Category Archives: Signs of the Times

Abortion & Civil War – 2019 Update

In 1988 I wrote a substantial essay laying out my views about abortion, and describing how they had evolved over time. The piece also considered the increasing parallels, both rhetorical and political,  between this struggle and the Civil War.

Thirty-plus years later, despite some continuing evolution and updates, much of the piece still seems relevant, not least the potential for civil  strife.

(Author’s note from 1998 reprint: Many of the policy issues described in this essay still seem timely more than a decade later. Further, the personal journey it describes was an important part of my life, one not to be denied or concealed. It is also necessary background to the civil war scenarios that will also surface. . . . A much shortened version of the piece was published in The New Republic.)

INTRODUCTION: My Abortion Pilgrimage

Continue reading Abortion & Civil War – 2019 Update

Emily Dickinson: An Epitaph for Today

305

The difference between Despair
And Fear – Is like the One
Between the instant of a Wreck
And when the Wreck has been –

The Mind is smooth – no Motion
Contented as the Eye
Upon the Forehead of a Bust –
That knows – it cannot see-

Biographers note that Emily Dickinson, who died on this date in 1886, was most productive in the first half of the 1860s. Secluded within the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts (except when tending the flower garden), she turned out hundreds of poems, mostly short, striking, often astonishing — but unnoticed by the outside world; her fame came after her death, which was likely okay with her. Continue reading Emily Dickinson: An Epitaph for Today

Spy Story of the Day, Maybe

A friend was on the line, demanding “WTF?? (What’s This, Friend?), about your senior North Carolina US Senator, Richard Burr, and his subpoena for DJ Junior??” (Normally Burr is a reliable rightwing Republican vote.)

Sen. Richard Burr, in seasonal costume.
Good question. So I consulted my (maybe) reliable intel speculator and here’s an excerpt from what came back, tied to the leg of a carrier pigeon, from he who will be dubbed 007:
 
From Politico’s report:
“Burr has been a complex figure in the long-running investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He’s skipped events with Trump to maintain the appearance of neutrality, yet also was cited in the Mueller report for apparently briefing White House officials on the FBI’s Russia probe. Burr reportedly helped the administration knock down stories about links between the Trump campaign and Russia, yet also maintained unity on his committee while the House Intelligence panel self-destructed amid partisan acrimony.”

OO7’s take: Continue reading Spy Story of the Day, Maybe

Now Online: “Quaker Theology” #33 — 20th Anniversary Issue

Quaker Theology #33 — Winter 2019

20th Anniversary Issue

Scroll down for Contents

 Contents

Editor’s Introduction 
A quick review of the ground  covered in 20 years of independent theological work & publication.

Moment of Truth: Wilmington Yearly Meeting Divides over a Familiar Set of Issues, by Stephen W. Angell
This is the fifth yearly meeting breakdown chronicled by this journal in its tenure, and its pages remain the only source of significant reporting on these difficult spectacles.

The Separation Generation, by Chuck Fager
A detailed summary of the five schisms that have rocked American Quakerdom in this century (so far),  with an early assessment of their significance.

Imminence, Rootedness, and Realism: Eschapocalyptic
Action (or not) in the Age of Trump, by r. scot miller.
An effort to construct the elements of a 21st century Quaker theology, turning to such largely untapped sources as Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Reinhold Niebuhr.

A sermon Delivered by Lucretia Mott, at Yardleyville.
Bucks Co., Pa., Sept. 26, 1858, by Lucretia Mott
A contrasting Quaker theological vision, advanced by one of the most influential (but unheralded) American theological voices the Society has produced. Presented 160 years ago, this vision is still keenly relevant, hotly disputed, and its author still largely unrecognized as the theological giant she was.

About the Authors Continue reading Now Online: “Quaker Theology” #33 — 20th Anniversary Issue

Sierra Cascades YM: “Our New Thing” versus the “Same Old Thing”?

In the Northwest, the new Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends (SCYMF) is deep into its first round of recording ministers.

Five Friends have asked to be recorded. Their names & descriptions are being republished in the YM’s weekly news bulletin, for a  60-day period of  “Public Comment” on their candidacies, to be followed by further discernment.

I won’t speak here of any of these individuals; I’m not really familiar with them, and this post is about policy, not personalities.

As for the policy, I wish SCYMF was considering in depth not only whether some individuals ought to be recorded as ministers, but first the wisdom of having such a category in their yearly meeting at all.

Sierra Cascades began taking shape in early 2017, after several meetings in Northwest YM were deemed “liberal” (or insufficiently evangelical), particularly on LGBT and related issues, and were abruptly booted out. (Steve Angell and I reported on the buildup to these expulsions in Quaker Theology –  Issues #24, #27, #28, #30-31 & #33.)  

For several months, participants in the group of banished meetings  informally referred to it as “Our New Thing,” and there was an air of discovery and reinvention to the messages from its initial proceedings. Yet as it prepares for its second annual session, some familiar outlines have appeared.

