Forum, May 2023

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Doomy headlines

I take strong issue with the title and caption used for the article by Friend Anita Bushell (“Zoom Spells Doom and Gloom”) in the March 2023 issue. Neither the title nor subtitle (“The False Promise of Virtual Meetings”) is an even remotely accurate indication of what Bushell wrote, and both are, in fact, for many people, outright falsehoods. I expect better from Friends Journal than the use of sensationalist headlines.

George Hebben
Kalamazoo, Mich.

I’m grateful for the perspective voiced in this article. It’s important that we talk about how the use of Zoom in online-only and hybrid (blended) meetings for worship is affecting our experiences.

First, it is much easier for me to absorb the perspective of someone’s experience of meeting for worship when they speak for themselves only. I trip over a phrase like “As a society, we have become like the small children I used to teach,” and it’s hard to do the work of translating that to “one person has noticed that some people around her seem, to her, to have become like small children.” I can do it, but is this obstacle really necessary?

Second, saying “we lose the many benefits of worshiping in person” as if this is true for everyone does not leave much space for the possibility that some meetings, such as my worship group Three Rivers, consider not what we lose from online or hybrid worship, but what we gain. For example, because we all meet online, we are able to welcome and support people at a great distance from Boston, people with limited mobility, people who need on-screen captions in order to understand what is being said, people who need one-on-one pastoral care in the middle of worship, and people who cannot attend at the time we meet and want to watch a recording or read a transcript of the prepared message later. These are just a few of the things we gain from our preferred format of worship.

I can’t help wondering if the author is trying to persuade me to go back to the “before times.” For me, those times, when we were all too happy to round down to zero those Friends who needed the accommodations that online worship can provide, are best left behind.

David Coletta
Dorchester, Mass.

Thanks to Anita Bushell for a wonderful piece of writing. I was grateful to hear someone “speak my mind” on the subject of the alienating, disembodied experience of Zoom worship as well as virtual meetings for worship with a concern for business. Finishing a two-hour business meeting alone in your apartment is depressing.

That said, Pendle Hill’s daily half-hour virtual worship was a welcome vital force in my life during lockdown, but when I returned to our meetinghouse in New York City for the first time, I wept.

While business can be conducted online, there is simply no comparison to being physically present with others as a body and in our bodies to experience a gathered meeting or to get a true sense of the meeting. Part of the ubiquitous anxiety in contemporary culture is owing to the drain on our nervous systems, which are trying, straining to accommodate a version of life that is two-dimensional on a screen. Our nervous systems and bodies are built to move through space and the world, particularly in the outdoors, and for being face to face with others to bear witness. Real communion with others changes our body chemistry and affects our health.

Lorraine Kreahling
New York, N.Y.

Craving human contact

Thanks to Helen Berkeley for expressing what I’ve been feeling for a year now (“Screen-Weary and Lonely,” FJ Mar.). It seems to me that what was a welcomed and necessary tool during COVID has become, in some cases, an excuse to maintain distance from our fellow humans. With cameras everywhere we turn now, we’ve become subjects rather than participants. I understand why some people desire in-person worship without the intrusion of cameras. It’s not a rejection of the new. It’s not clinging to the old. We value the human contact. We value places we can sit in silence without smartphones and cameras intruding.

Tualatin, Ore.

Race, representation, and guilt-by-association

One of the things that concerns me about Raquel Saraswati’s unnamed accusers is their readiness to play the “guilt by ideological association” card (“Embattled AFSC Diversity Officer to Leave Organization” by Sharlee DiMenichi, FJ Feb. online, Apr. print). “Ooh, she’s been on Fox News, she must be bad!” In doing so, they may be demonstrating a blinkered perspective of their own, especially when they condemn Saraswati for being in the employ of “Irshad Manji, one of the world’s most infamous Islamophobes.”

Now, granted, it’s been over a decade and a half since I last looked at The Trouble with Islam, but my recollection, roughly confirmed by a spot check of the web, is that Irshad Manji was writing as a faithful Muslim searching for a way to reconcile what she saw as the best values of Islam with what she saw as the best values of Western liberalism, and that she was calling for, as the book’s promotional copy put it, a rejection of Muslim fundamentalism in favor of “a reformation that empowers women, promotes respect for religious minorities, and fosters a competition of ideas.”

Because of this, I suspect the accusers got Manji confused with the right-wing atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who came to prominence around the time Manji did but was much more vehement in her criticisms of Islam; among other things, she called it an inherently misogynist religion.

Ron Hogan
Queens, N.Y.

It is correct that Irshad Manji is by no means an Islamophobe. I don’t think it is an accident, nor do I think that [Saraswati’s anonymous accusers] got Manji confused with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, since they went to the work of providing a citation, presumably to support the assertion.

Is she controversial? Sure. Do some Muslims dislike her or think that her criticism is harmful? Sure, and you could have said the same about Benjamin Lay. Doesn’t make her one of the world’s most notorious Islamophobes. Neither does appearing on Fox News. My cousin appeared on Bill O’Reilly once, representing the pro bono work he’d been doing for the ACLU on behalf of formerly incarcerated individuals. O’Reilly criticized him, but the viewers got to hear another side of the story.

Mike Clarke
Seattle, Wash.

It’s incredibly hilarious to me that Saraswati was given the job because of her race rather than her competence, and it turns out she was lying. Who are we supposed to sympathize with here?

I find myself ambivalent. Try not hiring someone due to their (perceived, in this case) skin color, and perhaps you won’t have this problem in the future.

Timothy W.
Meridian, Pa.

Quaker representations and identity revisited

Editors’ Note: In the April Forum we ran a number of letters responding to a news article on an open letter to Quaker Oats written by Will Rogers (“Friends Ask Quaker Oats to Change Its Name” by Sharlee DiMenichi, FJ Jan. online, Mar. print). Many of the responses questioned some of the arguments of Rogers’ letter. Here is his response.

I’ve spent much of the last month-plus reflecting on responses on the Friends Journal article, on Reddit, and on a since-closed Mastodon instance. Most comments indicate that the letter is a bad idea, with reasons why. As the person who wrote and sent the letter, I knew that asking Quaker Oats to change its name would not get easy acceptance in the world, but I did not anticipate getting eldered this heavily by Friends. It’s been humbling.

While it still feels important to call attention to a corporation extracting profit from the name of a religion (without implying Friends’ consent), I’m also compelled by comments about cultural appropriation.

To paraphrase: This campaign implies a comparison between Quaker Oats and more common instances of cultural appropriation (e.g., appropriation of Indigenous symbols and Black culture). Since the Religious Society of Friends has not endured centuries of oppression, the comparison does not go far. The abuse endured by culture groups who tend to be named in matters of cultural appropriation is of a different magnitude than the focus of this letter.

Similarly, it’s important to keep clear that the Aunt Jemima brand, which engenders slavery-era nostalgia for consumers, not get confused for “cultural appropriation.”

It was a mistake for the letter to bring up the subject of appropriation without sufficient clarity about these differences, and I’m grateful for commenters’ willingness to respond with their insights.

I have an impulse to revise or amend the letter to address this, and input is welcome.

Some Friends have suggested that it was a mistake to write and send the letter at all, citing reasons like image-consciousness and prioritizing our efforts. I’m not sure how to respond to this, and I invite folks to participate as they feel led. For reference, readers can view the letter sent to Quaker Oats at

Will Rogers
Greensboro, N.C.

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