Sustaining the purpose for which we were peculiarly raised up

Marlborough meetinghouseJust fin­ished: Ken­neth S.P. Morse’s “A His­to­ry of Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends” from 1962. Like most his­to­ries of Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends, it’s both heart­en­ing and depress­ing. It’s great to read the quotes, which often put the dilem­ma very clear­ly, like this one from Iowa Friends in 1877:

In con­sid­er­a­tion of many and var­i­ous depar­tures in Doc­trine, Prin­ci­ple and Prac­tice, brought into our beloved Soci­ety of late years by mod­ern inno­va­tors, who have so rev­o­lu­tion­ized our ancient order in the Church, as to run into views and prac­tices out of which our ear­ly Friends were lead, and into a broad­er, and more self-pleasing, and cross-shunning way than that marked out by our Sav­ior, and held to by our ancient Friends.… And who have so approx­i­mat­ed to the unre­gen­er­ate world that we feel it incum­bent upon us to bear testimony…and sus­tain the Church for the pur­pose for which is was pecu­liar­ly raised up.

I love this stuff. You’ve got the­ol­o­gy, poli­ty, cul­ture and an argu­ment for the eter­nal truths of the “pecu­liar­ly raised” Quak­er church. But even in 1962 this is a sto­ry of decline, of gen­er­a­tions of min­is­ters pass­ing with no one to take their place and month­ly and year­ly meet­ings wink­ing out with dis­arm­ing reg­u­lar­i­ty as the con­cept of Friends gets stretched from all sides. “It is cer­tain­ly true that most of those who call them­selves Friends at the present time are only par­tial Friends in that they seem not to have felt called to uphold var­i­ous branch­es of the Quak­er doctrine.” 

Putting the book down the most remark­able fact is that there are any Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends around still around almost fifty years later. 

The task of shar­ing and uphold­ing the Quak­er doc­trine is still almost impos­si­bly hard. The mul­ti­plic­i­ty of mean­ings in the words we use become stum­bling blocks in them­selves. Friends from oth­er tra­di­tions are often the worst, often being blind to their own inno­va­tions, often­er still just not car­ing that they don’t share much in com­mon with ear­ly Friends.

Then there’s the dis­uni­ty among present-day Con­ser­v­a­tives. Geog­ra­phy plays a part but it seems part of the cul­ture. The his­to­ry is a maze of tra­di­tion­al­ist splin­ter groups with carefully-selected lists of who they do and do not cor­re­spond with. Today the three Con­ser­v­a­tive Year­ly Meet­ings seem to know each anoth­er more through carefully-parsed read­ing of his­to­ries than actu­al vis­i­ta­tion (there is some, not enough). There’s also the human messi­ness of it all: some of the flaki­est lib­er­al Quak­ers I’ve known have been part of Con­ser­v­a­tive Year­ly Meet­ings and the inter­net is full of those who share Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends val­ues but have no year­ly meet­ing to join.

No answers today from me. Maybe we should take solace that despite the tra­vails and the his­to­ry of defeat, there still remains a spark and there are those who still seek to share Friends’ ways. For those want­i­ng to learn more the more recent “Short His­to­ry of Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends” (1992) is online and a good introduction.

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Doink Doink/Chunk Chunk/Bomp Bomp

As the evi­dence accu­mu­lates on the Follieri/Galante church-for-beach-house devel­op­er scan­dal, it’s become some­thing of a par­lor game around the kitchen table to spec­u­late on who will play all the char­ac­ters in the upcom­ing mini-series. It’s only a mat­ter of time real­ly. We’ve got a glam Euro­trash huck­ster, a Hol­ly­wood actress, the Sopranos-like mob vice pres­i­dent, Bill Clin­ton shady deal­ings with his all-but-pedophile drink­ing bud­dies – and of course the Dio­cese of Camden’s Bish­op Galante and at least one dioce­san priest with a fond­ness for play­ing dress-up. It will only become more truth-is-stranger-than-fiction when a few more details work their way from open secret to FBI doc­u­men­ta­tion and NY Post headlines. 

