Forum November 2015

A need for a vision and strategy

I found myself weeping in response to Scott Holmes’s call for us to allow ourselves to be moved by the consequences of racism. (“Waking up in the White Garden,” FJ Oct.).  The power of his message lies in the combination of his own experience, immense clarity, and passion. One analogy he makes, however, conveys a misunderstanding often found among Friends that deserves to be addressed. Friend Scott says, “Restorative justice is to mass incarceration what nonviolent resistance was to segregation.” Apples and oranges are not the same. Nonviolent resistance is a means of action, not the vision of an alternative, which is what restorative justice is. As William Penn knew, we are more likely to replace an evil institution if we envision an alternative. Penn also knew that to get the alternative, a strategy for action is required. Nonviolent resistance offers one resource for devising effective strategy for action. In the Civil Rights Movement the vision was desegregation and, for Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the strategy was nonviolent resistance. Without the strategy, they knew their vision was pie in the sky.

Scott Holmes describes himself as “fighting,” as indeed he is, using the courts as the venue for struggle. Abolishing mass incarceration will require both kinds of fighting: judicial and direct action. Gaining this clarity about strategy matters because Friends are so often twisted by white privilege into a conflict-averse stance that avoids nonviolent struggle, even when there is no evidence that major change can happen without it! I hope readers concerned about mass incarceration will follow Friend Scott’s actual example, choosing the path of a warrior, rather than imagine that having a vision excuses us from having strategic smarts.

George Lakey
Philadelphia, Pa.

Mentoring and listening

In the October issue of Friends Journal is an absolute gem: “Practicing Deep Empathy” by Leslie Madsen-Brooks. I am grateful for it. Were more people—teachers especially—able to internalize her thoughts and act as she demonstrates, the world would be a vastly better place.

Mentoring is rarely discussed seriously and even more rarely practiced. I recall well when my wife told me, a person dedicated to teaching, that I did not understand what education was about. She was right. It was not about filling up with facts or practices, but about what the word meant—“ex ducere”—to lead out or lead forth.

I have helped build a glaucoma unit from nothing into the largest and among the best in the world at teaching, caring for patients and performing research. But, the mentoring was probably better when the unit was young and small, and I was the only member of the faculty. The trainees now love that we have a large faculty, as they learn many different approaches and skills, and they find a person to whom they can relate well. But they no longer have to relate to someone quite different from them, someone who tries hard—as Madsen-Brooks does—to listen to the inner voices, and tries to lead them forth into a world that seems right for them, not for the teacher or the department.

George L. Spaeth
Philadelphia, Pa.

The missing practice of community

I was searching for an article about the personal experiences of one who has gone through an abortion, and I was disappointed to not see any. The article “One Friend’s Experience of Clearness Regarding Childbearing” by Stan Becker (FJ Sept.) was the one I gravitated toward, because, as the author states: “I have yet to hear of any Friendly couples who have asked for a clearness committee regarding whether to have or not have a child.” Neither have I, and it has crossed my mind that I would have loved to have taken advantage of such a clearness committee were it socially appropriate or advisable to do so. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Reading this article, I realize we, as Quakers, still have a ways to go before it is.

I have no moral opposition to abortion. All I have is my own personal experience. As far as that is concerned, to put it bluntly, I may always feel that my abortion 15 years ago was a mistake. Sin? No. Mistake? Yes. Regret over my decision began immediately after the procedure and consumed me for many years, often driving me to near suicide. In fact, my feelings pre-dated me walking into the clinic, yet I decided not to stop. How does one distinguish between one level of not wanting an abortion and another? I feel pretty solidly that if my community (mom, dad, friends, baby-daddy) were more “on board” with me having the child, I probably would have made a different decision. Which brings me back to the “community” part of the Quaker testimonies: I never needed community more than I did at that moment, yet the Quaker community is, frankly, frightened of this issue. It’s regarded in an analytical, intellectual way, and usually comes up only in conversations about human population growth and in defending the right to have an abortion. I believe in that right, too. But I also believe in the right to keep your child even if it’s unplanned, even if you’re broke, even if you aren’t married, and even if you had hoped to go to grad school. No matter what the intellectual reasoning might be why having a child might be a bad idea, one should never go against one’s heart and leadings in this matter: never.

Until we, the Religious Society of Friends, pledge to support a woman’s right to keep her child if she wants, even when our society stacks the deck against her, then we aren’t really pro-choice at all.

Kindred Gottlieb
Los Angeles, Calif.


