In praise of an editor past

Frances William Browin from the Sep­tem­ber 15, 1968 Friends Jour­nal.

When I became an edi­tor at Friends Jour­nal in 2011, I inher­it­ed an insti­tu­tion with some rather strong opin­ions. Some of them are sourced from the pre­dictable well­springs: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s foun­da­tion­al mid-century style guide and the edi­to­r­i­al offices of the Chica­go Man­u­al of Style. But some is all our own, log­i­cal­ly test­ed for con­sis­ten­cy with Chica­go but adapt­ed to Quak­er idio­syn­crasies.

One of our most invari­able (and con­test­ed) for­mats comes from the way we list con­gre­ga­tions. Quick aside for non-Quakers: you will often see a Quak­er meet­ing list­ed as  Town Month­ly Meet­ing, Town Friends Meet­ing, Town Quak­er Meet­ing, etc. Peo­ple often have strong opin­ions about the cor­rect ways to write them out. Occa­sion­al­ly an author will insist to me that their meet­ing has an offi­cial name that use con­sis­tent­ly across their pub­li­ca­tions, busi­ness min­utes, Face­book pages etc., but after a few min­utes with Google I can usu­al­ly find enough counter-examples to prove incon­sis­ten­cy.

To cut through this, Friends Jour­nal uses “Town (State) Meet­ing” every­where and always, with spe­cif­ic excep­tions only for cas­es where that doesn’t work (meet­ing is named after a street or a tree, etc.). Town/state abbre­vi­a­tion in parentheses/capital-M-meet­ing. This for­mat­ting is unique to Friends Jour­nal—even oth­er Philadelphia-based Quak­er style sheets don’t fol­low it. We’ve been doing it this dis­tinc­tive­ly and this con­sis­tent­ly for as long as I’ve been read­ing the mag­a­zine.

For­tu­nate­ly we have dig­i­tal archives going back to the mid-1950s thanks to Haver­ford College’s Quak­er and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions. So a few months ago I dug into our archives and used key­word search­es to see how far back the for­mat goes. Trav­el­ing the years back it time it’s held remark­ably steady as “Town (State) Meet­ing” until we get back to the fall of 1962. The Octo­ber 15 issue doesn’t have con­sis­tent meet­ing list­ings. But it does announce that long­time Friends Jour­nal edi­tor William Hubben was to begin a six-month sab­bat­i­cal, with Frances Williams Browin to fill in as act­ing edi­tor.

It didn’t take her long. The next issue sees a few paren­the­ses uneven­ly applied. But by the Novem­ber 15th issue, nine­teen meet­ings are ref­er­enced using our famil­iar for­mat! There’s the “mem­ber of Berke­ley (Calif.) Meet­ing” who had just pub­lished a pam­phlet of Christ­mas songs for chil­dren, an FCNL event fea­tur­ing skits and a covered-dish sup­per at “Swarth­more (Pa.) Meet­ing” and the announce­ment of a promi­nent arti­cle by “Ken­neth E. Bould­ing, a mem­ber of Ann Arbor (Michi­gan) Meet­ing.”

I’ve tried to imag­ine the scene… Browin sit­u­at­ed in her new tem­po­rary office… going back and forth, forth and back on some list­ing… then final­ly sur­pris­ing her­self by shout­ing “enough!” so loud­ly she had to apol­o­gize to near­by col­leagues. At the end of the six months, Hubben came back, but only as a con­tribut­ing edi­tor, and Browin was named edi­tor. Friends Jour­nal board mem­ber Eliz­a­beth B Wells wrote a pro­file of her upon her retire­ment from that posi­tion in 1968:

Her remarks usu­al­ly made sparks, whether she was express­ing an opin­ion (always pos­i­tive), exert­ing pres­sure (not always gen­tle), or mak­ing a humor­ous aside (often dis­turb­ing). For in her ami­able way she can be tart, unex­pect­ed, even prej­u­diced (in the right direc­tion), then as sud­den­ly dis­arm­ing­ly warm and sen­si­tive.

This sounds like the kind of per­son who would stan­dard­ize a for­mat with such resolve it would be going strong 55 years lat­er:

She was so entire­ly com­mit­ted to putting out the best pos­si­ble mag­a­zine, such a per­fec­tion­ist, even such a dri­ver, that her clos­est col­leagues often felt that we knew the spir­it­ed edi­tor far bet­ter than the Quak­er lady.

