Viewpoint: We’re still paying for war
It is that time of year when we are again asked to pay our federal taxes, half of which goes to war and preparation for war. In the last century, over 180 million people have died in wars. Our country continues to spend about one trillion dollars a year of our tax dollars on wars and other military expenditures, including nuclear weapons, bomber planes, drones, and more than one thousand military bases around the world.
All of us are asked to pay for the killing of our fellow human beings—children of God—and perhaps to even put an end to human life on this planet if we have a nuclear war. Even aside from the financial cost, wars are not working: they do not resolve conflicts; rather they sow the seeds of future wars and create more enemies.
Our government can only continue fighting its wars if we cooperate with our silence and our dutiful paying of the 50 percent of federal taxes allocated for wars and armaments.
When do we say, “Enough!” We as Friends can no longer in good conscience pay for killing our fellow human beings. Instead we should redirect 50 percent of our federal taxes to feeding the hungry; healing the sick; and helping build a more peaceful, just, and environmentally sustainable world.
In March and April, I will be visiting Korea and Vietnam, where the people are still suffering from the tragic wars we inflicted on them many decades ago. I will ask people’s forgiveness for the horrible pain we caused them, and re-commit to helping change American policies so we don’t continue to inflict pain and suffering.
I would like to hear how other Friends are wrestling with the contradiction of praying and working for peace while paying for war. For more information about war tax resistance, see the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (nwtrcc.org); to learn about a global campaign to end all war, see World Beyond War (worldbeyondwar.org).
San Francisco, Calif.
I deeply appreciate this beautiful article by Maurine Pyle (“Out of Darkness into Light,” FJ Nov. 2013). My one comment is in response to her statement: “Friends have been adopting new identities . . . using terms such as nontheist.” I feel that I, and many others of my generation of Friends, didn’t adopt this framework: we were raised this way.
It’s not exactly accurate to suggest I declare nontheism as a new identity. Raised a Midwestern Friend, I identify as a nontheist because that’s the only Quakerism I’ve ever known as my own.
Polluting the simple with doctrine
The essence of the “Quaker Way” is found in Christopher Stern’s words (“Finding a Way to Peace,” FJ Jan.). How we Friends love to complicate or intellectualize the simplest Truth. Jesus of Nazareth did not teach a belief system or start a religion. He demonstrated the Way of Love that can save us from fear and suffering. Fox and early Friends rediscovered this eternal power of the Divine experienced and once again pointed toward it. How difficult we make the simple by polluting it with doctrine.
New Paltz, N.Y.
Happy to see Quaker volunteers
Thank you for “Coming Alive: Discerning the Next Chapter of Quaker Service” (FJ Jan.). I had heard rumors about Quaker Voluntary Service. Christina Repoley’s personal journey was an important component of the article. I appreciated the emphasis on the need for discernment for any volunteer work.
I would like to add to the discussion of service opportunities for Quaker young adults. Here are a few areas that our family and friends have found Spirit-filled: volunteering in the home meeting (as teacher, greeter, cleanup helper, treasurer, peace vigil participant); participating in the local Alternatives to Violence Project in the community or in prison workshops (the high school workshops consider young volunteer participants and trainers to be especially valuable); and traveling as either a short-term or a long-term volunteer with Friends Peace Teams. Some college students have used such volunteer opportunities as coursework for credit; others have participated over summers or for the year following graduation from high school or college.
Friends in midlife changes and retirement have also found these avenues good for volunteering. There are now peace teams, led by experienced Friends, going to such countries as Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Guatemala, Colombia, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Palestine. There are opportunities to support such teams right at home. As I personally learned, all you need is dedication to Friends faith and practice and a willingness to serve. Visit friendspeaceteams.org for a complete rundown of FPT work, meetings, and volunteer opportunities.
I am so happy to see Quaker Voluntary Service come to fruition. I wanted it to be there when I was a young adult and worked to that end. I am cheering you on.
Twists and turns of faith, practice, and story
In “Quakerism Left Me” (FJ Dec. 2013), Friend Betsy Blake articulates what I have come to believe deeply about Quakerism. We have no common narrative—which is not a creed but rather a shared story about who we are and whose we are. What has replaced a common narrative is a hyphenated religion and a political ideology. I don’t want Quakerism to be the Democratic Party at prayer.
My heart resonates with the words from Ted Grimsrud, a Mennonite pastor, who wrote that “Jesus did not save me from sorrow or intervene to fix my problems. Jesus did not lift me out of history into a place of tranquility and bliss. What Jesus did do is enter into my circumstances, remind me of the path of love as the path to sustenance, walk with me in my sorrow, loneliness, and confusion.”
Fort Wayne, Ind.
