Forum, March 2021

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The rituals of Friends

Kat Griffith’s call to review our “customary repertoire of ideas, phrases and observances” (Merriam-Webster’s third definition for “ritual”) was stimulating in how it invited us to consciously examine our habitual actions (“Dipped in God and Covered in Grace,” FJ Feb.). It was particularly brilliant to tie this into growing our meetings. Increasing attendance is a major problem for my meeting and for the Religious Society of Friends in general. For me, that is the wake-up call to all of us that something is fundamentally wrong. Much soul searching is needed by us on the ritual and other levels of our practices.

George Powell
Salinas, Calif.

At Geneva Meeting in Switzerland, we have been holding spiritual deepening Zoom sessions on a weekly basis during most of the epidemic. This has allowed Friends from other parts of Europe to join in and enrich our discussions. A recent session was on how Zoom has changed the way we worship, and a number of points Griffith raised came up. 

David Sunderland
Geneva, Switzerland

I have long suspected that my perception of Friends’ ambivalence to liturgy is the main obstacle to my wholehearted commitment to this way that I find, otherwise, so beautiful and engaging. Griffith’s point that “We can choose between liturgy that is thoughtful and intentional and liturgy that is reflexive and habitual, but we can’t really choose no liturgy!” articulates a perspective that I’ve felt for some time. I am particularly struck by how, just as I was (again) struggling with this, I came across this article.

Matthew Mollenkopf
Ghent, N.Y.

Flags and quilts

Reading the heart-warming article about Allen’s Neck Meeting’s 765 flags project (“765 Small Flags,” FJ Dec. 2020), I was reminded of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt was started by a small group of men in San Francisco, Calif., to honor the memory of friends who had died of AIDS. It quickly became a national undertaking, being displayed repeatedly on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and in cities across the country and around the world.

The goal of the quilt was to memorialize those who had died, to give visibility to people who might otherwise be neglected or rejected, and to help others understand the impact the disease was having. There is no doubt that its visibility was instrumental in encouraging efforts to find a way to confront the AIDS pandemic.

Allen’s Neck Meeting’s project is a prayer—a cry for help—as well as a memorial. But it is important to remember that behind each number is a name, and behind each name is a person who loved and was loved, who is missed and remembered, and who is a reminder that gun violence is also a pandemic we need to confront as firmly and effectively as AIDS or COVID-19.

John Andrew Gallery
Philadelphia, Pa.

The theology of ticking clocks?

Amos Smith’s “The Day I Removed the Meeting for Worship Clock” (FJ Feb.) reminded me of a story John Darnell used to tell. His grandmother taught him that the way you could instantly tell a Hicksite meetinghouse from an Orthodox one was that the former had a piano and a clock in the meetingroom. And the ticking clock kept saying, “hicks-ite, hicks-ite.”

Paul Landskroener
Minneapolis, Minn.

I grew up as a Quaker child near Philadelphia, Pa. There was a local radio station that made a practice of broadcasting from a wide variety of local churches during a certain hour of Sunday mornings. The week they chose to broadcast from a Quaker meeting, they set a ticking clock near the microphone so those tuning into silence knew the station was up and running. Every ten minutes or so an announcer would very quietly explain in a few words that they were broadcasting from a Quaker meeting. In my opinion, it was an appropriate use of a ticking clock and probably hardly noticeable to those in attendance. Any other time, I would thank you for removing it.

Nancy Slayton
Ester, Alaska

I delight how the Spirit led a change in the meeting without confrontation. I am trying to deepen my silence in worship now.

George Busolo
Mbale, Uganda

Outing ourselves as Friends 

I love that the video “The Power of Being Quaker in Public” ( interview with Laura Boles, Mar. 2020) has sparked a big discussion. It has given us each a chance to look at our own experience as a Quaker. What motivates us? What is our experience of being motivated by the Light? What are we called to do and become?

I do find myself increasingly “outing” myself as a Quaker and describing my actions as being motivated by my Quaker faith.

Carla J. Main
Port Townsend, Wash.

Calling us back to life

Thanks to Diane D’Angelo for “Channeling Agape for Those on Their Final Journey” (FJ May 2020). I found it helpful. It confronts things we often don’t talk about but certainly should in order to understand others who are grieving. This piece makes me think a little of the hymn “Now the Green Blade Riseth,” with its verse beginning: “When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain / Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again.” Yes, “G-d” is definitely a verb, not just an abstract notion, and as Advices and Queries says: “Christianity is not a notion but a way.”

Lin Singh-Barrington
Birmingham, UK

Early American Quakers and race

This is an important article that will long be remembered as a seminal article on the subject of race relations among early American Quakers (“When Quakers Were the Karens” by Elizabeth Cazden, FJ Jan.). As a collateral relative to John Woolman, I have been interested in the early Quakers, slavery, and Indigenous people, and Elizabeth Cazden’s article has expanded my understanding.

