Category Archives: Cross-Generational Conversation: YAFS & OFFs

Made In Vietnam: My World. (Yours Too?)

Made in Vietnam: My World. (Yours Too?)

Just got a new blood pressure monitor. But this post is not about my blood pressure.

The old monitor gave out after several years: nothing but error messages. Amazon was ready with a new one, delivered the next day. Dropped from a drone?Drones-vs-storks I was running errands when it landed, so can’t be sure.
The new one’s highly rated, and from the same company as the old one.
Out of the box yesterday morning. First step, put in the batteries.
Flipped it over, popped the cover open. Then I noticed this label, just below it:
Nothing remarkable. Except for this statement In tiny letters in the lower right corner:
That set me off. Not a flashback, exactly, but off on a (not uncommon) ADHD tangent:
I was born during a big war, World War Two. I have no real-time memories of it, but my childhood through the 1950s, in a military family, was saturated with its imagery: pictures, comics, books, movies, and then TV shows.
My father had flown bombers over Europe, barely escaped death many times, won medals, but didn’t talk about it. Still, the war, my “birth war,” was always there: fascinating, glorified, ubiquitous, and somber in ways I was too young to begin to grasp.
But it sank in. I expected, in high school, to follow my father into the Air Force.
A glimpse down the road not taken: me in 1961, the year I won the “Outstanding AFROTC Cadet” medal.
Then, the Sixties brought Vietnam. And life, in the form of the civil rights movement and exposure to active nonviolence, took me away from the military, to the anti-war side, and among Quakers.
But that’s another story.
I didn’t start hating  the military. But I soon began to learn, even from a “safe” distance, about the human costs of war.
The Vietnam lessons went on for about ten years, and yes, they were traumatic for me personally, even 8000 miles from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City.
I’m not comparing myself to the millions of Vietnam veterans who never recovered from their firsthand war. But it undeniably had vast impact inside the U.S. Too, impact which continues, though I can’t even begin to fathom or chart the ways here.
The impact was general. It was also, I see clearly now, very personal.
One personal impact was on my spiritual life: I learned that the biblical adage about how we reap what we sow wasn’t just an old saying: it was a Truth.
That learning didn’t make me a “Bible believer.” It did make me a “Take-a-Second-Look-Maybe-There’s-Something-Useful-Here-After-All” Bible reader.
In that second look I uncovered another truth, in Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes” (or, in a modern rendering, presidents who promise not to get into a big Vietnam War during a campaign, only to do exactly that three months after winning the election.)
This piece of Truth I’ve had to re-learn several times since; and now that it’s already 2016 everywhere but the calendar, here comes another marathon refresher course.
If World War Two was my father’s war and the frame of my childhood, Vietnam was my coming of age war. And besides being haunted by the living testimonies of veterans and others at home, there are several numbers from it that also continue to haunt:
1-million plus, the estimated total Vietnamese, mostly civilians, killed in it. Two, or thee million more in a sideshow war launched on Cambodia, which loosed a genocide as “collateral damage.”  And the unnumbered children and grandchildren of Vietnam disfigured by ongoing pieces of our war such as Agent Orange.
 (There are many photos of some of them on the net, casualties of our war who were not even born til a generation after it supposedly “ended”; but don’t look at them if you are weak of heart or stomach.)
Enlarge these images at your own risk. And know that there are American children and adults living with similar effects, who never went near Vietnam.
Thinking of that war, I often ponder some of what happened next: we were repeatedly told by our “Princes” of the day that we had to win it, because otherwise “Godless Communists” would take over, and impose an economic/political system that wouldn’t, couldn’t work.
The Hawks and wise Persons were right about that much: we lost the war, and after defeating the U.S., the Communists did impose their system; and behold, that system, especially the economic part, didn’t work.
So after running the Vietnamese economy into the ground, the rulers changed course and became, like the Chinese, a variety of authoritarian/corrupt crony capitalists. (Turns out they weren’t so “godless” after all; they shared the worship of Mammon with many of us.)
Now their economy works much “better.” Even the U.S. Government agrees, and we are now “friends” with Vietnam; many of our corporations are doing big business there. Like Amazon, for instance.  Starbucks and KFC too. And yes, McDonalds. (Turns out the franchise is –surprise, surprise — owned by the son of a high government official; he also has degrees from elite U.S. universities. “Would you like fries and an Ivy-League PhD with that, sir?”)
Had to be Ronald. And how do you say “Super-Size me” in Vietnamese? But seriously — it beats 5 million dead in war, yes?
But all this does not get to the bottom of my pondering. I keep asking, mostly silently but sometimes aloud: couldn’t we have figured out a way to just back off and leave Vietnam alone? Let the Communists, if they won their internal war, try out their dingbat system, let it fail, and then skip ahead to the post-Communist part?
The part where they make inexpensive blood pressure monitors?
If we had, several million deaths there could have been spared. Many hundreds of thousands of American lives would have been spared too. Not to mention all the hundreds of billions of debt that financed this bloody foolishness, left for us and our grandchildren to pay, in declining schools, failing bridges, roads, etc., etc.
But of course, we didn’t back off. And since my coming of age war, there have been numerous other U.S. wars, the ones of my middle age and senescence, which are ongoing. It’s likely some will still be underway when I meet my maker, even tho I’m hoping to live a good many more years.
So for almost half a century, promoting & working for “peace” has been an active goal for me. But as an American in my time, it is war, big and “small,” overt and secret, that has enveloped and shaped my life.
I didn’t want it that way. They say the Vietnam War ended 40 years ago this week. But I haven’t been able to escape it, or its spawn. Ignore it briefly, now and then; escape it, no.
All this tumbled through my mind as I slid the batteries into my new monitor, and got ready for its initial reading.
“Made in Vietnam.”
Maybe this post is about my blood pressure after all.

