Category Archives: Cross-Generational Conversation: YAFS & OFFs

A Free Book Download on Quaker Bible Study: “A Respondent Spark”

For ten summers, 1984-1994, I led workshops on “The Basics of Bible Study” for the Friends General Conference Gatherings. They were lively and well-attended, highly rated on evaluations.

Putting my thoughts together for it, I produced a handbook. The title was “A Respondent Spark,” which was taken from a quote from Robert Barclay’s early Quaker theological treatise, “The Apology for the True Christian Divinity”:

“In the Scriptures God has deemed it proper to give us a looking glass in which we can see the conditions and experiences of ancient believers. There we find that our experience is analogous to theirs….

This is the great work of the Scriptures, and their usefulness to us. They find a respondent spark in us, and in that way we discern the stamp of God’s ways and his Spirit upon them. We know this from inward acquaintance we have with the same Spirit and his work in our hearts….

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate, primary rule of faith and manners. Yet…they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule…for… according to the Scriptures the Spirit is the first and principal Leader.” [Emphasis added

I’ve had some requests to see this handbook, and have resurrected it from my hard drive as a PDF. It is located here, and can be freely downloaded.

I’m conscious of its limitations: I’m not a trained Bible scholar; and the text is several laps behind recent biblical scholarship. Even so, there are some ideas in it which may be of continuing relevance.

Certainly the sections in it introducing the work of literalist biblical interpretations, and some of the nefarious ways these ideas were then being put to work in our society and politics are not obsolete. Some of the names are different, but the key issues are much the same.

Yes, the Bible DOES teach slavery. But it also brings images of and hope for liberation.

For that matter, some of the names are much the same too: I wrote about Jerry Falwell’s so-called “Moral Majority” and its [mis]use of the Bible. There’s still a Jerry Falwell at work today, but his view of the Bible as a political battering ram is not much different from that of his late father. And then there’s Franklin Graham; lord help us.

Still the book was not and is not about politics, except incidentally and when it’s unavoidable. (Alas, there was too much of that unavoidable stuff going around these days; and in these days too; sorry.).The book’s main goal was to answer a query:

Is This the Book For You?

This brief handbook is for certain kinds of people:

First, people who don’t know much about the bible, but think they would like to.

Second, it is for people who are independent-minded, and prefer to form their own judgments rather than simply accept the pronouncements of a traditional authority, no matter how venerable.

Third, it is for those who have a high tolerance for ambiguity because, as we shall see, one thing the Bible doesn’t offer is easy, automatic, simple answers.

This book is also for people who want a practical approach. There is, of course, much more to this subject than could possibly fit into these few pages; but it is my hope that when you have finished it, and become familiar with the tools it describes, you will be able to pick up the Bible, begin to make sense of what you read, know where to get more information about it, and not be afraid of following your leadings about its meaning wherever they may lead.

Beyond the personal benefits it offers, the ability to find your way around in the Bible is of particular value these days, when groups who claim to have the exclusive, true understanding of Scripture are running around attempting to impose their understanding on everyone else, or else.

In case you missed it — you really didn’t. Didn’t happen.

I happen to think that these groups are mostly wrong, especially about what the Bible means. But I don’t think their efforts can be effectively blunted except by people prepared to meet them on their own ground, that is on the basis of knowing something about what the Bible says and how to figure out what the text means.

So if you’re wondering about Bible study, give it a whirl. Did I mention that it’s a FREE download? No registering, no information sought, no facial recognition, and I won’t sell your data. (Some web prowlers might come and snatch it; but can’t help that.)

If you’re interested, check it out, and I welcome feedback.

The download is here.

 

A Quaker Meditation: Hating the Good News?

Except for how it turned out, I hate almost everything about this report:

A mass school shooting was foiled on Thursday, December 13; that’s the good part.

College students and adults too: warning booklet, in a college dorm room at a large Quaker conference.

But the first thing I hate about it is not in the news, but in myself: when I began checking the evening  headlines yesterday, a thought came:

Isn’t it about time for another big mass shooting? How long has it been—? Let’s see . . . the Pittsburgh synagogue, hmm. Oh yeah, late October: 11 dead, six wounded. . . .
Seven weeks ago; right? So  . . . another one is about due . . .”

