All posts by Chuck Fager

Annie Dillard’s Birthday

Today, April 30, 2020, is Annie Dillard’s birthday.

Among the many authors who interest me, she might be the one I would most like to be email & text message-buddies with, so  I could have a chance to keep up with her laser sharp thoughts and squibs on, whatever.

There’s no hope of that; as she says plainly on her bare bones website: 

I can no longer travel, can’t meet with strangers, can’t sign books but will sign labels with SASE, can’t write by request, and can’t answer letters. I’ve got to read and concentrate. Why? Beats me. . . .
(I’ve posted this web-page in defense; a crook bought the name and printed dirty pictures, then offered to sell it to me. I bit. In the course of that I learned the web is full of misinformation. This is a corrective.)

Continue reading Annie Dillard’s Birthday

Doug Gwyn: Theologian and — Quaker Theological Folksinger ? Yes! (UPDATED)

Doug Gwyn has been a frequent contributor to Quaker Theology. Our readers have known him as a theological historian, who has written in depth about early Friends, as well as recent American Quakers.

Of the books, I’d pick as his masterwork, Personality and Place (our review is here), which he calls a theological history of Pendle hill, the Pennsylvania study center and Quaker cultural crossroads. It’s that and much more: a probing reexamination of the liberal Quakerism for which Pendle Hill was for so long the unofficial headwater and seedbed. You can find it here.

But behind this diligently productive scholar-thinker persona, Doug has long been leading another life, as “The Brothers Doug,” a singer/songwriter, producing and performing, as way opened, dozens of original songs. Many (but not all) have Quaker topics, and many of those have an amusing, satirical, and occasionally trenchant edge. Most, either explicitly or implicitly, reflect Doug’s lifelong theological concerns.

This expansive musical oeuvre has been largely shared with very small audiences; Doug has never excelled at self-promotion. He’s retired now (and of course has a jaunty tune, “Baby, I’m Retired” to show for it).
[UPDATE:  Big Hat Tip to Hank Fay, who passed along the news that Doug’s 2008 double album Chronicles of Babylon, a compilation of 31 songs, including those from his early cassette, Songs of Faith & Frenzy, with its memorably clever cover (below), is in fact available on Google Play. In Chronicles are some of his sharpest Quaker satires, such as “Pendle  Hill Revisited,”  “A Process In the Wind,” and “Making Quakers from Scratch.” He’s also unafraid to aim at his own vanity, in “Hair Envy,” which laments the erosion of his own coiffure (“Why Do I Love Your Hair? Because . . . It’s There.”) Alongside these,  are others which carry serious, if unconventionally expressed Christian religious messages.]

Continue reading Doug Gwyn: Theologian and — Quaker Theological Folksinger ? Yes! (UPDATED)

A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

In a time of all-encompassing catastrophe, bad news comes at us from all directions. But insight can comes form anywhere as well. There’s much of this in an editorial in the April 17-30 issue of the liberal Catholic paper, the National Catholic Reporter, (NCR) entitled “Catholics and Trump, a reckoning.” I believe it calls for Quaker attention.

Not that it’s about or for Quakers. But reading it, though, I kept seeing a different name in place of “Catholic” — Quaker.  More specifically, Evangelical Quaker. A sample of the editorial will show why.

But first, a bit of context. Here in North Carolina, much of the evangelically-oriented Quaker population is found in three counties: Surry, Randolph and Yadkin counties. And these three counties have a distinctive record in national politics: twice, in 2008 and 2012, they voted against Barack Obama by a three to one margin. And in 2016, they voted for the incumbent president by three to one. Continue reading A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

Quaker David & Goliath, Cont.: Now David Makes his Case

In late January, a post here described the struggle between the Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW) and the small Friends Community Church of Midway City, in Orange County near Los Angeles. EFCSW’s Board of Elders decided to close the Midway City church, and fire its pastor, Joe Pfeiffer.

The Elders acted after several homeless people (from the LA area’s estimated 59,000 homeless multitude) were briefly taken in there. The Midway City congregation has gone to court to stop the closure and keep Pfeiffer and his wife Cara as co-pastors.

