Forum, January 2018

Disagreement isn’t aggression

I am grateful for the December 2017 issue’s theme of  “Conflict and Controversy.”  The personal stories and reflections have inspired my own thoughts on this matter.

Especially noteworthy was Chris Morrissey’s comment in “The Heart of This Crazy Commitment”: “It feels particularly jarring in a Quaker community where peace can be defined so expansively that the slightest disagreement feels like an act of aggression.”

When a slight disagreement feels like an act of aggression, meaningful communication is discouraged, and consequently, the truth, the light, and the spirit are all stifled. Silence is no longer an expression of the process of reaching unity or a deep, reflective worship; instead, silence becomes a place to hide. We are no longer able to hear or understand each other. Our meetings lose their ability to grow, either as a community or as individuals.

Dan O’Keefe
Shorewood, Wis.

The accumulated wisdom of books

When I became the acquisitions librarian at the newly established Friends World College in 1967, the College president, Morris Mitchell, said he wanted as much of the collection as possible shelved on the walls of the main seminar and community meeting room. In preparing students for the adventure of world education, he wanted us to be surrounded by the accumulated wisdom of the ages and the inspiring examples of those who have faithfully served the cause of human betterment. He said he wanted the library to create a sense of witness and guidance. I knew exactly what he meant. I had come from a career in academic bookstore management, including set up and design. A well set up bookstore, stocked with serious literature, provides that same “cloud of witnesses” experience.

I am saddened to read Carol Kitchen’s recommendation in Friends Journal (“Are Meeting Libraries Encumbrances?” FJ Oct. 2017 online) that meetings would be well served by pinching back their libraries to a small shelf of reference books. Two things will be lost: the silent witness of the larger world, both Quaker and non-Quaker, that a thoughtfully curated and well-organized collection of books brings to a meetinghouse; and the opportunity of discovery that is afforded to browsers of such a library.

In 1967 we were told that libraries would soon be a thing of the past, that books would disappear, and a paperless world was just around the digital corner. Well, it hasn’t happened that way. The November 18, 2017, issue of The New York Times carried an opinion piece by David Sax titled “Our Love Affair with Digital is Over.” If Quaker meetings follow Friend Carol Kitchen’s advice, in the not-too-distant future another generation of young Friends may be asking, “Why doesn’t our meeting have a library?”

Keith Helmuth
Woodstock, N.B.

Thank you for the issue of Friends Journal focusing on meeting libraries. For me, meetings’ libraries have always been a statement of our faith. Quakers believe in the ongoing search for the truth. Our meetings’ libraries are a resource for that search. Their presence emphasizes the importance of that search and the need for information and guidance while on the journey. Thank you for celebrating their being.

Harriet Heath
Winter Harbor,  Maine

How much Quaker process does seasoning really need?

Steve Whinfield’s letter in the September 2017 Friends Journal  Forum struck a painfully responsive chord when he wrote, “Too many times have I seen the Spirit curtailed by ‘that’s not the Quaker process’ when the Spirit is in full display.”

During a wave of anti-Muslim expression some years ago, my meeting (Wilderness Friends Meeting of Shrewsbury, Vt.) adopted a minute declaring that we stood in solidarity with peace-loving Muslims. The Muslims whom we told about it seemed pleasantly surprised and thanked us. We considered the issue sufficiently urgent to ask our quarterly meeting to adopt a similar minute. No one opposed the merits of our request, but several objected that we were not following Quaker process. That may have been true but seemed secondary to the wrong that we sought to address. How much advance notice or seasoning or threshing does it take for Quakers to declare solidarity with an oppressed, peace-loving minority, as Quakers have done more than once? The proposed minute died, and I have seldom attended a quarterly meeting since.

With the renewed wave of anti-Muslim expression in many quarters today, perhaps it is time for more Quakers to stand in solidarity with peace-loving Muslims, by whatever process it takes.

Malcolm Bell
Weston, Vt.

Another archaic religious institution with fractured faith?

