When we came here in fifteen or so years ago, Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden was a magical oasis tucked in the middle of a block in Key West, a small forest said to be the last undeveloped acre in the city’s Old Town neighborhood. Full of winding paths and trees it was the rarest of spaces: loved, carefully tended, and shared with the public as a gift of beauty. But even then it felt besieged. In 2012 taxes and expenses became too much and Nancy sold off parcels to developers. From an article in Key News:
The tucked-away entrance to Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden off Free School Lane in the 500 block of Simonton Street will be closed to the public after today, as finances and property taxes have forced Forrester to sell the land parcels that have housed an artist’s cottage and gallery, parrots, orchids, rare palms, meandering pathways and a meditative garden for more than four decades.
These days the garden has been reduced to a small backyard on Elizabeth Street which Nancy uses as a rescue parrot refuge. In the mornings she gives educational lectures on the birds, full of facts about their brilliant behavior, the destruction of their native habitats, and gentle lectures about how we can all protect native parrot habitats by living more lightly on the land (hint: no red palm oil or beef). From behind the fence came the sounds of a swimming pool being installed in the cutdown middle of the former garden. Nancy has life tenancy on the ill-repaired house where she lives with the parrots.
I don’t know the details of the real estate transactions or Forrester’s finances but I find it incredible that Key West couldn’t rally around one of its living treasures. I’m glad that Nancy remains along with her parrots and I’m grateful my kids got a chance to meet her.
A few weeks ago, reader James F. used my seldom-visited “Ask me anything!” page to wonder about two types of Friends:
I've read a little and watched various videos about the Friends. My questions are , is there a gulf between "conservative" friends and liberal? As well as what defines the two generally? I'm in Maryland near D.C. Do Quakers who define themselves as essentially Christian worship with those who don't identify as such?
Hi James, what a great question! I think many of us don’t fully appreciate the confusion we sow when we casually use these terms in our online discussions. They can be useful rhetorical shortcuts but sometimes I think we give them more weight than they deserve. I worry that Friends sometimes come off as more divided along these lines than we really are. Over the years I've noticed a certain kind of rigid online seeker who dissects theological discussions with such conviction that they'll refused to even visit their nearest meeting because it's not the right type. That’s so tragic.
What the terms don't mean
The first and most common problem is that people don’t realize we’re using these terms in a specifically Quaker context. “Liberal” and “Conservative” don't refer to political ideologies. One can be a Conservative Friend and vote for liberal or socialist politicians, for example.
Adding to the complications is that these can be imprecise terms. Quaker bodies themselves typically do not identify as either Liberal or Conservative. While local congregations often have their own unique characteristics, culture, and style, nothing goes on the sign out front. Our regional bodies, called yearly meetings, are the highest authority in Quakerism but I can't think of any that doesn't span some diversity of theologies.
Historically (and currently) we've had the situation where a yearly meeting will split into two separate bodies. The causes can be complex; theology is a piece, but demographics and mainstream cultural shifts also play a huge role. In centuries past (and kind of ridiculously, today still), both of the newly reorganized yearly meetings were obsessed with keeping the name as a way to claim their legitimacy. To tell them apart we'd append awkward and incomplete labels, so in the past we had Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Hicksite) and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox).
In the United States, we have two places where yearly meetings compete names and one side's labelled appendage is "Conservative," giving us Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Over time, both of these yearly meetings have diversified to the point where they contain outwardly Liberal monthly meetings. The name Conservative in the yearly meeting title has become partly administrative.
A third yearly meeting is usually also included in the list of Conservative bodies. Present-day Ohio Yearly Meeting once competed with two other Ohio Yearly Meetings for the name but is the only one using it today. The name “Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative)” is still sometimes seen, but it’s unnecessary, not technically correct, and not used in the yearly meeting’s formal correspondence. (You want to know more? The yearly meeting's clerk maintains a website that goes amazingly deep into the history of Ohio Friends).
All that said, these three yearly meetings have more than their share of traditionalist Christian Quaker members. Ohio's gatherings have the highest percentage of plain dressing- and speaking- Friends around (though even there, they are a minority). But other yearly meetings will have individual members and sometimes whole monthly meetings that could be accurately described as Conservative Quaker.
I might have upset some folks with these observations. In all aspects of life you'll find people who are very attached to labels. That's what the comment section is for.
The meanings of the terms
Formal identities aside, there are good reasons we use the concept of Liberal and Conservative Quakerism. They denote a general approach to the world and a way of incorporating our history, our Christian heritage, our understanding of the role of Christ in our discernment, and the format and pace of our group decision making.
But at the same time there’s all sorts of diversity and personal and local histories involved. It’s hard to talk about any of this in concrete terms without dissolving into footnotes and qualifications and long discourses about the differences between various historical sub-movements within Friends (queue awesome 16000-word history).
