Category Archives: Books & Book Reviews

Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

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 Roe supporter, 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.

B. Americans, even American women, are and long have been divided on the issue. Furthermore the pro-Roe supporters have long been out-campaigned by the anti-abortion side. Again, Quakers too.

This last is not just my opinion. The leftist journal Dissent put it bluntly and well in 2019:

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.

(More on my own ambivalence about a great backlash here.)

I’d be happy for Dissent and I to be wrong and the prophets of political tsunami proven right; but the evidence for it isn’t there now, and I’m not in the “wish-casting” business.

Besides, an informal survey of public Quaker sources only reinforced this impression. Continue reading Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Friday Follies: the Culture War & The Tostitos Hint of Lime Chip Conflict

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.

Jamelle Bouie

[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.

Without making a direct analogy between then and now, [NOTE: But the parallels are pretty darn close!] I think that this perspective is a useful one to have in mind as conservatives pursue yet another witch hunt against those they perceive as enemies of American society, using whatever state power they happen to have at their disposal. Continue reading Friday Follies: the Culture War & The Tostitos Hint of Lime Chip Conflict

Twofer Thursday: Garrison Keillor at (almost) 80; and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

There’s not a direct connection between the two items excerpted here. Garrison Keillor is definitely religious, in his low-key, often self-mocking way.
But like others of his (& my) generation, he’s watched in bemusement as the generations behind him have been mostly quietly, but steadily dumping religion.  Following Keillor, pastor-researcher Ryan Burge takes a look at this undeniable, but still puzzling slide: contributing factors are easy to name; but clarity and implications are elusive.

#1 – Excerpted from The Saturday Evening Post:

[Garrison Keillor’s new book] Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80, is a playful yet deeply felt meditation that ought to be a standard in the literature of human aging. I asked Kate Gustafson, president of

Keillor’s production company, how she’d characterize the work. “It’s a novelty book, a gift book,” she ventured after a long pause. Keillor chortled when I told him that. No, no, he corrected, it’s actually “a memoir with an essay wrapped around it.” . . .

About his “canceling/MeToo” ordeal, Keillor himself was plenty angry. He has written that he was unable to defuse what boiled within him until one day, in New York City, a priest prayed into his ear that the “injustice done to me” could be put aside. And that was it, Keillor wrote in his memoir. He was suddenly unburdened, and could return to the “quiet domestic life with the woman I love,” his third and current wife. But as the Washington Post reported in a lengthy piece last year, the scandal represented a “downfall” from which Keillor never fully recovered. Continue reading Twofer Thursday: Garrison Keillor at (almost) 80; and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

Two Chilling Blasts From the (not so distant) Past

I’m reading a memoir/autobiography, Writing Straight With Crooked Lines, by Jim Forest. Jim died recently, after a long life spent in peace work, including much collaboration with Quakers.

After the attack on a huge Ukrainian nuclear power plant, two passages in it leapt out at me this morning. The first was merely a blip — but an unnerving one— from almost 40 years ago. The second, however, tells of a passing encounter in that same era which could be repeated today.
Tell it, Jim: Continue reading Two Chilling Blasts From the (not so distant) Past

Learning to Endure with Bill Kreidler & “Tending The Fire”

To everything there is a season . . . and in the small field of Quaker publishing, this seems to be the season for books to help Friends, and friends of Friends, get through hard times.

I won’t rehash the reasons for this spurt; they’re as near as the morning’s headlines. It will suffice to cite recent comments by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founder of the much-maligned Critical Race Theory, in the Washington Post, about:

“[T]he history of progress around race in the United States: Modest reform creates tremendous backlash. And sometimes the backlash is more enduring than the reform.

Consider, we had about a decade of Reconstruction. And [then] we had about seven decades of white supremacy, racial tyranny, utter and complete exclusion.

[Then] We had probably a good decade, maybe a decade and a half, of active civil rights reforms. And then three, four decades of conservative retrenchment, reactionary responses to these reforms that allow for people to say what they’re saying now, which is that anti-racism is racist, your civil rights violate my civil rights.

