Category Archives: Quaker History

Whittier’s 214th Birthday: The Peace-loving Quaker War Poet

It’s Whittier’s birthday.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) is now mostly thought of as a very old-fashioned conventional poet, who can be dispensed with in light of modern notions of verse and literary values.

But I think such a dismissal misses a big point which should give us pause today:

Whittier was also a very public Quaker  who lived through the years when American democracy fell apart in the cultural conflict over slavery, and was only salvaged after four long and extremely bloody years of civil war, with an  aftermath not yet  concluded.

And while Whittier did not take up arms in the war, he was still active and vocal throughout, as he had been for years before the fighting began.

The weapon he took up was his poet’s pen. That’s what he was: a poet. And poets can go to war in their own way, like others.

He wrote poems, many of which were widely circulated, in service of the cause of abolition, for which the war ultimately was fought. So whatever the lasting literary value of his work, it remains an example of turning one’s gift and calling to work in one’s times.

So  for his birthday, when deep cultural strife haunts the land again, here are three of his poems, which might, if we can see past our pedantic prejudices, be useful for reflection and encouragement in facing our own time of trials.

One: A Fiery Prelude
A sketch of Pennsylvania hall, afire.

Written for and read at the dedication of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, May 15, 1838. The building was financed by donations, and erected after most churches and halls in Philadelphia refused to host abolition meetings. Whittier said it was built so  “that the citizens of Philadelphia should possess a room wherein the principles of Liberty, and Equality of Civil Rights, could be freely discussed, and the evils of slavery fearlessly portrayed.”

While the poem imagines a distant future time when slavery was banished, Pennsylvania Hall’s future was extremely short: On May 17th, two nights after the poem was read there, it was burned by a mob, Whittier said, “destroying the office of the Pennsylvania Freeman, of which I was editor, and with it my books and papers.” Lucretia Mott, another supporter, had also spoken there and was pursued by (but escaped from) a proslavery mob.

Pennsylvania Hall (excerpts)

And fitting is it that this Hall should stand
Where Pennsylvania’s Founder led his band,.
From thy blue waters, Delaware!— to press
The virgin verdure of the wilderness.

Here, where all Europe with amazement saw
The soul’s high freedom trammelled by no law;
Here, where the fierce and warlike forest-men
Gathered, in peace, around the home of Penn,
Awed by the weapons Love alone had given
Drawn from the holy armory of Heaven;

Where Nature’s voice against the bondman’s wrong
First found an earnest and indignant tongue;
Where Lay’s bold message to the proud was borne;
And Keith’s rebuke, and Franklin’s manly scorn!

Fitting it is that here, where Freedom first
From her fair feet shook off the Old World’s dust,
Spread her white pinions to our Western blast,
And her free tresses to our sunshine cast,
One Hall should rise redeemed from Slavery’s ban,
One Temple sacred to the Rights of Man!

Oh! if the spirits of the parted come,
Visiting angels, to their olden home;
If the dead fathers of the land look forth
From their fair dwellings, to the things of earth,
Is it a dream, that with their eyes of love,
They gaze now on us from the bowers above?

Lay’s ardent soul, and Benezet the mild,
Steadfast in faith, yet gentle as a child,
Meek-hearted Woolman, and that brother-band,
The sorrowing exiles from their “Father land,”
Leaving their homes in Krieshiem’s bowers of vine,
And the blue beauty of their glorious Rhine,

To seek amidst our solemn depths of wood
Freedom from man, and holy peace with God;
Who first of all their testimonial gave
Against the oppressor, for the outcast slave,
Is it a dream that such as these look down,
And with their blessing our rejoicings crown?

Let us rejoice, that while the pulpit’s door
Is barred against the pleaders for the poor;
While the Church, wrangling upon points of faith,
Forgets her bondsmen suffering unto death;
While crafty Traffic and the lust of Gain
Unite to forge Oppression’s triple chain,

One door is open, and one Temple free,
As a resting-place for hunted Liberty!
Where men may speak, unshackled and unawed,
High words of Truth, for Freedom and for God.

And when that truth its perfect work hath done,
And rich with blessings o’er our land hath gone;
When not a slave beneath his yoke shall pine,
From broad Potomac to the far Sabine . . .

