Category Archives: Stories – From Life & Elsewhere

When Jeff Bezos Personally Apologized. No, Really.

The first time I heard the Jeff Bezos Apology story, it was from my big brother just the other day, and I immediately thought: No way.

There is just no way Jeff Bezos publicly apologized. And he simply could not possibly be dumb enough to do what he had allegedly apologized for.

A scene from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

Not that he’s some paragon or guru or the Dalai Lama of Prime. Most of the bad things people say about his Amazon empire are true, and I kept rooting for the union drive at his Alabama warehouse right til the organizers drove off the cliff.

But this other story, new to me, was so ridiculous that it had to be one of those floating internet legends. Had to be.

I mean, sure, sometimes Amazon gets caught with its corporate pants down; or at least unzipped. Take its initial dismissal earlier this month of the charge that many Amazon delivery drivers are so driven that some have to pee in bottles to stay on their inhuman schedules.

The company first tweeted a disdainful denial of the reports, which were echoed by a Democratic Congressman from Wisconsin, Mark Pocan. Continue reading When Jeff Bezos Personally Apologized. No, Really.

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

My Opening Day Confession

It’s Opening Day, and I have a confession to make.

Where has it gone? Will it ever come back?

It’s not an April Fool.

Here it is:

it’s Opening Day, and I don’t care.

And I’m not sure why.

Is it part of the pandemic hangover, part of the “Old Normal” that was ripped away from us a year ago, now lost somewhere amid the endless charts and graphs of debility and deaths? The exhaustion of these masked months continues, and has left me no spare “disk space” for wondering about trades and predictions and highlight reels.

Or is it another side effect of surviving the long brutal years of 45? That could be a big part of it. As the renegade Republican sage Rick Wilson put it in his first best-seller, Everything T—— Touches Dies. His reign certainly sucked the pleasure out of so many other things.  The toxicity of this anti-Midas touch was clearly in evidence by October 2019. That’s when the White House Occupant paid his sole visit to a game. Sports Illustrated told it plainly:

President Donald T—— was greeted with loud boos from the crowd at Game 5 of the World Series between the Nationals and Astros on Sunday.

T——was shown on the big screen at Nationals Park during the team’s salute to veterans after the third inning. Fans in attendance loudly yelled “lock him up,” a chant T—— supporters began in 2016 directed at his opponent and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. . . .

T——  did not sit with the Lerner family, the principal owners of the Nationals. According to WUSA, a representative for the Lerner family requested that MLB not put the family in a position to turn down a request from the White House to sit with Trump.

Except T——, every president since William Taft in 1910 has thrown out a ceremonial first pitch, either for Opening Day, the All-Star Game or the World Series. In 2010, President Obama threw out the first pitch on Opening Day at Nationals Park to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Presidential Opening Day first pitches.
According to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, T——  decided not to throw out the ceremonial first pitch “in order to make the fan experience as positive as possible.”

Sunday marked T——‘s first [and last] major league game since he took office in 2017. [Note: Trigger word emended as a public health measure.]

Continue reading My Opening Day Confession

Going Postal

One day, deep in the pit of my midlife angst, I saw a job notice on a bulletin board at the Merrifield postal facility. It was for a part-time EEO Investigator.

It was 1990, and for five years I had been moving mail in this enormous mail processing  center in the DC Virginia suburbs.

I was told, and I believe it, that every day six million pieces of mail came in at one end of the block-long-hangarlike facility, and that same day six million pieces needed to go out the other end. There were seasons of the mail, but like the nearby Potomac River, it never stopped.

The post office was good money and honest work, but I was desperate to get out. I wanted to write stuff about and for Quakers,  organize events, stir the pot. It was a harmless enough ambition, assuredly obscure; but it was mine.  Unfortunately, nobody was hiring for that.

The EEO gig would be a step up. At least it called on my civil rights experience from the Sixties. This would not be marches or jail, rather  the humdrum nitty gritty of their aftermath, making the legal progress work. (If it did.) Continue reading Going Postal

Going Public, in The New Yorker & Facebook Live

Apropos of Dr. King’s birthday, and looking toward Black History Month, an email came In Monday telling me the New Yorker magazine had posted on its website an article from the April 10, 1965 issue called, “Letter from Selma,” about the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

And I was mentioned  in it.

Sure enough; it’s the only time I have appeared in the magazine.

