For a reporter, even a retired one, there’s a charge of adrenaline in a scoop — getting a story before other journalists.
And if the scooped rival is the Big Kahuna, aka the New York Times, there’s an extra kick to it.
So I’m preening this morning, after noticing that the august Times, fresh off stuffinganother Pulitzer Prize into its warehouse full of such trinkets, catching up with reporting that appeared here more than five years ago.
This despite the fact that the story involved mostly delivered grim news.
Seeing the Times headline, “As a ‘Seismic Shift’ Fractures Evangelicals, an Arkansas Pastor Leaves Home,” my immediate reaction was — I admit it — “Well now, it’s about dam time.”
Bob Casey is one of the last ‘pro-life’ Democrats. The Supreme Court decision is going to test his views.
WASHINGTON — When the Sandy Hook school shooting rocked the country, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey changed his longtime stance on the Second Amendment, becoming a fierce advocate for stricter gun laws.
When a Supreme Court decision neared that would make same-sex marriage legal nationwide, Casey embraced the shift, abandoning his previous objections.
And when President Joe Biden took office early last year, Casey softened his stand on the Senate filibuster, suggesting he’d be open to changing the rule if it helped Democrats turn big, progressive ambitions into reality.
Some liberal pundits are predicting a tidal wave of backlash against the leaked SCOTUS decision to reverse Roe & Casey, the decisions that have made abortion a right since 1973, forty-nine years ago. (The full text of the draft decision is here.)
I’ve written that, while a Roesupporter, I’m not at all sure any such tidal wave is certain, or even likely.
Let me add here that this uncertainty seems to apply just as much to U. S. Quakers.
Why? In sum, because
A. Americans (Quakers too) are exhausted by years of crises, from an attempted (& ongoing) coup begun at the capitol, a continuing pandemic (case numbers are rising again, fast), a new, not-exactly Cold War/World War 3, inflation, and more.
The American right is winning the battle over abortion rights. In fact, they have been winning for a long time. Since the late 1970s, conservatives have worked to build a well-funded, militant anti-abortion movement that that includes white nationalists, religious extremists, and pro-life feminists. Now, the end of the legal right to abortion appears terrifyingly imminent.
Jamelle Bouie, one of the best new columnists for the New York Times, today highlights a recent book, The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left.
[In it, he writes], “the historian Landon R.Y. Storrs shows how conservatives used loyalty pledges to purge the federal bureaucracy of government officials ‘who hoped to advance economic and political democracy by empowering subordinated groups and setting limits on the pursuit of private profit.’
Left-leaning New Dealers in the federal government, she explains, ‘believed that race and gender inequality served employers by creating lower-status groups of workers who supposedly needed or deserved less, thereby applying downward pressure on all labor standards, including those of white men. They saw their mission as sweeping away beliefs and practices that were based on obsolete conditions but defended by those whose interests they continued to serve.’
The Red Scare is, in this view, less a sudden outburst of reactionary hysteria than a political project aimed directly at dismantling the New Deal order and ousting those who helped bring it into being, both inside and outside the federal government.
I’m lucky enough to live just a few blocks from Pauli Murray’s modest childhood home, which is now a National Historic site. Pauli Murray was distinguished in so many ways that it’s difficult for any concise document to do her justice. Here are a few important items the ACLU letter below left out:
> Murray survived years of grinding poverty while excelling in school and college.
> Murray was not only a brilliant legal theorist, but also a feisty activist, arrested more than once for pioneering civil rights protests.
> Murray “invented” what some now call “intersectionality” decades before it was popularized, based on her own plentiful experience of oppression based on her gender, race, and class. She called it, tellingly, “Jane Crow.”
> Amidst a life if personal & social turmoil, Murray was a person of deep faith. In fact, late in life she became the first Black female priest in the U. S. Episcopal church. She celebrated this by conducting her first official service in a “historic” North Carolina chapel where many of her enslaved ancestors had been taken.
> After her death in 1985, the Episcopal church declared Murray a saint in 2012.
Do rightwing American Catholics hate pope Francis?
Is the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Jewish?
On a scale of 1 to 10, would 25 be close enough?
From my outside liberal Quaker perspective, Francis is not all that progressive: slow on smashing the priestly pedophile protection racket; mushy on cleaning up the sewer of financial sleaze around the Vatican; status quo on women, anti-abortion & and anti-LGBT matters (a few sorta-friendly comments don’t cut it.) Also he’s much too patient with the sowers of slander & schism in his own ranks.
