Response Re: SAYMA’s Travail; A Guest Post

Friends,

There’s been a good bit of feedback to yesterday’s post about SAYMA, some quite vitriolic.

In reply, I can think of nothing better to than to offer this guest post, by the late Alan Robinson of Asheville NC Meeting.  He was a longtime member there, and suffered through several years of Sharon Smith’s intrusions there before his death in early 2018. Much of it was also included in the post of March 11. But this week, it deserves to stand on its own.

During his last months, Alan was moved to write the letter below, to a Quaker group struggling with similar issues. I believe there is still  comfort, depth and timely good counsel in his words:

Alan Scott Robinson:

Alan Scott Robinson

Friends, this whole topic is fraught with difficulties. I happen to be tangentially involved with the goings-on in this particular case and it is affecting more than one monthly and yearly meeting, including mine. . . .

I am sure that each of us Friends has been aware, at various points in our lives, of when we have encountered a “difficult” individual. I am not speaking about a personal dislike. Rather, I am speaking about someone who, for a variety of reasons including criminal behavior or a mental aberration or health condition, or damage to a personality due to some event in that person’s past, makes interactions with that person impossible to sustain over the long haul, and makes the person refractory to change. Many of us have been a part of a Quaker meeting at one time or another that has had to face the question of what to do in such a situation.

The cases I am talking about do not involve matters of philosophical difference, political diversity or even different belief structures. Not really, although in the cases I am talking about, one of those important issues is being used as a smoke-screen to mask and to try to justify the real behavior problem. Behavior that simply doesn’t comport with that required to be in fellowship together.

I’m sure you can think of examples. Behaviors like name calling, wild accusations with little or no basis in fact, paranoid thinking patterns, blaming others for one’s own inappropriate actions (look what you made me do!), taking advantage of another’s good will, failing to contribute to the group in any way that furthers the purpose for which the group is established, expecting the group to “take care of them”, the list goes on and on.

Friends ought to be open to new light, new ideas, new ways of thinking about a problem, and, in most cases, we are. That is the great strength of Friends. But where to draw the line about what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not? Clearly, behaviors that would be out of line in a college classroom setting, a city council chamber or a kindergarten classroom probably cross the line. Screaming, tantrums and physical violence shouldn’t be tolerated in any group setting, and certainly not in a Quaker meeting for worship or business.

One of the strengths of Friends practice is that we are always open to new in-breaking of Spirit. But herein lies a trap. How do we know when a new message is of the Spirit, and when it is an offshoot of a damaged or disordered behavior pattern?

One way to know with unfailing certainty is to watch what the actions produce. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit,…Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.” I do not think that Jesus was saying that people are analogous to the trees in this parable. Instead, I think he was talking about ideas or behavior patterns as being the trees that bear fruit.

If, over the course of a significant period of time, one’s behaviors prove repeatedly destructive to, and out of line with, the group, and if that behavior occurs in repeated patterns that seem to get worse with the passage of time, then it is easy to discern the “fruit” that is borne from those actions or behaviors. Something is wrong and action should be taken, both to help the one suffering from the aberrant behavior as well as the others in the group.

Some problems are beyond any solution that can be implemented within the group. If there is some kind of dysfunction or illness mechanism at work, whether physical or mental, most meetings are clearly not equipped to do more than refer the sufferer to professional help.

But what if the sufferer whose behavior continually disrupts the functioning of the group refuses to get help or denies that there is anything wrong or consistently blames others for that person’s own bad behavior, what to do then. What do you do after the same worsening patterns of behavior are displayed over the course of many years?

Asheville Friends Meeting: a sketch from its “Digest” newsletter.

Our meeting is suffering under this type of affliction right now.  . . .

Last First Day, during Meeting for Worship, a visiting Friend arose to speak after several of our meeting’s Friends had already shared vocal ministry. One message had been offered beautifully and there was a wonderful spirit present. Two or three other friends who have become personally involved with, and supportive of, the disruptive person also rose to speak, and the atmosphere was quite different.

Though couched in “Friend-speak”, the messages were filled with accusations, unfounded assertions, name-calling and general enmity. Such a contrast to the previous message!

Then our visitor rose. She began by saying that, prior to visiting our meeting, other Friends had warned her not to come. She was very gentle, but she was also wonderfully and refreshingly truthful as she explained that she had witnessed firsthand that very day why the warning had been given, and why the warning had been justified.

