Forum September 2013


A colorful shock

The color August issue of Friends Journal was a shock, but a good one! I commend you on your imaginative use of color, which is unlike any other periodical I am aware of, and I think appropriate. I have one caution: be sure that with colored underlays that the print keeps a high enough contrast for Friends with poor vision.

Before my cataract surgery I sometimes found that publications with colored backgrounds became difficult to read. I don’t think that is the case with any in the August issue, but since my vision is now delightfully improved, I cannot be sure.

Bruce Hawkins
Northampton, Mass.

Editor’s note: we encourage readers to let us know when any design decisions hinder their ability to enjoy the magazine.

Will the Phoenix rise again?

Within a year of the discovery of the Golden Rule, (“The Golden Rule Shall Sail Again,” Arnold (Skip) Oliver, FJ August), our yacht, Phoenix, was found—actually it was listed as free on Craigslist—only 100 miles or so away. The hull was sound, but it had been gutted, and the masts, bowsprit, and sternsprit were gone. The young man who replied to the Craigslist ad had the boat towed up the Sacramento River with plans to restore it, but in the moving process, it ran into a pier, making a hole which sprung a leak and caused the boat to sink to the bottom of the river.

My niece, another Dr. Reynolds (Naomi Reynolds, MD), now owns the Phoenix and is hoping to get it restored. The group restoring the Golden Rule hopes to raise more funds to restore the Phoenix next with their many willing and skilled volunteers.

One of the former owners of the Phoenix had saved the unique figurehead (hand carved in Japan) plus some other items from the boat—wheel, sidelights, bell, etc.—to give back to our family (the Reynolds) if the boat ever came back to us. Naomi now has in her possession (in her home in the Bay area) the original figurehead, and today a man is driving up from Baja California, Mexico, to give us the other items that were saved! He wants them displayed somewhere and any publicity about them helps. For now they will be in Long Beach, Calif. They should be arriving any minute! Read more at

Jessica Reynolds Shaver Renshaw
Long Beach, Calif.

The complexity of simplicity

Devan Malore’s reflections (“A Simple Life?,” FJ June/July) remind me of just how complicated “simplicity” or its Quaker antecedent, “plainness,” can be in everyday encounters.

I, too, lived in the ashram he describes, leaving there about half a dozen years before his arrival. Part of our practice involved recognizing ways the material world, or Maya’s web, entangles us, and then applying disciplines to cut free of tendencies to hoard or possess. In Quaker tradition, John Woolman similarly warned of the world’s “cumbers and cares,” and saw their negative influence on the spiritual life of the Society of Friends.

One measure I learned was to ask if something I desired was a “need” or a “want”—that is, something that was essential for my well-being or ongoing work, or rather something (in that familiar Quaker term) superfluous. It quickly shortens the shopping list! You can then decide how much to indulge in non-essentials, if any, for your own comfort or for others. Having children and family, we should note, greatly changes the equation, as does living in community, even one like the ashram.

For me, simplicity is also a matter of focus. Our queries return me to that focus.

Jnana Hodson
Dover, N.H.

Growing closer to God

I read with interest the June/July issue on Our Testimonies. I would’ve liked to have seen a piece discussing the testimony of simplicity from the standpoint of a Christian Friend, or from a Friend whose understanding of the testimony reflects that of New York Yearly Meeting. From their Faith and Practice, “the testimony of simplicity, of detachment from possessions and worldly aspirations, arose from Friends’ conviction that simplicity would enable us to grow in communion with God and to discern God’s will for us.” The brief discussion finishes with, “Simplicity releases us from that which drains us and depletes us, and redirects our energy toward God.”

In our day of living with glossy magazines filled with ads which emphasize simplicity with certain products, I would welcome discussions by and with Friends who appreciate the connection of the concept of simplicity with the prospect of growing closer to God.

Carol Kitchen
Rochester, N.Y.

Can a poster be a creed?

I don’t think that a poster on the meetinghouse door listing the SPICES (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship) constitutes a “creed,” a “canonical declaration of core principles,” or a “false authority” (“Reviving Our Testimonies,” Michael D. Levi, FJ June/July). I see it as a way of presenting ourselves to the public. It is only one way, as anyone who inquires would soon learn. I agree that we want seekers to have direct experience of the Divine, to listen expectantly, and to struggle to understand the still, small voice. These concepts don’t lend themselves to attracting public attention; they are not easy to present to people who have not become engaged in a spiritual search. People need to experience our worship in order to grasp how the listening and the struggle work in practice.