After all, what good is a papacy, if it’s not taking charge? Sometimes his Vatican sounds like one of our “Clearness Committees” that never reaches any clearness. (Hey, Francis, take it from me— one denomination mired in what is too often the quicksand of finding the ”sense of the meeting” is plenty.)
Besides, from my external perch, I’m also often reminded that Francis heads the largest organized church on the planet. His and its fates reverberate far beyond their parishes, convents and monasteries.
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’s employment officially begins on March 1. He is expected to begin moving into the house this week.
Writing Quaker history & theology is not exactly the road to fame and fortune.
But a few still take it, and among those of the passing generation, one that I most admire is Douglas Gwyn, who is always Doug to me.
One reason for admiration is that Doug has produced some outstanding work. My favorite is his book, Personality and Place, which I consider his masterpiece (and reviewed at length here).
He calls the book a “theological history” of Pendle Hill, the Quaker center near Philadelphia which has been a main crossroads and watering hole for Friends for nearly a century.
In a style that is always gentle but nonetheless relentless, he charts Pendle Hill’s evolution/devolution from being (as the first sign at its entrance declared) “A Center for Religious and Social Study”, to serving as what a recent board member sadly decried as “a navel observatory.”Gwyn convincingly shows how Pendle Hill’s trajectory mirrors and illuminates a “modern” and “liberal” Quakerism sliding largely into decadent, self-absorbed conformity and irrelevance.
But important as his written work is, book reviews are not our subject here. I want instead to pay tribute to Doug’s other “career,” that of a singer/songwriter,which he has pursued for almost as long as his scholarship. Maybe longer, since he retired from theology in 2017, and is still busy with music five years later.
Doug hasn’t pursued music-making for money, except for an early stint managing a blues-oriented coffee house called “The Morgue” on the Indiana University campus, and selling the odd cassette. He began writing songs in the late 1970s, and has often performed, but mostly for coffee house-sized groups at Pendle Hill or other such venues. As he explains, he’s done most of his recording himself:
My first attempt at multi-track recording was during the summer of 1999 at Pendle Hill. My friends, Peter and Annie Blood-Patterson, well known folk singers and producers of the Rise up Singing songbook, lent me their four-track recorder and effects box. I spent hot summer nights with the windows closed (to keep out the roar of crickets and katydids) and the loud air conditioner turned off, sweating profusely as I learned how to overdub harmonies and vocal sound effects along with my faltering guitar and singing. The recording persona “The Brothers Doug” came out of that experience.
And several albums later, he’s made his music available to the world, on a dedicated website: https://brothersdoug.me/free to listen to and download. On the site he’s included (by my count) 103 songs, and he’s ditched their copyrights for what he calls “commonrights,” making them part of the general wealth of untrammeled creativity.
Many of his early songs had Quaker references, often satirical and sometimes trenchant, such as “A Process In the Wind,” “That of Odd in Everyone,” and “Making Quakers from Scratch.” He’s also unafraid to aim at his own vanity, as in “Hair Envy,” which laments the erosion of his own coiffure (“Why Do I Love Your Hair? Because . . . It’s There.”
One of his sharpest Quaker satires was “Pendle Hill Revisited.” In a way it prefigures in compressed rhymes his book “Personality & Place”. (BTW, the tune here is that of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”:
Bill woke up and said to his wife, honey, I’ve got to change my life! Where can I find that higher path, with courses that don’t require math?” His wife said, “Let me think for a minute, Bill– one thing will help (if anything will), try spending a term at Pendle Hill!
Bill enrolled and had the time of his life, He finally got round to calling his wife: He said, “My dear, I’ve found myself, It’s drying now on the pottery shelf.” His wife said, “I’m so glad for you, Bill, Come home for Christmas and review your will, Then spend another term at Pendle Hill!
Next thing he knew, the year was up, Joy overflowed sweet William’s cup. He said, “I’ve got to stay somehow, I’m on a roll, I can’t stop now . . . .” [So yes, you guessed it, our old Friend Bill Spent the rest of his career at Pendle Hill . . .] Bill’s last years were in managed care, Still trying to learn that centering prayer, Till death took Bill out on a date, And he met St. Peter at the pearly gates.
St. Peter said, “Should I let you in, Bill?” Bill said, “Hell, do what you will, I’d rather be at Pendle Hill!”
And on moonless nights you’ll find him still, Along the path at Pendle Hill.”
Many of Doug’s newer songs are more philosophical than theological, though the distinction is often fuzzy. Not a few have an apocalyptic cast, “The Other Shoe”:
Well we all know that the climate is changing, If we care to admit it or not, We take positions on the same condition, But we all know what we’ve got.
