38 years, 4 months and counting
Thank you, Yohannes “Knowledge” Johnson, for being so open, vulnerable, and eloquent in expressing your lived transition from loneliness to solitude to becoming a member of your meeting! (“Never Having Set Foot in the Meetinghouse,” FJ Mar.)
It makes me think and feel that reaching others in prison or those who can’t attend meetings for worship can be a transformative experience for them. It reminds me of an article I read in this journal some months ago called “The Future Is Accessible” by Jessica Hubbard-Bailey (FJ Aug. 2018): A meeting member in Britain recorded the audio of a meeting for worship, somehow posted it online, and got a lot of positive feedback.
Maybe our meetings for worship are to be boundless and open to others in all sorts of circumstances, and not just for those who can attend in person.
Yohannes “Knowledge” Johnson has written a heartwarming piece of surprises, hope, and Friendship. I am drawn to comment by the curiosity that must come to most who read it.
Yohannes writes: “That what I may have done in the past is not who or what I am today.” But of course, don’t we want to know why he has spent 40 years in jail? It might be that it is none of our business, and I will quite understand if Yohannes does not wish to answer. If, however, he is prepared to share this part of his story with those who read it here, and perhaps also his reflections on “who he was then” as well as “who he is now,” it would be very welcome. And it might be a ministry of use to many of us.
The author responds: I would like to respond to Trevor Bending, who queries why I have spent 40 years in jail (38 years, 4 months as of April 10, 2019). I was arrested and convicted after a jury trial of manslaughter, felony murder, attempted murder, and three counts of armed robbery. I was sentenced to three consecutive sentences of 25 years to life as a persistent violent felony offender as a result of two separate previous felony convictions of attempted robbery and criminal possession of a weapon (a gun).
The question I feel hanging in the curtain is whether I am guilty as charged, and the answer is no! I have not been an angel in my past (I met them later in life as a result of this experience) and have since come to terms with it and know that I cannot live the life I lived prior to coming to prison. Do I have regrets? Yes, most definitely! My childhood experiences and upbringing was an experience to be reckoned with, and I am happy to have survived, while saddened to know many who did not. This is a story in my life I have been told needs to be shared, and share I will, but at another time and hopefully in person.
Today I am reminded of the sadness I have brought into my life, the lives of others, the victims in my case, my family, and the families of the victims of my selfishness. I work now to learn from the errors of my ways and hope to reach others who seek to grow up fast. To be in a hurry to go nowhere is one of the worst things a person can seek in life.
Yohannes “Knowledge” Johnson
Green Haven Correctional Facility, N.Y.
Filled with the Light
I had radiation treatment for prostate cancer that involved being shot through with six million volts 34 times (“Finding Lightness in the Light” by Kerry O’Regan, FJ Apr.). I asked what the rays consisted of and was told “photons.” I was then able to tell meeting for worship in ministry that I had been filled with the Light! I am pleased to relate that after three years I am still saved. A great article, Kerry O’Regan, from one who also left an Irish Catholic family background to be a Quaker.
Blenheim, New Zealand
Unexpectedly wicked humor?
I am not Mennonite, but I certainly enjoy The Daily Bonnet (“Satire, Peace, and the Mennonite Tradition” by Andrew J. Bergman, FJ Apr.). I have never thought of Mennonites as humorless. We have many Amish neighbors who display a wicked—in the good sense—droll sense of humor. I have almost given up on Christianity, but I still take some hope from the Marginal Mennonite Society and the United Church Observer.
Worship and culture
Thank you, Ayesha, for giving me a glimpse into what Quaker worship might look like in a culture different from my own white American one (“How Does Culture Influence Quaker Worship?,” QuakerSpeak.com interview with Ayesha Imani, Mar.). Thank you for doing it in a way that joyfully accepts what each person and each culture has to bring, rather than privileging one over another. It made me a little bit sad to feel “left out” of African American Quaker worship, but a lot happy to make space for that worship, whether in my own (predominantly white) meeting or in another setting that is “free” of people like me.
I’ve been fortunate to have lived around the world, and I so agree that our worship reflects the cultural forms and restrictions of where we happen to be. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. At one point, I became aware that in our small, fairly rural meeting, most of our very names reflect the English origins of the first Quakers—with all that signifies culturally—rather than other ethnic groups living in our area.
I have often felt profoundly moved to fall on my knees or lean my head on the bench ahead of me and weep. Over time, I have conformed, not because anyone did anything to compel me, just because nobody else knelt or wept. I was grateful to a few who raised their hands in joy.
I love my meeting with all my heart, yet I recognize our form of worship as culturally shaped. Reading this thoughtful and beautiful piece, I may yet burst into song or slip to my knees in gratitude.
As I began listening, all I could think was “Yes! Yes! Yes!” How can our culture not be reflected in and affect what emerges in our meetings? Thank you, Ayesha. This is something for all of us to reflect upon as God makes Her- or Himself, or Themselves known to us.