For Blake to pour out herself in this way is a gift. It is like Paul writing to a small congregation that he is being “poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith” (Phil. 2:17 NRS). It is evidence that she still has a lot to give, even as her “institutional” path has taken many twists and turns. I appreciate this energy and hope to offer my humble support, however that may be possible.
Thank you for the especially fine December 2013 issue, notably for the striking words of Betsy Blake, who has sadly put one substantial foot outside Friends in order to find some of what she had once known among them.
Blake’s article uses the ever-so-difficult “Quakerism” word. Yes, this -ism fell off the tongue of some easy-speaking person quite early among Friends. It did not make sense then, nor does it now. Friends, coming from a jousting bunch of fervent Christian charismatics, spoke and speak out of the Spirit, giving voice to continuing revelation, which may be an affirmation of what is already agreed upon, or something building on what is known, or something lovely and new.
Testimonies are what we understand in our present. Continuing revelation may add to them, or lead to change, or note them as no longer relevant. They are written in spirit, not in stone, and therefore are not dogma, i.e. “-ism.”
We have faith, and we have practice. That is it, and this it is quite fully enough.
Big Branch, La.
Quakers vary greatly, and our experiences are likely different. The Quaker form of spiritual worship and sharing works better for me than anything else. I am a convinced Friend who came as an adult; I am now one of the old-timers. I try to focus on the practice beyond the meetinghouse. I am the “activist” in my meeting, but I do not feel out of place for it. I have a good support structure of both Quakers and non-Quakers.
We need to focus on being a loving community, not on the organizational structure per se. The Quaker presence at Occupy Philly was a significant spiritual and practical presence. The Earth Quaker Action Team is hardly representative of the average Quaker, but its existence points to a continuing Quaker vitality.
It is good and appropriate that there are such a variety of options for people’s religious and nonreligious spiritual expressions. There is a great deal of testing and searching related to all religious and nonreligious spiritual organizations. Some leave other religions to become lifelong Quakers; some leave Quakers for other spiritual homes.
Christiana Figueres, the United Nations’s climate change chief, recently called on investors to pull their money out of fossil fuel linked funds and instead put their money into green assets. Why? She went on to say that institutional investors would be in blatant breach of their fiduciary duty if they ignored the “clear scientific evidence.” I was, therefore, pleased to read in “News” (FJ Jan.) the Friends Fiduciary Corporation announcement of a new Quaker Green Fund.
There is now a Quaker option for meetings that believe investing in companies engaged in fossil fuel extraction is incompatible with our faithful care of, and respect for, the commonwealth of life. By creating this fund, Friends join a growing number of faith communities who understand that the current fossil fuel business model commits us to a level of climate instability from which we cannot recover. British Friends have been the first in the United Kingdom to create pressure for an energy system and economy that does not rely on fossil fuels.
What I appreciate most, however, is that along with excluding fossil fuel companies, FFC is affirming that we can place our investments in companies seeking better solutions through clean technologies. I hope Friends meetings and Friends schools will examine their portfolios and heed Figueres warning. Let’s begin the transition away from our involvement in fossil fuels and toward a stable future.
West Chester, Pa.
Technology to aid listening?
In the December 2013 “Forum,” a reader reported the use of a laptop by volunteer typists to make the content of spoken ministry available to a Friend with almost total hearing loss. I was reminded of a time, decades ago in Massachusetts, in a small worship group that met in a continuing care facility for the convenience of some of the residents. A couple of volunteers took turns providing a similar witness, by hand in a steno pad, for a similarly disadvantaged Friend.
In the January 2014 “Forum,” a letter from Sara Smith reports the use of a handheld microphone so that the meeting’s hearing assistance system could avoid the quality and noise issues that plague some such systems.
With the continuing advances in voice-recognition software, might Friends consider the use of technology to provide a dynamic transcription of spoken ministry to those for whom increased volume can never be adequate?
John van der Meer
Respecting who’s here
I was disturbed by Ross Hennesy’s comment in “The Most Effective Instrument of Peace” (FJ Jan.) about “the impoverished, white-fled neighborhood I call home.” I also live in Germantown, the Philadelphia, Pa., neighborhood that Ross is describing.
Germantown is “white-fled” in a historical sense: once a mainly white neighborhood, it is now mainly African-American. I believe that white residents of Germantown have a responsibility to represent our neighborhood in a more nuanced way, focusing not on the number of white people who aren’t here, but on the people who are: their struggles, their strengths, and their voices.
In the December 2013 issue’s News column, we reported that New York Yearly Meeting had approved a minute on drone warfare. It has been approved by New York City’s Fifteenth Street Meeting and New York Quarterly Meeting, who have asked other meetings in the yearly meeting to consider it. Work continues on a minute with which the yearly meeting as a whole can unite.