Then, though this Hall be crumbling in decay,
Its strong walls blending with the common clay,
Yet, round the ruins of its strength shall stand
The best and noblest of a ransomed land —
Pilgrims, like these who throng around the shrine
Of Mecca, or of holy Palestine!

A prouder glory shall that ruin own
Than that which lingers round the Parthenon.
Here shall the child of after years be taught
The works of Freedom which his fathers wrought;
Told of the trials of the present hour,
Our weary strife with prejudice and power;

How the high errand quickened woman’s soul,
And touched her lip as with a living coal;
How Freedom’s martyrs kept their lofty faith
True and unwavering, unto bonds and death;
The pencil’s art shall sketch the ruined Hall,
The Muses’ garland crown its aged wall,
And History’s pen for after times record
Its consecration unto Freedom’s God!

Two: A Campaign song from 1860

Whittier was a political abolitionist and a supporter of the new, antislavery Republican party. In fact, as the presidential campaigns peaked in the 1860 election, he penned a shamelessly partisan campaign lyric, celebrating favorable political news from Pennsylvania.

The song was written for a Republican mass meeting held in Newburyport, Mass., October 11, 1860.

The Quakers Are Out

NOT vainly we waited and counted the hours,
The buds of our hope have all burst into flowers.
No room for misgiving—no loop-hole of doubt,—
We’ve heard from the Keystone! The Quakers are out.

The plot has exploded—we’ve found out the trick,
The bribe goes a-begging; the fusion won’t stick
When the Wide-awake lanterns are shining about,
The rogues stay at home, and the true men are out!

The good State has broken the cords for her spun;
Her oil-springs and water won’t fuse into one;

The Dutchman has seasoned with Freedom his kraut,
And slow, late, but certain, the Quakers are out!

Give the flags to the winds! set the hills all aflame!
Make way for the man with the Patriarch’s name!
Away with misgiving—away with all doubt,

For Lincoln goes in, when the Quakers are out!

Three: A Ballad of war

With Lincoln’s election, war soon followed. Then, in 1863, Whittier heard a tale about an alleged confrontation in Frederick, Maryland, when a large Confederate rebel force passed through a Maryland town enroute to a major battle nearby. He spun it into stanzas that “went viral” on the new telegraphic internet, and were long repeated after the war had ended:

Barbara Frietchie
Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.
Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple- and peach-tree fruited deep,
Fair as a garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,
On that pleasant morn of the early fall
When Lee marched over the mountain wall,—
Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.
Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,
Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.
Up rose old then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;
Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;
In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.
Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.
Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced: the old flag met his sight.
“Halt!”— the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
“Fire!”— out blazed the rifle-blast.
It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf;
She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.
A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word:
“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.
All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:
All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.
Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;
And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.
Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.
Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.
Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!
Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;
And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

Largely forgotten now, the poem’s fame endured long enough that when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the house in 1943 with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Churchill is said to have recited all 30 couplets by heart.

Joe Biden’s Nantucket, And Mine

So. Joe Biden loves Nantucket for Thanksgiving.

Been going there for decades. He’s staying at some billionaire’s place.

How do I know? Why, Politico tells me so.

Doesn’t surprise me. I’ve stayed there a few times. Not in the billionaires’ section, of course; or with a security detail. But I loved it too, like Joe.

When I visited, if you did your research, made a few of the right contacts, and went, as Joe does, not during the summer season, you could find a room that was not completely over the moon in price.

Nantucket is in the circle at the lower right, farther out in the Atlantic than the larger & better-known Martha’s Vineyard.

But that was in another century, and another millennium. One of my visits was in the fall of 1976, when I watched a presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford on a B &B family’s black and white TV. Continue reading Joe Biden’s Nantucket, And Mine

Two Videos: “The Separation Generation” & My Odyssey in Brief

Two new videos are on my mind as this week opens:

The first was made last week, when three of us opened the door to what hopefully will become a much broader set of conversations about recent Quaker history, conflicts, and current issues.

We gathered for the Earlham School of Religion’s Authors discussion of our three-volume set, “The Separation Generation, “ charting a series of five recent schisms in American Quaker yearly meetings.

More than one hundred Friends and visitors joined us in person and via Zoom. They had lots of good questions, more than we could deal with in our limited time.

One of the most frequent questions, in Zoom  chat and later messages, was, “When will a video recording be available?”

I’m happy to say that the answer is, “Right now.”

The hour-long recording of the session is now on Vimeo, here.

