Category Archives: Fire This Time

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

“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?

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

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

Do You Speak legislativ-ese? Me Neither.

Waiting for Spring in Washington, 2021.

Quote of the Weekend: Here’s the part of the COVID Relief Bill we’ve all been waiting for (in case you nodded off listening to it being read aloud in the Senate):

“subsection (a)(1) of such section 314 shall be applied by substituting ‘91 percent’ for ‘89 percent’” and “without regard to requirements in sections 658E(c)(3)(E) or 658G of such Act (42 U.S.C. 9858c(c)(3), 9858e).”


Those are actual excerpts from the Covid relief bill.

Ok, I’m kidding. Continue reading Do You Speak legislativ-ese? Me Neither.

Biting the Bullet: Truth and Consequences

I knew it would happen, and knew I wouldn’t like it, but I did it anyway.

The third “it” above was start a Facebook group called “Quakers,” about a month ago, after a previous one abruptly folded up: some internal hassle among the admins had spun out of control.

I wasn’t involved in the hassling, and didn’t like that there was suddenly no Facebook group called just “Quakers.”  I wondered if Facebook (FB for short), in its ineffable internet majesty, would permit the name to be taken up again; surprisingly, it did.

I didn’t really want to start the group, because I knew I’d need to be the admin (aka Pope), and would have to take up “moderator” duties there (the second “it” above).

Wait– Didn’t some version of that used to belong to us??

I’d been asked a couple times to join moderator teams on other FB groups, and had declined. Too lazy, but also it seemed like a big distraction, and I already had enough of those. But whatever.

And a couple days ago, that first “it” arrived, as the predictable, inevitable outcome of the other two. It was the social media syllogism in action:

Functional FB groups need moderators;
I’m the moderator of this group; therefore,
The day will come when I have to “moderate” it, by deleting a post (or posts) and blocking somebody. Continue reading Biting the Bullet: Truth and Consequences

Dr. King on White People & Racism

This red-baiting billboard popped up beside many highways in the South during the civil rights years.

This seldom-cited passage is from “The Three Evils of Society,” Dr. King’s speech to the National Conference on New Politics, in Chicago, August 31, 1967. It is highly relevant to much current discussion about work for racial justice and equity. Continue reading Dr. King on White People & Racism