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Forum June/July 2014

Beyond death

Beyond the threshold of death is life (“Suicide and the Things We Carry” by C. Wess Daniels, FJ May). I have often felt that my friends who chose suicide were trying to reach out to that new life and to end the pain of this one. Their decision or impulse to suddenly die causes their family and friends to feel pain and remorse, but the one who chooses to release his life of what he is burdened by is not trying to hurt those who loved him. He is simply saying, “Enough, I cannot carry these troubles any longer.”

Maurine Pyle
Carbondale, Ill.

I was in college when I first knew someone who committed suicide. I went to gospel choir practice the evening I found out, just trying to process and grasp what had happened. At the end of every practice, we used to sing a Kirk Franklin benediction: “May his peace be with you till we meet again.” I haven’t thought of that song in years, but I read Daniels’s article and found that tune running through my mind. May God continue to share peace and comfort and wise perspective with you.

Kyliah
Minneapolis, Minn.

 

Quaker education serving real needs

As a staff member at Olney Friends School, I was encouraged and grateful to read the many thoughtful articles in the education issue (FJ Apr.). I followed a similar path of Galen McNemar Hamann in my desire to work for a Quaker institution that made spirituality a priority, but have encountered similar challenges of integrity that have altered my ideas of how Quakerism and Quaker institutions interact with the wider world.

My experience at Olney has meant coming to terms with an inherent conflict between the availability and coherence of public schools and the exceptionalism (if not outright elitism) of Friends schools, or indeed any private school. Louis Herbst’s article is spot on in why Friends schools are still important to Quakerism, but shies away from the testimonial side. Part of why I wanted to work for Olney was the experiences of people I know at the school and the credit they give Olney for the role it has continued to have in their everyday lives.

Olney, and other small schools I suspect, can change from year to year depending on the staff and administration, but the networks of alums and connected parents create a continuum and contribute to the mission of the school. It is my hope that Friends schools everywhere can continue to make critical differences in people’s lives, always being conscious of the privilege they convey while deliberately serving real needs and teaching Friends values.

Dan Coppock
Barnesville, Ohio

Faith and fossil fuel investment

My belief in God does not lead me to feel morally uncomfortable owning shares in businesses that produce carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuel—oil, natural gas, and coal businesses (“Viewpoint” by Kathy Barnhart, FJ Apr.). I do not pass judgment on oil, natural gas, and coal businesses and the people who own shares in these businesses. I would feel morally uncomfortable, dishonest, and hypocritical—I’d be a real Quaker Faker—in passing moral judgment on these fossil fuel businesses. What would Jesus do?

I respect Friends who are uncomfortable owning fossil fuel stocks—those who feel that by not owning fossil fuel stocks, the very, very gloomy future that they foresee will more likely be averted. By not owning stocks of oil, natural gas, and coal businesses, they are making a statement about their individual beliefs and views. They, unlike me, are not troubled by the inconsistency of passing moral judgment on businesses that produce oil, natural gas, and coal—fuels which provide much of the energy that they and other human beings benefit from.

Here is the truth that I see: In addition to fueling our cars, fossil fuels enable travel by buses, boats, and airplanes and transport by trucks, ships, and railroads. Fossil fuels heat our homes and provide most of the electricity used to turn on lights, air conditioning, refrigerators, televisions, computers, and other equipment in homes, schools, hospitals, churches, Quaker meetings, and factories throughout the world. Countries whose citizens are rising out of poverty (such as India and China) are using increasing amounts of energy generated by fossil fuels. Prosperity and energy use are two peas in a pod. Consider a world without the energy produced by fossils fuels. How would that affect people’s lives? Are we okay with that?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fossil fuels meet around 82 percent of U.S. energy demand. According to the Institute for Energy Research, wind currently provides 1.4 percent of total energy consumed in the United States, and solar provides 0.002 percent.

