Forum, January 2021

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Surveying the flat lands

Joe McHugh’s recent article on senior spirituality (“East of Denver,” FJ Dec. 2020) was inspiring and heartening. It encourages us who are in the fourth quarter of life to enjoy being here rather than getting there. Our job is to pass that perspective to other seniors and younger folk who can benefit from the exercise of spreading their consciousness into the still, east-of-Denver spiritual territory.

I want to quibble with McHugh a bit, though. Those flat lands often are not so flat. Sure, there may be an extended period of “What the hell am I going to do now?” and “Why is nobody listening to me?” But the most disconcerting bumps are the scary invisible hills and precipices right in the middle of flat land. What used to be a walk in the park is a huff and puff.

This last quarter can be about making yourself stop in the middle of that great plain, where you found yourself dozing and driving 90 mph at the same time. It’s a time to pull over onto the shoulder and walk into the vast, high cornfield and listen to the nothingness—or rather to the almost imperceptible quiet: leaves brushing on each other, an invisible crow, the suss of a grasshopper.

I know I am old as humans go. I can even feel parts of me dying. But old or aging is not who I am, and I struggle with that being who another four generations see. Terms like “elder” and “senior” define me from the perspective of someone younger. Perhaps it is enough to call myself still here.

Chris King
Ojai, Calif.

Growth or stasis? 

Quakers, in our essence, are publishers of the truth (“The Middle-class Capture of Quakerism and Quaker Process,” interview with George Lakey by Donald W. McCormick, FJ Oct. 2020). The truth exists independently of us in every situation, but the Spirit knows it. We search honestly and humbly within ourselves to see what we can discern of the truth. What we find will not necessarily be the same as that found by others who are also honestly and humbly seeking for the truth. When this point is reached in a Friends meeting it can be a growth point if every person is able to honestly speak their minds and the others are willing to honestly and humbly listen. It will be a point of stasis if this is not the case and egos, rather than the Light, rule the roost.

Rory Short
Johannesburg, South Africa

Spiritual buffets

As a young religious studies student, I can vouch that the osmosis of religious ideas between religions is as old as religion itself (“Western Karma” by Evan Welkin, FJ Nov. 2020). It may surprise some of us in the West, but historic interaction between Buddhism and Christianity is not unheard of, even in precolonial times!

All this being said, friendly—and presumably in-depth—interaction between Nestorian Christian priests and Buddhist monks in Asia in the eighth century is a far cry from White Christians or spiritual-but-not-religious progressives in the United States reading something about Buddhism on Wikipedia and deciding that they like it without really understanding it. It can feel disrespectful to other cultures when someone selects bits and pieces from another religion for use in their daily life. It can also water down our own spiritual belief systems into shallow, sanctimonious spiritual buffets.

Many Liberal Friends will go through the motions but don’t seem interested in why they do the things they do. They simply do them. It feels slightly shallow, as though they are sitting on the branches of a tree while trying to cut off its trunk and hack away at its roots.

Abigail Louise Lowry McCormick
Clinton, N.Y.

Ears: 2. Mouth: 1.

Mary Ann Petersen’s “When to Speak” (FJ Dec. 2020) is such a great article and lesson. My daughter always tells me to listen more and “run my gator” less, and she is so correct. I continue my struggle to be a better listener!

Jules Rensch
Northwood, Ohio

God gave us two ears and one mouth. It’s a hint. 

Julia Ewen
Avondale Estates, Ga.

The return of the Scattergood calendar

I’m looking for the Motto calendar that I buy every year (“Scattergood Motto calendar in transition,” News, Nov. 2020). I order 50 calendars to give as favors at Christmas. I really love them and so do my clients.

Judith S McKelvey
Honolulu, Hawaii

I wanted to follow up and let everyone know that the Scattergood Motto calendar is currently accepting orders for the 2021 calendar year. You can email me at for order information. Thank you so much for everyone’s continued support and interest!

Katharine Scattergood
Bethesda, Md.

The bandwagon of antiracist platitudes?

Not only has Nicole Freeman clearly articulated what has been troubling me, she has provided a way forward that makes sense and has the potential for finding solutions to our long-standing and currently polarizing problems (“The Spiritual Injustice of Poverty,” FJ Sept. 2020).

Like her, I have been troubled by the lack of acknowledgment of our heroes of the past and by the way many Friends have jumped on “the bandwagon of antiracist platitudes,” which she rightly argues will lead back to an unjust society.

Bayard Rustin, the master strategist Friend behind the 1963 March on Washington, promoted the ballot box, the union card, and coalition politics. He predicted Nixon would win if the main issue was framed in racial rather than economic terms.

As Freeman elegantly says, “Injustice is what poverty of spirit looks and feels like. It transcends all identity.” Wallowing in guilt over past sins will not improve the life of one Black person, but “Social legislation that would lead to meaningful educational opportunities, access to small business funding, full employment, and universal health programs are the true measures of justice.”

I grew up poor in the 1930s and ’40s, but the New Deal gave me opportunities that are denied to the poor of today. I sincerely hope more Friends will heed the call to end spiritual injustice by promoting a fair economy for all.

Claire Cafaro
Fort Collins, Colo.


On page 7 of the December 2020 issue, Peterson Toscano’s “Other Voices, Other Zooms” included a screenshot from one of Toscano’s videos of a performer draped with a shawl and lit with purple lights. The performer is Jesse Factor, videotaped at the 2019 Milton Fringe Festival and included in one of Toscano’s virtual screens. We regret not crediting Factor.

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