So while it’s not a sur­prise, there is a cer­tain sat­is­fac­tion in the lat­est media rumor that “Law & Order” is plan­ning one of their clas­sic “ripped from the head­lines” drama­ti­za­tion of the scandal:

Raffaello’s arrest was and still is the buzz in New York City’s social circles.…He was the ulti­mate con man; hand­some, rich, smooth and with a celebri­ty girl­friend to make him seem legit. I’m sure this will be the highest-rated Law & Order episode next season.

There’s enough angles to this sto­ry to fill an entire sea­son of tele­vi­sion so we don’t know how promi­nent the Bishop’s part will be. But L&O cre­ator Dick Wolf grew up an altar boy at St. Patrick’s cathe­dral in New York and the L&O cos­tume depart­ment has more cler­i­cal out­fits that Raf­fael­lo Follieri’s clos­et. Wolf rarely miss­es the chance to throw a priest into the script. Whole sea­sons of the show were devot­ed to ripped-from-the-headlines pieces on the priest/bishop sex abuse scan­dal in the ear­ly 2000s and I’m sure a follow-up look at the web of finan­cial fraud fueled (or at least jus­ti­fied) by the set­tle­ment pay­outs would be a big rat­ings hit.

I just wish Lennie Briscoe was still around to make the col­lar. BOMP BOMP.

Anne Hathaway’s files aren’t “Diaries”

Well the Depart­ment of Jus­tice must be a Quak­er Ranter read­er because they fol­lowed yesterday’s advice and con­fis­cat­ed the pri­vate papers of actress Anne Hath­away, ex-girlfriend, board mem­ber and busi­ness part­ner of con man Raf­fael­lo Follieri. 

But yet again her pub­lic­i­ty machine rolls on. Most news out­lets are call­ing the papers her “diaries” in oblique ref­er­ence to her appear­ance in the 2001’s “Princess Diaries” movie. One tongue-in-cheek head­line read “The FBI knows whether Anne Hath­away dots her ‘I’s with hearts.” Finan­cial papers, pho­tos, doc­u­ments, etc., are reduced to “diaries”. Boy oh boy. I won­der if the celebri­ty blogs will start describ­ing the D.A. as a “fire breath­ing drag­on.” Poor lit­tle Anne bilk­ing mil­lions of dol­lars from investors, how was she to know?

The NY Dai­ly News arti­cle says the papers includ­ed pho­tos of Fol­lieri with the Clin­tons, Pope John Paul II and John and Cindy McCain. Down here in South Jer­sey we can’t help but won­der whether a few chum­my shots of the Ital­ian con man with pal Bish­op Joseph Galante. Such pic­tures cer­tain­ly exist some­where, whether in Anne’s col­lec­tion or in the pho­to shoe­box of some South Jer­sey priest. I would love to see them.

What’s Anne Hathaway doing in Cape May anyway?

One of the things I don’t get about the press treat­ment of the Follieri/Galante scan­dal is their atti­tude toward actress Anne Hath­away. Until a few weeks ago she was the dap­per Italian’s girl­friend and they were con­stant­ly pho­tographed togeth­er. But they broke up the week before the scan­dal hit the tabloids, and all we’ve got­ten are these sil­ly human inter­est sto­ries. We hear spec­u­la­tion she must be heart­bro­ken, we hear how she’s mov­ing on with her life, we even hear details about get­ting her dog back from her old apart­ment with Fol­lieri. She’s lost a lot of weight of her lat­est movie pro­mo tour and mys­te­ri­ous­ly showed up at a Cape May bar singing Jour­ney songs this week­end with a pho­tog­ra­ph­er con­ve­nient­ly in tow.

Hel­lo? She was on the board of direc­tors of the Fol­lieri Group’s char­i­ties. The New York pent­house they shared was paid for by conned mon­ey as were their lav­ish trips and high fly­ing lifestyle. Boyfriend dra­ma is the last thing she needs to be wor­ried about right now. I sure hope the FBI is care­ful­ly going through her check­book and date book right now. She both solicit­ed and received stolen mon­ey. No won­der she’s lost a lot of weight.

And what’s up with her get­ting off the plane from Lon­don and dri­ving a cou­ple of hours to the south­ern tip of the New Jer­sey? The Cape May Coun­ty house Fol­lieri bought from the bish­op was report­ed­ly just sold again. Could Anne Hath­away be on the deed or autho­rized to sign for  Fol­lieri? Idle spec­u­la­tion of course but I do wish her pub­li­cists weren’t mak­ing fools of the pop­u­lar press like this.