In some parts of the world, solar energy has become competitive with energy produced by fossil fuels. Smart people are trying to come up with better batteries for energy storage. The carbon emissions and climate change risk is a global problem: the United States has reduced its carbon emissions since 2007 as lower‐carbon‐emitting natural gas has replaced coal, to some extent, in the production of electricity. However, carbon emissions from China and India have been increasing. So far, the nations of the world have not been able to come to an agreement about how to limit carbon dioxide emissions. A higher cost for carbon emissions would have the economic effect of incentivizing lower carbon emissions.

Until future innovations and changes occur, fossil fuels will continue to be vital to human flourishing and prosperity. I am thankful for the energy that fossil fuels provide. I feel that the energy provided by fossil fuels has been and continues to be a blessing for mankind.

John Spears
Naples, Fla.

 

Charles Schade responds

I appreciate thoughtful Friends’ comments on my article, identifying places I was unclear, offering newer information, and providing additional resources (“Doing Good Well,” FJ Feb., with responses in “Forum,” FJ Apr.). I was heartened to see that the only opposition to the idea of evaluation and disclosure for Friends charities arose from concern about cost and evaluation design, both of which are real issues, though not insurmountable barriers.

My advocacy for using evaluation to drive program improvement is not limited to external evaluation, nor do I recall promoting a decision‐making model such as the one that causes Barbara Stanford concern. I share her dislike of “teaching to the test” in public schools. Nevertheless, it is important that an organization evaluate its work, reflect on what it has learned, and share results with the public, including donors and other organizations intent on improving the world.

Elizabeth Muench suggested an additional resource for discernment: Charity Navigator. I did not mention it in the article because its insights are limited to financial and administrative data. These are most useful in deciding where not to contribute money (for example, Friends would probably not support a “charity” paying half of its income as executive salaries).

Mary Eagleson indicated that Right Sharing of World Resources (RSWR) has updated its website. The upgraded website is informative about the organization’s work and has tables showing projects and dollars invested, but a systematic assessment of project results is still missing. Which ones succeeded, and how does RSWR define success?

Adrian Bishop appears to believe the paper was an attempt to evaluate the 12 organizations. That was not its goal: the article was an assessment of how readily someone interested in an organization could find out what a contribution might achieve based on its website. I’m pleased that Friends Peace Teams acknowledges a lack of information on its website, and hopeful it is the first step of a much longer journey.

Both Bishop and Forrest Curo identified the conflict between service and evaluation. I don’t recall suggesting that struggling organizations “hire a team of statisticians.” Sometimes, very simple service statistics will answer a lot of questions. For example, RSWR might strengthen its self‐evaluation by reporting loan repayment rates for microfinance projects. If some projects showed lower rates than others, simply asking “why” could be illuminating.

DeAnne Butterfield shared additional criteria that might be especially applicable to Friends organizations related to governance, planning, inclusiveness, and workforce management. Her closing question is one we might ask of all Friends charities: “How do Quaker beliefs inform personnel policies and business practices?”

Finally, Cecilia Yocum noted the power of personal testimonies and wondered how to measure them. Qualitative researchers could provide some useful advice, and probably should number among the “techies” who can help strengthen Quaker organizations in the new century.

Charles Schade
Charleston, W.V.

A good starting point

Zachary Dutton’s article (“Confessions of a Recovering Quaker Process Junkie,” FJ Jan.) helped explain some of the differences I’ve felt in being part of a small worship group and a larger Quaker meeting. When I was in an established meeting, I often felt pressed by the demands of committee work. I was relieved to be free from that when I moved to an area without a nearby meeting. Now that I’ve been in a small worship group for a few years, I don’t miss the demands of responsibilities, but I do feel that I don’t have the richness and depth of relationships that I had before; I don’t have the sense of reward that comes from working together. Dutton delineated three practices that make a group function really well, and one doesn’t take place in my worship group: being aware of and discussing each of our gifts. This seems to be a good starting point for everything else to follow.

Holly Anderson
Ventura, Calif.

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