Over email, the news that Christine Manville Greenland has passed. In recent times I worked with Christine mostly through the Tract Association of Friends but I’ve known her for so long I don’t know when I first met her.
Whenever she said something it was well worth listening to. On online forums from Soc.religion.quaker to Facebook she was always encouraging to what Samuel Bownas had called “infant ministers.” She had the rare ability to slice through thorny Quaker issues with unexpected observation and wisdom. She had a long view of recent Quaker history that put things in context and she would pull metaphors from her training as a botanist to explain mystifying behaviors in our coreligionists.
She also had a wealth of institutional memory. There’s incredible value in this. Friends, like most humans, give a lot of value to the ways we’re doing things right now. It only takes a few years before a process feels timeless and essential. We forget that things once worked differently or that other Friends have a different methods. By being involved with Friends in different areas — Canada and Colorado — Christine brought geographic awareness and by being involved in Philadelphia so long she brought a modern historical awareness. That dysfunctional meeting everyone’s talking about? She’ll remember that everyone was talking about it thirty years ago for another controversy and point out the similarities. That doubt you’ll have about a path? Christine will tell you how others have felt the leading and assure you that it’s genuine.
She did all this with such gentleness and modesty that it’s only now that she’s gone that I’m realizing the debt I owe her. More than anything perhaps, she showed how to live a life as a Friend of integrity through the politics and foibles of our Religious Society.
I used Google to find precious gems of wisdom she left on comment threads. It’s a long trail. She was active on soc.religion.quaker back in the day, commented on most Convergent Friends blogs and was active on Facebook. She took the time to write many enlightening and warm commentary. Here is a random sample.
Yesterday, I clerked a small quarterly meeting working group — I’m co-clerk, since it isn’t my quarter… and the other co-clerk is, which works well. We keep asking the questions and seeing the potentials … but when it comes down to being faithful (a term I use instead of “accountable”) that needs consistent testing. It is important to center in worship, no matter what we are doing.
I had the experience of being chair of a group of biologists, and found that, even then, I conducted business in the same way… one of seeking guidance from other members of the group — even though the group of which we were a small part used Robert’s rules of order. I felt our group was too small to make that approach workable… Occasionally, I forgot I wasn’t among Friends until another member of the group (a United Church graduate of Swarthmore College) reminded me… Church of the Brethren folks just grinned and allowed as how they preferred the approach; we were, after all, both friends and biologists. For most of us, the work had both a scientific and a spiritual basis.
I checked in with Friends at our Quarterly Meeting picnic yesterday; responses were mixed for a variety of reasons, some having to do with resistance to changing the ways in which we are Friends, and other responses that I can only describe as “institutional cheer-leading”.
Some of this has to do with expected tensions as we grapple with matters of both race and class; still other matters have to do with the fact that our structures have changed at least twice in 30 years, as has the outline of our faith and practice. The question I have (of myself and others) is “How do we — individually and corporately — show that we truly love one another as Christ has loved us?” By that, I mean all others.
The most hopeful exchange was speaking with a dear Friend in my former meeting who had gone for the first time in decades, and feels strongly led to encourage her meeting to assist in work going on at both the quarter and yearly meeting level; this will cross boundaries. I was hopeful in part because this Friend exudes consistent love. … and has in the 25 years I’ve known her. Love of God/neighbor are inseparable. She lives that better than I do.
It seems I have much to learn.
Comment on my “What Does it Mean to be a Quaker?” (on an old site)
I cringe when I hear the word “Quakerism” or “the Quaker Way”… I find the two terms interchangeable — both can lack substance. It seems we have finally become the “bureaucratic association of distant acquantances” rather than the Religious Society of Friends. Some years ago, an experienced Friend wrote that Integrity (saying what one means, meaning what one says) was at the heart of Quaker Practice — as a testimony.
If we’re just going for PR, that lacks integrity.
The question — for me — becomes “How can I live as a Friend?”
When I first came to Friends, it was the way of life — not the intellectual construct — that drew me to meeting week after week (a university meeting in what later became Intermountain Yearly Meeting). When I applied for membership, my committee of clearness questioned more whether I could live into a way of life, into the community of that particular meeting. Friends felt that wrestling with the understanding of the faith tradition was a part of my education. Only after I moved to Philadelphia did I begin hearing of the “parsing” of the faith tradition. It seemed too pat.
