The most-commented recent article in Friends Journal is “It Breaks My Heart” by Kate Pruitt from the online June/July issue. Many readers related to her sense of alienation and loss. Two comments that hit me the hardest were:
Not all Friends are found in Quaker Meetings. You’re better off without your meeting.
Gone now is the hope… of finding community among Quakers. To be frank, why bother? There’s plenty of brokenness right where I am.
And I get enough “Why I’m leaving Friends” manifestos in my email inbox every month that I could turn it into a regular Friends Journal column.
It seems to me that are a number of underlying issues that tie these controversies together. What do we do when a group of Friends starts acting in a manner that seems contrary to our understanding of Quaker testimonies and practices? How do we balance love and judgement when conflict arises among us? When do we break out of Quaker niceness? Maybe even more challenging, how do we maintain our integrity and accountability when controversy breaks us into camps willing to engage in exaggeration? And just what do we say when the outside public only gets half the story or thinks that one side is speaking for all Friends?
So this is a plug for submissions for December's Friends Journal. The theme is “Conflict and Controversy" and the submission deadline is September 9. We’re not looking for blow-by-blow accounts of being mistreated, and we’re not terribly interested (this time) in manifestos about Quaker cultural norms. I'm less interested in specific issues than I am the meta of discernment: How do individuals or small groups of Friends move forward in the heat of controversy. What do we do when the easy solutions have failed? How do we decide when it's time to break out of Quaker niceness to lay down some truth—or time to kick the dust off your sandals and move along?
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.
Quakers Uniting in Publications, better known as “QUIP,” is a collection of 50 Quaker publishers, booksellers and authors committed to the “ministry of the written word.” I often think of QUIP as a support group of sorts for those of us who really believe that publishing can make a difference. It’s also one of those places where different branches of Friends come together to work and tell stories. QUIP sessions strike a nice balance between work and unstructured time, it’s has its own nice culture of friendliness and coöperation that are the real reason many of us go every year.
The theme of the 2004 annual session was “New Ways to Reach Our Markets in a Changing World” and our guest presenters were publicists Doug and Kate Bandos of KSB Promotions: http://www.ksbpromotions.com
The Evans House, built 1855: Gurneyite high style back in the day… It’s now the home of the Quaker Hill Conference Center, where we met. The Gurneyites evolved into Friends United Meeting and I had some good conversations with Friends about some of the visioning FUM is doing. Pretty interesting stuff, like many Friends they too are trying to figure out how to wrestle more fully with Quaker tradition.
Our hosts were the staff of “Friends United Meeting. The FUM campus in Richmond, Indiana, is very pretty in April, with flowers and the crabapple trees
Even prettier is the reforested trail down to the Whitewater River Falls.
We wouldn’t be Quakers if we didn’t have lots of meetings. Left: QUIP clerks Lucy Duncan, Barbara Mays, Elizabeth Cave.
Philip Arnold from the Quaker Bookshop in London, Ann Raper of North Carolina YM (FUM) publications committee and Liz Yeats, a former FGC employee and longtime QUIP stalwart (Ann and Liz are also both board members of “Friends Journal).
QUIP meetings are really all about the conversations in between sessions. Barbara Mays of Friends United Press talks with the new FUM webmaster Curtis Hermann (who later showed me the secret FUM coffee supply and chatted about collarless shirt vendors).
Marjorie Ewbank holds up QUIP’s “Quaker Tapestry”:http://www.Quaker-tapestry.co.uk panel, which should be finished by the end of the century.
Obligatory picture of Simon, sometimes referred to as the “QUIP baby“since his parents met at an annual QUIP meeting.
A field trip to the Levi Coffin house in Fountain City. Run entirely by very dedicated volunteers, it’s the only home still standing of Levi and Catharine Coffin, Friends who helped thousands of escaped slaves get to Canada through the Underground Railroad.
How many cameras does it take to make a group shot? That’s Trish Carn (the UK’s Quaker Monthly), Anthony Manousos (Western US’s Friends Bulletin) and our very gracious photo-taker (who I think might be Ann’s son?).
The many faces of Sally Rickerman, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting character par excellence. Sally spent part of the weekend challenging me about my plain dressing — okay, politely asking me a question and then following up my answer with her opinions. Sally also brought along a parody she once put together, a flyer for an organization called something like “The Society of Sentimental Friends” for all those who want to be Quaker because their great great grandparents were Quaker and they like antiques like old musty meetinghouses.
The many faces of Sally Rickerman (2)
Barbara in front of the falls. I think Friends General Conference should put in a nature trail near our office too (I vote for bulldozing the “National Constitution Center”).
Johann Christoph Arnold has an interesting piece on the intersection of peace activism and religion [originally published on Nonviolence.org]. Here's a taste:
The day before Martin Luther King was murdered he said, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life...But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will." We must have this same desire if we are going to survive the fear and violence and mass confusion of our time. And we should be as unabashed about letting people know that it is our religious faith that motivates us, regardless of the setting or the consequences.
Many peace activists are driven by religious motivations, which is often all that keeps them going through all the hard times and non-appreciation. Yet we often present ourselves to the world in a secular way using rational arguments.
It took me a few years to really admit to myself that Nonviolence.org is a ministry intimately connected with my Quaker faith. In the eight years it's been going, thousands of websites have sprung up with good intentions and hype only to disappear into oblivion (or the internet equivalent, the line reading "Last updated July 7, 1997"). I have a separate forum for "Quaker religious and peace issues" [which later became the general QuakerRanter blog] In my essay on the Quaker peace testimony, I worry that modern religious pacifists have spent so much effort convincing the world that pacifism makes sense from a strictly rationalist viewpoint that we've largely forgotten our own motivations. Don't get me wrong: I think pacifism also makes sense as a pragmatic policy; while military solutions might be quicker, pacifism can bring about the long-term changes that break the cycle of militarism. But how can we learn to balance the sharing of both our pragmatic and religious motivations?