Category Archives: Current Affairs

A Free Book Download on Quaker Bible Study: “A Respondent Spark”

For ten summers, 1984-1994, I led workshops on “The Basics of Bible Study” for the Friends General Conference Gatherings. They were lively and well-attended, highly rated on evaluations.

Putting my thoughts together for it, I produced a handbook. The title was “A Respondent Spark,” which was taken from a quote from Robert Barclay’s early Quaker theological treatise, “The Apology for the True Christian Divinity”:

“In the Scriptures God has deemed it proper to give us a looking glass in which we can see the conditions and experiences of ancient believers. There we find that our experience is analogous to theirs….

This is the great work of the Scriptures, and their usefulness to us. They find a respondent spark in us, and in that way we discern the stamp of God’s ways and his Spirit upon them. We know this from inward acquaintance we have with the same Spirit and his work in our hearts….

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate, primary rule of faith and manners. Yet…they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule…for… according to the Scriptures the Spirit is the first and principal Leader.” [Emphasis added

I’ve had some requests to see this handbook, and have resurrected it from my hard drive as a PDF. It is located here, and can be freely downloaded.

I’m conscious of its limitations: I’m not a trained Bible scholar; and the text is several laps behind recent biblical scholarship. Even so, there are some ideas in it which may be of continuing relevance.

Certainly the sections in it introducing the work of literalist biblical interpretations, and some of the nefarious ways these ideas were then being put to work in our society and politics are not obsolete. Some of the names are different, but the key issues are much the same.

Yes, the Bible DOES teach slavery. But it also brings images of and hope for liberation.

For that matter, some of the names are much the same too: I wrote about Jerry Falwell’s so-called “Moral Majority” and its [mis]use of the Bible. There’s still a Jerry Falwell at work today, but his view of the Bible as a political battering ram is not much different from that of his late father. And then there’s Franklin Graham; lord help us.

Still the book was not and is not about politics, except incidentally and when it’s unavoidable. (Alas, there was too much of that unavoidable stuff going around these days; and in these days too; sorry.).The book’s main goal was to answer a query:

Is This the Book For You?

This brief handbook is for certain kinds of people:

First, people who don’t know much about the bible, but think they would like to.

Second, it is for people who are independent-minded, and prefer to form their own judgments rather than simply accept the pronouncements of a traditional authority, no matter how venerable.

Third, it is for those who have a high tolerance for ambiguity because, as we shall see, one thing the Bible doesn’t offer is easy, automatic, simple answers.

This book is also for people who want a practical approach. There is, of course, much more to this subject than could possibly fit into these few pages; but it is my hope that when you have finished it, and become familiar with the tools it describes, you will be able to pick up the Bible, begin to make sense of what you read, know where to get more information about it, and not be afraid of following your leadings about its meaning wherever they may lead.

Beyond the personal benefits it offers, the ability to find your way around in the Bible is of particular value these days, when groups who claim to have the exclusive, true understanding of Scripture are running around attempting to impose their understanding on everyone else, or else.

In case you missed it — you really didn’t. Didn’t happen.

I happen to think that these groups are mostly wrong, especially about what the Bible means. But I don’t think their efforts can be effectively blunted except by people prepared to meet them on their own ground, that is on the basis of knowing something about what the Bible says and how to figure out what the text means.

So if you’re wondering about Bible study, give it a whirl. Did I mention that it’s a FREE download? No registering, no information sought, no facial recognition, and I won’t sell your data. (Some web prowlers might come and snatch it; but can’t help that.)

If you’re interested, check it out, and I welcome feedback.

The download is here.

 

A Quaker Meditation: Hating the Good News?

Except for how it turned out, I hate almost everything about this report:

A mass school shooting was foiled on Thursday, December 13; that’s the good part.

College students and adults too: warning booklet, in a college dorm room at a large Quaker conference.

But the first thing I hate about it is not in the news, but in myself: when I began checking the evening  headlines yesterday, a thought came:

Isn’t it about time for another big mass shooting? How long has it been—? Let’s see . . . the Pittsburgh synagogue, hmm. Oh yeah, late October: 11 dead, six wounded. . . .
Seven weeks ago; right? So  . . . another one is about due . . .”

Yes, I thought that, unbidden, and I hate that I thought it. A premonition? I don’t think so. It’s just that after these past few years, it does feel like there’s some sort of gruesome rhythm to such events.

