A Vietnam Era Underground Railroad Conductor “Takes It To Jesus”

From “Quakers & Resistance” — by Ken Maher

Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from a newly-published, double issue of Quaker Theology, #30 & #31,  on “Quakers & Resistance.”

Ken Maher now lives in Rochester, New York. He may be unique among living American Quakers as the father of seven and grandfather of seventeen (and still counting), not to mention his longtime support of Friends for a Pro-Life Peace Testimony. His blessings also include a Roman Catholic wife and Quaker meetings that have tolerated his quirky Friendship for 50 years, including serving Rochester Meeting as Clerk.

Ken Maher, in disguise as a respectable, indeed natty paterfamilias.

Ken is a product of Friends World College and spent ten years teaching English as a Second Language in Kisii, Kenya; Cuernavaca, Mexico; Humacao, Puerto Rico; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; El Paso, Texas; and Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.

In this episode, though, he was making waves closer to home, during the unpopular Vietnam War, when thousands of young American men were fleeing the military draft, even wanting to leave the country. . . . Continue reading A Vietnam Era Underground Railroad Conductor “Takes It To Jesus”

Resistance In Review-From Israel to Asheville

No Country for Jewish Liberals, Larry Derfner. Just World Publishing. 268 pages.

The Half Life of a Free Radical. Clare Hanrahan, Celtic Wordcraft. 292 pages.

Reviewed by Chuck Fager

[Editor’s Note: In light of the news that the government of Israel has banned staffers from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) from entry, due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign, this review becomes even more timely.

It’s not about AFSC, but the first author here, larry Derfner, is an Israeli citizen, a proud Zionist Jew, but one who also supports BDS. 

It makes me wonder: if Derfner travels outside Israel, will he too be banned from returning?  (Besides AFSC, the Israeli government has also banned members of Jewish Voice for Peace from entry.) How much more authoritarian will his government become in the quest to crush the BDS challenge? As you’ll see below, these are not academic questions, but very much alive, even for those on the Israeli side of their divided land. Continue reading Resistance In Review-From Israel to Asheville

Gone & Almost Forgotten: the “Peace Movement”

Hello, America, it’s 2018. Do you know where your war machine is at work? Practically everywhere.

The other day I saw a chart from Brown University that maps the 70+ countries where the U.S. has “War on Terror” military operations going on (there are likely more, where the secrecy level is higher). And it set me to remembering.

Continue reading Gone & Almost Forgotten: the “Peace Movement”

Lucretia Mott’s Birthday Secret: No Woman Is an Island?

What “secret” am I talking about here? Lucretia Mott with a secret?

For her devotees, Lucretia Mott’s life is, or should be, an open book: born into a loving, encouraging family, married for 57 years to what one biographer called “the best husband ever”; she had a long public career of preaching and speaking, of which generous samplings have been preserved; and she wrote hundreds of letters which scholars have combed through. She endured sorrows: the loss of two of her six children, and then widowhood; and she overcame years of withering criticism of her ideas and “heresies.”

Lucretia! You really believed this stuff??

 None of that is new, or unexamined. And in her personal carriage she was a model of traditional Quaker propriety: she disdained novels as frivolous and vain; it was husband James who sat in a quiet corner, burning the midnight oil, unable to put down Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Then, while Hicksites all around were shedding the grey and the bonnet, she was plain til the very end. Continue reading Lucretia Mott’s Birthday Secret: No Woman Is an Island?

A Progressive Quaker Message from Lucretia Mott

“Truth for authority, not authority for truth.”

Lucretia Mott, considered at the time of her death in 1880 to be the “greatest American woman of the nineteenth century” by many of her contemporaries, was a Quaker abolitionist, women’s rights activist and social reformer. She was also a key figure in an important insurgent movement of Progressive Friends. Her messages and actions are  very pertinent today – and laid much of the foundation for the current women’s movement.

Wednesday First Month (January) 3, 2018, will mark Lucretia’s 225th birthday.

What message would she have for us if she were here today?

HINT: She’d likely tell us we’re in deep trouble and should get up and get busy. (She’d say it nicely, but urgently).

In fact, her message might sound like this . . .

Continue reading A Progressive Quaker Message from Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott’s Birthday is Coming Soon! (On Wednesday, In Fact)

Yes, Lucretia would be 225 years old on January 3, 2018. 

And who was Jane Johnson, and why was she racing down Philadelphia streets  in a coach with Lucretia Mott in September of 1855? And why were federal marshals trying to catch them??

And why did Johnson run through Mott’s house and out the back door?

Continue reading Lucretia Mott’s Birthday is Coming Soon! (On Wednesday, In Fact)

A “Carpet of Light” for a New Year

Here is an array of candles, lit during worship at Chapel Hill Friends meeting in North Carolina, on the night called Christmas Eve, 2017.

I first took part in such a ceremony at State College Friends meeting in Pennsylvania. The event was quite simple; it began after dusk, with the meeting room unlit except for a single candle on a large table, covered with highly reflective aluminum foil.

Out of the silence,  as moved, Friends came to the table in ones or twos or family groups, and each lit another candle, which they placed on the table; they spoke if moved, then sat again in the silence.

From the first time I experienced it, the way the whole room was progressively illuminated, seemed in fact to glow, as the number of flickering flames increased, was very moving to me.

In a way it was a visible, wordless, yet eloquent evocation of Quakerism at its best: a motley, seemingly haphazard collection of candles of witness, more diverse than we outwardly seem, mainly anonymous and individual, somehow joining together to become more than the sum of the parts. 

This time, at the end of 2017, a year which for me has been very heavily shadowed, often deeply gloomy, and yes, dark, the full array became something of an encouraging signal for the year ahead. (Let’s hope!)