Still, the overlapping categories are still as useful by way of explanation, but it isn’t the whole story.
As with many matters of faith, for those who possess it, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible. Howard Brinton did his best by way of explanation, but faith-wrestling is a task we all have.
My question about younger Friends serving as traveling ministers is somewhat more serious: Are their meetings attentive to both the spiritual gifts and the needs (cost of travel, etc.)as well as the spiritual need for support. If not, is the Friend with a concern for travel, teaching, or any other ministry) humble enough to ask the questions Jon is asking. In my experience (as an older adult Friend)there is little communication among age groups so that gifts of ministry are fully recognized… Young Friends are often left to their own devices. It may be that lack of spiritual support that is the “last door out.”
For instance, I would not travel without the full consent of my past committee of care, all of whom know me well. They have generously supported me this year (as well as my co-leader).
What concerns me is the energy it takes (spiritual and physical), and that it most often takes an elder to attend to the mundane things — as well as to keep the minister on track.
She was also always one to think of the kids. Here she is commenting on Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby’s “Bringing Children to Worship: Trusting God to Take Over from There”
I recall one parent of a small meeting in Ontario at Canadian Yearly Meeting sessions trying to encourage his daughter to sit quietly during worship… Her very reasonable response was “but Daddy, I can pray standing on my head!” Her ministry caused me to reflect on whether I could indeed pray/worship in all circumstances, and from whatever position I was in at the time. I still reflect on that…
At another meeting, when Friends noticed the power struggles between children and their parents, we asked elder Friends to serve as “adoptive” grandparents, with whom the children could sit… That defused the power struggles, and members of meeting who had no children of their own were very helpful to parents in that meeting.
I also recall learning to sink deeply into worship — and hearing a younger Friend’s grandmother giggle. I looked down and there was the 1 – 2 year old peering up in wonder at why/how I could sit so quietly when he was busy crawling under the benches. it was just fine. He became a part of my prayers that day, and still is a part of them.
And this one has to be the last I’ll share, from a QuakerQuaker discussion started by Richard B Miller and titled “Elders’ Corner”
Like you, I learned about the role of elders from Conservative Friends (in Canada and Ohio). In the context of my own meeting (and quarter), however, there are Friends who can and do serve as guides and sounding boards — offering corrections as may be required. Ideally, elders should arise from the monthly meetings, and then be recognized in larger bodies of Friends, not necessarily being named by a yearly meeting nominating committee.
I was asked to serve as an elder for Yearly Meeting/Interim Meeting… but because I was also on the nominating committee, had a “stop” about whether that was rightly ordered. I consulted some North Carolina Friends, who agreed with the “stop”.
One difficulty that you raised is that many of the conservative Friends who held that tradition are no longer available as guides… One effect is that the role elders once played is diminishing among conservative Friends.
I’m feeling pretty broken up right now. And I’m feeling the weight of this loss. I’ve found myself more and more to be the one giving out advice and giving historical context that newer Friends might not have. It’s the kind of perch that Christine had. I’m only starting to appreciate that she formed a gentle mentoring role for me — and I’m sure for many others.
A few years ago my wife and I lost our remaining parents (her dad, my mom) and we had the unescapable recognition that we were now the oldest generation. I know there are older Friends around still and some have bits of Christine’s wit and wisdom. But one of our human guides have left us.
This week's Friends Journal feature is my interview with Joyce Ajlouny, who is leaving her role as head of the Ramallah Friends School to become the next general secretary for American Friends Service Committee.
I interviewed her by phone from my back porch on a snowy day and very much enjoyed conversation. I’m fascinated by the challenges of an organization like AFSC—one that has to balance strong roots in a religious tradition while largely working outside of it. How do you balancing the conflicting identities? It’s not unlike the challenge of a Friends school like Ramallah's.
I was also particularly moved by the genuine enthusiasm in her voice as she talked about engaging in honest conversations with people with whom we have strong disagreements. In this polarized age, it’s tempting to try to stay in the safety our bubbles. Joyce seems to thrive stepping out of that comfort zone:
I think we’ve learned from this last U.S. election that we need to listen more. This can often be a challenge for people who are very passionate about the positions they take. Sometimes the passion is so overwhelming that it sort of overrides that willingness to listen to other narratives. This is something that we really need to work much harder on. Truth is always incomplete. We always have to look for other truths. We need to break through some of these boundaries that we’ve put around ourselves and seek a wider spectrum of perspectives.