It was hard to hear so directly from another Friend that my own spiritual community now had gained a reputation of divisiveness and as a home where the truth is not honored and abhorrent behavior is tolerated. The sad thing is that our visitor had this reaction even though the person who has been the origin of all the disruption wasn’t even there that day. Only her “disciples” were there, and it was enough that their bad behavior and distorted messages and, quite frankly, their frequent lies, came through so loud and clear.

This visitor didn’t even have to know the details to understand that something was terribly wrong in our meeting. It was easy for her to discern where the problem originated even without knowing the details. She could feel it in the Spirit just as strongly as if someone had struck her with a stone.

We lost a few more members that day. It was Meeting for Business, and two more Friends joined the ranks of those who have left our meeting for some other spiritual places rather than any longer endure the spiritual (and in a few cases physical) assaults. Our Meetings for Business long ago shed virtually all vestiges of spirit-led activities. Those who come now inure themselves to the inevitable assault and accusations month after month until, finally, they can take no more. The assaults continue in Meeting for Worship. There is no respite except in withdrawal. . . .

Is it any wonder that we have lost so many faithful, seasoned and weighty Friends, including three of the last four meeting clerks, several members of Ministry and Counsel committee, and Friends and attenders new and old?

We have even had first-time visitors end up in the parking lot in tears after witnessing turmoil and destruction during their first Quaker experience, and watching it as it turned into a screaming tantrum display or a bunch of baseless accusations. When the person around whom all the trouble has been centered was informed that our visitor was in tears and would not be back, the disrupter responded, “Good.”

What is a Friends meeting to do in this case?

It would be one thing if this kind of behavior happened once, and the person who was the source of the difficulty was open to listening to “eldering” given in a loving spirit that was designed to point out why the behavior caused troubles, and how to effect changes so that the situation wouldn’t arise again. If a person who has been disruptive once were open to such guidance in Friends’ practices, all would be well.

But what does a meeting do when such a person is refractory to all attempts at counseling and guidance, or even admonishment when unacceptable behavior happens repeatedly? What does a meeting do when there is a display of overt physical violence, violence of such a nature that there would be potential for real physical injury if it were to be repeated?

When is enough, enough?

In these situations, there must be a mechanism of separation, lest the whole meeting be destroyed. George Fox would not have tolerated this kind of behavior, and indeed didn’t. Read the story of the life of James Naylor to see what happened to a dear and weighty Friend who “went off the rails.” History has much to teach, and we ignore its lessons at our own peril.

One last comment. Casting someone out because of who they are (gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex, black, brown, yellow, white, tall, short, blond hair or black, language spoken, prior spiritual paths taken, ethnicity, wealth or poverty) should never be accepted or perpetrated.

Behavior is a different matter. Quakers are accepting and open to diversity, but there have to be limits of comportment that cross the line. . . .

Likewise, we may not be able to give a bright-line definition of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, but the test of the fruit trees always provides an answer that can be trusted by anyone willing to look and listen.

If, over a prolonged period, the fruit is predominantly or wholly evil, then there is no doubt as to the nature of the tree. Every good tree sometimes produces a piece of rotten fruit, but not all the time, or even most of the time. It is rare. Friends, use the test of the fruit of the tree in your pondering.

in loving Friendship

Alan Robinson

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The third post in this series is here.


SAYMA Showdown: Another Yearly Meeting Split?

Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed and reported on the breakup of five U.S. Yearly Meetings.

This “assignment” was at best unpleasant, and often disheartening. After the fifth schism, I had hoped the ugly epidemic was over.

Graphic by Doug Gwyn

But now there’s a possible Number Six. A showdown for it is coming on July 20.

The previous five were all pastoral-evangelical YMs, and the matter of welcoming/affirming LGBT persons was the tripwire issue in most. But there were others too: the place and work of Jesus; interpretation and authority of the Bible; church governance (more plainly, who’s the boss), etc.

It’s early for grand interpretations, but in my view, what I refer to as the Separation Generation looks to be as extensive and consequential as that of the Hicksites-Orthodox fracture in 1827.

Deepening that sense is the fact that, after a two-year lull, it turns out the schisms may not be over. Continue reading SAYMA Showdown: Another Yearly Meeting Split?

Goya is Hearing from its customers. But is it getting the message?

A Brief Editorial: Mr. Bob Unanue, president of Goya Foods, doesn’t quite get it.

He’s catching hell since visiting the White House and fawning over the president, talking about how we are “blessed” that his mainly Latino customers have a president who built his political rise on denigrating them in so many ways: building walls, caging children, and much more. Continue reading Goya is Hearing from its customers. But is it getting the message?