The Andrew Walton Idiot Defense

Please read Galante and Fol­lieri: the Bish­op and the Con Man, which lays out the details men­tioned in this post.

The Dio­cese of Cam­den is in fran­tic spin con­trol mode after yesterday’s rev­e­la­tions that Bish­op Galante per­son­al­ly received $400,000
from high fly­ing Euro­trash con man Raf­fae­lo Fol­lieri for the sale of a
beach house the Bish­op had been unable to unload. Follieri’s the guy
who’s been try­ing to buy up Catholic church prop­er­ties across the
coun­try while mak­ing out with his Hol­ly­wood girl­friend on San Tropez
and par­ty­ing it up with Bill Clinton’s sleezy billionaire

It seems like a pret­ty clear cut case. Galante had his hand in Follieri’s cook­ie jar.
Sold his beach house to the guy who stood to prof­it most from the
Bishop’s plan to sell off half of South Jersey’s church­es. Old­est story
in the book. Give him the cell next to Follieri’s and they can rem­i­nisce about
the good old days (NSFW).

I’ve been won­der­ing just how the Dio­cese would try to spin this story
as it waits for fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors to come knock­ing at the door. And
today the offi­cial Spokesper­son in Charge of Fairy Tales called up all the papers. Ladies and gen­tle­men, we present you with:

The Andrew Wal­ton Idiot Defense

Turns out some­one at the Vat­i­can called some­one at the
Dioce­san offices back in 2004 telling them to sell to Fol­lieri. That’s
it. No one can remem­ber who made the call. No one can remem­ber who took
the call. For all we know Fol­lieri filled his mouth with cot­ton balls
and did his best Mar­lon Bran­do imi­ta­tion from the pay phone across the street. 

The Arch­dio­ce­ses in Boston, New York, Newark and else­where told Fol­lieri they had enough bridges thank you very much, but poor Grand­pa Joe was con­fused and start­ed lend­ing him priests and giv­ing him the keys to the beach house.

How could any­one imag­ine that Fol­lieri was a crook? He seemed like any
oth­er Moth­er Tere­sa choir boy with his $10,000 suits, New York penthouse,
hero­in habit, con­vict­ed mob asso­ciates, San Tropez week­ends and expensively-maintained Hol­ly­wood girl­friend. “Nobody was aware of prob­lems with Mr. Fol­lieri or his com­pa­ny at that time.” Yeah right. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody. And I’m the wid­ow of the late John Paul II, recent­ly deceased Pres­i­dent of the Vat­i­can, with frozen assets in Nige­ria I’d like your help in secur­ing. Please email me back at your ear­li­est con­ve­nience Andy Wal­ton, I know you won’t be disappointed.

Reach up high, clear off the dust, time to get started

It’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing edu­ca­tion learn­ing about insti­tu­tion­al Catholi­cism these past few weeks. I won’t reveal how and what I know, but I think I have a good pic­ture of the cul­ture inside the bishop’s inner cir­cle and I’m pret­ty sure I under­stand his long-term agen­da. The cur­rent lightening-fast clo­sure of sixty-some church­es is the first step of an ambi­tious plan; man­u­fac­tured priest short­ages and soon-to-be over­crowd­ed church­es will be used to jus­ti­fy even more rad­i­cal changes. In about twen­ty years time, the 125 church­es that exist today will have been sold off. What’s left of a half mil­lion faith­ful will be herd­ed into a dozen or so mega-churches, with the­ol­o­gy bor­rowed from gener­ic lib­er­al­ism, style from feel-good evan­gel­i­cal­ism, and orga­ni­za­tion from con­sul­tant culture.

When dioce­san offi­cials come by to read this blog (and they do now), they will smile at that last sen­tence and nod their heads approv­ing­ly. The con­spir­a­cy is real.