I barely remember what was in that “Letter,” though  I can still see the writer, Renata Adler, appearing by the edge of U.S. Highway 80.

Renata Adler

I do recall how strikingly out of place she seemed, on its rough and rocky shoulder, crowded with disheveled marchers, and lined with armed troops eyeing the nearby scrub forests for snipers.

Adler looked as if she had been plucked from a stroll on Fifth Avenue and teleported to Alabama, in a colorful and almost slinky sheath dress, with a broad voguish hat bending under the stray breezes, notebook in hand.
We talked for just a few minutes. It’s a good article. Only time my name ever appeared in the New Yorker, as far as I know.
I think you can read it for free.

And there’s more: on Jan. 18 I was asked to speak to the good people of Life’s Journey UCC Church in Burlington NC, and tell them the title story from my memoir, “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.

Telling a story that’s 56 years old — and as up to the minute as the latest headlines.
Of course, I didn’t get to go to Burl-Ing ton, which is about 40 miles west of Durham.  Instead, I ZOOMed in from home in Durham; that’s This American (Pandemic) Life, 2021.
but we had a good time. I did my best to tell my Selma story,
and explain how for a long time after that year in Selma, it had a happy ending. But then, in 2013, that ending was erased, and the story of fighting for voting resumed.
Only this time, the wear and tear of age had me on the sidelines, but still connected, reminding the young that this continuing story is now theirs too, and it was their turn, not yet to tell it but to write the decisive next chapters with their lives.

The video of the talk is there, for free.

Updates On The Five who Died in the Capitol Invasion

Here is more about the five who died during or after the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 gathered from local press reports: [Updated January 9 2020]


Trampled by the crowd: Rosanne Boyland, 34, of Kennesaw, GA

From the New York Post:

One of the five people killed in the DC riots was a pro-Trump protester who was trampled to death, according to her friend.

Rosanne Boyland, of Kennesaw, Ga., died as the mob stormed the Capitol building, squaring off with police Wednesday.

Rosanne Boyland, of Kennesaw, GA

The friend she was with, Justin Winchell, recalled her final moments as protesters began falling over one another.

“I put my arm underneath her and was pulling her out and then another guy fell on top of her, and another guy was just walking [on top of her],” Winchell told CBS46. “There were people stacked two, three deep … people just crushed.”

He said the clash “basically created a panic, and the police in turn push[ed] back on them, so people started falling.”

Paramedics tried to revive Boyland, 34, but she died.

“I lost a dear, dear friend, an amazing friend,” said Winchell, who drove with Boyland to DC to hear the president speak.

[The Guardian reported: “Boyland, an avid Trump supporter, had a criminal history, including being charged with possession or distribution of heroin “at least four other times” in Georgia. Other past charges include battery, obstruction of law enforcement and trespassing.”]

Winchell said he didn’t believe President Trump bore responsibility for his pal’s death.

“She was killed by an incited event and it was not incited by Trump supporters,” he said.

But Boyland’s brother-in-law, Justin Cave, denounced Trump for calling on his supporters to rally in the nation’s capital.

“I’ve never tried to be a political person but it’s my own personal belief that the president’s words incited a riot that killed four of his biggest fans last night and I believe that we should invoke the 25th Amendment at this time,” he said in a prepared statement.

“Our family is grieving on every level for our country, for all the families that have lost loved ones or suffered injuries, for our own loss,” he continued.

“We appreciate your prayers and ask for everyone to respect our family’s privacy as we mourn her death.”


CAPITOL PROTEST: Family releases statement about Kevin Greeson, Athens (Alabama) man who died in D.C.

Athens AL News-Courier, By Jessica Barnett Jan. 7, 2020

The family of a local man who died in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday have released a statement regarding his death.

Kevin Greeson, 55, of Athens, was identified by Chief Robert Contee of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department as one of four individuals who died in connection to a protest at the U.S. Capitol. The family said Greeson was “a wonderful father and husband who loved life.”

“Kevin was an advocate of President Trump and attended the event on January 6, 2021, to show his support,” the statement reads. “He was excited to be there to experience this event.”

[The Guardian reported that: “Greeson posted racist diatribes online and associated with the Proud Boys, a far-right group known for enacting political violence and racial terror.