The matter of recording is a major one.

Continue reading Sierra Cascades YM: “Our New Thing” versus the “Same Old Thing”?

Ashley Wilcox to Liberal Quakers: “I’m coming to uproot, to pull down, and destroy”

Attention, liberal Quakers: Ashley Wilcox is coming for you. 

Wilcox was the Distinguished Quaker Visitor for the Friends Center at Guilford College in NC this past week. There she delivered a sermon on April 4 titled, “Quakers and the Prophetic Tradition.” In it she forcefully declared that she was on a mission from God, one adopted from no less a figure than the great Hebrew prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah, by Rembrandt. He is often imagined as a voice of lamentation and grief. Given the times, and the messages he was given to deliver, it is not hard to see why.

For the guiding text, she read, 

“See [God says to the young, frightened Jeremiah], I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10)

In the text, this statement of mission is figurative: It is not Jeremiah who is to do the uprooting, pulling down & destruction, but God, acting through the enemies of the sinful kingdom of Judah, namely the invading Babylonian armies. As Jeremiah prophesied, the Babylonian forces soon conquered Judah, pillaged Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, killed many inhabitants and took others into a long exile. (Jeremiah himself, after being imprisoned and almost killed by the Judean authorities, ended his days as a refugee in Egypt.)

But Jeremiah was not the invader. Instead, like the other major Hebrew prophets, he was a kind of mail carrier, delivering God’s message to a generally resistant people:

“Behold, I [God] have put my words in thy mouth  [Jeremiah]. . . Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee (1: 10, 17) . . . .”  

Speak those words, Jeremiah; God (and Babylon) will take care of the rest.

However, Wilcox in her Guilford sermon, did not pick up Jeremiah’s messenger role, but rather that of invading Babylon. She repeated the operative phrase (1:10), but with herself as subject: “I [God] have this day set thee [Wilcox] over the nations and over the kingdoms [mainly unprogrammed liberal Quakers] to uproot, to pull down, and to destroy” what she [and God] have determined to be wrong about them.  Continue reading Ashley Wilcox to Liberal Quakers: “I’m coming to uproot, to pull down, and destroy”

Mowing Down Free Speech in the Heart of Carolina

On Monday March 4, I visited the Johnston County NC County Commission.

I’ve been there many times, since 2006. Whenever I spoke, I raised the issue of the Johnston County Airport being home to “torture taxis” through a CIA front company based there, Aero Contractors. (More details here.) I regularly urged them to investigate the company, because involvement in torture is already against U.S. federal law, and international law as well. (They listened, but haven’t acted yet.)

There have been anti-torture protests at this airport since 2005. They continue, even though the “War On Terror” is supposedly over (replaced, of course, by the Endless-String-of-Bloody-“Little”-Mostly-Secret-Wars). One effect of this shift is that the CIA front company is not only still there, it’s grown, and upgraded its security by several levels of paranoia. In the era of endless war, business for Aero Contractors is still good.

Over thirteen years, I’ve been part of many, maybe most of the protests there. So the County Commissioners were doubtless not surprised to see me in their chamber Monday evening. That’s because the Commission has a “free speech” period before they begin work on their formal agenda, when anyone can address them, for several minutes, on whatever is on their minds.

[Above: Chuck Fager speaking to the Johnston County Commission, January 2019.]

This time I shifted a bit from my usual call for an investigation of Aero, because I was targeting the board of the entire Airport. Continue reading Mowing Down Free Speech in the Heart of Carolina

The Attack of the Generic Meds

So I was in Wal-Mart yesterday at the prescription counter. Had two renewals to pick up. One was Losartan, for blood pressure. W-M had sent me a text that it was ready. The other was — well, another blood thing.

There was a line. It was moving slow. I was pressed for time.

A harried-looking clerk called “Next.” I was next. I told her my name and birthdate. She went rummaging among the long row of white plastic bags hanging on a rack, then walked to a corner of the back and murmured to another clerk, who was tapping on a computer screen.

She came back looking more harried. “They’re both not ready,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“But they sent me a text, at least about the Losartan.”

She sighed. “Yes, but there’s been more recalls of it. We don’t have any.” The other one was tied up somehow too. I left with no med refills.

 This was not a matter of money: their prices were tolerable. I had heard about the recalls. Continue reading The Attack of the Generic Meds

Quaker Theology: Weaponizing “Quaker Process”

What accounts for the wave of schisms we at Quaker Theology have been chronicling since 2010 & dubbed “The Separation Generation”? And what could be done about it? In our 20th Anniversary issue of Quaker Theology, we began to raise these questions in a survey of the carnage inflicted by these disruptions.

Doug Bennett, former president of Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana.

Doug Bennett, a former president of Earlham College and a savvy Friend, provides one of the key clues.

While at Earlham he was a member of an Indiana  meeting which went through the purge of 2011-12. Afterward,  he reflected delicately on what had happened in a blog post from  September 7, 2012:

“Schisms require some governance fiddle.