Coauthors, from left: Stephen Angell; Jade Rockwell; and Chuck Fager

So if you missed it, or want to go over it again, now’s your chance. And you can still send in questions and comments to us, via this blog. Continue reading Two Videos: “The Separation Generation” & My Odyssey in Brief

The Separation Generation: A Continuing Challenge

Blogging about the divisive agony which is overwhelming Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association (SAYMA — described here) was not on my agenda when we planned the Zoom session set for tomorrow, November 11, at 4 PM. (Register at this link:   bit.ly/3k6eDBZ )

But stuff happens. Even in theology.

And that post usefully (if sadly) shows that the forces which produced the five splits chronicled in The Separation Generation series are not confined to the pastoral and evangelical branches, and their theological universe; but can be stirred anywhere, on many issues.

There isn’t space here for a detailed comparison/contrast; and likely it’s too soon. But that time will come. And as we discuss the books tomorrow, my thinking will not only be about this near past, but also about the present. These books are a resource for such immediate work.

This was pointed out by a reviewer on Amazon, Canadian Friend Ian Davis, writing of Indiana Trainwreck:

Ian J. Davis — 5.0 out of 5 stars

It would be easy to say that this was a dry read about recent events in a place very distant from my own.

But nothing could be further from the truth. At core this is a careful examination of religious conflict in a Quaker context; how it arises, how it festers and just how destructive it can be.

There is a strong tendency for religious movements to seek safety in their own creeds and dogma and to insist on uniformity of thought. This desire invites those who disagree with the righteous to be labelled heretics in need of either correction or expulsion.

But there is also a strong desire among Christians to be mindful of the teachings of Jesus, and in particular to love one’s enemies. This is particularly true of Quakers who have historically rejected creeds and dogma, partly on the grounds that such artificial rules (regarding who is to be deemed in, and who out) are divisive, and invite coerced pretense rather than informed spiritual growth.

The conflicts described in this book center around the issues of faith, practice, acceptance of individuals in the LGBTQ community, and the issue of support or opposition to same-sex marriage. It is the ever repeated conflict between those inclined to impose uniformity versus those inclined to welcome diversity.

But it is also the conflict between those who seek God’s will, and those who seek to impose God’s will. Readers of this book are offered front row seats where they can better observe the bloody action unfold. [The coauthors have] done the world a service in documenting so carefully and in such a readable manner the human tendency to forget “thy will be done” in favour of “my will be done”. I rather marvel at [their] own fortitude in staying on the train, while this train wreck was in progress.

Thanks, Ian!
In 2008, a Quaker meeting in the West Richmond Friends Meeting of Richmond, Indiana quietly adopted a policy statement affirming the presence and participation of LGBTQ persons in all aspects of its fellowship, and posted this new statement, called a Minute, on its website.

Officials in the meeting’s regional association, Indiana Yearly Meeting, took exception to this new statement, and told West Richmond to remove it from the site. West Richmond declined. The resulting controversy unfolded over the next five years, and resulted in a major division in what had once been among the largest Quaker communities in the United States.

For historians, it is a unique resource for research. For general readers, it is a rare closeup view of issues that reverberate widely across our culture, and have implications far beyond the boundaries of a small Midwestern religious sect. Indeed, the Indiana virus spread, and parallel conflicts soon convulsed several other American Quaker associations.

In mid-2014, a blast of church schisms blew into the three-century old North Carolina Quaker community like a line of summer tornadoes.

A purge was demanded to “purify” their ranks of congregations deemed theologically “liberal” or friendly to LGBTQ persons. It was much the same wave that had already sundered Quaker groups in Indiana.

Yet the targeted meetings in Carolina stood up eloquently in their own defense, and the purge attempts repeatedly stalled. So how far would the crusaders go? Were they, like U.S. troops in Vietnam, ready to destroy their Quaker “village” in order to “save” it? Did the struggle have to end with a “Murder at Quaker Lake?”

The last time such a broad wave of separations rolled across the American Quaker landscape was in 1827-1828. These recent divisions were reported on as they happened for both a Quaker and a general readership by two projects: the journal Quaker Theology, and a blog titled A Friendly letter.

Murder at Quaker Lake is Volume Two of The Separation Generation, a three-volume series which brings together these reports and related documents, as both an unique initial historical record and a singular resource for those concerned with the course of contemporary religious evolution and controversy.

