A resource for Quakers to connect
Your feature “Quaker Works” (FJ Apr.) serves a very current need. In their reorganizations, both Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Friends General Conference have had to lay down committees doing vital work, leaving many Friends with no way of connecting to other like-minded Quakers. “Quaker Works” provides a way to connect. Information about what groups are currently doing and contact information makes the feature even more useful. Thank you.
Not underestimating children
Peter Landau, the author of “Why I Won’t Teach Bible Stories in First-day School” (FJ Apr.), describes a complex and mostly rejective relationship to the Bible, and asserts that while he would not stand in the way of the meeting’s choice to “expose” the children to the text, he would choose not to participate. Indeed, Friends who care for the spiritual formation of children and youth need our support, and I would not encourage anyone to teach that which does not have integrity for them.
As a parent, teacher, and religious educator, I take exception to the low view of children and their spiritual lives expressed in this piece. The author believes that children are “not equipped to deal with symbolism and nuance,” and learning anything from the Bible requires a level of maturity and experience that children are “incapable of understanding.” He condescends that these are big ideas, “too complex for kids who really just want to eat the snack and get back to the swing set.”
The experience of many who teach First-day school— with Bible stories, Quaker stories, stories told by the Buddha, etc.—is that children are entirely capable of, and often yearning to, explore the big questions these stories bring us close to. If you have read the same book more than once yourself or to a child, you have experienced the “spiral curriculum” model where, as we age and mature, we bring new understanding to a story. This is, of course, also true for children and their experiences of Bible stories. They will understand the complexities of context and canon with time and experience. But today, ancient stories can give words and images to experiences in their young lives of freedom, aloneness, death, and searching for meaning and purpose.
In fact, the “nice Jewish boy” invoked in the article had quite a different view of children. He taught that to come close to the kingdom of heaven, we must first become more like a child—open to wonder, the mystery of both knowing and not knowing, and love. In this, and in decades of others’ religious education experience and writing about the rich spiritual lives of children, are models for respecting children and their ability to listen, explore, learn, and teach us about continuing revelation.
Melinda Wenner Bradley
Oyster Bay, N.Y.
Yes, “a young mind is malleable and what is hammered into it helps define its form.” That is why we need to help children to read the Bible for themselves. Children are deluged with untrue images of what the Bible and Christianity are about. They are also exposed constantly to commercial interests that are influencing their minds. True, it is not appropriate to expect young children to analyze a rebuttal. When my children were young, I presented Jesus’s parables using Young Children and Worship, written by Jerome Berryman and Sonja M. Stewart. Now this is expanded into the series Godly Play, and Friends General Conference publishes a Quaker companion to the series called Faith and Play. In our meeting, some of us adults have been exploring the Bible. We use the questions found in the Friendly Bible Study as a guide, which allows us to express our difficulties with the passage as well as finding what rings true to each of us. In our meeting, we welcome people of a variety of spiritual practices and spiritualities: yoga, mindfulness meditation, biologists who find nurture in the forest, and even Christians!
Monteverde, Costa Rica
Quakers and sex
Yes, our faith comes from a god who rejoiced in Her body, and commanded us to love one another with loving kindness (“A Gospel of Quaker Sexuality” by Kody Gabriel Hersh, FJ May). And our faith community’s commitment to nonviolence needs to mean work around healing from sexual violence, preventing sexual violence, and teaching our children effective communication in a way that it doesn’t do yet. Thank you for so clearly speaking my mind!
Miranda Elliott Rader
I have a lot of love and respect for Kody Gabriel Hersh, and really appreciate and resonate with this article. I’m very glad he is part of my Quaker community. I think that when we accept that adults won’t be involved with kids, we allow young people’s oppression to continue. Kids are without legal rights or a voice in our government. Having no say, they rely on adults to make choices, legislate, and elect officials, all with their best interests in mind. It’s imperative that all adults know and have some involvement with children. As a society, we have a long way to go toward creating a world where all people are involved with young people, but no one is pressured or coerced into parenthood. But it’s an ideal I want to strive for!
While I am always eager to expand my own rather narrow-minded views of polyamory, what really resonated was what was said about creating a culture of spiritual discernment within the Religious Society of Friends regarding child rearing. As an anthropology professor, I have been wrestling with this. In my discipline, one sees all too clearly the effects of overpopulation and climate change, and, in good conscience, I don’t feel I can contribute to that problem simply because I want to have children. I always thought I would adopt, but now that I’m marrying my best friend, I find myself wanting to have his children. (Everyone always told me the “baby bug” would kick in when I finally found “the one,” and they were right!) This piece has given me a lot to think about, both pros and cons. Thank you! It’s stuff like this that makes me proud to be Quaker.
