Friends Music Camp Stories #4: Old Plain Peter – The Ghost of Elders Past

Prelude

Before this final camp story, a bit of background. Until 2015, Friends Music Camp gathered at the Olney Friends School, in Barnesville in eastern Ohio.

Barnesville is the Mecca, the (old) Jerusalem, the place of pilgrimage where all roads lead for the scattered survivors of the Conservative or Wilburite strain of quietist Quakerism.  These are the Friends who “conserved,” or clung longest to the “peculiarities” of dress and speech, and worked hardest at maintaining traditional “plainness”. (NOT “Simplicity”; that’s a modern, much watered-down imitation.)

Olney’s spirit is embodied in both its main school building, which has a  sturdy, handmade character, and a pervasive Quietist atmosphere at its end of Sandy Ridge; and then in the huge, echoing space of the Stillwater Meeting house, which reigns at the other end of a fetching sidewalk of red brick laid in herringbone pattern.

In its heyday, Stillwater could hold a couple thousand, and was often filled during “Yearly Meeting week” for its parent Ohio (Conservative) Yearly meeting, and where visiting ministers could (yes!) preach for an hour..

Continue reading Friends Music Camp Stories #4: Old Plain Peter – The Ghost of Elders Past

Friends Music Camp Stories #3: The Voice of God

The Voice of God

Three girls were clustered in the hallway of my high school. It was early April of 1958, on an Air Force base in Puerto Rico, between classes. I was walking toward them, in a way that could take me right up to them – or right past them.  I’d decide which depending on what they were talking about. Which turned out to be this:

Peggy: “Hey, Sue I hear you’ll be at the Spring Formal after all.”

Sue (with a nervous shrug): “Yeah, I’m going with Bob Gilliam.” She wasn’t looking right at Peggy.

Peggy (unconvincingly): “Oh, that’s cool. Is your mom gonna drive you?”

Sue: “Yeah – do you and Teddy need a ride?”

By this time, my decision was made – a slight shift of stride took me past them, my ears burning and my gaze fixed on the ever-fascinating rows of lockers, as if I had never noticed them before. Continue reading Friends Music Camp Stories #3: The Voice of God

Camp stories – 2018: One: “Talking With The Trees”

Last Friday, July 20th, 2018 I read original stories to the talented youth at Friends Music Camp, at Earlham College. I’ve been doing this for 28 years (or maybe only 27; starting to get fuzzy). Many of the stories are about Quakers, with bits of history and witness; others are  autobiographical, from my pre-Quaker youth; some are strictly fiction.

I read four stories this time, and as we’re on the brink of the Dog Days of late summer, I’m going to offer these stories here, in the same sequence as at Camp.

Each year I aim to bring a new story for our session. That’s what we’ll start with. This story, like many, is essentially true. The second story will be up tomorrow (Friday, July 27).

                            Talking with the Trees

It was the fall of 1966, I was a teacher at a new experimental Quaker school, called Friends World College. We were based on Long Island, east of New York City, in a cluster of converted houses on an abandoned Air Force base.

The College founder believed in studying problems, like poverty and the environment, rather than traditional subjects like math and biology. He also believed in study travel, going to places where problems and subjects of current importance were alive and vivid.

I was new and young in this educational world, not long out of college, coming to it after work in the southern civil rights movement, knowing basically nothing about teaching college. But I knew how to drive, and that was enough at that point.

One exception to our trek through a basic set of worldly “problems” like war, was a presentation on the much more conventional young adult “problem” of finding some sense of direction and meaning in life. It was by an elder Quaker writer named Milton Mayer.

The morning he came, our Dean, a retired English professor named Norman Whitney, after silence and a brief introduction, turned to him and said, “Milton, Mayer why don’t thee tell us what is on thy heart, and what is on thy mind.”

Mayer looked us over, and we looked at him. Unusually for our proto-hippie setting, he was in a suit: gray, with a starched white shirt and bow tie. I now think he must have stopped with us while headed somewhere else, perhaps to a meeting at a foundation or to make a formal speech before a group of well-heeled big city liberals.

But he was in no hurry. Surveying us from under his heavy black brows and receding hair, his expression grew somber and finally he said:

“Well, Norman, as I sit here with all of you, I find that what is on my heart is different from what is on my mind.”

He rubbed his chin. “So I believe I’m going to tell you what is on my heart.”

Continue reading Camp stories – 2018: One: “Talking With The Trees”

Time To Do Some History Homework

Found a valuable piece on the History News Network: “Why Is Christian America Supporting Donald Trump?” It’s by John Fea, a historian  at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Fea’s piece is not just timely, it’s also important. He homes in on the fact that the “Christians” in Trump’s base are operating on a specific religious reading of American history, one that’s not new, but which has always been false.