While Quakers (formally called the Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church) are a small denomination, they encompass a broad range of theological perspectives and socio-political outlooks, and have experienced controversies similar to those that have shaken many larger denominations in recent times.

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

This book is Volume Three of The Separation Generation, a unique three-volume series which brings together reports and related documents about five such conflicts, all distinct but related, in American Quaker circles since the beginning of this century. 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.

(You can see the three coauthors live and ask questions on Thursday, November 11 at 4 PM EST: in person at Earlham School of Religion, or by Zoom, and later on the ESR website. To get the Zoom link, register NOW at this link:   bit.ly/3k6eDBZ )

 

Making Sense of “The Separation Generation” Among Quakers

How can we understand the wave of schisms and breakups described in The Separation Generation three-volume set? How did it come about? Where will it lead?

Phil Gulley

Looking back, we could say it all started with Phil Gulley, the pastor of Fairfield Friends near Indianapolis. In 2003, he published a book, If Grace Is True, which espoused a Universalist theology of salvation. In response, some theologically very conservative pastors tried to get him run out of his church and the Quaker community. This theological witchhunt dragged on and on.

In those days, I (Chuck Fager) was publishing a twice-yearly journal called Quaker Theology, and in its Issue #9 I reviewed Gulley’s book. I liked it well enough, though at times his universalist image of a crowded heaven put me in mind of Mark Twain’s wry comment that he preferred: “Heaven for the climate; hell for the company.”

By the time the review got into print, Gulley’s situation was more than theological. It was also news, at least in the Quaker world: some yearly meetings were banning his titles from their book tables, and an Indiana pastors committee was still breathing down his neck.

The controversy seesawed back and forth. Finally, the witchhunt pastors lost; Gulley stayed put. (He’s still at Fairfield in 2021, last I heard, and still publishing.)

But that wasn’t really the end. When Gulley was vindicated, several of the dissident pastors got their churches to quit Western Yearly Meeting and move over to Indiana Yearly Meeting next door; and they brought their heresy-sniffing bloodhounds with them.

Soon enough they had another target: not a universalist pastor, but a whole meeting, West Richmond (near Earlham College) which in 2008 announced to the world that a long spell of Bible study and prayerful discernment had led then to affirm and welcome LGBTQ folks.

Chuck Fager, at work.

So Bang! At Quaker Theology, we had another theological issue that was also news. And shortly, there was another, and then another. I needed help to keep up, which is where Steve Angell and Jade Souza (now Jade Rockwell) came in.

The rest is, if not yet settled history, after almost 18 years of intermittent labor, a unique blend of careful reporting, on-the-fly theologizing, and now The Separation Generation, the only published record of the biggest wave of Quaker splits in almost 200 years.

(You can see the three coauthors live and ask questions on Thursday, November 11 at 4 PM EST: in person at Earlham School of Religion, or by Zoom, and later on the ESR website. To get the Zoom link, register at this link:   bit.ly/3k6eDBZ )

To whet your appetites, let’s hear a bit from the other coauthors:

Steve Angell, Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at ESR, with another theological work.

Steve Angell: How can these events best be characterized? A few of the metaphors found their way into our three titles: trainwreck; murder; shattering. Given the events we described, the books sometimes go further:  in Shattered by the Light, I  recalled being asked in 2016 to lead the Board of Advisors of Earlham School of Religion to consider  the ongoing “decline or dissolution” of major parts of the Society of Friends.

Of the new Yearly Meetings that have come out these splits, some are unlike any that have preceded them. For example, the New Association of Friends [in Indiana] and the Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends [Oregon, Washington & Idaho] either implicitly or explicitly are welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ Friends.

This is a first for yearly meetings and associations of pastoral Friends in North America, or really, anywhere in the world. The New Association of Friends quotes Isaiah 43:19 on its home page: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Whether these new green shoots, these new things, will thrive, it is too soon to say.

Jade Rockwell

Jade Rockwell (neé Souza) adds:

I believe these conflicts contain tremendous potential for harm, even the risk of ending the Quaker experiment. I also believe they could bring that fire of the Holy Spirit, the change and renewal we know we need, that many of us often envy about the Early Friends movement, or primitive Christianity.
Whether these conflicts are fruitful will depend — partly on having strong analysis of these events, even knowing about them to begin with.