I think AFSC will be in good hands with Ajlouny.
An interesting profile of a niche community affected by the shift of attention from community-led sites to Facebook, “How Facebook – the Wal-Mart of the internet – dismantled online subcultures.”
Over time, these challenges to the BME community became increasingly problematic. Members deleted accounts or stopped posting. By 2015, the main community forum – which used to have hundreds of posts a day – went without a single comment for over six months.
Having predicted many of the web’s functions and features, BME failed to anticipate its own demise.
It’s definitely something I’ve seen in my niche world of Quakers. I started QuakerQuaker as an independent site in part because I didn’t want Google and Facebook and Beliefnet to determine who we are. There’s the obvious problems—Beliefnet hiring a programmer to make a “What Religion Are You?” test based on a few books picked up the library one afternoon.
But there’s also more subtle problems. On Facebook anyone can start or join a group and start talking authoritatively about Quakers without actually being an active community member. I can think of a number of online characters who had never even visiting a Friends meeting or church.
Our tradition built up ways of defining our spokespeople though the practices of recorded ministers and elders, and of clarifying shared beliefs though documents like Faith and Practice. I’ll be the first to argue that this process has produced mixed results. But if it is to be adapted or reformed, I’d like the work to be done by us in a thoughtful, inclusive manner. Instead, the form of our discussions are now invisibly imposed by an outside algorithm that is optimized for obsessive engagement and advertising delivery. Facebook process is not Quaker process, yet it is largely what we use when we talk about Quakers outside of Sunday morning.
I think Facebook has helped alternative communities form. I’m grateful for the pop-up communities of interest I’m part of. And there are sites with more user generated content like Wikipedia and Reddit that hold an interesting middle-ground and where information is generally more accurate. But there’s still a critical role for self-organized independent publications, a niche that I think is continuing to be overshadowed in our current attention ecosystem.
We love our Francis. Now 11, he can go from sweet and huggy to upset in a matter of moments. Autistic, sensory issues around sound can easily trigger an meltdown. With three siblings, sound is all pervasive in our house. We've read books, tried therapy, had him on anti-anxiety medications... While everything's helped, nothing has helped enough.
It feels like a crucial time for him. He's getting too big for angry outbursts. He needs to learn how to deal with his emotions and calm himself down. A teenager or young adult melting down in public won't get the sympathetic glances—or even tsk-tsk judgements—that passersby display for toddlers. These next few years will largely determine whether he will be able to become a semi-independent adult.
What Francis does love is dogs. Anytime we run into a dog he befriends him within a matter of moments. He shows a patience and calmness with them that is transformative. He's started going on weekly dates with our uncle to walk around the marshes. And so it's time to find Francis a therapy dog. The hope is that a trained dog would help him in times of stress. Those skills should then (fingers crossed) transfer over to dog-less times.
We've put together a fundraising page to help defray the considerable costs. Details at the link.
We’re now casting about for articles for a Friends Journal issue on “The Art of Dying and the Afterlife.” I’m interested to see what we’ll get. Every so often someone will ask me about Quaker belief in the afterlife. I’ve always found it rather remarkable that I don’t have any satisfying canonical answer to give them. While individuals Friends might have various theories, I don’t see the issue come up all that often in early Friends theology.
As extremely attentive Christians they would have signed off on the idea of eternal life through Christ. Since they thought of themselves as living in end times, they totally emulated New Testament miracles. George Fox himself brought a man back from the dead in a town off Exit 109 of the Garden State Expressway. Strange things afoot at the Circle K!
Fox’s biographers quickly scaled back the whole miracle thing. Apparently that was an oddness too far. The cut-out parts of his biography have been republished but even the republishing now appears out of print (never fear: Amazon has it used for not too much).
But Friends has folk customs and beliefs too. The deceased body wasn’t unduly venerated. They recycled grave plots without much concern. I can think of a couple of historic Quaker burial grounds in Philly that have been repurposed for activities deemed more practical to the living. The philosophy of green burial is catching up with Quakers’ practice, a fascinating coming-around.
It also seems there’s a strong old Quaker culture of face impeding death with equanimity. That makes sense given Friends’ modesty around individual achievements. There’s a practicality that I see in many older Friends as they age. I’d be curious to hear from Friends who have had insights on aging as they age and also caretakers and families and hospice chaplains who have accompanied Friends though death.