The new ABnormal.

Then I glanced at the BBC News feed, and there it was:

Continue reading A Quaker Meditation: Hating the Good News?

Friends Seminary – Fired Teacher Will Return

A normally reliable source has furnished me a copy of a letter from the Principal of Friends Seminary (or FS)  in New York City,  announcing that “In late January we will welcome Ben Frisch back into the classroom.” (I called FS to ask about it; as of this writing, there was no response.) The full text of the letter is below.

If you don’t know, Ben Frisch is the Quaker teacher at Friends Seminary (“the”, as in THE only Quaker teacher almost a year ago, when this story began), who was abruptly fired last March.

He  got the boot after making a clumsy joke in a geometry class about how his raised arm, illustrating an obtuse angle, was like a “Heil Hitler” salute.

Frisch is about as far from being “Nazi friendly” as you could want. Although he’s a longtime Quaker, his ancestors were European and Jewish, and some were lost in the Holocaust. He doesn’t need a “diversity officer” to brief him on all that. Nevertheless, he was canned within a couple weeks. In a letter to students, the principal, Bo Lauter, wrote, “Our students know that words and signs of hate and fear have no place at Friends . . . .” Continue reading Friends Seminary – Fired Teacher Will Return

The Lonely “Wall”: Rolling Through Flyover Country To the Mexican Border

I was in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving with family, and they wanted to take a road trip. We settled on San Diego, and they asked what I wanted to see.

The wall “prototypes.”

My answer: “The Border Wall. At least the samples.”

Actually, I soon learned, they’re called “prototypes.” You’ve likely seen the official photos. There’s eight of them, in a row near the real border fence. They’re the result of an early executive order from the current White House. They had their fifteen minutes in the spotlight almost a year ago.

There’s been no funding yet for the Real Thing, though a round of struggle for several billion worth is underway in the congressional lame duck session.

I’ll leave the blow-by-blow on that to others. For me the prototypes were a thing, a key symbol of where this country might yet be taken. I think of them as a portent; I dare to hope they’ll end up as no more than a monument. Continue reading The Lonely “Wall”: Rolling Through Flyover Country To the Mexican Border

Do We Miss the WASPs? Do We Need a New “Establishment”?

In the December 5 New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat makes his column a paean to the lost American Establishment that George H.W. Bush, being buried today with much fanfare,  represents (to him):

“Why We Miss the WASPS,” he undertakes to explain. He says we can

Ross Douthat

describe Bush nostalgia as a longing for something America used to have and doesn’t really any more — a ruling class that was widely (not universally, but more widely than today) deemed legitimate, and that inspired various kinds of trust (intergenerational, institutional) conspicuously absent in our society today.

Put simply, Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs — because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.

Not that this late lamented Establishment, which he thinks reigned for a century or more, was perfect:

 The old ruling class was bigoted and exclusive and often cruel, it had failures aplenty, and as a Catholic I hold no brief for its theology (and don’t get me started on its Masonry).

Nevertheless, since Douthat is a staunch conservative, this column,  like most of his work, soon circles back to his abiding themes, among the most prominent of which is how bad these days are in contrast to what existed Before The Fall (e.g., all the fun parts of the Sixties).

In this case, the unwelcome news is that the Old GHWB Establishment has been succeeded by a new one, only worse: Douthat declares we have a new Upper Class, but one with no class:

Put simply, Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs — because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.

Continue reading Do We Miss the WASPs? Do We Need a New “Establishment”?

Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload

I don’t know about you, but late last week I hit the wall about the midterm election: the swirl of attack ads, the endless urgent fund appeal emails, the feverish palaver about polls. Not to mention the shocks of the Khashoggi assassination, the mail bombs, and the massacre in Pittsburgh. When the funerals there were basically crashed by the uninvited  ghoul, my internal needle bounced into the red “zone marked “Overload.”

I’m not dropping out: already voted (first day of early voting); urged all & sundry to do likewise; sent several hundred dollars to a list of pleading, promising candidates. And I’ve been reading & listening to the nonstop chatter & prognosticating. 

Then finally it became too much. It was driving me nuts. Had to get away.

Continue reading Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload

Pow Wow Chow-Gate: Therapy for The Feverish Media

As far as the midterm elections go, for the media and the talking heads it’s basically all over now, except the voting and the counting (and recounting).

Early voting has started.