It’s a neat pro­file. And today, every time an author rewrites their meeting’s name on a copy­edit­ed man­u­script I’ve sent them for review, I say a qui­et thanks to the dri­ven per­fec­tion­ist who gives me per­mis­sion to be prej­u­diced in the right direc­tion. Wells’s pro­file is a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into a smart woman of a dif­fer­ent era and well worth a read.

Normcore and the new-old Quaker plain

In the last few weeks, the fash­ion seg­ment of the Inter­net has gone all a-buzz over new term “Norm­core.” Nor­mal, every­day, cloth­ing is appar­ent­ly show­ing up in down­town Man­hat­tan — gasp! Like many trendy terms, it’s not real­ly so new: back in the nineties and ear­ly oughts, Gap ruled the retail world with posters show­ing celebri­ties and artists wear­ing t-shirts and jeans avail­able at the local mall store. “Norm­core” is just the lead­ing edge of the utterly-predicable 20-year fash­ion indus­try pen­du­lum swing.

It also per­haps sig­nals a cul­tur­al shift away from snob­bery and into embrac­ing roots. One of the most pop­u­lar posts on the New York Times’s web­site last year cel­e­brat­ed region­al accents (appar­ent­ly Philadel­phi­ans are allowed to talk like Philadel­phi­ans again).

An ana­logue to this fash­ion trend has been occur­ing among Friends for a lit­tle while now. The “New Plain” dis­cus­sion have revolved around reclaim­ing an atti­tude, not a uni­form.

If you read the old Quak­er guide books (called “Books of Dis­ci­pline” then, now more often called “Faith and Prac­tice”), you’ll see that unlike oth­er plain-dressing Amer­i­can groups like the Amish, Quak­ers didn’t intend their clothes to be a uni­form show­ing group con­for­mi­ty. Instead, plain­ness is framed in terms of inte­ri­or moti­va­tions. Avoid­ing fash­ion trends helped Friends remem­ber that they were all equal before God. It also spoke to our con­tin­u­ing tes­ti­mo­ny of integri­ty, in that Friends were to dress the same way in dif­fer­ent con­texts and so vouch­safe for a sin­gle iden­ti­ty.

When I began feel­ing the tug of a lead­ing toward plain­ness it was for what I began call­ing “Sears Plain,” indi­cat­ing that I wore clothes that I could find in any box store or mall. I devel­oped a low-maintenance approach to fash­ion that freed up my time from shop­ping and the morn­ing dress­ing rit­u­al. Mod­ern plain­ness can les­son the temp­ta­tion to show off in in clothes and it can reduce the over­all wardrobe size and thus reduce our impact on the envi­ron­ment and with exploit­ed labor. But all this is noth­ing new and it nev­er real­ly dis­ap­peared. If you looked around a room of mod­ern Quak­ers you’ll often see a trend of sar­to­r­i­al bor­ing­ness; I was sim­ply nam­ing this and putting it in the con­text of our tra­di­tion.

image

Over time I found that these moti­va­tions were more preva­lent in the wider cul­ture, espe­cial­ly in the min­i­mal­ist techie scene. Steve Jobs famous­ly sport­ed a uni­form of black turtle­neck, jeans, and New Bal­ance sneak­ers (explained in 2011). In a 2012 pro­file, Barack Oba­ma talked about lim­it­ing his clothes to two col­ors of suits so that he could free up his decision-making ener­gies on more impor­tant issues (I wrote about his fash­ion in “Plain like Barack”).

Non-celebrities also seem inter­est­ed in work­ing out their rela­tion­ship with fash­ion. My arti­cles on mod­ern plain­ness have always been a big draw on my blog. While my fel­low Quak­ers are some­times mild­ly embar­rassed by our his­toric pecu­liar­i­ties, out­siders often eat this stuff up. They’re look­ing for what the techies would call “life hacks” that can help them pri­or­i­tize life essen­tials. If we can com­mu­ni­cate our val­ues in a real way that isn’t propped by appeals to the author­i­ty of tra­di­tion, then we can reach these seek­ers.

