Category Archives: Fire This Time

Liberal Quakers Need More “Theological Diversity.” What could possibly go wrong?

The First Month 2019 issue of Friends Journal includes an article by Friend Adria Gulizia, Greater Racial Diversity Requires Greater Theological Diversity.”

At one level, I very much empathize with Adria Gulizia’s concern for what I would call “theological inclusiveness.” The widespread ignorance, apathy & avoidance of theology/Bible in “liberal” meetings I have known have become personally very burdensome.

Yet there is another side to this story, one not easy to see from the Philadelphia orbit. But if one actually steps out of that enclosed space, some very different aspects appear.

To summarize: outside the “Phillysphere” and the Northeast, five U.S. yearly meetings have split apart in the last 20 years, with one of the five, 320 years old, blowing up/melting down & disappearing completely. Where I live, in the Pretty Deep South, the fallout, like debris from a plane that exploded in midair, is still falling around us.

And what was the cause of this fivefold schism? Well, one could point the finger in several directions, but in the foreground of all five was that which Gulizia’s piece calls for, namely: “theological diversity.”

I know some of this from direct experience. Many were the interrogations such “diversity” produced, not of me but my whole meeting:
Start with the Bible: Did we have the right view of it? And the true notion of its authority?
Next, were we “Christ-centered”? No, they meant, not that way, but this way, really, truly?  Or enough? And with the authentic formulation? Oh, and had we adopted (& enforced) the correct church authority structure?

And lots more. (In our area, the ordeal went on for three-plus years. And truly, there’s nothing quite like being called a tool of the Anti-Christ by someone who really means it.)

Continue reading Liberal Quakers Need More “Theological Diversity.” What could possibly go wrong?

All God’s Quakers Got a “Place In The Choir” — Even the Non-Theists Who Can’t/Won’t Sing

So we’re hearing some complaints about sniping back & forth between “theists” and “non-theists in some liberal Friends meetings. I have some thoughts on that. Kind of a long read . . . .

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Let me work up to them with a story, going back to the turn of the years 1990 into 1991. I was working for the Post Office, as a Mailhander, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. I mainly shuffled bundles and sacks of mail back and forth across the floor of a facility about a quarter of a mile long. It processed several million pieces of mail every day. In those years, I had real calluses on my hands, and a lot fewer pounds around the middle.

I was also surrounded by veterans there, mostly from the Vietnam era, who had preference in Post Office hiring. We weren’t very familiar with the phrase PTSD then, but it was all around me. I felt a lot of solidarity with them, though I didn’t know how to express it. I was an Anti-Vietnam veteran, had protested one way and another all through those years, and bore my own set of scars from it.

November & December at the Post Office were always hectic: Christmas meant a continuing flood of packages, mandatory overtime, and running us off our feet. But the year 1990 brought a big additional burden of stress: the buildup to the First Gulf War, what’s known as Desert Storm, was in full swing.

I’m starting these reflections with a war story, not because I like war stories, but as part of my own grappling with the fact that when I look back over my 76 years, my life as an American and a Quaker has been dominated by war.

Big wars, punctuated by smaller and more secret wars, and then periods of tension and preparations for more war. I’m not sure that many Americans, and Quakers, really take adequate account of that over-arching reality: any American my age and younger has lived in a militarized, war-making country all our lives. And  that reality doesn’t appear to be changing much today.

August 5, 1990.

Anyway, I remember when the Gulf War buildup started, in late summer 1990, when the first president George Bush learned that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, next door. My memory of Bush is that he was riding in the presidential golf cart, and pulled it to a stop where some news cameras were clustered, and said, “This will not stand. This will not stand.” (Actually, an old video shows him saying that after stepping out of the presidential helicopter. At least I got the words right.)

Reporters shouted questions, but he waved them off with a curt, “I gotta go to work.”  Continue reading All God’s Quakers Got a “Place In The Choir” — Even the Non-Theists Who Can’t/Won’t Sing

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?

The Lonely “Wall”: Rolling Through Flyover Country To the Mexican Border

I was in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving with family, and they wanted to take a road trip. We settled on San Diego, and they asked what I wanted to see.

The wall “prototypes.”

My answer: “The Border Wall. At least the samples.”

Actually, I soon learned, they’re called “prototypes.” You’ve likely seen the official photos. There’s eight of them, in a row near the real border fence. They’re the result of an early executive order from the current White House. They had their fifteen minutes in the spotlight almost a year ago.

There’s been no funding yet for the Real Thing, though a round of struggle for several billion worth is underway in the congressional lame duck session.