Then, whether we can develop resiliency worthy of our calling. Can we be humble enough to tell the truth, tough enough to resist dehumanizing each other, courageous enough to stay in the game, and faithful enough to let God lead?

These conflicts may be the Refiner’s Fire for us. They do not have to end in splits, even as we go on, in different directions.

I don’t know the future or claim to have the answers. But I participated in this project to do the best I could to help get the truth out  in the Light, where there is some hope for us
Often we don’t want these stories out there because we see ourselves as “patterns and examples”, but I believe we are only as sick as our secrets. 
I hope this project will be useful and illuminating for Friends in thinking about these conflicts and how we are called to move into the next chapters, in whatever shape we are now in.

To repeat: both the live presentation and the Zoom stream are FREE and PUBLIC. For more details and to receive the Zoom link, please register by clicking this link:  bit.ly/3k6eDBZ

To order:
Vol. 1 – Indiana Trainwreck:

Vol. 2 – Murder at Quaker Lake:

Vol. 3 – Shattered By the Light:

Presenting The Separation Generation: November 11

Not since 1827 have so many American yearly meetings split in such a short time.

That 1827 struggle was so traumatic that a fully-researched study of it (Quakers In Conflict, by H. Larry Ingle) was not published until 1986, one hundred and forty-nine years afterward.

This time, between 2003 and 2018, four YMs broke, and a fifth disappeared completely after 320 years. But unlike 1827, what was dubbed The Separation Generation was reported in real time, defying the pandemic, and chronicled in three books.

The three co-authors of The Separation Generation will discuss them, the yearly meeting upheavals which produced them, and answer questions in a live presentation on Thursday, November 11 at 4 PM – EST at Earlham School of Religion (ESR). It will also be livestreamed on Zoom, and for those present at ESR, will be followed by a reception.

The three coauthors include Stephen Angell, the Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at ESR; Chuck Fager, a retired activist, journalist and editor;  and Jade Rockwell, an activist and student at ESR.

“These books fill a big accountability gap about these conflicts,” said Chuck Fager, who edited the series.

“The gap was created on one hand by the fact that too many YM and local meeting officials — like many other church & corporate bureaucrats— prefer to bury or ignore bad or unflattering news. They often act like like bent cops & shady politicians. (But there were also, the books show, staunch Friends who stood up for Truth and fair process.)

“And these coverups have usually been enabled by Quaker publications which lack the skills & the backbone to seriously report them.

“So as these five separations developed, nobody was covering & documenting them. So we stepped up. Others could do it again, when the need arises (and it probably will, if Quaker history is  any guide), and I hope they will.”

The five yearly meetings involved were:

>Indiana and Western, two once very large bodies whose struggles over Universalist theology and LGBT affirmation left them scattered and shrunken. They are covered in Vol. 1, Indiana Trainwreck.

> North Carolina (FUM), which faced internecine warfare over biblical and church authority, LGBT acceptance, and did not survive; its self-destruction fills Vol. 2, Murder at Quaker Lake.

> And Northwest and Wilmington YMs, two quite distinct bodies, the former evangelical and West coast-centered, and the latter straddling a stretch of the heartland from Ohio to Tennessee. While facing some similar issues, their outcomes differed, and their diverse stories make up Vol. 3, Shattered By The Light.

The Separation Generation series, available in paperback and ebook, offers a unique combination of journalism, theology, old & new; over 150 pages of documents backing up the reporting; and some limited speculation & opinion.

The coauthors worked mainly as volunteers, starting when each had a day job.

Documenting our Quaker history as it happens is accountability work that can be done, & needs to be done. That way we can learn about what’s happening to us, especially amid the deep cultural & political upheavals we’re surrounded by today.

“I’ve been doing independent reporting among Friends since 1977, in various forms,” Chuck Fager said,  “almost 45 years, on a shoestring budget and alongside regular day jobs.

“I believe projects like this will likely be needed again, in various media. I’m very grateful to ESR for upholding the involvement of Steve and Jade, and for bringing the results of our work forward among Friends.

I hope Friends watching this program at 4 PM EST  on November 11 or on the web afterward, will consider taking up this concern when it’s needed again, and encourage others who do.”

Both the live presentation and the Zoom stream are FREE and PUBLIC. For more details and to receive the Zoom link, please register by clicking this link:  bit.ly/3k6eDBZ

 

 

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

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

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?)

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