These are very old and repetitive ideas. So the reform, retrenchment frame is now taking place in the midst of a tremendous resurgence of anti-democratic, anti-inclusionary politics.”

The one thing I would add is that the “retrenchment frame” that seems to be building now concerns much more than race: women’s rights, labor organizing, assaults on the press and education, book banning, LGBT rights, forging a de facto religious establishment, and a drive against what is called the “administrative state.” To name a few.

No wonder so many progressive folk feel beleaguered and depressed. Continue reading Learning to Endure with Bill Kreidler & “Tending The Fire”

Two Videos: “The Separation Generation” & My Odyssey in Brief

Two new videos are on my mind as this week opens:

The first was made last week, when three of us opened the door to what hopefully will become a much broader set of conversations about recent Quaker history, conflicts, and current issues.

We gathered for the Earlham School of Religion’s Authors discussion of our three-volume set, “The Separation Generation, “ charting a series of five recent schisms in American Quaker yearly meetings.

More than one hundred Friends and visitors joined us in person and via Zoom. They had lots of good questions, more than we could deal with in our limited time.

One of the most frequent questions, in Zoom  chat and later messages, was, “When will a video recording be available?”

I’m happy to say that the answer is, “Right now.”

The hour-long recording of the session is now on Vimeo, here.

Coauthors, from left: Stephen Angell; Jade Rockwell; and Chuck Fager

So if you missed it, or want to go over it again, now’s your chance. And you can still send in questions and comments to us, via this blog. Continue reading Two Videos: “The Separation Generation” & My Odyssey in Brief

The Separation Generation: A Continuing Challenge

Blogging about the divisive agony which is overwhelming Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association (SAYMA — described here) was not on my agenda when we planned the Zoom session set for tomorrow, November 11, at 4 PM. (Register at this link:   bit.ly/3k6eDBZ )

But stuff happens. Even in theology.

And that post usefully (if sadly) shows that the forces which produced the five splits chronicled in The Separation Generation series are not confined to the pastoral and evangelical branches, and their theological universe; but can be stirred anywhere, on many issues.

There isn’t space here for a detailed comparison/contrast; and likely it’s too soon. But that time will come. And as we discuss the books tomorrow, my thinking will not only be about this near past, but also about the present. These books are a resource for such immediate work.

This was pointed out by a reviewer on Amazon, Canadian Friend Ian Davis, writing of Indiana Trainwreck:

Ian J. Davis — 5.0 out of 5 stars

It would be easy to say that this was a dry read about recent events in a place very distant from my own.

But nothing could be further from the truth. At core this is a careful examination of religious conflict in a Quaker context; how it arises, how it festers and just how destructive it can be.

There is a strong tendency for religious movements to seek safety in their own creeds and dogma and to insist on uniformity of thought. This desire invites those who disagree with the righteous to be labelled heretics in need of either correction or expulsion.

But there is also a strong desire among Christians to be mindful of the teachings of Jesus, and in particular to love one’s enemies. This is particularly true of Quakers who have historically rejected creeds and dogma, partly on the grounds that such artificial rules (regarding who is to be deemed in, and who out) are divisive, and invite coerced pretense rather than informed spiritual growth.

The conflicts described in this book center around the issues of faith, practice, acceptance of individuals in the LGBTQ community, and the issue of support or opposition to same-sex marriage. It is the ever repeated conflict between those inclined to impose uniformity versus those inclined to welcome diversity.

But it is also the conflict between those who seek God’s will, and those who seek to impose God’s will. Readers of this book are offered front row seats where they can better observe the bloody action unfold. [The coauthors have] done the world a service in documenting so carefully and in such a readable manner the human tendency to forget “thy will be done” in favour of “my will be done”. I rather marvel at [their] own fortitude in staying on the train, while this train wreck was in progress.

Thanks, Ian!
In 2008, a Quaker meeting in the West Richmond Friends Meeting of Richmond, Indiana quietly adopted a policy statement affirming the presence and participation of LGBTQ persons in all aspects of its fellowship, and posted this new statement, called a Minute, on its website.