Despite the family’s insistence that “he was not there to participate in violence or rioting” and did not “condone such actions”, Greeson had posted to popular conservative social platforms calling for supporters to “load your guns and take to the streets” in the weeks leading up to the events.

“Let’s take this fucking country back,” he posted to Parler. Like many of the white nationalists who participated, Greeson never specifies from whom the country is being taken.”]

Kevin Greeson, 55, of Athens AL

However, he was not there to engage in violence or rioting, the family said. In fact, Greeson had a history of high blood pressure, and it was the events at the Capitol that contributed to his death, according to the family.

“In the midst of the excitement, (Kevin) suffered a heart attack,” according to the statement. “Our family is devastated.”

They described Greeson as a man who loved motorcycles, his job and coworkers, and his dogs. The family thanked everyone who has offered thoughts and prayers but asked the public to respect their privacy as they continue to grieve their loss.

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund issued a statement Thursday in which he said more than 50 Capitol and Washington police officers were injured and several Capitol Police officers had been hospitalized with severe injuries.

D.C. police said 68 people had been arrested, while Capitol police said 14 had been arrested. Among them is Lonnie Coffman of Falkville, who faces charges of carrying a pistol without a license and having an unregistered gun and ammunition, according to Capitol Police.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama said it plans to prosecute anyone from North Alabama who traveled to D.C. intending to join the violent protest. The FBI requested anyone with information relevant to their investigation of the protest to visit fbi.gov/USCapitol or call 1-800-225-5324.


Pennsylvania man, Benjamin Phillips, among the dead following pro-Trump assault on Capitol

The Morning Call | – Jan 08, 2021

A day after pro-Trump protesters laid siege to the U.S. Capitol in a bid to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president, the extent of the damage — to lives, property and the nation’s social fabric — became distressingly clear.

Five people died Wednesday in the mayhem that broke out after President Donald Trump addressed a crowd of supporters and urged them to march to the Capitol and protest what would, in ordinary times, have been the mundane process of certifying the outcome of the election.

Ben Philips, right, greets people as they board a bus he organized bound for Washington on January 6. Philips suffered a stroke and died in Washington Wednesday. (Julia Terruso / The Philadelphia / Julia Terruso / The Philadelphia)

Among the dead was a Pennsylvania man, 50-year-old Benjamin Philips, who succumbed to an “apparent medical emergency,” said the chief of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philips, a computer programmer and avid Trump supporter, died of a stroke. Police said Philips was from Ringtown, Schuylkill County, but the newspaper said he was from Bloomsburg, Columbia County.

Trump supporter Ben Philips shows off stuffed animals outside his Bloomsburg apartment in September. Philips succumbed to an “apparent medical emergency” Wednesday near the Capitol, said the chief of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department. (Keith Haupt)

The Inquirer said Philips founded the social network Trumparoo, named after a stuffed kangaroo meant to resemble the president, and arranged bus transportation to Washington on Wednesday.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/us/who-was-ashli-babbitt.html?referringSource=articleShare


Ashli Babbitt, 35, from San Diego CA

Another woman — Ashli Babbitt, 35, an Air Force veteran from San Diego — was fatally shot in the Capitol by police, Chief Robert J. Contee said.

[The NYTimes reported that: “In 2016, (her husband Aaron) Babbitt’s former girlfriend applied to a court for a protection order, telling the court that Ms. Babbitt, then known as Ashli McEntee, had approached her on a roadway and had rear-ended her car three times. (https://tinyurl.com/y2sppoaz)

“She was screaming at me and verbally threatening,” the complaint says. The court granted a protection order. The following year, the former girlfriend again applied for a protection order, which the court granted. . . .

Shortly after that, Ms. Babbitt relocated to California, where she helped purchase Fowlers Pool Service and Supply, a company where her brother, Mr. Witthoeft, said he had worked. . . .

Ms. Babbitt appeared to struggle in business. In 2017 she took out a costly short-term business loan. In effect, it meant her pool business would have to pay an interest rate that she later calculated in court filings to be 169 percent.

Within days of signing the loan agreement, she stopped making payments, only repaying about $3,400 of the $65,000 borrowed from the lender, EBF Partners, records show. The lender soon sued her.. . . .

Leaving the military had freed her to participate in politics, something she savored, her brother said.

“That was one of her things — for the first time in her life, she could actually say what she wanted to say, and didn’t have to bottle it up,” he said. She was frustrated, he said, with the number of homeless people in San Diego, and the difficulty of running a small business.