We all tend to hold on to phrases that we like and that have meaning for us, like “Let us then try what Love will do” and “Be patterns, be examples, that your carriage and life may preach.” I don’t think it is spiritual laziness to meditate on statements made by others or on the SPICES, and then seek ways to apply them in our own lives.

Judith Inskeep
Gwynedd, Pa.

How much SPICES do Friends need?

What a joy to read Eric Moon’s article, “Categorically Not the Testimonies” (FJ June/July). I’m not out to lunch after all! I’ve long since felt that “the testimonies” were outgrowths of the root principle of being Friends of Truth.

My experience as a member of our meeting’s Library Committee over the years has more than borne out the issue of cataloging. When it comes to assigning subject headings to Quaker publications, a lot of head scratching is involved; often, a dozen or more possible search numbers may apply to a particular work (but never quite), because the content covers a blend of issues and insights that are impossible to separate out. Our most inspiring writers tend to see life whole, spiritual and worldly aspects woven tight.

One fallout of the prevailing tendency to categorize our faith is the blight of thinking in terms of -isms. Some years ago I wrote an article in the Canadian Friend expressing my dismay at this, especially the use of the word “Quakerism.” This crept in more or less at the same time as the schisms in the Religious Society of Friends, proving to me the truth of the observation of a young Friend who said “from -isms come schisms” (although which came first is hard to tell).

I refuse to see myself as an adherent of any kind of -ism or set of abstract notions; I view myself as a member of the Religious Society of Friends, a community tuned in to the Voice of the Teacher in our midst, to be guided by and obey the wisdom of love, which is unpredictably creative and most definitely not categoric. We often fail, which is why there needs to be a willingness to “stand still in the Light until we see ourselves,” as well as see forgiveness.

Ellen Pye
Delta, B.C.

Categorization is less useful in the fresh springing of ideas than it is in making sense of a mass of established material. Thus, an author doesn’t need a catalog in the same way a library does. Categories are a tool used by strangers to begin to make sense of a landscape dense with meaning. I’m a cartographer by trade, and when I categorize features on the map, I am not changing the landscape itself. The danger comes when my map is used to make the actual landscape conform to categorization, when this must be a lake because the map says so, and so its grassy, marshy, wonderfully unique self is dredged and neatened up to look like a proper lake should.

Howard Brinton’s categorization, apologetically introduced, provides a useful set of guideposts to the great variety of things Friends have witnessed, testified, and ministered. The problem comes when we use them as forms unto themselves—which we do too often—and fold them back on ourselves as the basis for our own decision making. I, too, tear my hair at what you saw in the committee meeting for peace and social concerns. But throwing out SPICES is not the solution, any more than keeping kids from singing “Doe, a deer” in elementary school would result in more authentic singing as adults. The solution is to point to the form and point to the source, and ask ourselves which proceeds from which. The answer should be self-evident.

Nat Case
Minneapolis, Minn.

This kind of dismissive rhetoric is known as a “cheapshot” and is not in keeping with Friends values. It abysmally fails the “so what” test. The experiences of the earliest Friends do not speak to my condition. My own Quaker heroes are found in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: I find SPICE enormously powerful in encapsulating their motives. Moon’s isn’t a thoughtful essay; it’s a self-indulgent rant.

Mitch Gould
Portland, Ore.

Thanks to Eric Moon for this clear and cogent essay. I fear he will have to suffer for the truth of it, because today Liberal Quakers do want short cuts; and the message that “If Quakerism is worth doing, it is worth taking time to see and celebrate those [actual realities]” will go down hard. I fear, too, that like Arlene Kelly’s excellent insight that Friends practice conflict avoidance rather than conflict resolution (“Conflict in the Life of Our Meeting: Friends Peace Testimony at Work?,” FJ July 2009), our historically grounded insights will be ignored.

I see the attraction of SPICE is that real are built on a commitment to common values, so that each adult seeks to further those values at the expense of self-interest. SPICE is meant to supply that. Unfortunately, I think SPICE concedes too much to individualism. In my experience, espousal of SPICE usually precedes dissolution of a meeting—like the “ethical cultural societies” of past times.

May I say a word in favor of endogamous marriage? Early Friends, such as Wilkinson and Story, took great exception to women’s meeting having a say in whether two Friends could marry. The power of women’s meetings in this regard probably prevented a lot of spousal abuse, something that was not possible when Friends married “out.” Since earlier generations of Friends counseled women who were Quaker converts to stay with their (non-Quaker) husbands, we have many cases of women who were beaten by their husbands for going to meeting. What did that do to both the couple and their children? Could Friends have maintained a commitment to peace through multiple generations without endogamous marriage?

Caroline Whitbeck
Northampton, Mass.


A selection of letters from our readers.

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