Officials in the meeting’s regional association, Indiana Yearly Meeting, took exception to this new statement, and told West Richmond to remove it from the site. West Richmond declined. The resulting controversy unfolded over the next five years, and resulted in a major division in what had once been among the largest Quaker communities in the United States.

For historians, it is a unique resource for research. For general readers, it is a rare closeup view of issues that reverberate widely across our culture, and have implications far beyond the boundaries of a small Midwestern religious sect. Indeed, the Indiana virus spread, and parallel conflicts soon convulsed several other American Quaker associations.

In mid-2014, a blast of church schisms blew into the three-century old North Carolina Quaker community like a line of summer tornadoes.

A purge was demanded to “purify” their ranks of congregations deemed theologically “liberal” or friendly to LGBTQ persons. It was much the same wave that had already sundered Quaker groups in Indiana.

Yet the targeted meetings in Carolina stood up eloquently in their own defense, and the purge attempts repeatedly stalled. So how far would the crusaders go? Were they, like U.S. troops in Vietnam, ready to destroy their Quaker “village” in order to “save” it? Did the struggle have to end with a “Murder at Quaker Lake?”

The last time such a broad wave of separations rolled across the American Quaker landscape was in 1827-1828. These recent divisions were reported on as they happened for both a Quaker and a general readership by two projects: the journal Quaker Theology, and a blog titled A Friendly letter.

Murder at Quaker Lake is Volume Two of The Separation Generation, a three-volume series which brings together these reports and related documents, as both an unique initial historical record and a singular resource for those concerned with the course of contemporary religious evolution and controversy.

While Quakers (formally called the Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church) are a small denomination, they encompass a broad range of theological perspectives and socio-political outlooks, and have experienced controversies similar to those that have shaken many larger denominations in recent times.

In Shattered by the Light, parallel conflicts over sexuality, the Bible and church governance erupt in and tear apart two Quaker associations half a continent apart.

Their stories, in the Pacific Northwest and southern Midwest, were part of a larger wave of divisions that echo and illumine recent struggles in numerous other churches, and in American culture at large.

This book is Volume Three of The Separation Generation, a unique three-volume series which brings together reports and related documents about five such conflicts, all distinct but related, in American Quaker circles since the beginning of this century. This book and the series offer both a unique historical record and a singular resource for those concerned with the course of contemporary religious evolution and controversy, which continues and reverberates far beyond the bounds of one small denomination.

(You can see the three coauthors live and ask questions on Thursday, November 11 at 4 PM EST: in person at Earlham School of Religion, or by Zoom, and later on the ESR website. To get the Zoom link, register NOW at this link:   bit.ly/3k6eDBZ )

 

Presenting The Separation Generation: November 11

Not since 1827 have so many American yearly meetings split in such a short time.

That 1827 struggle was so traumatic that a fully-researched study of it (Quakers In Conflict, by H. Larry Ingle) was not published until 1986, one hundred and forty-nine years afterward.

This time, between 2003 and 2018, four YMs broke, and a fifth disappeared completely after 320 years. But unlike 1827, what was dubbed The Separation Generation was reported in real time, defying the pandemic, and chronicled in three books.

The three co-authors of The Separation Generation will discuss them, the yearly meeting upheavals which produced them, and answer questions in a live presentation on Thursday, November 11 at 4 PM – EST at Earlham School of Religion (ESR). It will also be livestreamed on Zoom, and for those present at ESR, will be followed by a reception.

The three coauthors include Stephen Angell, the Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at ESR; Chuck Fager, a retired activist, journalist and editor;  and Jade Rockwell, an activist and student at ESR.

“These books fill a big accountability gap about these conflicts,” said Chuck Fager, who edited the series.

“The gap was created on one hand by the fact that too many YM and local meeting officials — like many other church & corporate bureaucrats— prefer to bury or ignore bad or unflattering news. They often act like like bent cops & shady politicians. (But there were also, the books show, staunch Friends who stood up for Truth and fair process.)

“And these coverups have usually been enabled by Quaker publications which lack the skills & the backbone to seriously report them.

“So as these five separations developed, nobody was covering & documenting them. So we stepped up. Others could do it again, when the need arises (and it probably will, if Quaker history is  any guide), and I hope they will.”