Fall Forecast: School Chaos Coming

This Washington Post  article, “Trump pushes schools to open in the fall, downplaying risks as virus spreads,” in my view seriously understates the convergence of tensions rapidly approaching panic among many of the stakeholders involved:

> depression-strapped school districts lackIng funds to pay teachers;
> legions of teachers are angry & resistant about facing life-threatening classroom conditions of chronic exposure;
> many parents feel the same anxiety for their children;
> teachers & parents of color fear they & theirs will be left in the lurch, again.
> Congress is out to lunch almost continuously through Labor Day, then will quickly be off campaigning til past Halloween . . .

Washington Post: “Making his case for a return to normal, Trump repeatedly played down the rising number of coronavirus cases, saying treatments and vaccines are coming soon. He said there are only more cases because the country is doing more testing, a point health experts dispute.
A statement from two teachers unions and four other school associations said they, too, want to return to the classroom but that it must be done with safety, not politics, in mind. They also said funding is needed to cover protective equipment and other expenses.
“The White House and the CDC have offered at best conflicting guidance for school reopening, and today offered little additional insight,” the groups said.
On Wednesday, the American Federation of Teachers planned to begin airing a $1 million digital and TV ad buy, urging additional federal funding to help reopen schools.
Many university faculty members have raised questions about whether reopening plans will accelerate the spread of the virus and pose risks to public health. In response, colleges are requiring students to wear face coverings and submit to virus testing.
On Monday, Florida fell in line with the Trump approach, though coronavirus cases in the state are rising. Florida’s top school official ordered all schools in the state to reopen buildings for in-person instruction this fall. Hybrid models, as many Florida districts have proposed, are allowed, but schools must offer full-time instruction five days a week for families who want it.”
“Parents have to get back to the factory. They’ve got to get back to the job site. They have to get back to the office. And part of that is their kids, knowing their kids are taken care of,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.. . .

“We cannot simply focus on virus containment at the expense of everything else,” said Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at HHS.

Betsy Devos

The confidence projected from the White House stood in contrast with the angst in many local districts working to develop plans for the fall. Most big cities and many others are developing hybrid models that alternate days in the building and days at home to minimize the number of students present at any given time.
Those models are being developed in part to comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends “enhanced social distancing” in buildings. For instance, the CDC recommends that desks be placed at least six feet apart, something that might not be possible if all students are on site.
Administration officials did not address these hybrid plans directly, though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that schools “must fully reopen and fully operate this school year.”. . .

Making his case for a return to normal, Trump repeatedly played down the rising number of coronavirus cases, saying treatments and vaccines are coming soon. He said there are only more cases because the country is doing more testing, a point health experts dispute.
A statement from two teachers unions and four other school associations said they, too, want to return to the classroom but that it must be done with safety, not politics, in mind. They also said funding is needed to cover protective equipment and other expenses.
“The White House and the CDC have offered at best conflicting guidance for school reopening, and today offered little additional insight,” the groups said.
On Wednesday, the American Federation of Teachers planned to begin airing a $1 million digital and TV ad buy, urging additional federal funding to help reopen schools.
Many university faculty members have raised questions about whether reopening plans will accelerate the spread of the virus and pose risks to public health. In response, colleges are requiring students to wear face coverings and submit to virus testing .. . . “

Continue reading Fall Forecast: School Chaos Coming

Mary Trump: Will she really throw the book at Uncle Donald?

I’ve done pretty well at ignoring the steady stream of anti-Trump tell-all books.

I haven’t spent ten cents or ten minutes in The Room Where It Happened with John Bolton.

I didn’t warm myself with Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury.

Unhinged may have been Omarosa’s cri de couer, but it failed to make me crazy enough to read it. Continue reading Mary Trump: Will she really throw the book at Uncle Donald?

Breaking: Axe is Falling at Guilford (Updated)

LATER UPDATE: Wednesday afternoon (July 1) Guilford College posted a statement confirming our report of extensive job cuts. Here it is in full:

Guilford College President Jane K. Fernandes announced today that the College will reduce its personnel as part of cost-cutting measures following reduced revenues this summer.

“This is a hard step to take,” Jane says. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated financial challenges for virtually all colleges and universities nationwide. We have to recognize and respond to these challenges.”

Personnel losses include 45 staff employees and 5 visiting faculty, approximately 15 percent of Guilford’s workforce. The College will continue to offer the degree programs that have attracted students from across the country for decades, along with the Guilford Edge, a reimagined educational experience focused on uncommon engagement in real-world learning.