Yes, I thought that, unbidden, and I hate that I thought it. A premonition? I don’t think so. It’s just that after these past few years, it does feel like there’s some sort of gruesome rhythm to such events.

The new ABnormal.

Then I glanced at the BBC News feed, and there it was:

Continue reading A Quaker Meditation: Hating the Good News?

Friends Seminary – Fired Teacher Will Return

A normally reliable source has furnished me a copy of a letter from the Principal of Friends Seminary (or FS)  in New York City,  announcing that “In late January we will welcome Ben Frisch back into the classroom.” (I called FS to ask about it; as of this writing, there was no response.) The full text of the letter is below.

If you don’t know, Ben Frisch is the Quaker teacher at Friends Seminary (“the”, as in THE only Quaker teacher almost a year ago, when this story began), who was abruptly fired last March.

He  got the boot after making a clumsy joke in a geometry class about how his raised arm, illustrating an obtuse angle, was like a “Heil Hitler” salute.

Frisch is about as far from being “Nazi friendly” as you could want. Although he’s a longtime Quaker, his ancestors were European and Jewish, and some were lost in the Holocaust. He doesn’t need a “diversity officer” to brief him on all that. Nevertheless, he was canned within a couple weeks. In a letter to students, the principal, Bo Lauter, wrote, “Our students know that words and signs of hate and fear have no place at Friends . . . .” Continue reading Friends Seminary – Fired Teacher Will Return

Dog Days Think Piece: Do We Miss the WASPs? Do We Need a New “Establishment”?

In the December 5, 2018 New York Times, conservative writer Ross Douthat made his column a paean to the lost American Establishment that George H.W. Bush, who was being buried that day with much fanfare,  represented (to him):

“Why We Miss the WASPS,” he undertook to explain. He said we can

Ross Douthat

describe Bush nostalgia as a longing for something America used to have and doesn’t really any more — a ruling class that was widely (not universally, but more widely than today) deemed legitimate, and that inspired various kinds of trust (intergenerational, institutional) conspicuously absent from our society today.

Put simply, he said Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs — because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.

Not that this late lamented Establishment, which he thinks reigned for a century or more, was perfect:

The old ruling class was bigoted and exclusive and often cruel, it had failures aplenty, and as a Catholic I hold no brief for its theology (and don’t get me started on its Masonry).

Nevertheless, since Douthat is a staunch conservative, this column,  like most of his work, soon circled back to his abiding themes, among the most prominent of which is how bad these days are in contrast to what existed Before The Fall (e.g., all the fun parts of the Sixties).

In this case, the unwelcome news is that the Old GHWB Establishment has been succeeded by a new one, only worse: Douthat declared we have a new Upper Class, but one with no class:

Put simply, Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs — because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.

Continue reading Dog Days Think Piece: Do We Miss the WASPs? Do We Need a New “Establishment”?

Dog Days Reading: A Tale of Two Nightmares: One Asleep, One Wide Awake

Nightmare Number one, wide awake: In the summer of 1959, my father, an Air Force bomber pilot, was transferred to a base near Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“Peace Is Our Profession” said the billboard by the base gate.

There my mother sent me and several of my siblings to St. Mary’s, the Catholic school downtown. It was across the street from the state Capitol. St. Mary’s was run by Dominican nuns, whose convent was next door.

I could have objected, but thought better of it.  Although I had become more or less an atheist, I was also a senior: one year left. I figured to keep my head down, get through it, then escape to college somewhere.

Far away in Rome, a new pope was settling in, replacing the late Pius XII. Pius had taken over in 1939, three years before I was born. When I thought about Pius, which was rarely, he had seemed like a permanent fixture, as solid as the thick stone walls of the old church in Kansas  where I was baptized, as unmoving as the statues there, their arms outstretched, frozen in yearning toward their timeless crucified Christ.

