English-speaking Quakers today are in dire need of some new “spiritual” books, and I have a top candidate to recommend here. It is John Calvi’s How far Have You Traveled?
Amid all the wonderful stuff that’s in it, some of what makes Calvi’s book so excellent is what’s not in it.
For example — and this fact alone made me an instant fan — in its 200 or so pages, the word “transformation” occurs only once.
Further, the bogus cliche “spice” shows up only thrice – and each time, thank goodness, it’s part of “hospice,” programs that bring comfort and peace to the often painful work of dying; in his career John has very often been a two-legged hospice. “Spiritual journey” likewise is limited to three appearances.
For that matter, “theology” is mentioned only ten times, and then mostly not from John’s pen, but in quotes by one of his elders/mentors, the late Elizabeth Watson.
But be not deceived; How Far Have You Traveled? is indeed a Quaker theological work, a substantial and serious (while often hilarious) one. For one thing, while Calvi is pretty loose on doctrine, Jesus pops up about twenty times. The book is not academic. John is an avid learner, but school academics have not been his forte.
Instead, he introduces us to what I would call “un-systematic theology,” and without argument he shows compellingly why it is so much needed. Instead of riffing on the trendy banalities of much “devotional” writing, or wandering into the mazes of academic abstractions, John’s theology grows out of reflections on decades of hands-on work as a massage therapist. Continue reading John Calvi: Boon Companion for Spiritual Travel→
Plunging into Michael Cohen’s book, “Disloyal,” I’m more intrigued by the account of his self-seduction than any of his politically-charged disclosures, at least so far. Besides, the really smarmy stuff will be scrapped over & gnawed on by all the big media dogs.
Instead, I was more struck by passages like this:
To an outsider, my attraction to Trump—or as I described it, my “obsession”—seemed to have its roots in money and power and my lust to possess these attributes, if even only by proxy. What other explanation was there for my starstruck, moth-to-the-flame compulsion to insinuate myself with a man so transparently problematic in myriad ways?Continue reading Michael Cohen’s “Disloyal”: A Theological Review→
It didn’t look or feel like lighting the fuse to a load of dynamite.
But that’s what West Richmond Friends Meeting in Indiana did in June 2008 when they added a minute to their website.
They placed the post without fanfare. But the fuse, once lit, sputtered and flashed for several years, and the ultimate explosion blew up a yearly meeting that was nearing its 200th anniversary.
A new book, Indiana Trainwreck, is the first to tell the story. West Richmond’s 2008 minute announced that the group had “reached unity” on supporting full inclusion of LGBT persons, concluding to do so was in harmony with their best understanding of the Bible, the thrust of Quaker/Christian history & witness, and the will of God.
News of West Richmond’s minute soon reached the leadership of Indiana Yeatly Meeting, the regional association of which West Richmond was a member. And they soon sent word to the group that they wanted the minute removed from West Richmond’s website.
The meeting pondered this demand, prayed over it, and declined to comply; the minute stayed.
Doug Gwyn has been a frequent contributor to Quaker Theology. Our readers have known him as a theological historian, who has written in depth about early Friends, as well as recent American Quakers.
Of the books, I’d pick as his masterwork, Personality and Place (our review is here), which he calls a theological history of Pendle hill, the Pennsylvania study center and Quaker cultural crossroads. It’s that and much more: a probing reexamination of the liberal Quakerism for which Pendle Hill was for so long the unofficial headwater and seedbed. You can find it here.
But behind this diligently productive scholar-thinker persona, Doug has long been leading another life, as “The Brothers Doug,” a singer/songwriter, producing and performing, as way opened, dozens of original songs. Many (but not all) have Quaker topics, and many of those have an amusing, satirical, and occasionally trenchant edge. Most, either explicitly or implicitly, reflect Doug’s lifelong theological concerns.
This expansive musical oeuvre has been largely shared with very small audiences; Doug has never excelled at self-promotion. He’s retired now (and of course has a jaunty tune, “Baby, I’m Retired” to show for it).
[UPDATE: Big Hat Tip to Hank Fay, who passed along the news that Doug’s 2008 double album Chronicles of Babylon, a compilation of 31songs, including those from his early cassette, Songs of Faith & Frenzy, with its memorably clever cover (below), is in fact available on Google Play. In Chronicles are some of his sharpest Quaker satires, such as “Pendle Hill Revisited,” “A Process In the Wind,” and “Making Quakers from Scratch.” He’s also unafraid to aim at his own vanity, in “Hair Envy,” which laments the erosion of his own coiffure (“Why Do I Love Your Hair? Because . . . It’s There.”) Alongside these, are others which carry serious, if unconventionally expressed Christian religious messages.]
In late January, a post here described the struggle between the Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW) and the small Friends Community Church of Midway City, in Orange County near Los Angeles. EFCSW’s Board of Elders decided to close the Midway City church, and fire its pastor, Joe Pfeiffer.