“Our singular focus at this point is ensuring a great academic year for our students. And that begins with the safe and successful opening of campus next month. We look forward to welcoming our students, both new and returning, home to campus,” Jane says.

[End of statement. Our call to Guilford requesting details of the cuts was not returned.]

[UPDATE, Wednesday 9:45 AM-a source reports that as many as 40 names of Guilford staff are on the list of cuts.  More when we have it . . .]

Last week, Guilford College president Jane Fernandes announced  her resignation. The announcement said ,

“Over the past year and a half while dreaming about how I might create the next chapter of my career and life, I was considering stepping down, probably in 2022.

Fernandes, center.

Now with the increasing uncertainty of our altered reality that this pandemic is causing, Ithink it best to complete some of the hard decisions we need to make, assist the Board of Trustees with a transition, and allow another leader to envision and implement the structural adjustments in higher education that undoubtedly will follow this crisis.”

The “structural adjustments,” aka job cuts due to “our altered reality,” reportedly began on June 30, with email notices of job terminations. This is a developing story, and we do not yet have a confirmed list of how many job cuts have been made, but credible sources indicate they are underway.

While the specifics of the job cuts are not yet clear, in an earlier post, we cited this report from April 3, 2020, in the Greensboro News Record:

GREENSBORO — Its campus empty through the rest of the spring semester, Guilford College has furloughed 133 full-time and part-time staff employees for the next two months.
Slightly more than half of the college’s 250 non-faculty employees were notified Thursday (April 2) that they would have to take unpaid time off from work through at least June 1, President Jane Fernandes said in an interview Friday.

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

Send news leads on this developing story to our secure encrypted email address:
oldmustang (at) pm.me

 

Blow All the Slaveowning Men Down?

I give a lot of weight to voices like that of Charles Blow. So I am taking seriously what he wrote in today’s NYTimes:

“I say that we need to reconsider public monuments in public spaces. No person’s honorifics can erase the horror he or she has inflicted on others.

Slave owners should not be honored with monuments in public spaces. We have museums for that, which also provide better context. This is not an erasure of history, but rather a better appreciation of the horrible truth of it.”

— And yet, and yet, I find myself thinking. What about —??

Take Washington. Okay, no excuse for slaveowning.

Yet in the courts, there are such things as mitigating circumstances. They don’t overturn a conviction, but can affect the sentence.

And in Washington’s case,  there’s that small matter of winning our independence, so the U.S. could work through its own blood-dimmed way to end slavery.

John Brown. Does he need a memorial on the National Mall?

And then there was that other matter of him refusing to be made a king. Especially these past four years, Every day of them, many of us can see how NOT small that one was.

Even Jefferson (cf. the Bill of Rights? ) Yeah, Sally Hemings.

Still. I mean, every dam day that piece of Jefferson’s legacy mitigates our circumstances. At least what’s left of it does. Continue reading Blow All the Slaveowning Men Down?

A Slice of Pandemic Life: Making it into the GF Upper Crust

  • So I’ve been doing this gluten-free thing for some years, and overall it’s been fine. But there’s one staple of the old stuff that I missed,  sorely, namely: toast.

Most GF “bread” sorta worked, except not really. the texture was too different, the slices were small, etc.  Oh well.

But then, when I moved to the garden spot of Carolina, aka Durham, I stumbled on a local mom & pop outfit called “Imagine That Gluten Free,” which made mainly bread.

But such bread! Full-size slices! Old-fashioned texture! Regular looking sandwiches; gratifying grilled cheese. And TOAST—OMG!

At first I had to rise early on Saturday mornings & hurry down to the farmer’s market where they had a stall. No dilly-dallying allowed, because they usually sold out well before noon, and I came back bereft & empty-handed more than once.

Eventually, though, a co-op market opened near us, and ITGF bread was featured there. Their packaging was distinctively, austerely simple: clear plastic bags, bare but  for a homemade address size white label, printed with the name & variety, looking like it was spat out of the last operating dot matrix printer in the Southeast. Even, so, the bread was pricey, about $9 a full loaf. But I ponied up: YOLO, and YOLO-GF only part of the once, right?

ITGF is determinedly local; but as good as the bread was, I fully expected their loaves to soon be showing up in all the markets around. The business would grow like crazy, and then eventually be snapped up by some giant corporation, the way another Durham onetime mom & pop, Burt’s Bees, was snagged by Clorox for just under a cool billion bucks.