“My sister was a normal Californian,” he said. “The issues she was mad about were the things all of us are mad about.”

Her social media accounts suggest that she also, increasingly, embraced the conspiratorial thinking of QAnon, which has asserted that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by an elite Satan-worshiping cabal, and that it was up to ordinary people to reinstate Mr. Trump.

She retweeted a post that promised a violent uprising that would lead to Mr. Trump’s second inauguration.

“Nothing will stop us,” she wrote on Twitter the day before her death. “They can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours …. dark to light!”]

This photograph of a gallows set up at the Capitol during the January 6 invasion was verified by snopes.com.

[The Guardian reported on January 9:

In late December, the incoming vice-president, Kamala Harris, tweeted about her plans for the first hundred days of the Biden administration. She promised “to ensure Americans mask up, distribute 100M shots, and get students safely back to school”.

Among the thousands of responses was an angry tweet from a 35-year-old air force veteran in San Diego.

“No the fuck you will not!” Ashli Babbitt replied to Harris. “No masks, no you, no Biden the kid raper, no vaccines…sit your fraudulent ass down…we the ppl bitch!”

Babbitt wasn’t just tweeting. She had a plan to fly to Washington DC the very next week to take part in a major public demonstration demanding that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, be sworn in as president. . . .

Babbitt’s Twitter account shows a woman deeply engaged for months with a conspiracy theory that painted Democratic lawmakers as evil pedophiles, and then persuaded, and infuriated, by Trump and his allies’ lies about election fraud.

For weeks before she joined the mob in Washington, Babbitt had been retweeting false claims from Trump himself, as well as the pro-Trump lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, alleging massive voter fraud and asserting that Trump had won the 2020 election.
Many of Babbitt’s tweets, according to extremism experts, also marked her as a believer in QAnon, a conspiracy theory that claims Donald Trump has been trying to save the world from a cabal of satanic pedophiles, including Democratic politicians like Biden and Hollywood celebrities, and that he will soon bring his enemies to justice.

Babbitt had. . . tweeted regularly about the conspiracy theory since February 2020, and she had posted a lot on Twitter in general, about 50 posts a day, he said. On election day, she had posted 77 times.

Her social media also showed posts skeptical of masks and public health measures. She had responded with fury to an alert in early December that California public health officials were reinstating a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which was surging in southern California: “This is that commie bullshit.”

The QAnon conspiracy theory, although lurid in its claims about the torture of children, is very much a political movement, not just a personal delusion, experts say.

“The people that went to the Capitol weren’t just trying to save Trump, they were trying to stop the coming multiracial democracy” which they believed would institute “a radical leftist globalist agenda”, Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said.

On Twitter, Babbitt had been sharing messages urging people like herself to take action, with messages like: “Your government doesn’t fear you anymore. That needs to change. ASAP.”

Babbitt was a small business owner and self-described libertarian. She owned a San Diego-based business, Fowler’s Pool Service and Supply, according to California business records. Her LinkedIn profile lists her as the company owner since May 2017.

In one tweet, first reported by Bellingcat, Babbitt said that she had voted for Barack Obama before voting for Trump. In recent months, she had become a devoted adherent of conspiracy theories boosted by Trump and others.. . .
Babbitt wrote that she believed the 6 January protest she was joining would be a pivotal moment for the country, and a fulfillment of some of the key events that QAnon believers had been expecting: “Nothing will stop us….they can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours….dark to light!” she tweeted the day before the rally, referencing key QAnon slogans. . . .

Travis View, the host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, said posts showed that Babbitt was “100% a dedicated QAnon follower. She was not casual about it. She was deep into it.”

The scene at the Capitol
At that 6 January rally. . . . Babbitt would be among the crowds of Trump supporters who pushed and fought their way past the Capitol police and into the building itself, forcing lawmakers to flee or hide, and temporarily halting the certification of Biden’s election victory.
Multiple videos would capture the moment in a Capitol hallway where Babbitt was at the front of a crowd stopped at a door to the Speaker’s Lobby, which has been shut and barricaded. On the other side of the door were members of Congress and Capitol police protecting them, according to news reports.
Video obtained by the Washington Post shows Babbitt and other members of the mob shouting at a cluster of officers who are guarding the door, telling them to step aside, as other Trump supporters pound on the door’s glass, shattering it. The video shows the officers moving away from the door, and members of the crowd surging forward, shouting “Break it down” and “Let’s fucking go” as they try to break through the door.

