Here at Friends Journal, we’re very lucky to have some very committed volunteers. Karie Firoozmand and Eileen Redden sends books out to dozens of volunteer readers and pull the results together into our monthly books column. Rosemary Zimmerman reads through all the poetry that comes in, carefully selecting pieces to appear in the magazine. Mary Julia Street reworks the birth notices and obituaries that come in to include more interesting details than you get in most newspaper listings.
Last year we won the “Best in Class” award from the Associated Church Press. We’re proud, of course, but I was pleasantly. Compared to most denominational magazines, Friends Journal is crazily understaffed. Forgive the pugilistic metaphor, but these volunteer editors are a big reason we punch above our weight. Cutting through cultural static and the manufactured busyness of modern life and reach seekers is a never-ending challenge. Think about whether you might be led to work with us on this
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One of the things that is intriguing me lately is the nature of Quaker debate. There are half a dozen seemingly-perennial political issues around which Friends in my circles have very strong opinions (these include abortion, nuclear power, and the role of Friends in the troubles of Israel/Palestine) . We often justify our positions with appeals to our Quaker faith, but I wonder how often our opinions could be more accurately predicted by our demographic profile?
How many of your political positions and social attitudes could be accurately guessed by a savvy demographer who knew your date of birth, postal code, education and family income? I’d guess each of us are far more predictable than we’d like to think.If true, then what role does our religious life actually play?
Religious beliefs are also a demographic category, granted, but if they only confirm positions that could be just as actually predicted by non-spiritual data, then doesn’t that imply that we’ve simply found (or remained in) a religious community that confirms our pre-existing biases? Have we created a faith in our own image? And if true, is it really fair to justify ourselves based on appeals to Quaker values?
The “political” Quaker writings I’m finding most interesting (because they’re least predictable) are the ones that stop to ask how Quaker discernment fits into the debate. Discernment: one could easily argue that Quaker openings and tools around it are one of our greatest gifts to human spirituality. When we build a worship community based on strict adherence to the immediate prompting of the Holy Spirit, the first question becomes figuring out what is of-God and what is not. Is James Nayler, riding Jesus-like into Bristol, a prophet or a nut?
When we go deep into the questions, we may find that the answers are less important than the care we take to reach them. Waiting for one another, holding one another’s hand in love despite differences of opinion, can be more important than being the right-answer early adopter. How do you step back from easy answers to the thorny questions? How do you poll yourself and that-of-God in yourself to open your eyes and ears for the potential of surprise?
A bit of a milestone – I finished the One Year Bible reading plan last night! I managed to stretch it out to 27 months but that’s alright. I started in January 2009 and initially kept the daily readings going till May of that year, when I feel hopelessly behind. I kept a mental note of the date and in May 2010 I started where I had left off. I kept reading regularly until the last week in December, when I was understandably distracted by the birth of our third son Gregory on 12/28. Knowing I wanted to keep the cycle going, I skipped that week and started again on January 1, 2011. It was only last night that I went back and finished up that last week – featuring Malachi and Revelations (which has the Lamb’s War metaphor so important to early Friends).
Thanks go to Gregg Kosela and AJ Schwanz for letting me know such a thing as one year Bible reading plans existed. I had never been able to stick to a regular Bible-reading regimen before. The grandmother who frequently declared me a Bible illiterate would be so proud! (Actually not, she’d find something else to critique, but her hangups around family and “Christian” living are a much longer blog post!).
It’s been great having a regular spiritual practice. I’m glad I can find my way around the Bible now and my understanding of Friends has deepened. The early Quaker writings are steeped in Biblical allusions and we miss a lot when we miss those references.
On Tuesday, Dec 28 my lovely wife Julie gave birth to our third son. After some dithering back and forth (we’re methodical about baby names) we picked Gregory. Everyone is happy and healthy. Vital stats: 20 inches, 7 pounds 9 oz. The brothers are adjusting well, though Theo’s first response to my phone call telling him it was a boy was “oh no, another one of those.”
That’s 5yo Francis (aka “little big brother”) and 7yo Theo (“big big brother”) meeting their new sibling at the hospital. More pics in the Gregory! and Gregory in the Hospital sets on Flickr.
As you can see, we’ve basically bred triplets spaced over three years apart. As further evidence, here’s Theo and Francis in their first pics (links to their announcement posts):
As I mentioned, we’re methodical about names. When we were faced with Baby #2 I put together the “Fallen Baby Names Chart” – classic names that had fallen out of trendy use. It’s based on the current ranking of the top names of 1900. “Gregory” doesn’t appear on our chart because it was almost unused until a sudden appearance in the mid-1940s (see chart, right). Yes, that would be the time when a handsome young actor named Gregory Peck became famous. It peaked in 1962, the year of Peck’s Academy Award for To Kill a Mockingbird and has been dropping rapidly ever since. Last year less than one in a thousand newborn boys were Gregory’s. While we recognize Peck’s influence in the name’s Twentieth Century popularity, Julie is thinking more of Gregory of Nyssa [edited, I originally linked to another early Gregory]. Peck’s parents were Catholic (paternal relatives helped lead the Irish Easter Rising) and were presumably thinking of the Catholic saint when they gave him Gregory for a middle name (he dropped his first name Eldred for the movies).