Breaking: New Director of Quaker House; And an Open Letter

Wayne Finegar II of Baltimore Maryland was formally approved to become the next Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville NC on Sunday evening, February 13, 2023, by the Quaker House Board.  He succeeds Kindra Bradley, who stepped down in October of 2021 due to family concerns.

Wayne Finegar II

Wayne’s employment officially begins on March 1. He is expected to begin moving into the house this week.

Wayne was a staff member for Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) in Sandy Spring, Maryland for twelve years, most recently serving as interim General Secretary. He previously worked as an attorney and in broadcast media.

In his years with BYM, Wayne worked on just about every aspect of the body’s operations, from finance to camping and youth.

As this is written, war threatens Europe, and a domestic insurgency, involving numerous persons with military connections, add complexity to the already crowded Quaker House agenda.

Wayne will soon be speaking and writing to Friends and supporters of Quaker House about his views on the work ahead. In the meantime, here is an Open Letter, to him and the projects friends, with some welcoming reflections from my tenure (2001-2012) as Director.

 

Dear Wayne,

Congratulations on your selection as the new Quaker House Director! It will surely be an adventure.

Speaking unofficially but as one of your predecessors, let me reflect on the position and its key tasks.

Here it is, in a nutshell: as Director, besides managing a small non-profit, you will be called on to continue a protracted, hand-to-hand, nonviolent but dead-serious combat with the Spirit of War. You’ll be operating behind the lines of one of its main strongholds, far from most Quaker bastions, and largely on your own.

Let’s break down the Director’s job description a bit.  Many of the routine tasks will be familiar, basic to small non-profits: designing and running the program; reporting to the board; keeping the supporters informed; supervising a small staff; and of course, raising the budget.

All necessary, but not the heart of the matter.

The central skills grow out of the unique setting of Quaker House, and have a lot to do with temperament as well as actual capabilities.

Topping the list is the ability to live for extended periods outside one’s cultural comfort zone (or CCZ).

It’s a truism that American society has become balkanized along cultural, political, religious and other lines; more and more we hang out with people who talk and think like ourselves, we stay in our CCZ.

Among these divergent “zones,” in my view no chasm is deeper or wider than that between Civilian America and Military America. (This is another ominous 99%/1% cleavage: the military and their families make up only one per cent of the U.S. population.)
Friends, particularly liberal Quakers, are no exception to this overall “sorting” trend. We are almost all located deep in cultural bubbles on the civilian side of the gap, culturally if not geographically.

This is not said to criticize, but to underline a fact: to live at Quaker House, on the doorstep of Fort Bragg, is to leave that Quaker milieu (and its larger cultural setting) behind. In place of a pacifist heritage and a culture of civilian quiet, you’‘ll step into the maw of the war machine: it’s not only outside, but rattles the windows when you’re inside. War is the main industry in this company town. Goodbye, cozy Quaker CCZ. (You’ll get to visit “across the line”; but you’re now to be an expatriate.)

Is there any other domestic Quaker peace project that’s similarly situated? Not that I’m aware of. Moat others aim at Washington and deal with policy.

The specter of war here is more than “policy”, and goes beyond the frequent sighting of uniforms or equipment; here you will also confront the human cost of war on a daily basis. Its victims haunt the streets, fill the news columns, huddle in the bars and churches, and camp unhoused in the surrounding woods.

Speaking of churches, there are 300+ Christian congregations in the Fayetteville area, some quite large and visible. Among these, in my years Quaker House was the only one willing to declare in public that when Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” maybe he meant it. This is said less as a point of pride than an indicator of isolation.

To be sure, it’s just as possible to see and speak to the Inner Light in military folks as in any other children of God. Our motto here has been “YES to the troops, NO to the wars,” and as Director you will have ample opportunity to practice it. Plus there is a remnant of peace-minded folks in Fayetteville who can offer support; I found good friends there. And Fayetteville Meeting is a tiny but tenacious Quaker bastion.

So the isolation is not total. But make no mistake: Quaker House (QH) is a mission outpost in foreign territory. So much so that you will soon find that very few Quakers from outside are prepared to venture from their CCZs to come to Fayetteville and ease your marginal status.

Indeed, there is a grim joke here, about how the distance from any of the region’s established Meetings to Fayetteville seems to be much, much farther than that from Fayetteville to them.