Other widely circulated videos show Babbitt hopping up to push herself through one of the door’s glass panels, towards the legislators at the other end of the hallway, as a man shouts “Bust it down!” The footage shows a shot ringing out, and Babbitt falling to the ground. Officials would later confirm that she had been shot by a capitol police officer, and that the shooting is under investigation.

Lawmakers from both parties who were present at the moment when Babbitt was shot have spoken out about the dangerous behavior of the crowd

And a Capitol police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, died Thursday of injuries received while engaging rioters.

Brian Sicknick, Capitol Polic

[The Washington Post reported Saturday: “A family statement says Sicknick was the youngest of three brothers who grew up in a borough along the I-95 corridor south of New Brunswick, and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix. He rescued dachshunds and loved the New Jersey Devils hockey team.

He is survived by his parents, Charles and Gladys Sicknick, brothers Ken and Craig, and his girlfriend of 11 years, Sandra Garza. Relatives and close friends did not speak publicly on Friday.

Sicknick’s family said he had wanted to be a police officer his entire life. One of those brothers, Ken Sicknick, said in the statement that his sibling had joined the New Jersey Air National Guard “as a means to that end” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. . . .

Sicknick joined the Capitol Police force in 2008 and most recently served in the first responders unit. . . .

Those who encountered Sicknick said his political views did not align neatly with one political party.
“He was conservative, but polite and measured” in messages he sent to the office of his congressman, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), according to the lawmaker’s spokesman, Aaron Fritschner.
He said Sicknick supported the president and opposed impeachment, but favored gun control. He was concerned about animal cruelty and the national debt.

https://tinyurl.com/y4pvdk9u

D.C. authorities arrested 68 and cited at least a dozen people from Pennsylvania, including two on charges of unlawful entry and one on a charge of possession of a prohibited weapon. Others were cited for curfew violations.

Capitol Police said 14 were arrested, most for unlawful entry. More than 50 Capitol and D.C. police were injured, including several who were hospitalized. [The Guardian reported: “

A reported 60 Capitol police officers were injured. According to the Democratic congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, many were also hit in the head with metal pipes. More than a dozen remain hospitalized.

Sicknick’s death is being investigated as a homicide by federal and local authorities.”]

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf activated about 1,000 Pennsylvania National Guard members Thursday to help with security in Washington through President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 presidential inauguration.

Even after 24 hours, the shocking events at the U.S. Capitol — perhaps the most recognizable symbol of democracy in the world — were hard to absorb. The photos and videos of rioters climbing walls, smashing windows, roving hallways and trying to push their way into the chambers of government where lawmakers huddled in terror mark the twilight of Trump’s presidency as one of the darkest moments in American history.

Social media post by Ashli Babbitt enroute to Washington for the January 6 confrontation.

Susan Gladfelter, 65, of West Rockhill Township, Bucks County, was part of the bus trip organized by Philips. The group arrived about 20 minutes before Trump’s 11 a.m. speech and marched to the Capitol afterward.

“There were times where it was really moving, like yeah, these are fellow Americans that love their country like I do,” Gladfelter said.

But around 2:30 p.m., the mood began to change. A young man close to her group chanted “Storm the building!” into a bullhorn.

”I was like, no, you don’t storm the Capitol building,” Gladfelter said. “I became really uncomfortable with some of the things that were going [on].”

She heard explosions that sounded like shots going off. She saw people pass barricades and scale the walls. And she wondered where the Capitol Police were.

”I totally support President Trump, but these people were extremists,” she said. “These people just weren’t patriots. They were lawbreakers, and that was not the purpose of yesterday.”

Gladfelter’s group decided to leave and headed to a prearranged meeting place a few hours early. No one could reach Philips — the group knew him only as “Ben” — and learned from the bus driver that he died.

”It was just an overwhelmingly sad day,” Gladfelter said.

While the siege was broken and lawmakers returned to the Capitol to finish the certification, the outrage it inspired seems unlikely to abate. Democratic Sen. Bob Casey on Thursday joined a chorus of other lawmakers and officials demanding Vice President Mike Pence invoke the 25th Amendment to declare Trump unfit and remove him from office.