The term “unveiling”—learning about things that have been hidden but present all along—is currently gaining traction. This article has moved the unveiling process forward.

Sam Wilson
Laurens, S.C.

Regardless of the importance of their contributions, each great thinker is also “a child of their times.” Perhaps our duty is to honor what Quakers have done well and wake them up to what they did not do well, so we may work together in bringing God’s kingdom to fruition.

Lois Kieffaber
Spokane, Wash.

Elizabeth Cazden’s article is an excellent confession of truth in history, sadly long overdue and grievous in its indictments of settler colonists’ ruthless suppression of Indigenous and other peoples.

Jeffrey H. Shurtleff
San Bruno, Calif.

Modern American Quakers and race

Rodney Long’s willingness to wrestle publicly with this knotty issue takes courage and vulnerability (“Before My Life Matters to You, Let It Matter to Me,” FJ Jan.). I’m grateful that he opened space for a more nuanced conversation.

He asks, “If I can be proud to be Black, why can’t a White person be proud to be White?” I, too, have always had difficulty with taking pride in something over which I had no control. Regardless of one’s race or ethnicity, it has been difficult to be U.S. American for many people since the country’s inception, but the challenges to each group have been radically dissimilar because of race. Given U.S. history in which Whiteness has been defined by the ideology of White supremacy, saying that one is “proud to be White” takes on a different meaning than “proud of my forebears.” It signals either a celebration of racism or a feeling of being vilified and excluded.

Long also discusses the Black community as if it might—as a monolithic and integrated actor—be responsible for all of the difficult things that happen within it. His reference to Black-on-Black crime implies that he may consider this to be an aspect of Black culture. Our histories are intertwined with each other in positive, negative, and complex ways. The boundaries of each of our groups are increasingly porous, as Long’s own story illustrates.

We all inhabit complex and interwoven cultures that together are in need of a reset with regard to the ideologies and priorities that govern us. Silent worship in community is just one way I attempt to reset my own intentions, priorities, and values each week. Until we can come to terms with the implications that our fates really are intertwined, it is likely that many people will continue to misinterpret courageous collective statements like “Black Lives Matter” when they have never been exclusive to Black people.

Sarah Willie-LeBreton
Media, Pa.

I am an African American Quaker with deep ancestral roots in the struggle for racial justice who carries the struggle on in my own life. My great-great-grandfather fought to free enslaved African Americans in the Civil War; my great-grandfather was a revered member of the Black historical press; and my father was a successful Black home builder who provided affordable homes for Black purchasers in the midst of 1950s redlining. I have taught college courses on race and racism, and I write books on Black culture and history. As a trained culture studies researcher, I understand the necessity of knowing the history and the social contexts of the people we write and speak about. I am anything but a victim!

On the contrary, the author of the article at hand speaks solely from personal experience as a mixed-race, Black–White man. The little awareness shown outside his own experience is from present-day news reports! Nevertheless, I know he speaks the sentiments of many, Quakers included! However, this does not constitute an “informed” view on race and racism in America! Personal perspectives have their value and import, however they do not amount to a well-constructed understanding of societal (Black) realities, even if written by someone who is Black. Where is the author’s awareness or understanding of the brutality of 250 years of slavery; of the Black Codes and their derivatives (vagrancy laws, voter suppressions, unjustified imprisonment); KKK-style racial terrorism (until this day); redlining; mass incarceration; and hundreds of years of erasure and denigration of Black culture? I know that an honest assessment by those of us who know this history, Quaker or not, would reveal that we are not victims and that we give back in many and diverse ways.

Karen Taborn
New York, N.Y.

I am a White woman, born into a White Quaker family many years ago. I can imagine the courage that it took for Rodney Long to write this article, and I am grateful that he did. He helped me understand better my own mixed feelings about Black Lives Matter signs in places of worship. However, I wonder whether the dilemma Long lifts up in the title to his article is a both/and situation, rather than an either/or.

I have come to understand that White people, Black people, and law enforcement officers all have inner work that they must do separately to help bring about the beloved community. At the same time, there needs to be collaboration, coordination, and cooperation among the three groups—especially when it comes to advocating for and bringing about racial justice and healing.

Rebecca Miles
Tallahassee, Fla.

I didn’t get from Rodney Long’s article that he was disparaging Black people, except to say that Black communities need to acknowledge the issues of violence and drugs that exist within their communities. In that, I think he is challenging them to be better. I might have the wrong take, but my understanding was that Long’s issue with Black Lives Matter (BLM) is the laser focus on police brutality. I think that many of us who support BLM realize there are many issues that need to be addressed, but that the public face of it (to non-supporters) has been police brutality. Perhaps as a White Quaker, I need to examine ways I can help to shed light on the deeply ingrained racism that exists in our society.