Nevertheless, Quaker identity and connections are critical to QH and its mission. So if few Friends will come to you, then you will plan to go to them. If and when the Covid pandemic actually recedes, expect to spend much time on the road, especially in summer, visiting yearly meetings, monthly meetings and other gatherings.

More than spiritual support depends on these connections. They are also important to one of the Director’s make-or-break practical capabilities, namely fundraising.

Apart from visits, QH fundraising is mainly done on paper, via newsletters and appeals; so an effective Director will be a good and frequent writer, with journalistic instincts. Yes, the internet/social media is encroaching on print, so some web facility is also appropriate; but ink on paper will still be central to the fiscal health of QH for a long time to come.

Now, as to program: for as small an operation as we are, QH has fingers in many pies. This should be no surprise; militarism has seeped into every corner of our culture. No matter how much we do here, we can’t keep up.

So as Director you’ll be learning about some of the hundreds of regulations and policies involved in our GI Hotline counseling. Then there’s the military recruiting apparatus to monitor. It’s formidable and ubiquitous. It is abundantly financed and deploys top-flight marketing talent with great flexibility.

Recruiters also work hard — many of them too hard, in ways that put their families and even their lives at risk. Witness the four suicides in one recruiting unit in 2007-2009.  (More than a decade afterward, military suicides remain a major issue.)

This data points up another piece of the QH workload, one that was not on our agenda when I arrived, but which we could not escape: what we now call Violence Within the Military.

It first came to my notice as an epidemic of domestic violence, especially shocking spousal murders, during my first months in Fayetteville, now twenty years ago. Such domestic violence was not new then, but widely neglected and even covered up.

Over the years the numbers have varied, and in some recent years a surge of soldier suicides, has exceeded the number killed in actual combat. These and associated phenomena are military-wide, with the heaviest toll in the Army.

In addition, there is another, even more ominous side of the military centered around Ft. Bragg: part of what we call the Torture Industrial Complex. Most of the known “rendition” flights that carried victims to secret prisons and Guantanamo took off from near here. The brutal and illegal “enhanced interrogation techniques” of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were taught here to the masters of Gitmo, and “migrated” from there to Abu Ghraib, Bagram and elsewhere.

Supposedly those practices were banned by 2008. But the precedent has been established, and only a few low-ranking torturers were punished; all the the planners and directors have lived (and some now passed away) with complete impunity. So it calls out for continued monitoring.

The debris and wreckage of torture still litters the NC landscape, and the survivors cry out for justice and freedom.

Further, several of the military’s most secret and lethal units — Delta Force and the Joint Special Operations Command — are based and trained here.

As if all this isn’t enough, there’s one more important unit at Ft. Bragg, less colorful perhaps but very important nonetheless: the 4th Psychological Operations Group, a centerpiece of the Army’s far-flung campaigns of overt and covert  “psychological warfare.”

This unit’s motto in my time was, very revealingly, “Words Conquer.” This points to a lot more than simply dropping leaflets on a battlefield urging enemy soldiers to surrender. It applies as much or more to the “homeland” as to any foreign adversary, and its principal, abiding “target” is not overseas, but right here: us, the US citizenry, thee and me.

This photo was taken about 2010, outside the group’s HQ. The motto has since been cleverly translated into Latin, “Verbum vincet” for camouflage; the goal has not changed.

 

After all, Americans do not automatically start each new year resolved to spend more than a trillion dollars of their tax money, and the lives of thousands here and abroad, to support a vast war machine: we need to be persuaded of that “necessity” and nobility, again and again.

Furthermore, when “Words Conquer” at home, the conquest depends as much on which words can be prevented from becoming part of public discourse as it does on inserting particular terms into it.

Many examples of such domestic psychological warfare could be listed here. Some of the most intensive skirmishes, however, involve issues that are close to our work: such as the tide of violence within the military (it must be downplayed at all times) and the programs of torture (which must never be named as such).

In my years here, this concentrated, relentless propaganda effort had a major wearing effect. As much a course of self-deception as one of misleading others, it at once conceals, justifies and promotes the organized destruction and self-destruction that is our “military industrial complex.”

And here we have named our principal adversary, and a formidable one it is: this “complex,” combines reinforcing elements of massive destruction, secrecy, torture, profiteering, propaganda and deception into a machinery so vast and entrenched that it seems almost to run by itself.

Indeed, the most useful image or metaphor for it to me is that of the biblical “principalities and powers.” That is, forces that operate within and yet behind the visible components and institutions, moving the parts and the people within them. I’ve used a metaphor of comparing the MIC to a playground merry-go-round, which is moved by the many hands pushing on its bars; I call it The Wheel of War:

Note: There’s also a “Wheel of Peace”; we’ll look at this once you get here.