“While shocking, yesterday’s events were entirely foreseeable,” Casey said in a statement. “They were the direct result of President Trump’s lies about the integrity of our most recent election, and his frequent incitements to violence.”

Lehigh Valley party leaders seemed equally divided. Northampton County Republican Committee Chairperson Lee Snover, an early and vocal supporter of Trump, was in Washington to protest the election but didn’t get close to the Capitol as the rioting broke out.

She downplayed the violence on social media Wednesday, but in a statement Thursday, said she wasn’t aware of the extent of the destruction until she got home. She said she was “saddened to tears” seeing U.S. Rep. Susan Wild and other lawmakers forced into lockdown.

“I would expect there to be a full investigation to determine all the facts,” Snover said. “It is critically important for people not to rush to judgment, or to bandwagon on false narratives before the facts are known.”

Lehigh County Republican Committee Chairperson Glenn Eckhart feared Wednesday’s violence would continue America’s political divisiveness, which he blamed on leaders of both national parties.

In Lehigh County, he’s been trying to build a “big tent” Republican Party to make up for the 35,000-voter advantage Democrats hold.

“I want to keep the vision of Reagan, Lincoln, Eisenhower, Coolidge, Roosevelt, Grant,” Eckhart said. “We can’t hold a litmus test. We’ll never win.”

Northampton County Democratic Committee Chairperson Matt Munsey called for elected leaders at the state and federal level who allowed the spread of misinformation to be held accountable.

“It wasn’t a small number of people,” Munsey said. “It was a large, angry mob that had immediately before been incited by the president but were also spurred on by the actions of senators and Congress members who said, ‘Don’t trust the outcome of the election.’ ”

Lehigh County Democratic Committee Chairperson Ed Hozza compared the aftermath to the time following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“While we’ve been through trials and tribulations before, this time it was the enemy within. That is the most troubling part of the entire day,” Hozza said.

Still, he expressed some optimism, hoping the violence would shock Americans into a time of reflection. The divisiveness of the last four years might die down if Trump follows the unwritten rule of former presidents leaving the political stage, he said.

“Whether he will fade into the distance or continue to seize the limelight remains to be seen,” he said.

And lest we forget, the toll could have been much higher . . . This is a pipe bomb, one of several, along with guns and a cache of “Molotov cocktails,” seized by police.

 

“Merry Christmas. Now, Get Out!” Quaker David & Goliath Update: Goliath Wins

Christian churches all over the world are having Christmas services this weekend, and into the coming weeks. It’s a tradition almost two millennia old. But for some churches, it’s a pretty bittersweet occasion.

The Friends Church of Midway City, in Orange County California is one such. After 85 years, this Christmas weekend is to be their last in the church they built and paid for, and pursued their vision of evangelical Quakerism.

[Note: more about Midway’s GoFundMe campaign, to help pay off their $50,000 debt for lawsuit legal expenses, is here: https://gf.me/u/ykw8s8 ]
Many readers have asked about the outcome of the dispute between Midway City Friends and their evangelical overlords, reported here in widely-read blog posts almost a year ago, here and here.

The overlords announced in May 2018 that they were going to shut down the congregation, take the church and its property, and fire the pastors. The Midway City Friends filed a lawsuit in 2018 to stop their expropriation.

It didn’t work out. As the church announced on its Facebook page above, they lost their case. The defendants, leaders of Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW; neé California Yearly Meeting), argued that changes in Faith & Practice they had engineered a decade earlier made the EFCSW Board of Elders the supreme rulers, with ultimate ownership over all their member churches’ property. After months of mainly Covid-forced delay, last summer the judge agreed.

Cara and Joe Pfeiffer, now looking for a new gig, and home, for their family of six.

Midway City’s deposed pastor Joe Pfeiffer put it this way in a September Facebook post:

What we have discovered through the legal process in the last two years is that a small group who want to adopt a megachurch-satellite model with a centralized corporate structure basically circumvented our denominations governing bylaws to orchestrate a take-over. Though a lot of pious and spiritual language is being used (as often in church settings) it really comes down to power and money.

Early on, I started to publicly question this trend, as well as some of the ways our denominational budgets and nominations were being handled, and basically became a target, and then our church as a whole.

Our hope above all in this, is to continue to speak truth to power, and testify to our experience. Our aim is that truth will lead to conviction and ultimately reconciliation and healing in our broader body of Friends in Southwest.