The five yearly meetings involved were:

>Indiana and Western, two once very large bodies whose struggles over Universalist theology and LGBT affirmation left them scattered and shrunken. They are covered in Vol. 1, Indiana Trainwreck.

> North Carolina (FUM), which faced internecine warfare over biblical and church authority, LGBT acceptance, and did not survive; its self-destruction fills Vol. 2, Murder at Quaker Lake.

> And Northwest and Wilmington YMs, two quite distinct bodies, the former evangelical and West coast-centered, and the latter straddling a stretch of the heartland from Ohio to Tennessee. While facing some similar issues, their outcomes differed, and their diverse stories make up Vol. 3, Shattered By The Light.

The Separation Generation series, available in paperback and ebook, offers a unique combination of journalism, theology, old & new; over 150 pages of documents backing up the reporting; and some limited speculation & opinion.

The coauthors worked mainly as volunteers, starting when each had a day job.

Documenting our Quaker history as it happens is accountability work that can be done, & needs to be done. That way we can learn about what’s happening to us, especially amid the deep cultural & political upheavals we’re surrounded by today.

“I’ve been doing independent reporting among Friends since 1977, in various forms,” Chuck Fager said,  “almost 45 years, on a shoestring budget and alongside regular day jobs.

“I believe projects like this will likely be needed again, in various media. I’m very grateful to ESR for upholding the involvement of Steve and Jade, and for bringing the results of our work forward among Friends.

I hope Friends watching this program at 4 PM EST  on November 11 or on the web afterward, will consider taking up this concern when it’s needed again, and encourage others who do.”

Both the live presentation and the Zoom stream are FREE and PUBLIC. For more details and to receive the Zoom link, please register by clicking this link:  bit.ly/3k6eDBZ

 

 

A Quaker Theologian for Our Hard Times.

A substantial Holiday Weekend Read:

I always feel uneasy when finding myself in agreement with rightwing Catholic pundit Ross Douthat. But in his August 31 NYTimes column, he nails it, mocking the spectacle of :

”  . . . generals and grand strategists who presided over quagmire, folly and defeat fanning out across the television networks and opinion pages to champion another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the media’s liberal hawks and centrist Pentagon stenographers, unchastened by their own credulous contributions to the retreat of American power over the past 20 years.

“Our botched [Afghanistan] withdrawal is the punctuation mark on a general catastrophe, a failure so broad that it should demand purges in the Pentagon, the shamed retirement of innumerable hawkish talking heads, the razing of various NGOs and international-studies programs and the dissolution of countless consultancies and military contractors.”

But I’m not nodding to Douthat today about Afghanistan. It’s more the “general catastrophe,” or cascading crises, that have been similarly botched and booted by our rulers and most of our reigning “elites.”  And rather than piling on, I’m looking for some help in getting through and making some hopeful sense in the aftermath, if there is to be one. Someone outside the discredited mainstream pundits and bemedaled poseurs.

Which brings me to Jim Corbett.

Continue reading A Quaker Theologian for Our Hard Times.

Let’s Go Goatwalking, Friends

Jim Corbett was a fascinating guy, but like all of us he had his faults. In his amazing first book, he way overdid the self-deprecation:

”Goatwalking is a book for saddlebag or backpack —to live with a while, casually.  It is compact and multifaceted, but for unhurried reflection rather than study.  It is woven from star-gazing and campfire talk, to open conversations rather than to lead the reader on a one-way track of entailment to necessary conclusions.  I prove no points.  This is no teaching.“

Like heck he didn’t prove points. And baloney his pages are “teaching-free”; they’re teaching-packed. (He was probably right about the saddlebag; tho I’m guessing on that.)

But don’t take my word for it. Read Goatwalking yourself and decide. And now you can, because on August 10, after a 30-year hiatus, the book is back in print, in modestly priced paperback and E-book versions, right here.

For that matter, Corbett writes tellingly about being and acting as a Quaker in our turbulent times, in ways that go far beyond our usual, Prius-with-the-correct-(but not too many)-bumperstickers  mode. But here he also overdoes the mock-humility thing: Continue reading Let’s Go Goatwalking, Friends