We all know something’s got to give, Oh, yes we do, But Who? And Why? And What? While we wait, for the Other Shoe– To drop . . . .
This near-term gloomy outlook fits his scholarly background (Doug’s dissertation, which became his first book, Apocalypse of the Word, published in 1986). They also have increasing echoes in the social, environmental & political currents of our era.
One I like that straddles the line is “FAQ,” which consists entirely of questions:
FAQ October 2018
How did we get here? How soon can I go? Are you for real? How would I know? Where did that come from? What’s your excuse? Is it just me? What’s there to lose? Refrain: FAQ, frequently asked questions, FAQ, frequently asked questions . . . .
Where is the restroom? How much is enough? How will the end come? Which end is up? Does he still love me? How much does it cost? Why did she do that? Could we be lost? FAQ, frequently asked questions, FAQ, frequently asked questions . . . .”
But one question that he has answered with glee involves letting go of a lot of what he grappled with for so long, and his song about it brings a smile to the faces of many who are, or are nearing, a certain age:
Well, I’ve been hired, and I’ve been fired, I’ve jumped through every hoop required, Til my sell-by date expired,
And now My very soul is tired.
So I’m putting on that cardigan sweater, And I’m already feeling better — Baby, I’m retired!” (He’s retired, baby.)
On the website, there are 103 songs, including twelve written just last year.
Now, giving away your music resembles doing Quaker theology in one respect, namely that it’s not a road to riches either.
But Doug is already a wealthy man in a lot of other ways, if you ask me: several good books, a quiet life in Social Security simplicity, in his home state, and with access to low-cost technology that makes both his writing and music widely accessible, for those who seek it out, and many more should.
And this is not the first time Doug has shown that, contrary to popular wisdom, there can be a free lunch, at least intellectually/spiritually.
On Christmas 2015, with a little assistance from this blog, Doug posted an entire book, Words In Time, including many of his best essays on Quakerism and its discontents, as an absolutely free download.
You do NOT sign in. You do NOT pay. (Not now. Not ever.) You do NOT leave your name or email address.
(And since we won’t have your name or email, we won’t sell it or trade it or send you stuff or do anything else with it. Because –did we mention? — we won’t have it.)
Here are the pieces you’ll find in this book. Most are otherwise very hard to find:
Part I: Covenant
1. The Covenant of Light 2. Renewing Our Covenant: Can Our Branches Be Olive Branches? 3. Sense and Sensibilities: Quaker Bispirituality Today 4. The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism 5. Can’t See the Covenant for the Contracts
Part II: Seed
6. The Seed: The Power of God Among Us 7. “Sink Down to the Seed”: Going Deeper in Quaker Life and Witness 8. The Seed: Captivity and Liberation
Doug said about Words In Time, when it was first published: This book is a collection of short pieces, most of which have appeared in print elsewhere. They cover a nine-year period, 1988-97. I chose the title Words in Time because several of the pieces were written for particular occasions, and address specific dilemmas facing Friends at the time. As such, these keynotes and essays are somewhat time-bound and situation-specific. For example, “The Covenant of Light” addressed Friends United Meeting shortly before the “Realignment” controversy erupted at the end of 1990. But problems of alienation and mutual exclusion within the wider Quaker family continue; the message of reconciliation still needs to be heard.
[Thee Can Say THAT Again! Okay, he will: But problems of alienation and mutual exclusion within the wider Quaker family continue; the message of reconciliation still needs to be heard.] Doug continued: All the pieces in this collection attempt to place current Quaker struggles within a larger context. The rootstock of our Quaker tradition, in its unique expression of the ancient Hebrew- Christian faith, can provide important perspective on today’s dilemmas. In particular, two themes encompass this collection: covenant and seed.
One more song i want to mention, which is in the collection: Here’s the concluding verse:
Yonder stand those Quakers on the far side of the back of beyond misfit mystics, a boil on the bum of Babylon they’re too few to make much difference too peaceful to break many laws an endangered species of spiritual life practiced in the art of lost cause.
Yonder stand those Quakers singing “We Shall Overcome”; yonder stand those Quakers
God help those poor fools carry on God help those poor fools carry on
“The irony here,” Doug says, “is that the song adopts the perspective of someone in the cultural mainstream, pondering Friends from the outside. We Quakers sometimes forget how odd we can seem to others . . . In spite of the song’s cynical tone, the bemused observer still affirms, “God help those poor fools carry on.”
Doug’s music, like much of his writing, also energizes me. And theological Quaker folksongs?
Why not? Better than a lot of the field’s product.