Forum March 2015

Keeping ritual simple but weighty

Quakers began in a puritan rejection of rituals that they felt interfered with spirituality, and unprogrammed Friends still try to keep it simple. Still, we do have rituals: weddings, funerals, joining a meeting, clearness committees. You might even include potlucks and picnics.

I think a rite of passage is a good idea, but I like the idea of keeping it simple but weighty. Getting a certificate at rise of meeting would seem too easy. The young person will value the ritual in proportion to the thought and time put into it by the community.

I have three daughters who were raised in meetings, and I wish we had had some way of acknowledging their growth in the meeting as they matured.

Conrad Muller
Juneau, Alaska


I have been a Quaker since 1969, although more years away from meetings than in them. Among rituals I would have appreciated: a welcoming meeting for new members, whether singly or together with all new members, each quarter or half year or whatever seems most appropriate; a welcoming of newborns and new adoptees; and an acknowledgment of the transition from First-day school to teen, and from teen to adult membership. These could be designed by each meeting without requirement for meetings to have one or the other or any. The young teens/new adults could design a ritual meaningful for themselves. New parents could have a say in the welcoming ceremony, or choose to have none at all.

The original Quaker rejection of rituals was due to the sense of their being more habitual than truly ritual, and being empty of meaning. However, originally rituals were  meaningful to people. People actually believed in transubstantiation, for instance; it wasn’t merely a metaphor but an actuality.

Quakers generally do not like to stick to “one size fits all”; we are highly aware of the variety of individual needs, abilities, and desires. Still, rituals could be worked out by those involved, following some guidelines and suggestions. There are significant problems inherent in leaving so much in life amorphous and ambiguous, particularly for the young. Ambiguity almost inevitably leads to misunderstandings, misdirections, and ultimately resentment among all persons involved.

Georgia NeSmith
Verona, Wisc.


After a lifetime of services filled with words, it is an amazing relief to sit quietly in a group and be sensitive to the sounds of the world drifting into the open windows of the meetinghouse. I have high regard for the rituals of Jews and Catholics, but they do allow for a great deal of dissimulation and insincerity.

John Patrick Dwyer
Naples, Fla.


My family way back has always been Quaker. I attended Westfield Friends, Moorestown Friends, Wilmington College, Camp Dark Waters, and Camp Onas. When did the ritual of holding hands at the close of meeting or at the close of committee meetings begin? I never knew of this and consider it to be a ritual, and I do feel uncomfortable with new rituals.

Nancy G. Clark
Baltimore, Md.

Because of the long drive to the nearest meeting, we have been attending a United Methodist church for over ten years, and have only recently begun visiting the meeting sporadically. Both of my children have been active in the children’s and youth programs in the church, and both chose to be baptized and confirmed in the UMC. Even though I don’t think that the ceremonies are necessary, they meant a lot to my kids, and I found them to be very moving experiences. We will soon be relocating to an area with a larger Quaker community, so I hope to begin participating in a meeting regularly. My kids tell me that they want to continue being Methodists. I would prefer that they be Friends, but each is on his own journey, and I respect that.

Jennifer Winters
Cooper City, Fla.


The beginnings in the ends of journeys

I can resonate well with this article by Rachel Guaraldi (“Returning Home Changed,” FJ Feb.). After returning home from four years at college, I was told by my father, “You’ve changed. College has changed you.” He meant that my opinions and feelings about all sorts of things were far different from what they were when I first left for college. And the world around me had changed as well. But what gave me purpose for the rest of my life was that, with the help of my wife, I used those changes (those transformations that Quakers have talked about for ages) as leadings for all types of meaningful activities and my life’s professional work.

Ken Woerthwein
Jacobus, Pa.


Thank you for holding up one of the most important aspects of pilgrimage: integration, and for sharing your friend’s wisdom about the journey truly beginning only when it is over. I will definitely share that with the women traveling with me to France on the Mary Magdalene pilgrimage this year. Best wishes to you on your next journey to Italy.

Maggie O’Neill
Ashland, Va.


Holding our breath

Your storytelling skills nudged me through the first half of your story; like an experienced fisherman/woman, you drew me in deeper and deeper to your tale. Fighting tears, I found myself holding my breath until you found resolution. Your story, while written in another state and another set of occupations, so reflects the feelings of my husband and I as we seek clarity. There is no solid Friends group in our town that we’ve found. The closest group I know of is at least an hour’s drive away in good weather. It was so refreshing when we lived there and could attend. I miss the community of a Friends gathering. I miss the silence and solitude you’ve found on Lopez. I pray for our own clarity of mind and soul to lead us to the best path for the greatest good. Thank you so much for sharing your personal journey.