Background and initial details re in the blog post and a followup. Court proceedings have been put into suspended animation by the pandemic, likely til late this year (at least). But the theological debate brought to light by the controversy continues. It should heat up after today, with the publication of Quaker Theology, Issue #34. In it, Joe Pfeiffer lays out the theological and historical case for the challenge he and Midway City have mounted against its putative ecclesiastical overlord.

In Engaging Homelessness Behind the “Orange Curtain” By Joseph Pfeiffer, Joe calls sharply into question both the history and theology of the “church growth” & corporate brand model of church structure and governance that now reigns in EFCSW, and its flagship Yorba Linda Friends Church. It is this theology, and the power grab it enables, which Pfeiffer argues have produced the current conflict. Further, this theology is built on presumptions of white normativity and corporate norms that are both unscriptural and increasingly dysfunctional. Continue reading Quaker David & Goliath, Cont.: Now David Makes his Case

Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

A headline from the Greensboro NC News & Record:

With its campus closed, Guilford College furloughs more than 130 employees

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

John Newsom. News & Record April 3, 2020

GREENSBORO — Its campus empty through the rest of the spring semester, Guilford College has furloughed 133 full-time and part-time staff employees for the next two months.

Slightly more than half of the college’s 250 non-faculty employees were notified Thursday (April 2) that they would have to take unpaid time off from work through at least June 1, President Jane Fernandes said in an interview Friday.

Guilford President Fernandes, center, with students.

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

The furloughs are intended to help the private Quaker college of about 1,700 students save money at a time when the campus is closed because of COVID-19 and the nation teeters on the brink of a deep recession.

“In a sense,” Fernandes said, “it’s a crisis within a crisis.”

The furloughs came about two weeks after Guilford told all students to move off campus by March 21 as cases of COVID-19 started to surge across the state and nation. Fernandes said most Guilford students are back home. Some who couldn’t return home right away are staying locally with college alumni and trustees.

In the past month, Guilford, like most other N.C. colleges and universities, moved classes to online instruction, told employees to work from home and postponed May’s commencement.

“There’s less and less need to be on campus,” Fernandes said. “The work is not being needed in the same way.”
Furloughed employees are eligible for state unemployment benefits and will keep their health insurance and other Guilford benefits until they’re recalled. Fernandes said she intends to bring back furloughed employees “as quickly as possible.”

Guilford may not be alone in looking to cut costs in an uncertain time.

According to a survey of college presidents conducted in late March, more than half expect to have to lay off some employees, and nearly 60% say they probably will furlough some workers. More than 80% of presidents are predicting they’ll see lower enrollments in the fall — a worrisome development for small private colleges like Guilford whose budgets depend heavily on annual tuition revenues. . ..

Meanwhile at Guilford, the work continues.

Fernandes said the admissions office continues to recruit students for its next freshman class scheduled to arrive on campus in August. The advancement office is raising money for a new emergency fund to help students cover the unexpected costs of daily living expenses, medical bills and technology so they can take classes online. Professors and remaining staff members are planning for summer school . . . .

Though campus buildings are locked, she said, the college is not closed.

“We haven’t closed anything. Guilford College is surviving,” Fernandes said. “The college is going to get through this crisis and prevail.”

[NOTE: this is not the first round of layoffs at Guilford  We reported here on the shedding of fifty-plus staff in 2015; Fernandes responded to that report here.]


Some years back, I took a granddaughter on an admissions tour of Guilford.

The grove of trees on the Guilford campus which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The tour was fun, the guides charming, the talk about “enriching experiences beyond the classroom” nonstop, the “amenities” appealing (except there wasn’t enough hot sauce in the au courant Free-range dining hall; tho I figured that was just me).

Continue reading Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

The Dixie Chicks Are Back, and the Head Gaslighter is in their sights

Puts a lump in my throat.

The Dixie Chicks were among the most unexpected,  unlikely and unforgettable heroes of the bloody GWB/Iraq years. Their documentary movie of that ordeal, “Shut  Up & Sing” (this clip can help you see why it’s worth the $3.99 to stream it) still makes me cry; I showed it to my tween-age granddaughter then, so she could see these icons and role models, whether she sings or not.

The granddaughter is a mom now, with daughters of her own, and all of a sudden this is one of her times to remember that history.