Those caught on this wheel are as personally virtuous, or not, as anyone else. Yet this power encompasses all their individual wills (and in large measure ours too). And it bends the whole ineluctably in the direction of war and death.

This “Spirit (or Power) of War” is a metaphor, surely, and one drawn from a two-millennium old myth. And yet, at Quaker House this “myth” feels as tangible as the huge oak tree at the foot of the front lawn. For if its mechanisms have worldwide reach, many of the key cogs mesh and grind right here in eastern North Carolina. It can be heard rumbling through the woods; its priests and acolytes carry on their rituals in the open; its sacrificial victims stare out from the pages of our local paper.

At Ft. Bragg, for instance, more than three hundred soldiers had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of 2009, and several thousand gravely wounded. In addition, dozens more have killed themselves or their spouses, and untold numbers bear the psychic wounds of what they have done in combat.

And how many Iraqis and Afghans have been killed, maimed or made homeless as these troops carried out their orders? Hundreds of thousands at least. In the CCZs, this appalling toll of death can be kept at a safe abstract distance. In Fayetteville, the windows rattle and one foregoes that luxury.

Now we approach what has been the most challenging part of the Director’s mission, which brings together all the elements previously mentioned: namely, the call to see, name, and challenge this “spirit of war.” Not just once, as amid the camaraderie of springtime Washington peace marches in the “good old days”; but day in and day out, week in and year out. Thus the job demands both tactical skill and stamina.

Stamina: one of the most glaring defects of recent US wars is the near-total ignorance of our forces, from top to bottom, of the nations and cultures they are fighting. It takes time and commitment to develop the cultural competence for effective operations in a different society.

The same goes for peace work and Quaker House: it takes time for a Director to learn the “language” of a military town; it takes time to become established as a credible actor on the local scene. In my view, this means a new Director needs to stay for at least five years, and preferably longer.  It’s not a job for the callow, or inexperienced.

Nor, for that matter, for the faint of heart. Taking on this Spirit of War is what the same biblical texts which speak of such powers call “spiritual warfare” against them. And while this is another old metaphor, it too evokes an all-too-real combat. The Director needs a personal support system too. In my view, this reality highlights the project’s Quaker character. When it began, there were dozens of similar projects underway near U.S military bases: soldier resistance was a real force.

But now, and for many of the years since, there has been only one of those dozens left: Quaker House. And it was the only one with a spiritual foundation and support network.

Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so.

In much popular religious writing, such “spiritual warfare” is typically reduced to calls for lots of prayer, and/or donations to some melodramatic preacher’s ministry. Without disparaging either prayer or donations, taking on the “spirit of war” at Quaker House is a much more concrete contest. In taking it up, you will be called to be tactically imaginative:  you have more to learn from Sun Tzu than Pat Robertson.

I’ve written elsewhere of the value of studying classical military strategy and developing long-term planning and tactical agility in Quaker peace work; all this is intensified in Fayetteville. The language, and still more the grim reality of such concepts and the struggles, are difficult for many, including many Friends. Building a personal support system will be important.

Another aspect of this strategic task is to regularly re-assess and recalibrate Quaker House’s relationship to what was long called the “peace movement.” In 2002-3, for instance, we were happily a mere dot in a vast tide of antiwar protest. A couple of years later, QH and Fayetteville briefly became movement focal points. Such occasions put dealing with police and press as additional items on the Director’s skills list.

Since then we have watched this movement tide recede out of sight, leaving Quaker House flashing our stubborn beacon like a lonely lighthouse across a deserted beach.

Yet if there’s a lull elsewhere, QH is still plenty busy. And who knows — a broader surge may someday rise again.

The unexpected: that’s something to expect here.

This letter is getting lengthy. Yet it only scratches the surface of what I am still not shy of calling, The Best Job in Quakerism.

And now you’ve got it. Welcome again, and “Give ’em hell!” (Nonviolently.)

I look forward to your arrival at Quaker House.

Chuck Fager

7 thoughts on “Breaking: New Director of Quaker House; And an Open Letter”

  1. An awe inspiring (and frightening) job description. As an admirer of those who jump off the high dive at the deep end of the pool, it feels like this is the place and time for Wayne Finegar. A high Sacred calling, this voyage of discovery.

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