My earliest wondering about schisms was about how they could ever occur given Friends governance practices, our commitment to acting in unity through attending to our business in worship.  If we have to act in unity, how can we divide?

I think the answer must be that somewhere, somehow in each schism there has been some forcing, some deviation from our best governance practices. We have divided by not finding unity – or declaring  ‘unity’ when there was none.”

Our reporting on these recent crackups persuades me that Bennett is basically right, and his insight here is a very important one. Still, I have some quibbles.

My first quibble is that his post falls short of the Friends aspiration to “plain speaking.” That is, “Fiddle” is a woefully insufficient word to describe much of what happened. “Cheating” is plainer, thus more accurate. Chicanery, duplicity and treachery are apt corollaries. 

In some of these recent cases, particularly Indiana and Northwest yes, the fiddlers/cheaters got their way. In North Carolina, Western &  Wilmington YMs, they faced pushback, and the “fiddles” didn’t work out as planned. In our culture today, it’s a pushback world. 

So that’s another quibble with Bennett. Cheating,  if identified and faced, can be stopped, or at least blunted; but besides calling a treacherous spade a corrupt shovel, a meaningful response requires courage. Speaking truth to power, carrying the cross, and all that. Or, in pietist argot, “spiritual combat.”

Western Yearly Meeting was graced with a Clerk who spoke and was “valiant for the truth” about the body, which was that there was nothing close to the demanded “unity” to banish Phil Gulley, notwithstanding the scheming of a vocal pastoral faction. Hence Western got through its ordeal, though in a wounded, reduced state. Wilmington likewise.

On the other hand, Northwest’s powers, operating in a culture of extreme secrecy that could teach the CIA some lessons, struck like nighttime lightning. In North Carolina, the oldest of the five, the conflict was particularly ugly, and the only way the cheaters could succeed was by treachery and ultimately an act of utter, shocking self-destruction.

A final caveat, not really a quibble, is that Bennett’s trenchant observation calls for, but hasn’t received, more attention.

What is to be done about leadership and factional cheating and malpractice? About weaponizing “Quaker process”?

From the jump such malpractice requires the intentional undermining of the discipline more familiarly known as “Quaker process.” Many Quakers, especially convinced Friends escaped from openly authoritarian churches, can become quite sentimental about this. But such sentimentality can easily facilitate victimization. 

How do we identify and call out such maneuvers, not in histories composed long afterward, but as they unfold?

In conventional “Roberts Rules” proceedings, there are at least the beginning of such tools: motions to appeal from the ruling of the chair; motions to delay, etc. To be sure, such rules are also vulnerable; anyone watching the U.S. Congress can see that. But at the least, truth can usually be spoken, and find a place in the record. Friends do not seem to have much of a counterpart.

Another widespread weakness is what I call the Quaker Doormat Syndrome; others have named it the Curse of Quaker Niceness: a carefully-prepared faction makes strident demands; too many others then simply roll over and let themselves be trampled. This is part introversion wanting peace and quiet–Quaker Process seen as a warm fuzzy security blanket; part a conflict avoidance reflex by those who have faced abuse or major trauma; and part plain old fear, even panic. 

We don’t have a settled prescription for dealing with this disorder. But I contend that to start with, Friends need to follow Doug Bennett’s example, speak its name and begin to face up to it. Serious grappling, intellectual, historical, and spiritual, is called for.

So thanks again to Doug Bennett for surfacing this malady. Although it’s been rampant in The Separation Generation, it is nothing new, in Friends or Christian history.
And it’s not always successful. We can push back. And the first push is not to ignore it or accept it passively.

Quaker Theology and Today’s “Separation Generation”

The journal Quaker Theology was started to promote & participate in informed theological discussion & engagement. The need for such  engagement was made clear, at least to this editor, by what turned out to be a major, but unexpected themes of the two decades of publication, the rise of what is called  in the 20th Anniversary issue, The Separation Generation.In this period, five U.S. yearly meetings have split; one of them disappeared entirely, after 320 years.

It’s not easy – in fact, impossible – to pick a starting date for this schismatic wave in American Quakerism. My personal preference is July 1977, when the first major interbranch conference in decades nearly blew apart in Wichita, Kansas, over the surfacing and demand for recognition by gay men.

That was surely a dramatic moment. Others might home in on the “Realignment” struggle of 1990-1991, with its undercurrents of panic over feminist Wicca and (nonexistent) Satanism. The goal of “Realignment” (not yet realized, but which some still hope for) was the ripping apart of the umbrella group, Friends United Meeting (FUM), which once straddled these lines. [Both these incidents are described in my book, Without Apology (1995)].

But others could leapfrog over that, to 1957 when much of Nebraska Yearly Meeting demanded to be “set off” as a separate, evangelical group, which became the evangelical Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting.  Or to the years 1926 to 1937, which saw secession from FUM’s predecessor, the Five Years Meeting, by the evangelically-oriented Oregon YM (1926). Continue reading Quaker Theology and Today’s “Separation Generation”