Kerri Warner
Crawfordsville, Ind.

I grew up in a majority Black city, and went to a majority Black grammar school. We moved there when I was quite young from Whitest White Iowa, and my Quaker mother decided we could do more good in Paterson, N.J., so that’s where we bought a house. It was only through that experience that I realized the world was completely different for me as a White kid than for my Black friends. I could cross the river. They couldn’t—the police were there to stop them if they did. I could go into a store with my White friends and not be bothered. But with my Black friends, no way. We were followed everywhere. I knew I would eventually leave that town, that I would become a scientist, and most of them did not have a clue what that even meant. I’m still, after 30 years, unraveling the ways my experiences and expectations are subconsciously different from theirs.

Black lives matter more than they used to, but they don’t matter as much as mine right now, and they should. That’s the simple message of Black Lives Matter. We’ve all been trained to believe that lie without knowing it—Black and White. I see BLM as a movement to change the perspective, the expectations of Black people, and the expectations of White people, and maybe to start lowering that racial divide to the point where we can have equal contributions to society. I see it as a movement to build pride in the Black community that finally pushes back against 150 years of broken promises, from Reconstruction through Jim Crow, through redlining and mass incarceration. I think only then will the social diseases—White on Black, Black on Black, and White on White—have a chance of being erased. It will be hard.

Stephen Baines
Sound Beach, N.Y.

I want to respect that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) people have different experiences and different opinions. The question for me is: what is the impact on other BIPOC people when those opinions are given a public forum, especially when those opinions are hurtful and harmful to other BIPOC people?

I take objection to Friends Journal choosing Rodney Long’s article as a way to provide different opinions. I also question that the editors of a Quaker journal did not question their decision to project a disparaging view of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in an issue dedicated to the topic of race and antiracism. The very historic moment called on its editors to think more deeply about feeding, in any way, into the current targeting of BLM by White nationalists, and reinforcing White supremacist ideas among Quakers.

We need to set a higher bar for our Quaker community and the Quaker media that reaches out to and reflects the Quaker community, not only here in the United States, but around the world. It is a greater shame that all those who receive a paper copy of Friends Journal will not benefit from the replies to this article that have been posted online. I hope that Friends Journal will find a way to reprint these replies in an upcoming paper issue of the journal so that all readers can benefit from the perspectives that have been offered in response to the article.

Shelley Karliner
Bronx, N.Y.

The agenda of Black Lives Matter addresses many of the concerns raised by the writer of this article. BLM is concerned with more than just police brutality toward Black people. It is also concerned with many forms of racial injustice.

Larry Waite
Culver City, Calif.

I really enjoyed Rodney Long’s piece although I do support peaceable Black Lives Matter actions. For too long our criminal (in)justice system and our historical (un)law enforcement haven’t looked at their own biases. Law enforcement—at least in the U.S. South—has a history rooted in slave catchers and posses. After the Civil War, Southern prisons were started as convict leasing facilities so plantations could replace their slaves.

We have a complicated mess in front of us, but we can untangle all the string if we are willing to do the work.

Annie Livingston-Garrett
Leadville, Colo.

The difference between a flower and a weed

After carefully (and quite enjoyably) reading Pamela Haines’s “Dandelions and Domination” (FJ Feb.) several times, I cannot help but notice what is becoming a hidden Quaker theme in many of our attempts to stay away from being perceived as too dominant, whether it be in our society, our daily lives, our families, or our spiritual leadings.

We must be careful to not equate the elimination of domination with the acceptance of its opposite: submissiveness. As Quakers, we may find it more palatable to sit quietly and internalize our desire to, as Haines says, “challenge the patterns of domination that plague our world.” But without the impetus to do something with our silence, we cannot change anything. We need to work on ways to put our leadings into practice without dominating others. I always try to remember that my leadings cease to be effective when they drown out the voice of another.

We must all tread lightly on the lawns of our lives. Things may not always be as they appear on the surface. As Wayne Dyer beautifully stated, “The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgement.”

Dan Battisti
Woolwich, N.J.

I feel like that dandelion and am honored that you would include me in your space and see in me nice attributes. I will be all the dandelion I am and bring nutrients from the deep earth for other plants, suckle the floaty bees, and give a leaf or two for the strengthening of your liver. When fall is done, and I faint into an oblivion, I will let the Big Light know that you saw the little light in me and did not pull me from the earth. I will tell the Big Light about your welcome waters and tasty earth. I will ask the Big Light to let me return to you and experience His grace through your kindnesses. Thank you for seeing me as I am and as I endeavor to remain in your eyes and in the eyes of the Lord.

Latasha C. Crowder
Charlotte, N.C.

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