But I don’t want to talk about Catholi­cism again. Let’s talk Quak­ers instead, why not? I should be in some meet­ing for wor­ship right now any­way. Julie left Friends and returned to the faith of her upbring­ing after eleven years with us because she want­ed a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty that shared a basic faith and that wasn’t afraid to talk about that faith as a cor­po­rate “we.” It seems that Catholi­cism won’t be able to offer that in a few years. Will she run then run off to the East­ern Ortho­dox church? For that mat­ter should I be run­ning off to the Men­non­ites? See though, the prob­lem is that the same issues will face us wher­ev­er we try to go. It’s mod­ernism, baby. No focused and authen­tic faith seems to be safe from the Forces of the Bland. Lord help us.

We can blog the ques­tions of course. Why would some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture and wants to dis­man­tle its infra­struc­ture become a priest and a career bureau­crat? For that mat­ter why do so many peo­ple want to call them­selves Quak­ers when they can’t stand basic Quak­er the­ol­o­gy? If I want­ed lots of com­ments I could go on blah-blah-blah, but ulti­mate­ly the ques­tion is futile and beyond my figuring.

Anoth­er piece to this issue came in some ques­tions Wess Daniels sent around to me and a few oth­ers this past week in prepa­ra­tion for his upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion at Wood­brooke. He asked about how a par­tic­u­lar Quak­er insti­tu­tion did or did not rep­re­sent or might or might not be able to con­tain the so-called “Con­ver­gent” Friends move­ment. I don’t want to bust on any­one so I won’t name the orga­ni­za­tion. Let’s just say that like pret­ty much all Quak­er bureau­cra­cies it’s inward-focused, shal­low in its pub­lic state­ments, slow to take ini­tia­tive and more or less irrel­e­vant to any cam­paign to gath­er a great peo­ple. A more suc­cess­ful Quak­er bureau­cra­cy I could name seems to be doing well in fundrais­ing but is doing less and less with more and more staff and seems more inter­est­ed in donor-focused hype than long-term pro­gram implementation.

One ene­my of the faith is bureau­cra­cy. Real lead­er­ship has been replaced by con­sul­tants and fundrais­ers. Finan­cial and staffing crises – real and cre­at­ed – are used to jus­ti­fy a water­ing down of the mes­sage. Pro­grams are dri­ven by donor mon­ey rather than clear need and when real work might require con­tro­ver­sy, it’s tabled for the façade of feel-goodism. Quak­er read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers: no I’m talk­ing about Catholics. Catholic read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Catholics: no, I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers. My point is that these forces are tear­ing down reli­gios­i­ty all over. Some cheer this devel­op­ment on. I think it’s evil at work, the Tempter using our leader’s desires for posi­tion and respect and our the desires of our laity’s (for lack of a bet­ter word) to trust and think the best of its leaders.

So where does that leave us? I’m tired of think­ing that maybe if I try one more Quak­er meet­ing I’ll find the com­mu­ni­ty where I can prac­tice and deep­en my faith as a Chris­t­ian Friend. I’m stumped. That first batch of Friends knew this feel­ing: Fox and the Pen­ing­tons and all the rest talked about iso­la­tion and about reli­gious pro­fes­sion­als who were in it for the career. I know from the blo­gos­phere and from count­less one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions that there are a lot of us – a lot – who either drift away or stay in meet­ings out of a sense of guilt.

So what would a spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty for these out­sider Friends look like? If we had real vision rather than donor vision, what would our struc­tures look like? If we let the gener­ic church­es go off to out-compete one oth­er to see who can be the bland­est, what would be left for the rest of us to do?

20080608-xcjchpscnwekhsh85kg2hr7nbf.previewI guess this last para­graph is the new revised mis­sion state­ment for the Quak­er part of this blog. Okay kids, get a step stool, go to your meet­ing library, reach up high, clear away the dust and pull out vol­ume one of “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Tak­en from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civ­il and polit­i­cal econ­o­my, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends” by Thomas Clark­son. Yes the 1806 ver­sion, stop the grum­bling. Get out the ribbed pack­ing tape and put its cov­er back togeth­er – this isn’t the frig­ging Library of Con­gress and we’re actu­al­ly going to read this thing. Don’t even waste your time check­ing it out in the meeting’s log­book: no one’s pulled it down off the shelf in fifty years and no one’s going to miss it now. Real­ly stuck?, okay Google’s got it too. Class will start shortly.