If you’re new to the background, The Chicks had a gig in London in March 2003, a few days prior the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At one point, lead singer Natalie Maines said, as an aside to an enthusiastic crowd,  “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas.”

The British crowd cheered. But the militantly pro-war pillars of the U.S. country music industry reacted with rage,  boycotts, cancellations, and Maines even got death threats.

Their record-breaking career suddenly seemed over;  but in fact it wasn’t.  They rose to their unplanned occasion and by 2006, the bravado of the warhawks over Iraq was showing its underlying rot, and the Chicks were winning everything in sight with their comeback, “Not Ready to Make Nice”. 

In the end, they out-sassed, outclassed and went on to totally outlast the b*stards.

Yeah, the guys who thought they had ruined the Chicks’ career, only pushed Natalie  Maine, Emily  Robison and Martie Maguire to reinvent it as an immortal high point of American entertainment (while watching their own “Shock & Awe” bravado crumble into ignominy).

Now the Chicks are BACK, just in the nick of time, with a smash new song, their first in 14 years, “Gaslighter (Denier)” which is an instant classic, “Help-Us-Get-Through-Isolation” & Be-Movin’-On-From-MAGA-Madness & Misogyny Melody:
Gaslighter, Denier–
Doing anything to get your ass farther . . .

Gaslighter, Big timer–
Repeating all of the mistakes of your father

Gaslighter, Big Liar . . .
And you know you lie the best when you lie to you . . .

There are layers here. At the most superficial, it’s about partners who cheat and lie continuously. But in the video, there is a flashing cavalcade of authoritarian, even fascist imagery, with parallels in the lyrics that call out “Big Liar, lie lie lie  lie lie –“ from which a deeper, more public dimension practically shouts.

I think  Gaslighter (Denier) could up alongside “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the towering “Goodbye Earl”, and bring the sound of resilience and resistance to every day of this long, otherwise desolate season. Give it a listen.
 

The Big One: FGC 2020 Gathering Canceled

The email below is going out today to a Friends General Conference mailing list. It deserves wider notice:

Dear Friends

After several meetings with a number of committee clerks, staff, and Gathering volunteers, it has become clear that we cannot safely hold the in-person FGC Gathering this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

We share the experience that the Gathering is deeply important for so many Friends. At the same time, the health and safety of our family of Friends must be paramount. We bring this disappointing news, while at the same time seeking how Spirit might lead us to embrace online tools to create remote Gathering offerings this summer to bring our community together in this time of challenge. While change is neither easy nor comfortable, let us take time to celebrate what has gone before, mourn loss of being together in person, and move with hearts open to a new way forward.

We are clear in this decision, even as we reflect on the thousands of hours of planning so many Friends have invested, the loss of sharing in-person fellowship, and the financial strains cancellation of the in-person Gathering will cause for FGC. Why make the decision now, when so much is unknown? Both because so much is unknown, and because it’s already clear that even if the threat subsides by June, many Friends will be unable to participate in an in-person Gathering this summer due to Covid-19 related financial, family, work, and school challenges. Acknowledging this reality and making this decision now will give FGC more capacity and time to plan alternative ways to speak to the needs of Friends now and in the months to come.

A virtual Gathering working group is forming to explore how to provide, in a new way, spiritual sustenance to all Gathering attendees, including youth, high schoolers, young adults, the FLGBTQC community, and Friends of Color. We will work to share online offerings during the week that would have been the in-person Gathering. Staff & volunteers will also look for ways to include those with limited or no internet access. If you feel called to contribute to this new approach, please be in touch with Lori Sinitzky, rising Conference Coordinator at loris@nullfgcquaker.org.

We are also responding to the understanding that Spirit has opened a way for us to explore what it means to stay connected with each other beyond the week of the Gathering.

It is our current expectation to hold the 2021 Gathering as a traditional in-person event. The FGC Long Range Conference Planning committee will be meeting to set plans in motion for the 2021 and 2022 Gatherings. We are exploring how we can bring some of the content lovingly developed and discerned by the 2020 Gathering Committee to the 2021 in-person Gathering. We also want to remain open that the world is changing, and we are committed to understanding and meeting the emerging needs of the Friends, Seekers, and Meetings we serve.

