember that words, no matter how artfully crafted, can also hurt.

Tom Nardi
Nanuet, N.Y.

 

Agonizing over Syria

My heart is agonized over the situation in Syria where my family formerly resided. In a recent newspaper interview, I spotted the dilemma of Syrian Christians, apprehensive of the radical Islamization of the government which tends to support the status quo. Now, this situation has degenerated into a totally impossible alliance.

Sectarian, ethnic, and clan rivalries are moving from Syria to Lebanon to re-ignite its civil war. We find parallels in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and throughout Africa and the Middle East. If not handled with adequate skill in reconciliation, these conflicts turn into vengeful wars, even anarchy.

The hardest part for the West is to bite our tongues and exercise non-interventional patience while the trial-and-error process of growing indigenous democracy occurs. The humanitarian crisis of escalating death, torture, rape and other forms of violence is forcing whole populations into refugee status. I encourage you to join me in supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (P.O. Box 97114, Washington, D.C. 20077).

Bob Mabbs
Sioux Falls, S.D.

 

“Are we Christian?” revisited

A few years ago in the June 2009 issue of Friends Journal, I read a Viewpoint by Newton Garver entitled “Are We Christian?” Recently, I found it again. Although I disagree with much of its content, I give credit to the author for publishing it. He had not only the absolute right to do so but the moral obligation as well.

It is quite apparent that Garver attempts to integrate a low Christological view of Jesus with George Fox’s high Christology. Obviously, this is akin to trying to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Garver speaks only of Jesus and never, not even once, of Christ. On the other hand, George Fox speaks nearly always of Christ and very seldom of Jesus: mostly “the Lord Jesus Christ,” simply “Jesus Christ,” or “Christ Jesus.“ In those few places where the name of Jesus is not qualified, it essentially becomes a shortcut for the loftier expressions. According to George Fox’s strong incarnational faith, the divinity of Jesus trumps Jesus’ humanity.

Garver states that “the Jesus that George Fox knew remains human, not some utterly distinct creature, God’s only begotten son.” However, according to George Fox, it was “the Lord God and his son Jesus Christ” who sent him “forth into the world to preach his everlasting gospel and kingdom.” The discrepancy between the author and Fox becomes even more apparent when we read the following from Fox’s Journal (wherein the name of Jesus is conspicuously omitted):

The principle of the Quakers is the Spirit of Christ, who died for us, and is risen for our justification; by which we know we are his. He dwelleth in us by his spirit; and by the spirit of Christ, we are led out of unrighteousness and ungodliness.

George Fox never turned his back on Christianity, but with all the strength that he could muster, he lashed out against a religious establishment that was incapable of upholding Christian faith, hope, and love.

Federico Serra-Lima
Old Chatham, N.Y.

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Posted in: February 2013, Forum
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