I believe that when there is a gathering of Friends of color, white people (I am one) need to respect that and not register for such events. My Friends of color tell me they need a safe space to be with each other, and that’s what those gatherings are for. I implore white Friends to respect that. Not respecting it is yet another example of the white supremacist, albeit often unconscious, attitudes of white Friends in the United States.
Tears sprang to my eyes when Ayesha said the first gathering of Friends of African Descent was amazing; it felt like coming home. I was there, and I felt the same way, even though I am pale-skinned and of European descent (i.e. white)! I felt called to be there with my two young children and was welcomed without reservation. The rightness, the wholeness, and the joy were indeed palpable. I have been working as best I know how, as led to the best of my discernment, toward that beloved community both in the Religious Society of Friends and in the world. I’m so grateful to Mama Ayesha and others who have persisted and grown that blessed community around them.
Thanks for this! I’ve been in groups where saying “amen” is common and where I’ve gone to my knees, but not in established Friends meetings. I would like to see more loosening up in meetings in general.
Silver Spring, Md.
I am a birthright Quaker, raised in programmed meetings. I attended unprogrammed meetings for about 20 years and for the last 17 years have belonged to a black Baptist church in my community. I am a “white girl,” and as a Quaker, I felt called to join an African American Baptist church. Sometimes I say, I had to be a Baptist to be the Quaker I am called to be.
I loved this video, and it fits with my experience, but from a different perspective.
Enlarging our circles
Thanks to Elizabeth A. Oppenheimer for raising the most important issue of racial stamina (“Building White Racial Stamina,” FJ Jan.). It has been a source of consternation to me for some time; it’s been difficult for me to articulate my distress in the meeting I attend in Colorado. I moved here just eight years ago (still retaining my membership in New York state) to be closer to a son as I age, now 85.
The places I’ve lived in the past have been more heterogeneous. Here in Fort Collins, there are very few people of color. When race comes up in the meeting, the conversation immediately turns to sanctuary for immigrants. While I sympathize, that is not where I wish to use the energy remaining to me.
A Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) group formed in town last year, but it is quiescent, if not moribund. I went to a few meetings, and while I love being with young people and was welcomed, the group was purposely all white. I believe it had a connection with Black Lives Matter or a similar group, but that was never made clear. After a few meetings, attendance plummeted.
I was privileged to attend a workshop co-facilitated by Vanessa Julye and Regina Renee Ward at the Boulder meetinghouse, the only Friend from Fort Collins Meeting to do so. It was great to be among Friends who care about this issue. I would like to be able to communicate my concerns to Friends in Fort Collins in a way that might reach them. I’m not really sure what I can do about enlarging my circle to include people of color because of my age and the diminishments of aging.
Fort Collins, Colo.
Why disparage middle-class values? Aren’t those the values of a civil society? These values include respect for one another, charity for those in need, self-sufficiency, intact two-parent families, community involvement, and participation in government by voting and speaking out. Are middle-class values not desired by all of us? I fear when we talk of white privilege and Black Lives Matter that we forget the dream of Martin Luther King Jr, for all of us to be judged by the quality of our character, not by the color of our skin. When can we stop dividing ourselves by race and begin joining ourselves with attention to the work which needs to be done?
Are boycotts and sanctions punitive?
An eye for an eye is justice, but have we not evolved to understand that this kind of punitive extractive justice doesn’t result in making the world better? (“Civility Can Be Dangerous” by Lucy Duncan, FJ Oct. 2018). What’s left is two people who now have only one eye. I am a Quaker, and I side with Cadbury and his appeal for civility.
Isabelle Joy Yingling
The main fact about Cadbury is this: He was right.
General data show that until 1933, the Germans were rather unimpressed with anti-Jewish propaganda. But anti-Jewish sentiments rose enormously after the beginning of Jewish boycott activities.
The Germans had one somber experience with foreign boycotts. The British had established a “hunger blockade” by controlling the North Sea and preventing ships with nourishment to arrive at German ports. The hunger blockade reached its peak between 1918 and 1921, after the armistice, because the British used it to extort the German government to accept the Treaty of Versailles.
So, boycotting was, like war, never such a heroic, romantic activity as Americans tend to believe. It was rather like the sanctions against Saddam’s Iraqis or today’s Iranians.
Laughter most welcome
It was a real joy to read Donald W. McCormick’s “Fox News: George Fox Speaking” (FJ Apr.). It is a solid step in an answer to another of his writings from last year, “Can Quakerism Survive?” (FJ Feb. 2018). Laughter is essential for groups to actually want to get together. Our real joy in being with one another provides us more willingness to continue.
Absolutely hilarious satire that my spirit needed.
tonya thames taylor
Lives of nonviolence
Thank God for nonviolence training and practice (“The Power of Loving Your Enemy,” QuakerSpeak.com interview with David Hartsough, Mar.). I learned from a Catholic priest with the Michigan Peace team many decades ago, and I am proud to say that I have lived my little ordinary life by it. It has transformed me and, I hope, my children and grandchildren as well. I will continue.
Traverse City, Mich.
David has been living the kind of revolution that Jesus modeled. That has been consistently true for this wonderful half century that I have known you. The Light shines through thee for good, and whatever we do in faithfulness is by the grace of God.