But no, or at least not yet. ITGF seems determinedly small, selling only a few items, bread, pizza rounds, and the occasional cookie/muffin to a dozen or so legacy hippie outlets like the coop market. Which was okay by me, as long as I was still in their range.

So far, all this is a tale of the Good Old Days; and as in so many others, when we get to February the narrator has to pause, draw a breath, and add,  “But suddenly a pandemic came, along with the new Depression.” And in their wake, the collapse of a multitude of small businesses, plus many larger ones too. Down went Penney’s; down went Pier One, Down went to Brooks Brothers, not to mention most all of the decent diners.

And one morning, the Durham Coop Market was out of ITGF bread. That had happened before: did I mention they often sold out fast? But a week, then two went by, still no new stock.

And one day when I hurried in, turned restlessly  down the bread aisle, I was confronted not only by a broad empty shelf, but an oversized flyer from Coop management. It announced grimly that “Due to unforeseen circumstances,”  ITGF was not working. They hoped ITGF would be back, but . . . The future was murky, uncertain & unforeseen — understatement of the decade, right??


So every time during the weeks since, when I’ve been back in the Coop, I checked, and was disappointed. I also wondered: clearly the ITGF folks, a couple named Gardner, were very private: they don’t even have a website for chrissake. (“Imagine That, Web-Free”; hmm, kinda has a ring to it maybe?)

Were they down with the virus? Had they gone bust and were driving Uber & studying for new careers in contact tracing? Or had they hightailed it to New Zealand, where the bug was practically gone; or possibly Vermont, almost as clean, much closer, and with Bernie Sanders at no extra charge?

Who knew? I just sighed, and once or twice when desperate  tried another brand of GF loaf — they were just as blah as before. I tried to stay positive, because so far me and mine had all tested negative. If surviving this dismal year was only going to mean was attending Quaker meeting on ZOOM & losing the best GF toast ever, well, maybe no loaf was better than no life . . . .

And then yesterday I stopped in again. Looking actually for a couple other delicacies: the fabled maple yogurt I only recently discovered, and a package of unsalted rice crackers. The crackers were a long way from savory, but fit my doctor-enforced low-salt regimen and were at least a break from the rigors of celery & (unsalted) peanut butter.

With these in the cart, I made a perfunctory swing by the bread aisle— and Lo, low on the horizon — was it really a line of those almost miniature plain white dot-matrix labels??

Yes! Yes, it was! Hallelujah, ITGF was back. And not only the toasting loaves, but one solitary baguette. Which of course I grabbed also.

Let’s hope this means the very private Gardners are well, solvent, and back in the baking game. If so, then maybe we’ll get through this ordeal.

Or at least I will. Those loaves for  me were the best thing since sliced bread.

 

 

Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

The work of bringing down Calhoun took all one night and most of the next day.

So– the City of Charleston wasted no time. After the City Council voted unanimously this week to take down its landmark monument to John C. Calhoun, a crew swung into action, starting at near midnight.

It was no small task to pluck the figure from its 100-foot pedestal. It took the workers until late the next day to bring  Calhoun floating back down to earth, and ship him off to a future of obscurity.

I was as pleased as anyone to see Calhoun disappear, at  least from that exalted place of honor; but I hope he lives on as a shameful memory, of a sadder-but-wiser nation that let him look down on all since 1896, as what one historian called “the Marx of the master class.” Continue reading Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

Cancel Cops, Cancel ALL Cop Shows, NO Exceptions. And Cancel Quakers Too?

Just read a very striking piece by E. J. Dickson in Rolling Stone. It says the “Cancel  Cops Crusade,” in order to root out systemic police racism, killings & impunity,  also has to take down the media images of the police. Even — especially– those of the “good cop.”

Why?  because the problem isn’t “bad apples” but rotten trees — in fact, a national forest of 18000 rotten orchards.

To get to the core of the rot, this media dethroning, Dickson argues, has to include even the very best of the media good cops, including the clear favorite of the author and so many progressive TV viewers.

That would be Officer Olivia Benson (played so persuasively by Mariska Hargitay) the main character in “Law & Order-SVU.”  In this role she has fought the good fight against every kind of sex offender one could think of for 21 seasons.

An anguished sidebar here: in February 2000, SVU ran an episode called “Limitations,” much of which centered on Quakers. In it they  had to confront issues of forgiveness, defying the law because of conscience, and having a Quaker rape victim pay dues for her victimizer with no remedy in sight. Continue reading Cancel Cops, Cancel ALL Cop Shows, NO Exceptions. And Cancel Quakers Too?