Category Archives: Current Affairs

There Goes the neighborhood: Cussing no longer a crime on the Alamance County courthouse steps

It’s true.

Anyone, even you or I, can now cuss on the grounds of the historic old Alamance County Courthouse, in downtown Graham NC. You could even do it right on the courthouse steps.

Right there. In front of God & everybody — everybody including Sheriff Terry Johnson.

Yes, even him. The Raleigh News & Observer  (or ”N&O” in local parlance) broke this big  story on Monday Continue reading There Goes the neighborhood: Cussing no longer a crime on the Alamance County courthouse steps

When Jeff Bezos Personally Apologized. No, Really.

The first time I heard the Jeff Bezos Apology story, it was from my big brother just the other day, and I immediately thought: No way.

There is just no way Jeff Bezos publicly apologized. And he simply could not possibly be dumb enough to do what he had allegedly apologized for.

A scene from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

Not that he’s some paragon or guru or the Dalai Lama of Prime. Most of the bad things people say about his Amazon empire are true, and I kept rooting for the union drive at his Alabama warehouse right til the organizers drove off the cliff.

But this other story, new to me, was so ridiculous that it had to be one of those floating internet legends. Had to be.

I mean, sure, sometimes Amazon gets caught with its corporate pants down; or at least unzipped. Take its initial dismissal earlier this month of the charge that many Amazon delivery drivers are so driven that some have to pee in bottles to stay on their inhuman schedules.

The company first tweeted a disdainful denial of the reports, which were echoed by a Democratic Congressman from Wisconsin, Mark Pocan. Continue reading When Jeff Bezos Personally Apologized. No, Really.

“Nation Building” on the Moon? Smarter than the U.S. in Afghanistan?

Tom Friedman, longtime NYTimes columnist, treats us to some snippets of diary entries from his first trip to Afghanistan, in early 2002, with then Senator Joe Biden. Friedman opens the piece in the posture of sadder-but-wiser sage:

“I was not surprised that Joe Biden decided to finally pull the plug on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Back in 2002 it was reasonable to hope that our invasion there to topple Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies could be extended to help make that country a more stable, tolerant and decent place for its citizens — and less likely to host jihadist groups.”

Was that really a “reasonable idea? In what is justly called the “graveyard of empires”, or more properly the graveyards of too many loyal troops sacrificed on the altars of hubris erected by heedless, foolish imperial “statesmen”?

Friedman insists he had doubts even then: Continue reading “Nation Building” on the Moon? Smarter than the U.S. in Afghanistan?

Patrick O’Neill – A Letter from the Hole

Patrick O’Neill, i happier times.

My friend Patrick O’Neill is serving a year in a federal prison, for attacking a replica of a nuclear missile at a south Georgia navy base in April of 2018. (A post with more about that protest is here.) It’s part of his peace witness as a member of the Catholic Worker movement.

Most of us don’t think about the missiles a lot. But there are enough just at that one Georgia base to kill pretty much everyone in the world, on fifteen minutes’ notice.

Yeah, the risk of nuclear Armageddon  did not disappear with the fall of Soviet communism.

Patrick and several others did think about the missiles, tho, and it led to Patrick reporting to the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio just about when Joe Biden was being inaugurated.

Doing time is tough. And nobody can do it for him. Patrick has a good deal of jail experience; and one lesson is that it doesn’t get much easier. There are a few ways to be supportive from outside. Mine is to send Patrick reading matter. Reading can dull some moments in the overwhelming tedium of confinement. So I have sent him a few of my books. (Hey — a captive audience; the best kind.)

Patrick’s solitary note.

It can help a little. Patrick said so, in a note that arrived this week:

‘Let all you do be done in love’— St. Paul

Good Friday [04/02/2021] Day 18 in the SHU (solitary)

Hi Chuck— My Lenten Journey will take me past Easter — I’ve done a lot of time (20+ jails, 6 prisons), but this has been the worst. Before the SHU [NOTE: SHU = Special Housing Unit] I spent 4 days in a hospital with 2 armed guards with me at all times who kept me in leg irons, and my left hand attached by chains to the bed, one chain attaching my leg irons to the bed . . . .
I had to pee in a plastic bottle while chained.