Whitefish, Mont.

The author responds: I’m grateful that my story spoke to you, and I hope it gives you a sense of support (from afar) as you and your husband discern your own path. You’re right; I’m fortunate to live in a place with a strong, supportive meeting. When I didn’t, though, I found that quarterly and yearly meeting gatherings filled some of that need. And now, with technology such as Skype and conference calls, some people try virtual clearness committees! I join you in your prayers for clarity.

Iris Graville
Lopez Island, Wash.


Abolitionism and climate: a Quaker success?

I am surprised to see that Marcia Cleveland (“Taking Heart,” FJ Jan.) did not mention Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild. This book tracks the issues that Cleveland covers but gives great prominence to the Quakers who were the leaders behind the scenes. If I remember correctly, nine of the thirteen original members of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade were Quakers. Since Quakers could not work publicly because of their Quaker principles, they hired Thomas Clarkson to be their organizer. The abolitionists of the slave trade could not meet in Anglican churches, so they mostly met in Friends meetinghouses.  Friends were responsible for having many people sign petitions, and as printers, they produced much of the abolitionist literature. Since this is a Friends publication, I am sorry that this was left out. Perhaps another article on how  British Quakers organized against the slave trade could show us how Quakers should be organizing today against climate change.

David Zarembka


The fact that slavery persists to this day in the prison-industrial complex does not give me hope. That President Obama was unable to address the problem of police brutality and the wretched circumstances of poor and African American people in “Amerikkka” does not give me hope. The fact that major multinational corporations and banks are allowed to bend the U.S. economy and political process to their benefit at the expense of the health of our entire planet and the least of her citizens does not give me hope.

Sharon Smith
Asheville, N.C.


Joining our enemies in solving problems

In the late 1960s I was moved to apply to Swarthmore College, in large part because my uncle William Foote Whyte had attended there. He was an inspiration to me as a pioneering Sociologist/Anthropologist and also as a champion of the movement toward employee ownership and employee democracy.

George Lakey’s “Allowing Ourselves To Be Bold” (FJ Jan.) is inspiring because it is a primer of good-spirited Quaker action. It illustrates the means by which people of conviction may make a difference in issues that often seem mired or propelled by greed so powerful that it sweeps all other considerations aside.

However, I would challenge fellow Friends to consider a new tactic of participation, consonant with that chronicled by my uncle. This tactic also partakes of a fundamental stance that Friends take toward adversaries: Why not join the enemy in solving the enemy’s problems? This is similar to the approach of Friends Peace Teams. We are all owners of transgressing companies through our investments: our IRAs, our 401ks, and this is a good thing. Rather than divesting in the companies that offend us, we should invest in them; we should work conscientiously to become their owners.

We should also act in solidarity with their employees to own and control more of such corporations. People lament the dying power of unions to stand up to the roughshod practices of giant corporations. It is time to begin organizing employees of corporations with the aim of empowering people to make decisions, with boards of directors representing the people. It opens the opportunity for fellow owners to ask employees, “Do you really want to be doing what you are doing?” Imagine the energy in the room if those protesting included a significant number of owners and owner-employees.

Christopher King
Sherborn, Mass.


Praying for balance

Thanks for Shelley Tanenbaum’s excellent article (“Braided Journey,” FJ Jan.). I appreciate the metaphor of the braids. Yes, we and nature all have intricate braids which make up our whole selves. It’s taken a long time for Friends to understand the interconnections of caring for people and caring for Earth. I hope we read many more articles in the future that develop this theme of interconnections. I pray for a day when all people have food, shelter, and hope, and Earth is once more in balance.

Ruah Swennerfelt
Charlotte, Vt.


Despair and Climate

Thanks for the climate change issue of Friends Journal (Jan.), which I read from cover to cover. I am concerned that there are so many statements of despair.

Fortunately, there are positive actions that were not mentioned in Friends Journal. As individuals we can do these things: (1) support a revenue-neutral carbon tax that Dr. James Hansen explains and join the Citizens Climate Lobby, (2) divest our money support of fossil fuel companies, (3) learn and tell others about the movement to capture and sequester the excess CO2 in the air and oceans, and (4) learn about the new cleaner combustion process called Oxy-fuel.