The Elders acted after several homeless people (from the LA area’s estimated 59,000 homeless multitude) were briefly taken in there. The Midway City congregation has gone to court to stop the closure and keep Pfeiffer and his wife Cara as co-pastors.
Background and initial details re in the blog post and a followup. Court proceedings have been put into suspended animation by the pandemic, likely til late this year (at least). But the theological debate brought to light by the controversy continues. It should heat up after today, with the publication of Quaker Theology, Issue #34. In it, Joe Pfeiffer lays out the theological and historical case for the challenge he and Midway City have mounted against its putative ecclesiastical overlord.
May 24 was (Authentic) Religious Liberty Day (at least it was here), but the Administration has some strange ideas about how to mark it. Like: turn it upside down & inside out.
That day it releaseda proposed federal rule that would deny transgender persons many of the medical benefits and legal protections they gained in the Obama years. The proposal is one more chapter in the continuing drive to roll back just about everything the previous administration achieved or initiated. (Full text of the proposed rule is here.)
In 1988 I wrote a substantial essay laying out my views about abortion, and describing how they had evolved over time. The piece also considered the increasing parallels, both rhetorical and political, between this struggle and the Civil War.
Thirty-plus years later, despite some continuing evolution and updates, much of the piece still seems relevant, not least the potential for civil strife.
(Author’s note from 1998 reprint: Many of the policy issues described in this essay still seem timely more than a decade later. Further, the personal journey it describes was an important part of my life, one not to be denied or concealed. It is also necessary background to the civil war scenarios that will also surface. . . . A much shortened version of the piece was published in The New Republic.)
Some years ago, a Friend who was much taken with what she believed was Quakerism’s essential, and defining character as a kind of mysticism, approached me. Knowing of my admiration for Lucretia mott, she asked if she should add Lucretia to her list of the great Quaker mystics.
Nope. Quite the contrary, I told her. In truth, Lucretia would in fact all-but head the list of the great anti-mystics of Quaker history. And as Lucretia’s motto was, “Truth for Authority, not Authority for Truth,” it would be untruthful say otherwise.
Henry Cadbury, a U.S. relative of the legendary British Chocolate magnates, was a renowned New Testament scholar & translator, which I am advised is a much less magnateishly-remunerated profession. Though while he was doing that, he also taught at Harvard Divinity School (or HDS), which means he wasn’t going to starve.
In those days (and even now), HDS worked to have an ecumenical student body (in 1968, this outlook led them so far astray as to admit me).
Alas, by then Cadbury had retired. But echoes of his pedagogy still seemed to whisper in the HDS halls. This was especially true of his humor, which leavened his more widely renowned scholarship.
Cadbury was one of 91 scholars who translated the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a project which took many years and was published in 1952, with great public fanfare, big sales — and hot pushback from fundamentalists.
One such pastor, Rev. Martin Luther Hux of the Temple Baptist Church in Rocky Mount North Carolina, preached a two-hour sermon condemning the RSV, then climbed onto the back of a flatbed truck and burned a page from the RSV, after distributing American flags to his entire congregation. Other immolations were reported.
A reporter called Cadbury for comment. The professor paused, then observed that in former times, such critics preferred to burn the translators. So if now they were only burning the translation — wasn’t that a sort of progress?
Wit and erudition also came together in his New Testament courses. Cadbury was greatly admired by many students for his careful exposition of various approaches to analysis of New Testament texts, particularly the Gospels, and his care to avoid inserting his own views, so students were free to develop their own.
Or rather, this was admired by many. Yet some, among the more theologically orthodox, expected him not only to teach the Gospels, but also to “bear witness” to his belief in them, especially the key passages involving Jesus.
Thus the story is told that toward the end of a semester, one such student raised his hand, and then confronted Cadbury. As I recall, he said, “Professor, you have talked a lot about the crucifixion and the resurrection in the Gospel texts, but we have no idea what youbelieve about this. So, let’s have it: Yesor No, do youbelieve in the physical resurrectionof Jesus?”
Cadbury pondered the query with a sober mien, removed and polished his spectacles, carefully replaced them, and said:
“I believe . . . in the physical resurrection of Jesus . . . on Tuesdays, Thursdays . . . and sometimes Saturdays.”
One wonders if this class was convened on the day before a Saturday like today. But my source, or at least the recollection, is unclear on this point.
Perhaps it will be clearer tomorrow.
PS. Cadbury’s wife Lydia was a woman of strong views. For one, she was very skeptical of the popular trend among some Quakers toward mysticism. “Had another mystical experience, eh?” She once said to a visiting Friend. “Tush. I’d rather do a load of wash.”
On another occasion, at a Harvard faculty dance, she glared over her husband’s shoulder at a woman gliding across the floor, who had recently left her husband for another man: “Henry,” she said, “did you know that woman has committed adultery?”
“All I know,” Henry sternly whispered back, “is that she has not committed it with me.”