As events unfold and clarity increases, we’ll be sharing more updates, both on the FGC website and on the Gathering update email list. (The link to information on the website is: https://www.fgcquaker.org/connect/gathering/coronavirus-and-2020-gathering)

Faithfully yours,

Frank Barch, Presiding Clerk
David Haines, Long Range Conference Planning Committee Clerk
Michelle Bellows, Long Range Conference Planning Committee Assistant Clerk
Tony Martin & Patsy Arnold Martin, Gathering 2020 Co-Clerks
Barry Crossno, General Secretary
Ruth Reber, Conference Coordinator
Lori Sinitzky, Rising Conference Coordinator


Continue reading The Big One: FGC 2020 Gathering Canceled

Cancelled: Canadian Yearly Meeting Is The FOURTH to Go. More to Follow?

When I saw that Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) had posted a notice on Tuesday March 17, that its 2020 Annual Session, set for August 7-15 in Winnipeg, has been cancelled I thought it was the first such cancellation of this virus crisis season.

Wrong! Within a few hours I found that it was in fact the fourth. And I scrambled to catch up with events.

A letter from the CYM Clerks, Beverly Shepard and Marilyn Manzer, on their website quaker.ca, cited several factors in the decision, related to the current Covid-19 virus pandemic:

Many of our members are in the higher-risk categories (over 60 and/or with underlying conditions such as hypertension), and many make their travel plans well in advance of the CYM dates. An early decision is desirable for these Friends.

To be clear, it is not simply a matter of the existing pandemic crisis of the Covid-19 virus, although that, of course, is the prime motivator here. Some Friends may be reacting to this news with a sense that the decision was made too early, but the fact is that our YM sessions require a great deal of preparatory work, much of which is done by volunteers. To ask this of our short-handed Program Committee and then to cancel after much work has been done seemed to us unfair.

We believed it would be preferable to cancel the sessions now for the sake of the many people who work hard to make CYM the wonderful gathering that it is; then work can proceed toward a joyous gathering in 2021. As you probably know, there is already much discernment underway about changes to be made to CYM to ensure sustainability. This decision allows these discussions to be more relaxed and thorough before our next gathering.

This unexpected cancellation of sessions will necessitate some new plans  . . . .”

(But the plans have not yet been made.)

There’s a precedent: in 1918, the year of the Worldwide Flu pandemic, Friends General Conference did not hold its then biennial conference. (Available records are unclear on whether the flu pandemic affected this decision; but it would sure make sense.)

Will there be more? My guess is, yes. After all, almost all other North American Quaker groups I know of share many of the same conditions that weighed on CYM:

>> A large over-60 contingent;

>> The need to make travel plans well in advance, with a travel industry in both operational and financial chaos;

>> A dependence on much advance volunteer work, a significant amount of which has already been “invested”;

>> And three more not mentioned: first, the likelihood that many Friends will either be recovering from the virus and/or still quite vulnerable to it, caring for family members and other victims even in late summer.

Second, that many Friends who want to attend will be out of work, or with employment in jeopardy, and unable to commit the resources.

And third, that many Quaker parents, whose children are now out of school, perhaps for the rest of the academic year, will be much more concerned to put their time and money in catch-up work over the summer, to keep pace with their cohort’s unremitting drive to keep their progeny in the educational express lanes into the professional/upper middle class ranks.

As feedback to the post came in, updates were necessry; three in fact:

UPDATE 1: The Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting, scheduled for March 27-29 in North Carolina, has also been postponed. PFYM Clerk Gary Hornsby wrote that,

In making our decision to postpone, we were conscious of how fast the situation may change, and of our responsibility to the vulnerable friends in our community.

Even if we decided to go ahead and meet in March, we thought that attendance would be very low and that friends would not be in the right spirit to meet.

We are considering alternative dates and possible locations for the 2020 retreat & annual sessions, but can’t yet assess what will be possible.

Then to UPDATE #2: Southeastern Yearly Meeting, centered in Florida, has canceled its session, set for April 8-12. In its letter, Clerk Bill Carlie wrote.

Out of deep concern for serious threat posed by COVID-19 to our guests and attendees, and the threat of transmission to the community at large, it was decided to cancel this year’s Gathering.
However…we need to be resilient. We have been so excited about all the workshops planned for this year! The Gathering and Youth Program coordinators and the Field Secretary for Earthcare have started looking at our options and abilities to offer workshops as interactive video ‘gatherings’ online or at future events.