When I asked one guard to use the bathroom he said, “Do you have to do Number Two?” He would not have unchained me otherwise. And the leg irons never came off except for 15 minutes when I took a stress test on a treadmill. And now I’m in the hole for Covid quarantine.

[Note: It’s no surprise that Patrick came down with Covid. Since March 2020, The New York Times has tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States. . . .

A year later, reporters found that one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project, The Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The Covid Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.

The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 people have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.

The deaths, and many of the more than 525,000 reported infections so far among the incarcerated, could have been prevented, public health and criminal justice experts say.] Back to Patrick:

I was reading your book and really enjoying it (Eating Dr. King’s Dinner) before I got sick. I hope the book is still there when I get back to my unit. We’ll see. . . . Continue reading Patrick O’Neill – A Letter from the Hole

Broken Churches, Broken Nation (Again?)

“History doesn’t repeat,” Mark Twain supposedly said, “but sometimes it rhymes.”

Are the conflicts within so many American churches over LGBTQ and associated issues part of some cruel karmic sonnet?

The Separation Generation’s three volumes approach this question in prose, by chronicling disruptions among five American Yearly Meetings extending roughly from 2011 to 2018 (along with sketches of some precursor struggles). This wave of division was likely the most damaging to Quakerism since the “Great Separation” of 1827.

In a larger cultural/political context, this period roughly parallels the era of the Religious Right, the Tea Party ascendancy among Congressional Republicans, and then a successful insurgent presidential campaign followed by a highly disruptive administration, culminating in a violent insurrection at the Capitol in January 2021.

Also in the background is the 2015 landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-gender marriage nationwide, but did not end the conflicts over that or related issues.

It’s hard to draw direct connections from these notable outside events to the specific disagreements among Quakers. In Quaker worship, Quaker business process and other contexts, we’re supposed to be listening to God speaking through the Light of Christ in each of us. Thus one would (in theory) not necessarily expect to find direct influences from the broader culture, as Quakers seek to commune with and to learn from a God that presumably transcends culture.

That’s the theory. In practice, as we gain more distance from these momentous events, evidence of such broader influences becomes clearer. We eagerly await further insight from Quaker memoirs, scholarly research and blog posts from those who have been most involved in this often difficult and Quaker-world-changing series of events. Continue reading Broken Churches, Broken Nation (Again?)

David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Besides his work and example, Friend David Zarembka also left a valuable and underestimated resource of writings for Friends and others.  We’ll sample that legacy here, and point to where more can be found.Zarembka -Book Cover

Besides some personal contact, I learned most about Dave from his book A Peace of Africa. Here’s part of that context from my review: Continue reading David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

This is a developing story. Watch for Updates.

I’m stunned.

I just learned that David Zarembka, aged 77,  a very distinguished Friend from Baltimore Yearly meeting, who lived for more than a decade among Friends in Kenya, and his wife Gladys Kamonya, 73 have both succumbed to Covid. Both passed in Eldoret Kenya. Gladys Kamonya died on March  23, 2021;  David  died on April 1.

Below is his autobiographical sketch published in the book Passing The Torch. More to follow:

David Zarembka, in his own words: From Passing the Torch

I find the world an extremely interesting place and I participate in as many aspects of it that I can. Conversely, I don’t find myself very interesting at all and therefore don’t often write much about my life’s 76 year journey. This article therefore is a major exception.

In order to understand where I ended up, I have to explain where I came from. Although it might seem that my life has been unconventional, it really hasn’t been when one considers where I came from and how I grew up.

My paternal great-grandfather, Mathias Zarembka, came from then Russian-occupied Poland to the United States to work. Those were the good, ole days in the late 19th century when people could just come and go. He stayed in the US for seven years and then went back. He had seven children, six of whom immigrated to the US, while only one remained in Poland. My grandfather, Frank Zarembka, immigrated to the US in March/April 1914.