I am concerned that the Religious Society of Friends has moved away from core spiritual truths (“It Breaks My Heart” by Kate Pruitt, FJ June/July 2017). We have allowed political agendas and passions to consume our time and undermine our spiritual mission. We have gone from being one of the bright Christ lights of truth in this world to being yet another archaic religious institution with fractured faith, and meetings without real loving communities that are failing to effectively meet the spiritual and social needs of their members. All of my life, I have been a deeply motivated seeker of truth. Quakers are indeed seekers, however we must proclaim what we have found. Perhaps equally important in the modern age is our need to contemplate what we lost and are in the process of losing by our spiritual ineptitude.

Loving service is the natural outgrowth of the experience of God’s love within our individual hearts and collective worship experiences. Unfortunately our religious society has become shrouded in political garments. Jesus made a concerted effort to have no political allegiances, for his kingdom is not of this world. The Children of Light know that the Kingdom of Heaven is within our hearts, and we bear witness to this truth through the outward workings of our progressive, idealistic view of the world–a world at peace with justice and equal positive regard for all. It is truly a beautiful vision.

Francis Oliver Lynn
Princeton, N.J.

It has been heart-breaking to watch our beloved yearly meeting break apart. At the same time, I am hopeful that with the new reorganization we can, with the Spirit’s guidance, refocus on our call to love God and love all our neighbors.

Deborah Suess
Greensboro, N.C.

Pastoral meetings in North Carolina who hire non-Quaker ministers created the divide in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). Charlotte Friends, unprogrammed, left this yearly meeting about a decade ago. This is an opportunity for this Friend and others to seek out meetings and Friends who are of similar mind. It is what it is. Time to move forward into the Light.

Shelia Bumgarner
Charlotte, N.C.

My experience has shown me that the less forms a meeting idolizes (be they pastors, holy books, “beliefs,” committees, Quaker tradition, and named leadership), the more likely it is that the Spirit will flow freely among Friends as it did among the very earliest Friends and the very earliest followers of Jesus. Those ancients relished the Spirit inspiring one among them that the Spirit chose—not the nominating committee–to be the tool to show the way forward on an occasion, and then another among them to be the tool on a different occasion.

If you are willing to give up your idols—those within your meeting and yourself–you will remove the blockages that are hampering the flow of Light that is yours and your meetings to have.

Howard Brod
Powhatan, Va.

Isn’t sitting quietly enough for you?

In “Finally Breaking Down the Hedge?” (FJ  June/July 2017), Thomas Hamm writes: “By the late nineteenth century, Hicksite Friends, while maintaining their long-standing organizational structure, had ceased to see the Discipline and the plain life as hedges against the world.”

I find this absolutely bizarre. It seems to me Hicks’s name should’ve been thrown out by that point, given how positively adamant he was that plainness was of extreme importance and how concerned he was to ensure that Nine Partners was a “select” Friends school (one that wouldn’t admit non-Quaker kids or teachers). His faith was a big tent but still decidedly Christian (he sounds downright born-again when he gets going on “crucify the old man”), but his practice was not. And then the Progressive Friends happen and… poof! “Faith? Sure, Spiritualism is fine! Practice? Eh, we’re sitting quietly. Isn’t that enough for you?”

Mackenzie Morgan
Silver Spring, Md.


Thanks for a great article that is not only an interesting account of Quaker history in America but also a prophetic warning about the inevitable disintegration of any community that seeks to coerce with rules and “law” where it cannot convince with love and respect. It is a very erudite expression of the challenges facing modern Friends. Our worship group here in Oklahoma has had to manage for many years without much help or any encouragement from the traditional yearly meeting structure. We tried for years to establish a connection with the larger organizational structure and were continually met with obstacles, incompetence, and generally a sense of incomprehension on the part of the two different yearly meetings we tried to engage with. In the end, we decided that while some Friends whose thinking is embedded in organizational structures may feel they own the word “meeting” or “Friend,” no one owns our Quaker faith, and that where “two or more are gathered” in His name, God is present. Every time we set ourselves up as little Vaticans we pay a price in schism and broken hearts.

Cap Kaylor
Norman, Okla.


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