In fact, it’s not really an exaggeration to say that our struggle today for a democratic American future is also a fierce struggle to confront & root out a false so-called “Christian” pack of lies about our past. Unfortunately, at the moment the false history charlatans are way ahead, and it makes a real difference. And it could soon make much more. Continue reading Time To Do Some History Homework

250,000 Hits Later: Taking Stock of a Quaker Blog

Yesterday I spent a few hours hunched over my laptop screen, waiting for a number to arrive: the 250,000th hit on this  blog.

250,000: A quarter of a million. Imagine.

The hit counter said that number was near, and it felt like a major milestone for me. Sure, I realize that big time blogs can get close to that many hits in a day or two; but a Quaker blog speaks to what they call a “niche market.” And the blogging here, active and archived goes back to 1998,  but has been significantly active since 2009.

I started out in February 1998, with one of the shortest posts, one which noted some, um, uncertainty. Here’s the whole thing:

  I need a blog like I need a hole in the head.

But it’s clear that these days, it’s an increasingly important way of getting one’s views and convictions into the broader public discussion and debate.  And before it is too late, there are some things I’d like to get into circulation.

My overriding concern now is the mad course down which my country’s rulers are headed, and what faith groups can do about it.   My perspective is “sectarian,” rooted in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers.)  As the saying goes, I’m proud to be a humble Quaker.

But my sense is that people from other faith groups, or none, can learn things from our experience and discussions — and we can learn from others.

So let’s do it.

This hesitant opening was soon followed by what is beyond challenge  the longest post ever: 45800 words, with several thousand more added in followups. It was a nearly-book-length investigative report called “Fleecing The Faithful.”

In the late ’90s, two major church frauds stole tens of millions from Evangelical Friends. It could happen again. (It has, to others.) This shocking report, which took four months of intensive research & writing, showed how.

Not long after that, blogging lagged behind outward events, particularly September 11, 2001, which jolted  me out of my routine in central Pennsylvania, and saw me shipped off to be Director at Quaker House, the peace project next door to FortBragg in North Carolina.

With two big wars getting underway, I was  pretty  busy for several years. But the net kept developing, and by late 2009, the pace picked up.

Since then, along with the hits I’ve accumulated 626 “items” on the blog.

In this outpouring, topics varied, though religion was often nearby. In fact, it was the focus of what is undoubtedly the very shortest post of all 626, from May 21, 2011, Here it is, in full:

Since the world seemed likely to persist for awhile, I went ahead and retired from Quaker House in late 2012. Meantime, the blog had had its share of scoops;  it unearthed two official letters from Kenyan Quaker officials endorsing brutal treatment for LGBTs in its country and region; internal budget documents from Philadelphia YM detailing its budget struggles; breaking the news of appointments to various major Quaker positions; etc.

Soon I began foraging for new blogging subject matter. By late summer, 2014, a dominant new subject dropped into my lap:

The Quaker trouble in North Carolina lasted three full years, and I ended up covering it in three ways: in print and online in the journal Quaker Theology, and through the blog as both a reporter and an engaged member of one of the monthly meetings targeted to be purged. There are too many of these posts to list here, and I won’t try to summarize their many twists and turns.  (A summary/review is here.) It ended in August 2017 with the body involved, North Carolina YM-FUM, committing corporate suicide and going out of business after 320 years. At the same time, purge fever spread to two other yearly meetings, with new splits beginning to boil over.

Some readers who were intrepid enough to keep up with this reporting might think I’m something of Quaker conflict junkie, and I can understand how that impression develops. But just this morning after worship at my meeting, I was prompted to mention to one of our stalwart members that in only a few weeks it will be a full year since all that agony in North Carolina YM-FUM finally went up (literally) in smoke. She and I were both overcome with relief.

Besides, in this struggle’s last year, the catastrophe of Eleventh Month 2016 pushed most of our intramural Quaker squabbling to the margins. (Not entirely; because Quaker divisions here in NC mirror many of those in the larger culture; we still have our discernment and work to do among Friends in this new and very gloomy context.

The evolution of technology also made it possible to be “active” in struggles physically located elsewhere. Say, for example, Standing Rock. I cheered on the pipeline protesters there, but had no leading to join them.

Then, just a few weeks after the 2016 election, I read that the paramilitary contractor TigerSwan, based near Fort Bragg and run by veterans of secret military units, was doing “security services” for the pipeline backers and possibly various police agencies. Beyond the name, few in the outside media knew anything about it.