Writing submissions for our issue on “The Art of Dying and the Afterlife” are due May 8. You can learn about writing for us at:
How do Friends approach the end of life? We’re living longer and dying longer. How do we make decisions on end-of-life care for ourselves and our loved ones? Do Quakers have insight into what happens after we die? Submissions due 5/8/2017.
ps: But of course we’re not just a dead tradition. There are many healers who have revived ideas of Quaker healing. We have a high proportion of mainstream medical healers as well as those following more mystical healing paths. If that’s of interest to you, never fear: October 2017 will be an issue on healing!).
It’s been a long-running debate in editorial circles: whether to capitalize ‘black’ and ‘white’ in print publications when referring to groups of people. I remember discussions about it in the early 1990s when I worked as a graphic designer at a (largely White) progressive publishing house. My official, stylesheet-sanctioned answer has been consistent in every publication I’ve worked for since then: lowercase. But I remain unsatisfied.
Capitalization has lots of built-in quirks. In general, we capitalize only when names come from proper nouns and don’t concern ourselves about mismatches. We can write about “frogs and salamanders and Fowler’s toads” or “diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s.” Religious terms are even trickier: there’s the Gospel of Luke that is part of the gospel of Christ. In my Quaker work, it’s surprising how often I have to go into a exegesis of intent over whether the writer is talking about a capital-L divine Light or a more generic lower-case lightness of being. “Black” and “white” are both clearly lowercased when they refer to colors and most style guides have kept it that way for race.
But seriously? We’re talking about more than color when we use it as a racial designation. This is also identity. Does it really make sense to write about South Central L.A. and talk about its “Koreans, Latinos, and blacks?” The counter-argument says that if capitalize Black, what then with White. Consistency is good and they should presumably match, except for the reality check: Whiteness in America has historically been a catch-all for non-coloredness. Different groups are considered white in different circumstances; many of the most-proudly White ethnicities now were colored a century ago. Much of the swampier side of American politics has been reinforcing racial identity so that out-of-work Whites (codename: “working class”) will vote for the interests of White billionaires rather than out-of-work people of color (codename: “poor”) who share everything but their melatonin level. All identities are incomplete and surprisingly fluid when applied at the individual level, but few are as non-specific as “White” as a racial designation.
Back in the 1990s we could dodge the question a bit. The style guide for my current publication notes “lc, but substitute ‘African American’ in most contexts.” Many progressive style sheets back in the day gave similar advice. In the ebb and flow of preferred identity nomenclature, African American was trending as the more politically correct designation, helped along by a strong endorsement from Jesse Jackson. Black wasn’t quite following the way of Negro into obsolescence, but the availability of an clearly capitalized alternative gave white progressives an easy dodge. The terms also perhaps subtly distinguished between those good African Americans who worked within in the system from those dangerous radicals talking about Black Power and reparations.
The Black Lives Matter movement has brought Black back as the politically bolder word. Today it feels sharper and less coy than African American. It’s the better punch line for a thousand voices shouting rising up outside the governor’s mansion. We’ve arrived at the point where African American feels kind of stilted. It’s as if we’ve been trying a bit too hard to normalize centuries of slavery. We’ve got our Irish Americans with their green St Paddy’s day beer, the Italian Americans with their pasta and the African Americans with their music and… oh yes, that unfortunate slavery thing, “oh wasn’t that terrible but you know there were Irish slaves too”). All of these identities scan the same in the big old melting pot of America. It’s fine for the broad sweep of history of a museum’s name but feels coldly inadequate when we’re watching a hashtag trend for yet another Black person shot on the street. When the megaphone crackles out “Whose lives matter?!?” the answer is “Black Lives Matter!” and you know everyone in the crowd is shouting the first word with a capital B.
Turning to Google: The Columbia Journalism Review has a nice piece on the nuances involved in capitalization, “Black and white: why capitalization matters.” This 2000 lecture abstract by Robert S. Wachal flat-out states that “the failure to capitalize Black when it is synonymous with African American is a matter of unintended racism,” deliciously adding “to put the best possible face on it.” In 2014, The NYTimes published Temple University prof Lori L. Tharps ’s convincing argument, “The Case for Black With a Capital B.” If you want to go historical, this thread on shifting terms by Ken Greeenwald on a 2004 Wordwizard forum is pure gold.
And with that I’ll open up the comment thread.