Some reporters are still criss-crossing the country, and sending back breathless dispatches, which, if you look close, are mostly interchangeable: campaigns are all in high-gear, GOTV is everyone’s goal, voter suppression is widespread, attack ads are nonstop, the polls are inching up and down, early voting is underway, — and crazy presidential tweets keep flying.

Which is to say, there’s not much real news here. After all, unless there’s some shocking  October Surprise about to drop (no sign of such yet), this frenzy is exactly what you would expect.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m past burned out on watching or listening to talking heads yammer back and forth about, “Will the Dems take the House?” “Oh, maybe yes, maybe no.” “What about the Senate?” “Well, maybe no, but possibly yes.” After this long, it’s like  asking, “Will the market go up or down tomorrow?”

Surely many among the scribes must be fed up with this pointless speculation, and in the absence of actual new political news, many journalists and pundits — way too many, in my view — have gone rogue this week, and have decided to gnaw on the ankle of Senator Elizabeth Warren, over the six-minute video she released on October 15, about the matter of her Native American ancestry.  Continue reading Pow Wow Chow-Gate: Therapy for The Feverish Media

A Tale of Two Nightmares: One Asleep, One Wide Awake

Nightmare Number one, wide awake: In the summer of 1959, my father, an Air Force bomber pilot, was transferred to a base near Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“Peace Is Our Profession” said the billboard by the base gate.

There my mother sent me and several of my siblings to St. Mary’s, the Catholic school downtown. It was across the street from the state Capitol. St. Mary’s was run by Dominican nuns, whose convent was next door.

I could have objected, but thought better of it.  Although I had become more or less an atheist, I was also a senior: one year left. I figured to keep my head down, get through it, then escape to college somewhere.

Far away in Rome, a new pope was settling in, replacing the late Pius XII. Pius had taken over in 1939, three years before I was born. When I thought about Pius, which was rarely, he had seemed like a permanent fixture, as solid as the thick stone walls of the old church in Kansas  where I was baptized, as unmoving as the statues there yearning toward their timeless crucified Christ.

But no, Pius was a mere mortal, and his successor, John XXIII, was quietly preparing to shake up the church’s seemingly impregnable  status quo. I mention these items, not because anything about them had penetrated my teenage male brain, but rather because I realize now that our nuns, an educated and alert group, were no doubt keenly aware of them. In fact, this must have been a very exciting year for them: not only was there a new pope, but Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was making a serious run at becoming the first Catholic U. S. President in 1960. Continue reading A Tale of Two Nightmares: One Asleep, One Wide Awake

2020 Speculations: Wanted — A Fighting Leader

With the awful weekend behind us, we can now return to our regularly scheduled programming, namely endless speculation about the Democrats & their 2020 presidential contest.

Even during the Late Unpleasantness around the Supreme Court, many media mavens kept offering comments about how presidential aspirants on & off the Senate Judiciary Committee were (or weren’t) building their 2020 “brand” in the midst of the swirling controversy. And I admit, I was pondering all that too.

If this now sounds rather ghoulish, it’s still what they (& I admit it, we) do, and some even get paid for it (not me; I’m such a sucker I do it for nothing).

So, with that lame apologia, here’s my handicapping report:

There were three identified aspirants on the minority side of the Senate Judiciary Committee: California’s Kamala Harris, Jersey’s Cory Booker & Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar.

For my money, Klobuchar came across best, but none of them really stood out. Harris & Booker stumbled out of the gate, heckling Chairman Grassley about arcane procedural technicalities (extra points if you can remember any of them), which of course went nowhere. Continue reading 2020 Speculations: Wanted — A Fighting Leader

Post-Confirmation: Our World Won’t End Right Now. (But you can see the clouds gathering.)

The confirmation vote is is done.

I won’t hold it against anyone who feels stunned and numbed by the travesty in the Senate, and needs to take some time to scream, cry & regroup. (Just don’t forget the midterms!)

Yet soon enough, those on the progressive side will need to look beyond the next election to the long work of coping with other aspects of what Kavanaugh’s arrival on the court portends.

And yes, the outlook is mostly bad; terrible, in fact. And it was a terrible prospect even before any of us knew who Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick were.

The upside down flag signals an emergency. I rest my case.

Further, it’s about what we knew, or could have known, before the explosion, that I want to deal with here. Continue reading Post-Confirmation: Our World Won’t End Right Now. (But you can see the clouds gathering.)