If he had waited a few months longer, the guns of August which started World War I would have begun, and he probably would have been drafted into the Russian army where the ill-equipped and untrained Polish soldiers were mowed down by the Germans. He left behind my grandmother, Lotti Wilant (notice the German name although she knew of no connection to Germany), and my one-year old father, Richard Zarembka. They were not able to immigrate to the US until 1921 when the family reunification act was passed in the United States. They lived in St. Louis in the Polish section of town. My grandfather worked for St. Louis Coal and Ice and pulled ice from the ground to be cut up in blocks to be put in iceboxes. Even when I knew him as a child, he was physically very strong.

My maternal grandfather was Ernest Elmer Colvin. He was a newspaper man. My Mom, Helen Jane Colvin Zarembka, was a great family storyteller so I have lots of old stories. My grandmother was so worried about my grandfather when the Associated Press in St. Louis assigned him to cover the 1919 so-called “race riots” in East St. Louis – it was actually just a massacre of what were then called Negroes. When he retired around 1954, he was copy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. My maternal grandmother, Flora Scott Colvin, died even before my parents were married. She had grown up in Kansas City where my grandparents met. She and her sister, Fanny, started the first kindergarten in Kansas City. Each morning they would hitch up the horse and pick up the kids for school – something that women were not supposed in those old days. So, my roots run deep. Continue reading Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

Is This The End of the Separation Generation?

Is it over?

Has The Separation Generation finished dividing U. S. Quakers?

Yes and no.

Yes, in a publishing sense: Book Three, the last of The Separation Generation series, is now done and available: Shattered By the Light; or The Ruins and the Green.

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, of Northwest Yearly Meeting in  the Pacific Northwest and Wilmington Yearly Meeting in the southern Midwest, are part of a larger wave of divisions that echo and illumine recent struggles in numerous other churches, and in American culture at large.

The Separation Generation series brings together reports and related documents about five such conflicts, all distinct but related, that have disrupted U. S. Quaker groups since the beginning of this century. The other two titles will be described in future posts.

Has this wave of schism and institutional destruction, the broadest divisions since the “Great Separation” of 1827, now crested and receded? We think this particular set may have, but are very hesitant about predicting the future. Yet certainly struggles over related religious issues are not finished in contemporary U.S. culture. Far from it.

The conflicts recounted here were sparked by confrontations over acceptance of LGBT persons and same sex marriage. But they included differences about the place and interpretation of the Bible, the nature of Christ and salvation, church structure and governance, and more mundane matters of money, property and jobs. Some took years to reach their conclusion.

The authors in Shattered By The Light began the work which culminated in the book in 2014. It started as articles in the journal Quaker Theology, and blog posts on this site. It culminated in a unique synthesis (or as some say, a remix) of journalism, history and theology. This series is the only published record of these divisions so far; we see it not as a definitive account, more as the beginning of study, reconsideration, and learning .

What about the title?

“Shattered” was a “term of art” in the breakup of one of the yearly meetings in the book. As the drama played out, the word, like many such, took on more unexpected layers of nuance and irony. This evolution continues.

“The Ruins & the Grass,” was both suggested by the cover photo that appealed to the editor, and a once-famous poem by Carl Sandburg. The struggles in the third book, like all those in the series, left much of their Quaker environment in ruins. At the same time, around these there are at least patches of grass, green with growth. What these green patches may grow into and become — who can say? But there’s plenty of fodder here for study and creative reflection.

Coauthors:

Stephen Angell is the Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion, author of many studies in church and Quaker history.

Chuck Fager is Editor of Quaker Theology, and a longtime journalist with special interest in both current Quaker events and Friends history.

Jade Souza is a graduate student at Earlham School of Religion, and has years of varied experience as an organizer.

And for the record, these three produced this volume, and The Separation Generation series, independent of any institutional connections, and their work speaks for itself.

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.

This excerpt from the conclusion of Shattered By The Light offers a reflection on the sweep and impact of the struggles this series has followed:

On screen, the January 2021 presidential inauguration was all appropriate pomp and circumstance: high officials on every hand, soaring rhetoric, striking singing and poetry, prescribed oaths, and a multitude of flags. It went off without a hitch.