Milkweed, monarchs, and food

Thanks for the milkweed seeds in your “Let’s Grow Together” mailing. Does FJ know what variety of milkweed it is?

Readers may not know that milkweed is the required food of the monarch butterfly, and that milkweed has been largely wiped out by the use of herbicides such as glyphosate (Roundup). We’re being encouraged to plant milkweeds native to our local area (see to help save the monarch population, which is dropping precipitously. I’m also hoping Friends will work against the use of genetically modified “Roundup-ready” seed, which has allowed the skyrocketing use of the herbicide. I’m increasingly grateful for local farmers’ markets with producers I can talk with about what they are growing and how.

Barbara Benton
Swarthmore, Pa.

FJ: The milkweed is Asclepias viridis. Our seed vendor says it should grow most anywhere in the continental United States.

How should we be releasing Friends?

I have considered the concept and practice of releasing Friends into ministry over the years I have been a member of Putney (Vt.) Meeting (since 1991). I brought to that thinking much experience in charitable fundraising, including membership in the national professional society for that field and service on a regional ethics committee.

In fundraising, there is a general principle of right and proper fundraising which says: “the money follows the work,” meaning that once you commence charitable work, material support for that work will flow toward that work and support it.

In the case of Friends, I would question the systematization of support to a group of ministers based upon time-honored Friends’ reticence to hire pastors. I think each Friend’s work, when properly and justly called into that work, will have its own unique set of merits and reasons why it should be supported. In other words, I do not believe in the officialization of the ministries of any group of Friends.

John V. Wilmerding
Brattleboro, Vt.

The long-term effects of a Quaker education

I am a conscious, African American female who will always be eternally grateful for being educated at a Friends school that practiced Quaker values (“What Quakers Do in Silent Worship,”, Sept.). My Quaker experience and being in Quaker meeting through my young years helped me to find peace and center the Christ in me. Those quiet times in the Quaker community helped me to find and hold on to a peaceful centering that has been a strength in my life. Most importantly as a teacher in several large high schools in a city, I saw the Christ in the most resistant, disengaged students. I almost feel that I knew how to give the humanity back to someone who had been stripped of their full Christ self.

Camilla Greene


Thank you for sharing the ministry of Bridget Anderson (“A Concern for Silence,” FJ Sept). As an obstetrician/gynecologist, I see on a daily basis how important it is for women to have access to compassionate, comprehensive abortion and sexual healthcare. I wish all of my patients could benefit from the warmth and holding-in-the-Light you describe.

Ben Brown
Chicago, Ill.

The diverse Quaker family

I grew up in a Midwestern programmed meeting, have had experiences in many “semi-programmed” meetings, and now worship in a Philadelphia meeting (“What’s the Difference Between ‘Programmed’ and ‘Unprogrammed’ Quaker Worship?”, Oct.). I understand the “big tent” of Quakerism from the heart and from my life. I wish more Friends General Conference members could see this video and explore its meaning. Too many brand new Friends in the unprogrammed tradition do not understand how Quakerism can diffuse many different forms of worship in different meetings. Oddly, they seem doctrinaire in their ideas of what is “Quakerly.” In 300-plus years, my own family has developed a broader perspective. Thank you for this; you are doing God’s work.


Unity among Friends

Thanks to Sa’ed Atshan for his witness (“Realizing Wholeness: Reflections from a Gay Palestinian Quaker,” FJ Oct.). As a board member of Friends United Meeting and a lesbian, and as someone who holds a deep concern for unity among all Friends, I am grateful and wish you blessings.

Leslie Manning
Bath, Maine

The meaning of Friendship

The companionship part of Quakerism expressed in “The Courage to be a Quaker” (, Oct.) is true. Jesus had his friends and followers; he was not alone. We are not alone, either.

Being new to Quakerism, involved with a liberal meeting for eight short months, I couldn’t learn enough. However, there was no system for education or discipleship in place. Where I have found my heart’s reflection is in friendship. I had never known a Quaker, but my friend and youngest child’s teacher, gifted me with a kind ear, and showed me what Quaker non-judgmentalism, listening, and reflection is like. She reflected from the pool of her heart what her life experience has taught her thus far about children, about marriage, and gave me a sense of faith every time she responded to my confusion.

It is in friendship that we find strength and healing. The stillness, listening, reflectiveness, and all the mysteries that can result from those ways of being in the world seem to center our friendships, and make them more spiritually helpful.

Ruth A. Marotta


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.