Many of us comfortably span both worlds. In writing, I sometimes try to escape the weight of the most overused labels by substituting more generic terms, like traditional Friends or Christ-centered Friends. These terms also get problematic if you scratch at them too hard. Reminder: God is the Word and our language is by definition limiting.
The distinction between Conservatives and Liberals can become quite evident when you observe how Friends conduct a business meeting or how they present themselves. It's all too easy to veer into caricature here but Liberal Friends are prone to reinventions and the use of imprecise secular language, whileConservative Friends are attached to established processes and can be unwelcoming to change that might disrupt internal unity.
But even these brief observations are imprecise and can mask surprisingly similar talents and stumbling blocks. We all of us are humans, after all. The Inward Christ is always available to instruct and comfort, just as we are all broken and prone to act impulsively against that advice.
Finally, pretty much all Friends will worship with anyone. Most local congregations have their own distinct flavor. There are some in which the ministry is largely Christian, with a Quaker-infused explanation of a parable or gospel, while there are others where you’ll rarely hear Christ mentioned. You should try out different meetings and see which ones feed your soul. Be ready to find nurturance in unexpected places. God may instruct us to serve anywhere with no notice, as he did the Good Samaritan. Christ isn't bound by any of our silly words.
Thanks to James for the question!
Do you have a question on another Quaker topic? Check out the Ask Me Anything! page.
From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds Looking for the rain Looking for the rain
Just like the cities staggered on the coastline Living in a nation that just can’t stand much more Like the forest buried beneath the highway Never had a chance to grow Never had a chance to grow And now it’s winter Winter in America
Yes and all of the healers have been killed Or sent away, yeah But the people know, the people know It’s winter Winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting ‘Cause nobody knows what to save Save your soul, Lord knows From Winter in America
The Constitution A noble piece of paper With free society Struggled but it died in vain And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner Hoping for some rain Looks like it’s hoping Hoping for some rain
And I see the robins Perched in barren treetops Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor But just like the peace sign that vanished in our dreams Never had a chance to grow Never had a chance to grow
And now it’s winter It’s winter in America And all of the healers have been killed Or been betrayed Yeah, but the people know, people know It’s winter, Lord knows It’s winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting ‘Cause nobody knows what to save Save your souls From Winter in America And now it’s winter Winter in America
And all of the healers done been killed or sent away Yeah, and the people know, people know It’s winter Winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting ‘Cause nobody knows what to save And ain’t nobody fighting Cause nobody knows, nobody knows And ain’t nobody fighting ‘Cause nobody knows what to save
We’ve gotten into the habit of visiting Howell’s Living History Farm up in Mercer County, N.J., a few times a year as part of homeschooler group trips. In the past, we’ve cut ice, tapped trees for maple syrup, and seen the sheep shearing and carding. Today we saw the various stages of wheat – from planting, to harvesting, threshing, winnowing, grinding, and baking. I love that there’s such a wide vocabulary of specific language for all this – words I barely know outside of biblical parables (“Oh wheat from chaff!”) and that there’s great vintage machinery (Howell’s operations are set around the turn of the twentieth century).
Grinding the wheat
I just love the lettering on the bottom of the grinder
Gregory on the crank
A horse- or steam-powered thresher had great lettering
Another piece of equipment had a great font.
Detail of the grinder
Stove in the kitchen
In the kitchen we made bread
Fields around the farm.
Wheat. This is a special kind of spiked wheat that discourages deer.
Horses coming back from the freshly plowed field.
Twitter has always been a company that succeeds despite its leadership. Many of its landmark featured started as hacks by users. Its first apps were all created by third-party designers, whose good will to the curb when it about-faced and killed most of them by restricted its API. Top-down features like Twitter Music have come and gone. The only interesting grassroots innovation of recent years has been users using image attachments as a way of going past the 140 character limit.
One could argue that these “fatter tweets” is Twitter’s way of building the popular long-text picture hack into the system. Could Twitter management be ready to look at users as co-creators of the wider Twitter culture?
The blogger behind South Jersey Trails organized a “dads’ hike” today in a small preserve along the upper reaches of the Cooper River.
The preserve is remarkably interesting despite its relatively small size and positioning between soccer fields and train lines. There’s lots of hills ands wetlands. We saw two turtles fighting and a snake of some sort swirling around an eddy in brackish iron-filled bog water. There was a lot of flowering mountain laurel, one of my favorite woodland flowers.
Many local trails in deep woods are on land that has seen waves of development over the past two hundred years but a check of the 1930 New Jersey aerial survey shows that this same patch was deep woods then. I