At State College Meeting, we were told that this custom had originated in Berlin, shortly after the end of World War Two, when the city was still devastated in the wake of bombing and and combat. I pass on the story we were told below, knowing it mainly as an oral tradition:

How the Christmas Candlelight Meeting Began

Berlin in 1945 was a devastated city, bombs had destroyed most of the homes and buildings and things were in terrible disarray – children without parents and homes, shortage of food and shelter — all of the terrible consequences that accompany war.

Ilse and Gerhardt were a Quaker couple with three small children who suffered terrible hardships during the war — she (a school teacher) because she defied the authorities ‘speaking truth’ and Gerhardt because he had a Jewish father.

They were homeless and spent many months searching for shelter for their family. While doing so, they were willing to have other homeless orphans join them simply out of compassion, but with the knowledge that with each additional child, there would be less to share among their own family.

They eventually found a bombed-out building that gave them some shelter from the cold winter days and nights. The children slept in Army blankets in the clothes that they wore during the day. Taking turns, Ilse and Gerhardt would search for food to feed the always-hungry children that grew daily in numbers.

Once in returning with a loaf of bread, a hungry soldier asked Ilse for a piece. With reluctance, she shared the bread, only to find upon returning to the children that a Quaker care package had arrived with nuts, dried fruit and chocolates.

On Christmas Eve, Ilse and Gerhardt felt terribly sad about having so little to share with their extended family, but they were determined to make the Eve of Christmas a joyful event for themselves and their children. It was then when they and the Berlin Quaker Meeting conceived of the idea of a candlelight service as we now know it.

By that time, the meeting had been assigned space in a mansion that had been confiscated during the war. Their large room had little furniture and, have course, no Christmas tree. However, nearby was a stand of fir trees and from these, they cut branches and carpeted the floor with green cuttings. They had a good supply of candles and gave one to each child.

They began the meeting for worship with a single candle illuminating the darkness of the winter night. One by one, after lighting the candle from each other, the children gave the best and only present that they could — they shared their talents that God had given them.

One little girl had just learned to whistle and tried her best at ‘Joy to the World’. An older child had composed a poem thanking Isle and Gerhardt for their compassion. Many shared memories of their own families, making everyone a bit sad and happy at the same time.

As more children lit their candles, Ilse said the room was turned into a carpet of light (licht teppich in German). After everyone shared their talents, they sang the wonderful Christmas songs that we still sing about God’s gift to us and the hope of Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward everyone.

That sharing became a tradition in the Berlin Quaker meeting that continues today. Years later, an American family visiting Berlin experienced it while living in Berlin and also introduced it to the Live Oak Friends Meeting in Houston, TX. It has migrated to some other meetings from there.

 

 

How I Got so Lucky – A True Christmas Story

 

I

Brooklyn, December 1967

I knew it was going to be another tough day at the Welfare Department when I saw the woman having an epileptic seizure in the Intake room. She was on her back, eyes rolling, jerking and thrashing, head thumping on the cement floor.

A security guard ran over and straddled her, trying to hold her down. Her arm whipped up and knocked off his black billed hat. Reaching back, he pulled out his billy club.

God, I thought, I hope he’s not going to hit her!

He wasn’t, but it was almost as bad. He tried to push the club between her teeth, to keep her from biting off her tongue, which could kill her. The jerking and thumping of her head made this almost impossible, though, and the club whacked repeatedly against her chin and face. Finally he got the club between her lips, and her movements seemed to slow down.

I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned back to the doorway and headed upstairs to the unit, where my desk sat in the second row from the back, the fourth desk over.

It was a freezing cold December in 1967, and there was no doubt about what I wanted for Christmas: Two things: a revolution; and then, a telephone for Mrs. Lee.

Actually, the telephone would probably have to come first, but that’s not how I felt–and I’m getting ahead of myself.

II

Every day in my job at the New York City Welfare Department, I saw dozens of good reasons for revolution: sad and desperate people trooping in and out of the Intake room, looking for help, begging for help, screaming for help. And every day, I watched the system fail them, giving them no help, or the wrong kind of help, or help that just wasn’t enough. Continue reading How I Got so Lucky – A True Christmas Story

My Top Ten Books in 2017

It’s the season for Top ten Lists, so here’s mine.

For some years, I’ve been keeping track of my reading, especially books. For 2017, with only two weeks yet to go, I’m at 27 volumes, and a total of 11400 or so pages. That’s close to a thousand pages per month. (I might still make a thousand, if I finish another book or two before New Year’s.)

The “page total” figure is somewhat ambiguous, a s many of the titles here I listened to on CDs in my car. Several others were read on Kindle. But for me all that counts as reading; and I looked up the non-hard copy titles to find the print page count.

This tally does not include newspapers; I typically skim through three or four per morning, online (the Raleigh NC News & Observer; the Washington Post, the New York Times & the Guardian.) And of course I read lots more stuff online, which I don’t keep any systematic record of.

I rarely get brand new, up-to-the-minute books; though a few turned up on this year’s list. And I bought several more books than I actually got read. So be it.

That’s enough background. Of this hefty stack of print (and its electronic equivalents), here are the ten that were most compelling or meaningful.

But before starting with #10, let me detour briefly to the very bottom, and add as a bonus, the books that were most disappointing. Continue reading My Top Ten Books in 2017

Can Dr. King’s 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign Rise Again?

A revival of Dr. King’s 1968 Poor People Campaign was just announced by Rev. William Barber II, set for its 50th anniversary next year.

And just in time for that launch is the newly-published 50th Anniversary edition of Uncertain Resurrection, my account of the 1968 campaign, and how it ended in disaster for the movement. Can the second try be more successful? Continue reading Can Dr. King’s 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign Rise Again?