But if the cameras pulled back, or widened their lens-angles beyond the west Capitol steps, resplendent in the chilly morning sunshine, a very different scene appeared: an occupied city, with 25,000 carefully-vetted National Guard troops deployed, fully armed, watching every street corner. They formed an impenetrable cordon around what had been turned into a (hopefully temporary) equivalent of Baghdad’s Green Zone. This broader vista showed a city that looked like it had foiled an attempted coup, barely.

Oh, wait ― that’s exactly what it was.

Does this daunting political tableau have anything to do with Quaker strife in Wilmington or Northwest Yearly Meetings? Or any of the other Quaker stories in The Separation Generation series?

We think so. It was, in its larger public setting, a more ominous manifestation of many of the same conflicts that brought all the five divisions about. We will not delve into the present political context here, except to note that in general, evangelicals (and conservative Catholics) have clustered on one side, while “progressives” of numerous denominations (and none) are on the other. And that LGBTQ affirmation was a major, ongoing point of contention in both, plus struggles over biblical interpretation, other Christian doctrines, and forms of legitimate church governance.

These parallels are mirrored in other American denominations, much larger than the Religious Society of Friends: Episcopalians Methodists, Mennonites, Lutherans and Baptists have all faced schisms on similar issues in this century . . . .

The Separation Generation was compiled and published as a resource for Friends and others concerned with these issues, and their present and future import for our meetings, churches, and larger social order.

Indiana Trainwreck, here

Murder at Quaker Lake here

Shattered By The Light, here

My 2021 Booklist is a Big Bust, But Don’t Blame Frederick Douglass

For several years I’ve been keeping track of the books I read. In 2020, I did pretty well, kicking it off with an enormous biography of Beethoven, byJan Swafford.

I don’t look for takedowns in biographies; but spare me the hagiography. I’m an American who lived through the second half of the twentieth century; I’m used to flawed real-life heroes.

Thus I didn’t mind learning more about what a flop Ludwig was with women and, as I suspected, that he couldn’t manage money. It was actually amusing to find that, amid penning all the masterpieces, Beethoven found time (& need) to do plenty of hack work, like arranging a hundred-plus Scottish folksongs, just to keep up with those Vienna rents.

My book reading has slowed a lot this year; not sure why overall.
But I know when. In early December,  I started David Blight’s excellent biography of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom.

It won the Pulitzer for biography, and deserved it. Unfortunately, the book’s very excellence has worked against my finishing it. Continue reading My 2021 Booklist is a Big Bust, But Don’t Blame Frederick Douglass

Learning How Today’s World Works (& Doesn’t) Without Leaving Home

The truth is out there. But so are lies. This week, some pieces of the truth were emerging in a Minnesota courtroom. Here we pass that by with bowed head.

Other pieces, one being an enormous cargo ship, were emerging, or not, from the Suez Canal, and I can’t elide them. Or one piece in particular.

What I can’t avoid is that somewhere out there, but closer to the canal, I still believe —  is my bushing.

My what? Bushing. A small piece of machined metal. I think it would fit in my hands, maybe one hand. The cost should be between ten to thirty bucks.

It’s not really “my” bushing, though. It’s destined for our washing machine.

The device is a compact Haier washer/dryer combo, worked fine for eight years, til last December. Then it started making clanging noises, rocking back & forth, and finally the Fair Wendy shut it off before something melted down.

Okay, stuff happens. We called an appliance repair place; they’d come before, to fix the fridge. It took two visits: they had to order a part. But a few days later, as promised, they returned & got it done.

With the washer, it started the same: they tinkered & replaced something. But to finish, they needed a part. A bushing, for the tub inside.

They tapped a tablet, checked their shelves. It needed to be ordered.

No problem they said. A few days: they were in direct touch with the factory.

I knew this story: the “Just in time” system. Saves money in inventory & storage costs, and moves fast. Usually.

It had worked the first time. So okay.

But after two weeks, there was still no bushing, and the truth started to leak out. Continue reading Learning How Today’s World Works (& Doesn’t) Without Leaving Home