But no, Pius was a mere mortal, and his successor, John XXIII, was quietly preparing to shake up the church’s seemingly impregnable  status quo. I mention these items, not because anything about them had penetrated my teenage male brain, but rather because I realize now that our nuns, an educated and alert group, were no doubt keenly aware of them. In fact, this must have been a very exciting year for them: not only was there a new pope, but Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was making a serious run at becoming the first Catholic U. S. President in 1960. Continue reading Dog Days Reading: A Tale of Two Nightmares: One Asleep, One Wide Awake

David McReynolds: Peace Movement Titan Is Gone

Another Eminent Pacifist leader Is Gone: David McReynolds
 
I only sort of knew David McReynolds, but he hovered significantly in the background of peace work during my apprenticeship in the Vietnam years.
David McReynolds, pacifist organizer stalwart, October 25, 1929- August 17, 2018.

My most vivid memory of David was not a personal encounter, but in the pages of WIN Magazine, a “radical pacifist” journal published by the War Resisters League. In 1969 he joined several other elder eminences in coming out there. These were the first confrontations I had had with homosexuals as sympathetic figures and colleagues.

 His article was more personal than political, often embarrassed about how much his struggles in and out of the closet had cut into his driving impulse to organize nonviolent action against war and imperialism. Its candor and humility cut right through my unthinking, reflexive homophobia, pointing a way forward from it which I have worked ever since to follow.

Continue reading David McReynolds: Peace Movement Titan Is Gone

Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

Let’s review: In February of this year, officials at Friends Central School in Philadelphia abruptly canceled a speaking engagement by a Palestinian Quaker peace studies professor, then suspended and later fired the two teachers who had planned the visit. Much public controversy ensued.

In May, the two former teachers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by Friends Central.

Earlier posts on the Friends Central School controversy are:

 here,  here,  here , here & here.

Early last month, Friends Central’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the two teachers had “failed to state a valid claim,” and that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would see the court  become “entangled” in a religious dispute, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

On July 31, the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed his response. Prosaically titled, “PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT,” it asserted that to the contrary, the teachers’ complaint did state valid claims, further that pursuing it would not require any impermissible meddling in religious doctrines, and that the motion to dismiss should be denied and the case be moved to its next phase, which is discovery of documents and other background, in preparation for a trial. Continue reading Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

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

Civility, Schmivility: A Quaker Dialectic, Then & Now

Debates over “civility” are nothing new for Quakers. And other people.

The last time I was thrown out of a retail establishment, it was a screen printing shop in Fayetteville NC, near Fort Bragg. I came in on a  warm day in 2007, wanting some tee shirts made for a conference being planned by Quaker House. The shirts were to be black, and the wording something like this:

I handed over a CD with the image on it, and the guy at the desk put down his cigarette & slid it into a computer. I couldn’t see the screen when the image came up; but his widened eyes told me.

He stood up as the CD slid back out of the slot. “Hey, Sarge,” he called, and carried it into a back room.

“Sarge” was out in a couple moments; likely retired Army. He didn’t throw the CD at me, but dropped it on the counter and made clear in a loud voice that anybody at Guantanamo or what we were just learning to call “black sites” was a goddam terrorist who deserved whatever they got, and that he was not about to print such treason as this on any of his shirts.

I didn’t quibble. But I called the next shop on my list before I went in, to see if they too had any objection. The shirts got done. And I didn’t think til later about how the issue of who was being uncivil here could be fitted into the “It’s Complicated” category:

Was it “Sarge,” who at best might have considered my image some very bad joke that didn’t play; or was it I, who brought such a patently offensive message into his patriotic establishment?

Or consider this image: Continue reading Civility, Schmivility: A Quaker Dialectic, Then & Now

Culling a Clue about Kids from our Carolina Crackpots

In North Carolina, right wing politicians are experts in scaring & mobilizing their base. And one of their most effective tools for this is: kids.

Especially kids being “threatened,” whether the threat is real or imaginary.
They used images of  “threatened” kids to pass a same sex marriage ban; used them again to try to save their transphobic bathroom law. Etc.
(They’re probably planning to use “threatened” kids again in some nasty new way for the next election.)
Very effective campaign tactics, I can’t deny it.

Continue reading Culling a Clue about Kids from our Carolina Crackpots