Kody Gabriel Hersh’s article expresses many commendable ideas. Viewing sexuality as a gift from God, including sexual violence in the peace testimony, and encouraging a positive view of the human body are all admirable ideas that I believe all Christians can embrace. However, as a fellow Christian, I am concerned with other ideas expressed in the article, such as supporting polyamorous relationships, or that sex and marriage can be easily divorced in the Christian view. I think Christ would have us hold a more conservative view of sexual ethics and restrain ourselves more than Hersh would. The testimony of Scripture and Christian history teach it is best if one can forgo sex, it is second best if a person can have sex only with their spouse (which historically has been one person of the opposite sex), and it is spiritually damaging to have a partner, or multiple partners, outside of marriage. As a Protestant (I am not a Quaker, though I have Quaker sympathies), I believe tradition should be challenged and, if necessary, should be changed. However, I do not think Hersh gives a compelling enough reason to change this particular tradition.
Horse Shoe, N.C.
This is so, so good. So comprehensive. So rich. I hate to be critical. Am I missing the part where intersex and non-binary bodies get acknowledged? I just desperately want to find it. It feels like it must be there. Somewhere.
Non-binary bodies and identities are so often left out of the rhetoric of sexuality that it leaves us almost unrecognizable as our fullest selves in the grammar of desire. Instead, we are subsumed under other labels, left to be impersonators or non-participators, except for those who bother to take the time to see us, to really know us, and to let go of preconceived scripts.
Pacifism is not passive
When I hear the word “pacifist,” my mental image is of someone not actually doing anything (“Why I’m Not a Pacifist” with Kristina Keefe-Perry, QuakerSpeak.com Mar.). That may not be fair, but it’s my image, and I think it’s the image of many other people as well. On the other hand, if you say to me, “Let’s go wage peace,” then I’m thinking of activism. We’ll be doing something. Let’s wage peace by engaging our representatives in conversations about alternatives to war. Let’s wage peace by helping people understand the real costs of war. Let’s wage peace through the conversations we have in our congregations. There are so many ways we can actively wage peace. Being a pacifist does not mean being passive.
I think the word “pacifist” is a beautiful term imbued with profound meaning. Etymologically speaking, it means “peacemaker” (from Old French pacifique, from Latin pācificus, from pāx or “peace” and facere or “to make”). To be a pacifist is to be part of a grand depth and breadth of efforts, because “making peace” takes work of many kinds from many committed persons.
Kristina Keefe-Perry challenges us to think more broadly about pacifism, which is a useful idea. But to dampen violence entails tackling the roots—concentration of power, subpar economic development, corruption, denial of civil rights. I’m inspired by success stories around those efforts.
The concept of pacifism in its true form (and as preached by George Fox) is noble but difficult; that is, “the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.” It is nearly impossible when the adversary has no interest in any peaceful negotiation. Jesus, in Matthew 5:39–44, would seem to give us no alternative but the former. But later, Paul and Peter wrote justifying the use of force to subjugate or resist evil. Quakers have mostly been practical in practice. They work for peace and always look for peaceful resolution. But in America, many joined the Revolution, meetings were devoid of young men during the Civil War, and more fought in World War II than resisted. In the age of terrorism, no one, it seems, agrees we should surrender. That doesn’t mean we abandon our principles; we always need to work for peace. This means education to find a path to justice, freedom, and equality for all. I’m always happy to negotiate with my adversary, but only when he or she can do me and my loved ones no harm.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Gandhi faced a similar challenge when in his “experiments with truth” he began mobilizing his people against racial injustice and economic exploitation, which involved a “constructive program” but also a renunciation of violence. He invoked an ancient Hindu concept of ahimsa, often rendered “harmlessness.” Yes, it was a refusal to retaliate. But the British press characterized this liberation movement as “passive resistance.” I think that together with a misunderstanding of what the Anabaptist tradition means by nonresistance, this may have impelled Gandhi to coin a new word, satyagraha. It combines both a spiritual and a material/physical element, variously translated as “the power of truth,” “struggle for truth,” “soul force,” “love in action,” or “strength to love” (the title of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s early books).
So, while I’ll still claim the title “pacifist” and welcome the discussions about the difference between the mass indiscriminate violence of war and the institutions of peacekeeping which a Quaker might affirm, I’m also glad for Friends and their friends to keep exploring what are, as the prophet Jeremiah said, “the things that make for peace.” Perhaps this venue, this forum, is part of what is getting us there.
David H. Finke
After 21 months of combat in Vietnam, I returned an alienated and broken man. In my dark night of the soul, I found a small Quaker meeting. When I saw the peace testimony posted on the wall, I knew I had found my home. If I had been brought up a Quaker, would I have avoided my experience in war? A few years later, I had the opportunity to interview a Quaker who had volunteered to serve in World War I. I could understand Quakers who felt led to serve as medics in World War II to stop Hitler, but the first world war seemed to me to be an unnecessary and unjust war, just like my war. Alfred told me that he believed in President Woodrow Wilson, that his was the war to end all wars, that his was the war to make the world safe for democracy. These were my reasons too. I believed in President John Kennedy and the mainstream churches. Now of course, the mantra is to make the world safe from so-called Islamic terrorism. When will they ever learn?
When I sit in my meeting for worship and reflect on the damage and destruction that the United States inflicts around the world, and then hold that in the light of our Quaker peace testimony, I only know that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness—better to know truth as revealed by divine Light inwardly than to trust outward forms. Your testimony has lit one candle in the darkness. Thank you.
Carson City, Nev.