I’ll leave the blow-by-blow on that to others. For me the prototypes were a thing, a key symbol of where this country might yet be taken. I think of them as a portent; I dare to hope they’ll end up as no more than a monument. Continue reading The Lonely “Wall”: Rolling Through Flyover Country To the Mexican Border

Do We Miss the WASPs? Do We Need a New “Establishment”?

In the December 5 New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat makes his column a paean to the lost American Establishment that George H.W. Bush, being buried today with much fanfare,  represents (to him):

“Why We Miss the WASPS,” he undertakes to explain. He says 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 in our society today.

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.

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 circles 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 declares 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 Do We Miss the WASPs? Do We Need a New “Establishment”?

Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload

I don’t know about you, but late last week I hit the wall about the midterm election: the swirl of attack ads, the endless urgent fund appeal emails, the feverish palaver about polls. Not to mention the shocks of the Khashoggi assassination, the mail bombs, and the massacre in Pittsburgh. When the funerals there were basically crashed by the uninvited  ghoul, my internal needle bounced into the red “zone marked “Overload.”

I’m not dropping out: already voted (first day of early voting); urged all & sundry to do likewise; sent several hundred dollars to a list of pleading, promising candidates. And I’ve been reading & listening to the nonstop chatter & prognosticating. 

Then finally it became too much. It was driving me nuts. Had to get away.

Continue reading Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload

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 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 A Tale of Two Nightmares: One Asleep, One Wide Awake

Post-Confirmation: Our World Won’t End Right Now. (But you can see the clouds gathering.)

The confirmation vote is is done.

I won’t hold it against anyone who feels stunned and numbed by the travesty in the Senate, and needs to take some time to scream, cry & regroup. (Just don’t forget the midterms!)

Yet soon enough, those on the progressive side will need to look beyond the next election to the long work of coping with other aspects of what Kavanaugh’s arrival on the court portends.

And yes, the outlook is mostly bad; terrible, in fact. And it was a terrible prospect even before any of us knew who Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick were.

The upside down flag signals an emergency. I rest my case.

Further, it’s about what we knew, or could have known, before the explosion, that I want to deal with here. Continue reading Post-Confirmation: Our World Won’t End Right Now. (But you can see the clouds gathering.)

Blue Wave? Red Wave? How about the Carolina Brown Wave (aka Big Poop)??

Have any news media mentioned in your hearing that southeast  North Carolina, in the wake of Florence, is due not only for “major hurricane flooding” post-Flo, but along with it will face a Great Brown Wave of toxic, stinking liquid Pig Poop (&  Pee).

Down here, they have mentioned it. Like yesterday.

And today.

And probably tomorrow.)  . . . .

Yes, that region of NC is the second largest center of industrial hog raising in the country (looking at YOU, Iowa). The NC industry is 8 million hogs strong, and it features, in Smithfield Packing,  the biggest hog slaughterhouse in the world.

And Big Poop also dumps many millions of gallons of the brown stuff into thousands of NON-industrial strength open air lagoons. (Which stink a lot, even if the wind & rain are in abeyance.) Continue reading Blue Wave? Red Wave? How about the Carolina Brown Wave (aka Big Poop)??

Kavanaugh Hearing, Day One: Sheldon Whitehouse Vs. the “Roberts Five”

Unless you’re a bear for punishment, you could have skipped most of the first day of hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, settling for the highlights on TV or in text. But then you would have missed the high point, a stunning tour de force of truth-telling from an overlooked member.

For opening entertainment, there were shouting protesters, soon removed, with reportedly 70  arrests. Other protesters paced somberly outside in costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale.

The specter of Gilead at the hearing.

Democratic Senators on the Judiciary committee loudly (but futilely) protested the orchestrated coverup of the vast majority of documents from his time working for George W. Bush, from which (I strongly suspect), Kavanaugh is still trying to wash the blood of the tortured innocent from his hands.

I don’t know why Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island isn’t   better known.  Maybe it’s Rhode island’s mini-size (at barely 1200  square miles, it makes Vermont — 8 times as large– look huge; or maybe its due to the state’s mostly Democratic voting record.) Perhaps it’s because he is not running for president.

Whatever; Whitehouse was a prosecutor and state attorney general before he came to Washington. He knows how to make a case succinctly and trenchantly. Further, this time he did a bunch of relevant homework.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

After him, the supposed ace debater Ted Cruz sounded shrill, small and tinny. Cruz only underlined the power of Whitehouse’s statement,  a masterwork of plain, well-informed, vivid, carefully angry and occasionally profane argument. Continue reading Kavanaugh Hearing, Day One: Sheldon Whitehouse Vs. the “Roberts Five”