Forum, November 2020

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A country that hasn’t grown up?

George Lakey’s article “The Fiery Forge of Polarization” was powerful (FJ Sept.). Besides his insights about polarization as fire for change, he speaks of the timidity of adults today: “In scary times, don’t people naturally look to those with the confidence to act boldly?” It is my observation that in many meetings, silent worship has melted down to meditation—emptying for the sake of being empty—without a sense of opening to a Higher Power (“however you understand it,” as Alcoholics Anonymous suggests). Without realizing it, this leaves us in the loneliness of secular humanism and atheism, which see humans as the highest form of intelligence in the universe. When we humans cannot create the change we feel should happen, our boldness becomes confused, timid, and afraid. To be Joan of Arc, one needs to feel that a Great Spirit is calling us forward and will be with us in our efforts. Alone we are small. Guided, we dare and dream much more powerfully.

Marti Matthews
Indianapolis, Ind.

One of the factors that contributed to the rise of social welfare in Scandinavia in the late 1800s and early 1900s was disastrous military losses. Denmark lost maybe one-third of its territory in the mid-1800s. People learned experientially that their survival and strength couldn’t rest on military might. They strengthened themselves in different directions. Danes are proud of their anti-militarism. In Scandinavia, there is a strong sense of not wanting to be like the United States. We stand as an oversized example of a country that never grew up.

Deborah Fink
Ames, Iowa

Returning to silence

Thank you, Aud Supplee (“Why I Left . . . And Why I Came Back,” FJ Oct.). Silence is powerful, indeed! The sermon you seek may very well come from within. The words of the unknown philosopher (posthumously revealed to be Louis Claude de Saint-Martin) are to be recalled concerning silence: “I have desired to do good, but I have not desired to make noise, because I have felt that noise did no good and that good made no noise.”

Jules Rensch
Northwood, Ohio

When I asked at a synagogue why we all were supposed to bless/praise God, I was told it was because doing this is good for us.

Why should we be made so that praising God would be good for us? If it’s done right, it reminds and reassures people about how it all really is. When we say it, when we hear it, we realize again: I knew this! And now I remember!

Forrest Curo
San Diego, Calif.

Thanks, Aud, for your testimony, sharing your going and returning to Quaker meeting. I also did this. Spiritual nourishment can come from many sources, and we can have more than one worship community.

Alyce Dodge
Honolulu, Hawaii

A child of God, even in gardening

“Creating a Friends Victory Garden” is a must-watch video ( interview with Avis Wanda McClinton, Oct.). Beautifully filmed and edited, it is an outstanding portrayal of a truly remarkable woman doing something remarkable with her gifts. I am so glad I watched this!

Justin Solonynka
Philadelphia, Pa.

What a beautiful video. Hope is needed in these times. Avis can provide such leadership to the Society of Friends in living out our faith.

Geeta Jyoth McGahey
Burnsville, N.C.

I first met Avis in an Alaska Friends Conference gathering several years ago. Then, as now, she speaks with an utterly inspiring sincerity. Her simple ministry—I am a child of God (even in gardening!)—touches me profoundly.

Taylor Brelsford
Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Spirit is not always tender or non-disruptive

Kat, thank you for the helpful eldering in your article “Careful Discernment or Spiritual Timidity?” (FJ Oct.). I, for one, believe that the Religious Society of Friends can be well-served by heeding it.

At the same time, I wonder to what extent the v-e-r-y s-l-o-w discernment customary among Friends in the United States (possibly elsewhere) is based in a middle-class ethic of stewardship and accompanied by a related terror of making a mistake. That fear would be compounded when the discernment is communal in nature. If so, it is deep and largely unseen by the majority, much like White supremacy among Friends.

Some experts on class theory say that members of the middle class—which I believe is characteristic of the majority of U.S. Friends and the dominant culture of the U.S. Quakerism to which I’ve been exposed—have been carefully trained to supervise other people and resources on behalf of the owning class. Errors in judgment cause one to fall out of favor and lose the limited power with which the middle class may be vested by the owning class. Much as the “white moderates” of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” how many of us conform and, in so doing, kill the prophetic in ourselves, in others, in our denomination, and in the world? Personally, I believe it is far, far more prevalent than most of us are willing to see, never mind admit. As James Baldwin so wisely writes, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Viv Hawkins
Philadelphia, Pa.

I see this article as a much-needed “call to Spirit” in contrast to the safety-oriented processes of the privileged middle-class, who make up much of the meetings I have belonged to and visited.

Privileged middle-class process emphasizes “good order” and “tenderness”—qualities that befit a station in life where getting others upset can lead to losing one’s position. In business, “troublemakers” are quickly exited out as “malcontents.” The quality of their contributions may be deemed “useful” but “disruptive.”

Spirit is not necessarily tender. Ask, if you can go back in time, Margaret Fell whether her conversion experience was tender. Ask Martin Luther whether his conversion experience was tender. Ask any of those whose conversion experiences are described in the Old Testament whether their conversion experiences (you know, fasting for 40 days and nights only to have the devils show up) were tender.

Quakers since at least 1666 (“Letter to the Brethren,” sent to London Meeting that year) have put good order over the movement of Spirit.

The meeting Lucretia Mott belonged to in Philadelphia attempted 12 times to throw her out of meeting. She was disruptive. She was also the smartest person in the room, so they failed all 12 times.

Hank Fay
Berea, Ky.

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