As a degreed mechanical engineer with 36 years experience, I am convinced we must stop putting CO2 into the air through burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Approximately 16 pounds of CO2 are exhausted into the air for every gallon of gas we burn in our vehicles, and they persist for thousands of years. Presently there are approximately 550 billion tons of excess CO2 in the atmosphere from humans burning fossil fuels over the last 200-plus years. This excess CO2 has caused the measured amount in the air to go from 285 to 400 parts per million.

This excess CO2 is the major cause of global warming!

Each year approximately 35 billion tons is added to the total, but even if it were reduced to zero the global warming would continue. The only real solution is to remove and sequester the excess CO2 from the air. Three current papers by Oak Ridge Laboratory, American Physical Society, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology conclude that it is possible with existing technologies, but continuing to use fossil fuels as an energy source would make the atmosphere worse.

Engineer Jim Holm’s web site explains how climate warming can be slowed and stopped.

David Nicholson
Sun City Center, Fla.


Walking through frustrations

Thank you for Jose Aguto and Emily Wirzba’s excellent framing of how to approach those with whom we disagree in “Affirming the Heart of Climate Advocacy” (FJ Jan.). I am not very good at this, and I wish that such thinking and actions came more naturally to me. Thank goodness such thoughts are in the hearts and minds of others, so they can counsel us. I will be saving this piece to walk me through my frustrations.

Helene Hilger
Charlotte, N.C.


Margaret Fell’s sources

In “Sleeping with Margaret Fell” (FJ, Dec. 2014), Maggie O’Neill notes how deeply she is “struck by the feminine language used by Fox and other early Quakers…. They likened the love of God to that of a nursing mother or a mother hen tending her chicks.”  Like so much of the early Quaker language, there’s not much mystery here— at least to the origins of the Quaker inspiration: this is biblical language.  Jesus speaks of himself (herself?) as that mother hen trying to brood over Jerusalem (Mt. 23:37; Lk. 13:34). Among other mixed metaphors, the Scriptures compare God to a mother eagle with her chicks (Deut. 32:11–12), the one who gives birth to us (Deut. 32:18), comforts us (Isa. 66:13), and who feels compassion like the mother who nursed us (Isa. 49:15).  The question is not how Quakers invented such language but how they were open to an experience of God that led them to acknowledge the feminine when others of their time (and ours) do not.

Rob Pierson
Albuquerque, N.M.


I quite sympathize with Mark Judkins Helpsmeet when he describes finding it difficult to make a Quaker witness in the modern world (Forum, FJ Jan.). He wonders how early Quakers managed to do this so well. Where did they get the courage to be ahead of their time?

The answer is, at least to some degree, because they were part of their time. These people were living through a major revolution. The country was full of people with radical ideas. They fit right in with the Levellers, the Diggers, the Muggletonians, the Fifth Monarchy Men, etc.

I had thought Quakers had such unique, original ideas! When I first read a wonderful book about it all (The World Turned Upside Down by Christopher Hill), I almost lost my (then) new religion.

The interesting question is why did we survive when none of the other groups did. I’ll let Larry Ingle, author of the definitive biography of George Fox (First Among Friends) answer that. He, and other scholars argue, it was because

Fox expressed a theory easily adapted and utilized to ensure structure enough to enable his Children (of the Light) to survive as a group but not so much as to be stifling. Almost none of the other dissident sects of the period were able to do this.

In other words, Fox invented a lasting administrative structure for Quakers—the familiar monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings we still hold today.

Mary B. Mangelsdorf
Newtown Square, Pa.


More on the Golden Rule

My uncle bought the Golden Rule in 1959 when the original crew was in Honolulu jail for stating they would sail to Eniwetok in protest of the atomic tests (“The Golden Rule Shall Sail Again” by Arnold (Skip) Oliver, FJ Aug. 2013). They were arrested and jailed. My uncle had met them in California and said he wanted the boat if/when they were done with it. My uncle renamed the boat the Pu’ori (Tahitian for “wanderer”), and he and I plus a Canadian man sailed the boat from Honolulu to the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, and the Societies (Tahiti) in 1958–59. That was the most memorable nine months of my life!!!

Wayne Pettengill
Casa Grande, Ariz.

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