Review: “A Convergent Model of Renewal” (for Quakers)

Review: A Convergent Model of Renewal

By C. Wess Daniels. Wipf & Stock. Reviewed by Chuck Fager

A Convergent Model of Renewal: Remixing the Quaker Tradition in a Participatory Culture. C. Wess Daniels. Pickwick/Wipf & Stock Publishers. 224 pages. Paper, $21.60.

There’s more than little déjà vu about Wess Daniels’ book project. Quakerism, his book argues, will be renewed by the coming together of Friends from the fringes of the various branches, particularly younger members and seekers. Or as he puts it: “It could be said that convergent Friends signal the emergence of a new Quakerism that transgresses the boundaries of any one Quaker group.” (D 16f)


Why déjà vu? Such a sentence could have been written in the 1920s, either for young Friends in the Northeast, or the “All-Friends Conference” of 1928. Then again in the late 1940s through the 1950s for gatherings of Young Friends of North America (YFNA). Or in 1977 for the all-branch Friends gathering in Wichita. Or in 1985 and 2005, for the two World Gatherings of Young Friends, in Greensboro, North Carolina and Lancaster, England. Nor let us forget the YouthQuakes of the ’80s & ’90s. (And there were more.) Continue reading Review: “A Convergent Model of Renewal” (for Quakers)

Quaker Talk: Should Messages In Meeting Be (Very) Brief?

Quaker Talk: Only Brief Messages In Meeting??

Elias Hicks (1748-1830). His preaching drew large crowds, and deeply impressed a young Walt Whitman. It also stirred up lots of trouble among Quakers of his day.

In the “olden days,” Quaker ministers often preached long & hard. A healthy sampling thereof was taken down, and can be retrieved if one looks hard enough for them. I’m grateful for this mostly neglected lore, as a means of reaching across time, and past the notions cast over the gap by historians (of which I’ve been one.) I think they’ve much to teach us.

Here’s one example, of Friends perhaps not at their best: Elias Hicks preaching, then being answered (rebutted, really) by some others, with confusion ensuing. A “Silent meeting”?? Not very. Read it if thee dare, here.  And then, there’s a bunch more here. 

I’m referring to Quaker preachers in the traditional mode, like Lucretia Mott, who never, ever “prepared” a sermon. There is, however, a book of many of her messages, all of which were taken down by stenographers. Some were thus recorded as tributes, others gathered to use as ammunition against her suspected “heresies.” Whatever, without them we’d have hardly a clue to what she had to say, and thus little chance to find out if it has anything for us now. So I’m grateful for them. (Here’s one in full, from 1860, posted by one of her definite NON-admirers.)

Lucretia Mott, with her abiding motto: “Truth for authority, not authority for truth.”


As for sitting in meeting & listening to them — one’s mileage might vary. Read aloud from the pages, many of the talks take up most of an hour; and in a number of them, she mentions that other Friends had spoken before she did, and likely not epigrammatically. So it appears that in her day, meeting was as much for preaching and listening to same, as for focusing on silence in the current mode.

This throwback style is not mentioned as a norm or ideal, but to point out that even “silent” worship has evolved, and might evolve again . . .


The Appeal of Quakerism to The Non-Mystic

The Appeal of Quakerism to the Non-Mystic

Can you be a Quaker in  the 21st century (especially a Liberal one), and not be a mystic?

Yes. And that’s been true for a LONG time. A century ago, in 1916, a noted British Friend made this case (but he was not the first or the last) in a striking pamphlet that unfortunately is little-known today.

To help relieve this work’s obscurity, we present it here; just click on the title below.

Take it away, William!


Are Friends Tired? More Conversation With YAFS

If you’ve stopped by this blog in the past ten days or so, you may have seen my lament about being invaded by Zombie posts that refused to die, or be deleted.

Here they Come! AArrgghh!

A few days ago, when I got some expert help to examine why, it turned out there was some very bad code hacked onto the site, which we hope is now rooted out. A salutary reminder that it’s an internet jungle out there, and hacking our way out was a tough fight. But at the moment, this blog seems to be Zombie and virus-free. (Cross fingers.)

Continue reading Are Friends Tired? More Conversation With YAFS

“Spirit Rising”: A Review In Installments — Part 1

Spirit Rising book

“Spirit Rising”: A Review in Installments — Part 1

356 pages, $17. 50. Published by Quaker Press.

Part One

“If we have done our job,” write the ten Young Adult Friends (YAFs) who edited this new book of writings by their Quaker peers, “. . . some pieces may surprise, confuse, alarm or even offend you.”

Continue reading “Spirit Rising”: A Review In Installments — Part 1