And finally (for now) to UPDATE #3: South Central Yearly Meeting, with meetings from Arkansas through and around Texas. Its session had also been set for April 8-12, the so-called Easter weekend.  But it has now been “postponed,” but new dates have not been chosen. Associate Clerk Liz Yeats wrote that

This decision was a sad one to make. We all agreed we would miss the fellowship, learning and spiritual deepening we experience when we gather face to face.  However, in the face of the present COVID19 (Coronavirus) situation which places so many of our usual attenders and guests at risk, we felt the safety of all, and those in our broader communities, called for such action. We hope to reschedule in the fall of 2020 and will be back to you as soon as we are able with dates. 

In the interim, the SCYM Zoom account will be used for virtual meetings for worship, one beginning this week on Wednesday evening. Please watch your email for more information about this opportunity to gather, worship and share with Friends around SCYM.

It seems likely these four will not be the last such drastic readjustments. Amid this rapidly swirling vortex of unprecedented events, your blogger remains in semi-isolation, tho presently asymptomatic. While Way Opens (i.e., I stay healthy), I’ll monitor the increasingly uncertain summer Quaker scene, and report updates from as they become available. Feedback and more updates are  encouraged

 

 

 

 

BREAKING: First of Many? Canadian Yearly Meeting 2020 CANCELLED

 

[NOTE: This post has been updated! Please go to the updated version  here.]

Tuesday March 17, Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) posted a notice that its 2020 Annual Session, set for August 7-15 in Winnipeg, has been cancelled.

A letter from the Clerks, Beverly Shepard and Marilyn Manzer, posted on their website quaker.ca, cited several factors, related to the current Covid-19 virus pandemic:

Many of our members are in the higher-risk categories (over 60 and/or with underlying conditions such as hypertension), and many make their travel plans well in advance of the CYM dates. An early decision is desirable for these Friends.

To be clear, it is not simply a matter of the existing pandemic crisis of the Covid-19 virus, although that, of course, is the prime motivator here. Some Friends may be reacting to this news with a sense that the decision was made too early, but the fact is that our YM sessions require a great deal of preparatory work, much of which is done by volunteers. To ask this of our short-handed Program Committee and then to cancel after much work has been done seemed to us unfair.

We believed it would be preferable to cancel the sessions now for the sake of the many people who work hard to make CYM the wonderful gathering that it is; then work can proceed toward a joyous gathering in 2021. As you probably know, there is already much discernment underway about changes to be made to CYM to ensure sustainability. This decision allows these discussions to be more relaxed and thorough before our next gathering.

This unexpected cancellation of sessions will necessitate some new plans  . . . .”

(But the plans have not yet been made.)

Beyond this concrete news, here’s a prediction: this is likely only the first of many similar announcements we’ll be hearing.

There’s a precedent: in 1918, the year of the Worldwide Flu pandemic, Friends General Conference did not hold its then biennial conference. (Available records are unclear on whether the flu pandemic affected this decision; but it would sure make sense.)

After all, almost all other North American Quaker groups I know of share many of the same conditions that weighed on CYM:

>> A large over-60 contingent;

>> The need to make travel plans well in advance, with a travel industry in both operational and financial chaos;

>> A dependence on much advance volunteer work, a significant amount of which has already been “invested”;

>> And three more not mentioned: first, the likelihood that many Friends will either be recovering from the virus and/or still quite vulnerable to it, caring for family members and other victims even in late summer.

Second, that many Friends who want to attend will be out of work, or with employment in jeopardy, and unable to commit the resources.

And third, that many Quaker parents, whose children are now out of school, perhaps for the rest of the academic year, will be much more concerned to put their time and money in catch-up work over the summer, to keep pace with their cohort’s unremitting drive to keep their progeny in the educational express lanes into the professional/upper middle class ranks.

Amid this rapidly changing vortex, your blogger remains in semi-isolation, tho presently asymptomatic. While Way Opens (i.e., I stay healthy), I’ll monitor the increasingly uncertain summer Quaker scene, and report updates from as they become available.