But a third goal of their EFCSW antagonists went beyond grabbing the Midway City property and terminating Joe and his wife, co-pastor Cara Pfeiffer. They also want to make the whole episode disappear into oblivion down the legal memory hole. When a “settlement” was reached in November, it included nondisclosure clauses which forced the Pfeiffers to clam up, and relieved the EFCSW rulers from having to make any comment.

So no one has actually told me any of the settlement details. But key parts of it, e.g., the evictions, are outcomes that can’t actually be entirely concealed. After all, your basic big closing-down-and moving-the-church rummage sale announce-ment is pretty much a dead giveaway.

Their forced move is also a public reminder of how this whole affair started, when the Pfeiffers yielded to the quinte-ssentially Christian impulse to help a few homeless people who showed up on their doorstep in early 2018. That, and Joe’s record of daring to question EFCSW’s dedication to secretive top-down rule which brooked no questions or protest — that is, acting as if Friends were supposed to be a community of equals, was simply beyond the pale. They had to be stopped. The support the Pfeiffers had from the church was intolerable;  all had to be stopped, and the memory expunged.

Now EFCSW has sort of got their way: they’ll get the property, which if the economy rebounds could be worth a bundle, and the Pfeiffers and their four foster children, are now mum about the lawsuit, and face an uncertain pandemic-haunted future.

Yet there are a few loose ends. For one, the church, while small, has refused to die. Yes, it will be homeless a few days from now; but this is the year of worship-by-Zoom, so they will still meet, as they have done since the pandemic arrived, until they figure out where they can land next. There are, after all, Friends meetings in their area which are not under the hegemony of EFCSW.

Further, last spring, well before the gag rule was drafted, Joe Pfeiffer published “Engaging Homelessness Behind the “Orange Curtain,” a detailed, searing and trenchant critique of the entire “church growth” theology that has driven EFCSW  for more than fifty years. The piece exposed its deep-seated roots in defensive white normativity and the preservation of class privilege.

The essay and a detailed Preface were published in Quaker Theology #34, which is available online at no charge here. EFCSW’s legal victory and its aftermath are unlikely to put an end to the searching conversations that article started.

For its part, EFCSW issued a short letter addressed to pastors in its 45 churches, noting the settlement, and underlining its  confidentiality. In a possible bow to criticism that may have been evoked by wide attention to the Midway City property grab, Rick Darden, who signed the missive for the Elders, said of EFCSW’s leaders that

“we commit to improving our efforts in communications and relationships among our pastors and churches.

We believe that EFCSW has acted graciously toward the people of FCC Midway City and Joe and Cara Pfeiffer and their foster children in this settlement . . . .”

I couldn’t help it. The cluelessness here forced a laugh.

Here’s the leader of a so-called Christian church, parading his “graciousness” while marking the occasion of the birth of his church’s acclaimed messiah, whose infancy was spent as a homeless refugee, and one of whose commands for salvation was taking in the homeless, by having it coincide with making homeless refugees of one of their own congregations.

Further, Darden & Co. are expelling them from a church which the mostly non-affluent members of built, paid for, and maintained. Their only “crime” (besides wanting to think and speak freely) was trying to help a few of the thousands of homeless people with which Darden’s home county abounds.

(The last homeless count in Orange County was over 7000 in 2019, up from 4800 when this whole fiasco began. A 2020 count was canceled by Covid, but homelessness is widely assumed to have ballooned with the associated economic crash and its joblessness.)

An Orange County homeless shelter, 2019.

Darden and EFCSW’s flagship church in upscale Yorba Linda (self-styled as “The Land of Gracious living”) include on their megachurch staff eight staffers assigned to “Marketing,” and a dozen more to a “Creative Team.”

Evidently none of these twenty noticed that both the timing and what political pundits called “the optics” of this expulsion event are, to put it mildly, beyond terrible.  After such a move, any EFCSW efforts at “improving [their] efforts in communications and relationships” as Darden’s letter pledged, would seem to be, as the pundits also say, “due for a reset.”

Darden’s letter closed by assuring that EFCSW’s leaders were offering the Pfeiffers and the Midway City Friends their thoughts and prayers.

Of course. As Christians today, it was the least they could do.