So now that “Norm­core” is appear­ing in places like Huff­in­g­ton Post , the New York Times and fash­ion mag­a­zines, will Friends be able to talk more about it? Do we still have a col­lec­tive wit­ness in regards to the mate­ri­al­ism and ego-centricity of fash­ion mar­ket­ing?

Russian Old Believers in Millville NJ

A few weeks ago we were con­tact­ed by some­one from the St Nicholas Cen­ter (http://​www​.stni​cholas​cen​ter​.org) ask­ing if they could use some pho­tos I had tak­en of the church my wife is attend­ing, Mil­lville N.J.‘s St Nicholas Ukrain­ian Catholic. Of course I said yes. But then my cor­re­spon­dent asked if I could take pic­tures of anoth­er church she had heard of: St Nicholas Old Believer’s Church. It’s on the oth­er side of Mil­lville from our St Nick’s, on an ancient road that dead ends in woods. We had to vis­it.

The Old Believ­ers have a fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry. They were Russ­ian Ortho­dox Chris­tians who refused to com­ply with litur­gi­cal changes man­dat­ed by the Patri­arch and Czar in the 1650s. As usu­al, there was a lot of pol­i­tics involved, with the Czar want­i­ng to cozy up with the Greek Ortho­dox to ally Rus­sia against the Mus­lim Ottomans, etc., etc. The the­o­log­i­cal charge was that the Greek tra­di­tions were the stan­dard and Russ­ian dif­fer­ences latter-day inno­va­tions to be stamped out (more mod­ern research has found the Rus­sians actu­al­ly were clos­er to the old­er forms, but no mat­ter: what the Czar and Patri­arch want, the Czar and Patri­arch get). The old prac­tices were banned, begin­ning hun­dreds of years of state-sponsored per­se­cu­tion for the “Old Believ­ers.” The sur­vivors scat­tered to the four cor­ners of the Russ­ian empire and beyond, keep­ing a low pro­file wher­ev­er they went.

The Old Believ­ers have a fas­ci­nat­ing frac­tured his­to­ry. Because their priests were killed off in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, they lost their claims of apos­tolic suc­ces­sion – the idea that there’s an unbro­ken line of ordi­na­tion from Jesus Christ him­self. Some Old Believ­ers found work-arounds or claimed a few priests were spared but the hard­core among them declared suc­ces­sion over, sig­nal­ing the end times and the fall of the Church. They became priest­less Old Believ­ers – so defen­sive of the old litur­gy that they were will­ing to lose most of the litur­gy. They’ve scat­tered around the world, often wear­ing plain dress and liv­ing in iso­lat­ed com­mu­ni­ties.

The Old Believ­ers church in Mil­lville has no signs, no web­site, no indi­ca­tion of what it is (a life­long mem­ber of “our” St Nick’s called it mys­te­ri­ous and said he lit­tle about it of it). From a few inter­net ref­er­ences, they appear to be the priest­less kind of Old Believ­ers. But it has its own dis­tinc­tions: appar­ent­ly one of the great­est icono­g­ra­phers of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry lived and wor­shipped there, and when famed Russ­ian polit­i­cal pris­on­er Alek­san­dr Solzhen­it­syn vis­it­ed the U.S. he made a point of speak­ing at this sign­less church on a dead end road.

Links:
* Wikipedia: http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​O​l​d​_​B​e​l​i​e​v​ers
* Account of US Lithuan­ian Bespopovt­sy com­mu­ni­ties: http://​www​.synax​is​.info/​o​l​d​-​r​i​t​e​/​0​_​o​l​d​b​e​l​i​e​f​/​h​i​s​t​o​r​y​_​e​n​g​/​n​i​c​o​l​l​.​h​tml
* OSU Library on icono­g­ra­ph­er Sofronv (PDF): http://​cmrs​.osu​.edu/​r​c​m​s​s​/​C​M​H​2​1​c​o​l​o​r​.​pdf
* Solzhenitsyn’s 1976 vis­it: http://​www​.freere​pub​lic​.com/​f​o​c​u​s​/​f​-​n​e​w​s​/​2​0​5​7​7​9​3​/​p​o​sts

In album St Nicholas Old Believ­ers, Mil­lville NJ (9 pho­tos)