I knew of it from my time at Quaker House, and dug up a batch of background on the company from public sources, then put up a substantial post on November 26. In 24 hours it drew more than a thousand hits, which is a lot for me — but such independent remote exposure could also be vulnerable to electronic pushback: suddenly, the post and my whole blog disappeared.It took a week of insistent appeals to the host to get the blog back up — and when it reappeared, the TigerSwan post was still gone, completely scrubbed from its files.

Fortunately, with the help of readers who had saved copies, we reconstructed the suppressed post, and uploaded it again; it is still there.  

Yesterday, the “All time” counter, which updated fitfully, abruptly jumped ahead a dozen or so, and flipped right past the number I was waiting to see. Whatever.

I’m still busy, as way opens, keeping up with more recent stories I broke in the “blogosphere,” about the two teachers at Friends Central School in Philadelphia who were fired for inviting a Palestinian pacifist Quaker speaker. That, plus the resistance, the resurgence of racism, and other topics, yield a continuing stream of blogging subject matter, some not so controversial. I’m hoping the blog can still build its readership and that I’ll last until the next big milestone (500,000) is reached.

 

If this post is of interest, pleased pass it on.

 

 

Dandruff on the Boss’s shoulder: Friends Central School Strikes Back

The boss has landed the key appointment with the Big Man. He’s almost ready, wearing his special suit.

Just before the Big Man’s secretary opens the office door, the Boss’s assistant notices a tiny white speck on the Boss’s shoulder. The assistant moves fast, raising a hand, ready to brush–

But the Boss is already walking through the door. The assistant sees him reach out to shake the hand of the Big Man–

Dominance behavior: flicking dandruff of an inferior’s clothing.

And then–OMG!–the Big Man is raising his hand, and flicking the speck of dandruff off the Boss’s suit himself.

Oh, the shame. the humiliation. The assistant stands frozen. Of course the instant has been recorded by cameras that will flash it all over the world in minutes. The assistant imagines his career crumbing right before his eyes.

Yeah, this is a clumsy parable of the next round in the Friends Central School (FCS) discrimination lawsuit. Continue reading Dandruff on the Boss’s shoulder: Friends Central School Strikes Back

Frederick Douglass on the Fourth of July

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the Fourth of July. It is the birth day of your National Independence, and of your political freedom.

This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day.

This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. l am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands.

According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. Continue reading Frederick Douglass on the Fourth of July

A Hospice for Hope: A Quaker War (& Peace) Story

Lexie dropped the pint bottle of Ensure into her cloth bag, slung the bag over her shoulder, and held the bouquet of dyed pink daisies over it for camouflage. With her other hand, she put the phone back to her ear.

“All right,” she said to Allyson, “I’ve got it. They’ll never notice it under the flowers.”

At the top step, the big automatic doors swung open, not too fast, not too slow, and she walked through the entryway. Turning right into the big hallway, she didn’t glance at the small sign that read, “Hospice Care”; she knew the way.

“This place always gives me the creeps, ” she told her sister. Allyson was sitting safe at home in Cincinnati, more than a thousand miles away.

“Why?” Asked Allyson. “Because it’s full of dying people?”

“Maybe partly,” Lexie said, “but I think it’s more the way they kinda package the whole thing here, like everybody’s getting ready for a birthday party. I mean–

A woman’s voice interrupted. “Can you help me?” It sounded weak, but piercing. “Can you help me?” Again.

Lexie slowed and glanced to her right. In a lounge doorway a woman sat in a wheelchair. Her hair was tousled, her hands outstretched, reaching toward Lexie. Continue reading A Hospice for Hope: A Quaker War (& Peace) Story

Cultural Appropriation: the Sad Case of AFSC

No sooner had the AFSC’s Centennial bash gotten underway in spring of 2017, when  somebody rained on their parade: another multi-million budget shortfall was acknowledged, with the expected fallout of more job and program cuts.

This was getting to be an all-too familiar story; almost as familiar as the empty promises to “re-connect” AFSC with actual living Quakers.

The biggest cuts had come in 2008-2009, when years of mismanagement and profligacy combined with the larger economic crash to force over a hundred staff layoffs, and the closing of dozens of offices and programs. Yet that big rush of cuts wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last. Regional offices, once at 13, imploded to a skeletal four.

What had happened? Continue reading Cultural Appropriation: the Sad Case of AFSC

Full-Court Press: Apres Kennedy, Le Deluge?

I won’t try to predict who will be nominated for Anthony Kennedy’s seat. I  only vaguely recall the list of names that was floated before the 2016 election; the ones I recognized ranged from the outrageous to unthinkable.

 

I didn’t recognize Gorsuch then; but now we know that anything is possible, and lily Tomlin was RIGHT:

So let’s consider some of those legal landmarks that are now in deeper peril. Continue reading Full-Court Press: Apres Kennedy, Le Deluge?