Category Archives: Hard-Core Quaker

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.

Showdown Week at Guilford: Who Will be Its New President?

“Predictions are hard,” said the sage yogi Berra, “especially about the future.”

Yet sometimes there are exceptions — predictions that are easy.

Like this one: Continue reading Showdown Week at Guilford: Who Will be Its New President?

Deja Vu All Over Again: A Glimpse of Afghanistan in 2010

Eleven years ago, I was nearing the end of my time as Director of Quaker House, the Friends peace project in Fayetteville NC, near Fort Bragg. Our newsletter for that summer devoted most of its front page to  Afghanistan, and the seemingly “invisible/forever” war there.

That war is no longer invisible, and at least the U.S. part in it is now ending, in a calamitous shambles, portending worse.

As we watch and listen in these days of disaster for those who depended on American promises of safety, perhaps this brief glimpse from a decade-plus past can be fodder for contemplation and calls for more action to help save those still crowded in the Kabul airport.

Quaker House Newsletter, 2010 – Summer

Mission Impossible:
Keeping Up With the Invisible War(s)

It’s not easy doing peace work in the United States today.

Recent polls indicate that Americans dislike the Afghanistan war – as many as 53-56 per cent oppose it in the latest surveys. Yet the same polls show that citizen attention to the wars is low, lagging far behind domestic concerns such as jobs, health care, government debt and fear of terror attacks inside the US.

From our vantage point, this public indifference has helped usher in the age of the invisible wars. That is to say, the wars have become largely invisible to the general public here.

This invisibility is fed in part by sheer weariness – the Afghan conflict is almost nine years old.

But it has also been carefully cultivated: Continue reading Deja Vu All Over Again: A Glimpse of Afghanistan in 2010

Back to my Future: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Wherever, Forever . . .

It was the headline that caught me: “Shocking and Ominous Talk,” it blared.

Really? Such language was rare in the Selma Times Journal (STJ), but I found it there, on the editorial page of the New Year’s Day edition, for January 1, 1965.

The Alabama headline shone up at me from a cloudy gray background, on a microfilm reader in a library basement at Harvard. The paper’s full year’s run for 1965 took up only one medium-thick roll, but was likely over 3000 pages. Continue reading Back to my Future: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Wherever, Forever . . .

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

Un-Happy Anniversary, Friends

Four years ago today, Eighth Month 5, 2017, some Friends in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) got their wish:

They got rid of the “liberals” in the body.

Out went New Garden Meeting in Greensboro; Jamestown just south of there; Greensboro First Friends; and even tiny Spring Meeting, in the pastures and woods of south Alamance County, where I attend (or used to, in the Good Old pre-Zoom Days); and a few others.

Of course, there was a price:  namely, they had to destroy the yearly meeting to “save” it.

It took awhile for them to realize this. Three years altogether. Beginning in the summer of 2014, they had tried to force the “liberals” out. “Surgery” they called it, regrettable, but necessary to stop the spread of a deadly disease. Anesthetics? Strictly optional. Continue reading Un-Happy Anniversary, Friends

“Transformation” Is Dead. Donald Rumsfeld Killed It.

Donald Rumsfeld

The passing of Donald Rumsfeld this week brings many atrocities to mind, especially the long list associated with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. There isn’t time to recount those here; but if there is an afterlife with any justice, they likely followed his shade into one of the lowest of the nether regions, like a screeching cloud of endlessly circling buzzards, talons extended.

But here I pass with bowed head the vast expanse of mass graves and torture black sites which are his more visible monuments, to linger briefly instead over one of his more abstract, but not meaningless crimes. This offense was not against flesh & blood, but did violence to language.

Because it was Donald Rumsfeld, and his claque, who while utterly failing to banish terror and bloodshed from the world they claim, did manage to definitively demolish all credibility and drain the value from the word & notion of “transformation.” Continue reading “Transformation” Is Dead. Donald Rumsfeld Killed It.

Shaggy Locks & Birkenstocks: wandering through recent Quaker history

This small 2003 collection of essays, now alas out of print,  had its origins in two incidents, somewhat related, and which also turned out to be the start of something bigger, at least for me.

In the first, I proposed to the Publications Committee of   Friends General Conference (FGC), the “liberal” association of U. S. & Canadian Friends, in 1993 that it sponsor a centennial history of the body and the religious movement  it  represented, looking toward the centennial of FGC’s founding,  set for 2000. The proposal envisioned a team effort, like the one underway in New York Yearly Meeting, which was to produce their fine history, Quaker Cross-Currents (Syracuse University Press), two years later.

The proposal was not simply turned down flat; it was met with  general incomprehension: Why, I was asked, would we want to do that? Continue reading Shaggy Locks & Birkenstocks: wandering through recent Quaker history

SAYMA 2021: The Post-Mortem

Bob McGahey, the Clerk of SAYMA (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association), saw what was coming at last week’s 2021 annual sessions.

What did he see? Trouble & woe.

How do I know?

Because he said so, in a Clerk’s letter sent out as the group was gathering (mostly in Zoom) last week.

The key passage:

Unfortunately, as we approach SAYMA yearly sessions, there are those among us who would enforce their deeply held convictions through pressuring, judging, and threatening behavior. One plenary speaker and two workshops have been challenged and threatened with disruption. One of those workshops has been cancelled, and the leader of the second feels genuinely threatened by escalating attacks, asking for protection. As an open religious society, our protection comes from the divine, which resides deep within each of us, acting from within the body, not from a hierarchy of leaders.

He was mistaken about that last item: protection, especially in SAYMA, comes from leaders and staunch Friends with resolve to uphold good Quaker order, or it will not come at all.

Both were essentially absent from SAYMA’s annual sessions. Continue reading SAYMA 2021: The Post-Mortem

Memo To Jesus: A Friend needs to find a church. Do you Deliver?

To: Jesus, or his Rep out West

From: Chuck Fager

Re: Need  some Leads

Brown Jesus
Hey, I’m listening . . .

Look, JC, I know you’re busy, but this: I heard from a nice young family in one of the big cities out there, one of those  in the middle of the desert.

It’s a familiar story: she’s creamy, he’s dark chocolate, they have un bébé très joli et très café au lait! Plus more of the usual: they’re short on money, work, and a community.

So they’re kind of struggling, but they say they had a good break a week or so ago: they went to church.

Now in theory, I’m all for that: a welcoming & supportive community would be just the thing.

Except they said it was a mega-church, where the management brought on a comedian to warm up the crowd or something.

A comedian? But wait, I thought. With all their issues, don’t these kids at least know how to laugh?

Un bébé très joli et très café au lait!

Maybe I’m kind of old school, I guess, but . . . you know: “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” not “come unto my shtick.” [I like that Bible quote, as long as it’s from a version where “suffer” means “welcome,”  and not the one I remember from church in my own, kidhood: “Make those kids suffer, like you did . . . .”

Anyway, maybe this is just more old school.

And I can’t help but riff on this, JC, so bear with me:

I think folks who go to church do so because, besides community & support — because they’re also looking for some  kind of encounter with —and this is one of those points where good words are hard to find, but let’s try — they want an encounter with something sacred; something transcendent; something —  okay I’ll say it plain, holy. Continue reading Memo To Jesus: A Friend needs to find a church. Do you Deliver?