Stamped By A Visit to an Alternate Reality

On December 22, I posted on Facebook an article from the Washington Post:

Televangelist Pat Robertson says it’s time for Trump to accept Biden’s win and ‘move on’

Televangelist Pat Robertson, one of President Trump’s staunchest backers, on Monday (December 21, 2020) described Trump as “very erratic,” called on him to accept that President-elect Joe Biden won and said the Republican should not consider running again in 2024.


The comments marked a sharp turnaround for Robertson, who recently voiced support for Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud and declared before the election that God had told him Trump was going to win.
“I think it’s a sideshow,” Robertson said Monday on his television show, “The 700 Club,” when asked whether he thinks Trump should run again in 2024. “I think it would be a mistake. . . .

Robertson said that Trump has “done a marvelous job for the economy, but at the same time he is very erratic, and he’s fired people and he’s fought people and he’s insulted people and he keeps going down the line.”


“And so, it’s a mixed bag,” he said. “And I think it would be well to say, ‘You’ve had your day and it’s time to move on.”

Robertson helped spur the rise of the religious right in the 1980s and 1990s and has been influential among religious conservatives for decades. . . . In early 2017, after Trump’s administration began, Robertson suggested that those who were revolting against the president were revolting against God.

Chris Roslan, a spokesman for the Christian Broadcasting Network, estimated that about a million people watch the 700 Club across the network’s platforms.


Robertson, a onetime GOP presidential candidate, has been generally supportive of Trump during his administration, although he criticized the president this past summer for his “law and order” response to the nationwide unrest following the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
 . . .

“You know, with all his talent and the ability to be able to raise money and grow large crowds, the president still lives in an alternate reality,” Robertson said. “He really does. People say, ‘Well, he lies about this, that and the other.’ But no, he isn’t lying; to him, that’s the truth.”


. . . “And, you know, people kept pointing to them, but because they loved him so much and he was so strong for the evangelicals — the evangelicals were with him all the way — but there was something about him that was good, that God placed him in that office for the time.”

After these excerpts were posted, my friend Dennis Lone in Seattle  commented:
If anyone knows about alternative reality, it would be Pat Robertson.

Yes I thought. Me too. In fact, I had visited it once, or maybe twice: Continue reading Stamped By A Visit to an Alternate Reality

Jessamyn West, Her Friendly Un-Persuasion, Christmas & Thanks

Author and novelist Jessamyn West (1902-1984), best remembered for her classic The Friendly Persuasion (book and movie) was raised and shaped by a long line of Quakers. Rooted in Indiana, they wound up evangelical and Holiness-centered, as well as cousins to Richard Nixon, in southern California.

Jessamyn West, circa 1946

Her family left their southern Indiana Quaker homeland when Jessamyn was six. West left its Quakerism as a young woman; as her church moved in ever-more conservative directions, she wound up, not an activist, more a loyal ACLU liberal. But her Quakerism never really left her.

In West’s 1966 semi-autobiographical novel, A Matter of Time, this Holiness Quakerism is called the Pilgrim Church, and she is renamed Tasmania Murphy. Tasmania/Jessamyn describes how she resisted her growing heretical thoughts, and departure, by trying to get saved. Continue reading Jessamyn West, Her Friendly Un-Persuasion, Christmas & Thanks

How I Got so lucky: A True Christmas Story

One: Brooklyn, December 1967

I knew it was going to be another tough day at the Welfare Department when I saw the woman having an epileptic seizure in the Intake room. She was on her back, eyes rolling, jerking and thrashing, head thumping on the cement floor.

A security guard ran over and straddled her, trying to hold her down. Her arm whipped up and knocked off his black billed hat. Reaching back, he pulled out his billy club.

God, I thought, I hope he’s not going to hit her!

He wasn’t, but it was almost as bad. He tried to push the club between her teeth, to keep her from biting off her tongue, which could kill her. The jerking and thumping of her head made this almost impossible, though, and the club whacked repeatedly against her chin and face. Finally he got the club between her lips, and her movements seemed to slow down.

I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned back to the doorway and headed upstairs to the unit, where my desk sat in the second row from the back, the fourth desk over.

It was a freezing cold December in 1967, and there was no doubt about what I wanted for Christmas: Two things: a revolution; and then, a telephone for Mrs. Lee.

Actually, the telephone would probably have to come first, but that’s not how I felt–and I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading How I Got so lucky: A True Christmas Story