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Famous Friends

I created the following list for our meeting web site (springfieldfriends.org) but thought I would share it with a wider audience as well. There are so many Friends who have had great influence — not just on the Quaker world, but on the world outside! This list is a work in progress, so please let me know what Friends I’ve missed.

Famous Friends

George Fox (1624-1691) – Probably the one person more than anyone else who can be called the “founder” of Friends. His Journal is a classic for Quakers and non-Quakers alike as a record of spiritual struggle and practical activity

Isaac Penington (1616-1679) – One of the most famous Quaker writers of the first generation, often imprisoned. Many of his writings on prayer have become Quaker classics.

Margaret Fell (1614-1702) – “The mother of Quakerism”, she was an organizing genius — setting up new meetings, arranging for the relief of Quakers in prison and their families, writing, travelling, and often in jail herself. Her home, Swarthmoor Hall in Lancashire, England, was a busy hub of Quaker activity. Eleven years after her first husband’s death, she married George Fox.

William Penn (1644-1718) – Famous not only for establishing the colony of Pennsylvania, but for making the only treaties with Native Americans which were never broken; also famous for his part in the Penn-Meade trial in 1670, which established the right for juries to bring in their verdict without being intimidated by judge or state. Among his many writings, No Cross, No Crown and Fruits of Solitude are still popular.

Robert Barclay (1648-1690) – His book, Apology for the True Christian Divinity, was for many years the “standard” book of Quaker theology. It is still one of the best guides to what Friends believe.

Mary Dyer (died 1660) – Was hanged by the Puritan leaders of Massachusetts along with four other people on Boston Common for protesting the brutal anti-Quaker laws of Massachusetts; one of the earliest witnesses for religious freedom and toleration.

Samuel Bownas (1676-1753) – traveling minister, his book A Description of the Qualifications of a Gospel Minister has been rediscovered as a Quaker classic.

John Woolman (1720-1772) – Almost single-handedly awoke Friends to the evils of slavery. By the middle of the century, no Quakers held slaves, which made it much easier for Friends to take the lead in the anti-slavery movement. Also famous for his peacemaking journeys into the wilderness among Native Americans

Stephen Grellet (1773-1855), traveling minister and reformer; born in France and served in the personal guard of Louis XVI, he escaped execution during the French Revolution and converted to Quakerism. Traveled throughout Europe, Russia and the U.S.

Elias Hicks (1748-1830) – Quaker farmer from Long Island, travelling minister and great preacher; one of the central figures of the Orthodox-Hicksite separation of Friends in the 1820’s, Hicks was a strong believer in the “quietist” tradition of complete dependence on the Spirit.

John Dalton (1766-1844) – Quaker scientist who discovered the fact that each element has a characteristic “atomic weight”; also discovered that all gases share the same coefficient of expansion; also the first person to describe color blindness.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) – Famous for her early work in prison reform and against capital punishment; personally visited all of the ships transporting women prisoners to Australia; helped to stamp out suttee (the practice in India of requiring widows to jump onto their husband’s funeral pyres); first woman to appear before British Parliament; strongly influenced founding of the Red Cross.

Edward Hicks (1780-1849) – American painter, famous for his dozens of renditions of the “Peaceable Kingdom” in Isaiah 11:6-9

Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847) – Younger brother of Elizabeth Fry, social activist, Bible scholar, organizer of Sunday Schools; author of A Peculiar People: Primitive Christianity Revived, a classic of Quaker theology. One of the chief figures in the Orthodox-Hicksite separations of the 1820’s.

Levi Coffin (1798-1877) – Known as “the President of the Underground Railroad”, helped to organize the escape to freedom of hundreds of slaves.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) – Anti-slavery writer and poet; many of his poems are found in standard hymnals in all churches

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) – Minister, anti-slavery worker, pioneer in the temperance and especially the women’s rights movements

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) – Social reformer and leader of the women’s suffrage movement.

Joseph Lister (1827-1912) – Doctor and surgeon, developed modern antiseptic techniques which have saved the lives of millions; transformed surgery from a dangerous, last-resort tool to a relatively safe procedure.

Allen Jay (1831-1910) – Minister, educator, and leader, he was one of the best-known Friends in the U.S. in the 1800’s. He worked on the Underground Railroad, built schools and colleges, helped organize Quaker missionary work, was a conscientious objector in the Civil War, and was deeply involved in the emergence and growth of pastoral Friends meetings

Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) – Mathematical astrophysicist; hypothesized that stars are fueled by the transformation of hydrogen into helium and helped to verify the correctness of Einstein’s theories.

Rufus Jones (1863-1948) – Teacher, lecturer, writer of many books, founder of the American Friends Service Committee; editor of The American Friend (now Quaker Life); travelled to Nazi Germany in an effort to negotiate the freedom of Jews.

Thomas Kelly (1893-1941) – Professor and writer, more famous after his “rebirth” as an adult. His Testament of Devotion is a classic on the inner life.

D. Elton Trueblood (1900-1994) – Professor and writer, founder of the Yokefellow movement. Influenced tens of thousands through his many books.

Other famous Quakers:

Actors and film makers:

Ben Kingsley (1943-_) GandhiSchindler’s List, Iron Man 3, Prince of PersiaThe Jungle Book

James Dean (1931-1955), Rebel Without a CauseEast of Eden

Judi Dench (1934-) (Shakespeare in Love, As Time Goes ByA Room With a View, GoldenEye, Chocolat, Victoria and Abdul, Murder on the Orient Express

Kevin Bacon (1958-), A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, Mystic River

David Lean (1908-1981), The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India

Musicians:

Joan Baez (1941-), Diamonds and Rust, There But for Fortune, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

David Byrne (1952-), lead singer for Talking Heads

Sydney Carter (1915-2004), Lord of the Dance, Julian of Norwich

John McCutcheon (1952-), hammered dulcimer player and children’s music writer

Dave Matthews (1976-), lead singer for the Dave Matthews Band

Carrie Newcomer (1958-), Sanctuary, I Heard an Owl, If Not Now

Bonnie Raitt (1949-), Something to Talk About, I Can’t Make You Love Me

Donald Swann (1923-1994), prolific British composer, wrote more than 2,000 songs

Joseph Terrell (1990-), lead singer for bluegrass band MIPSO

Nobel Prize winners:

1946 for Peace – Emily Green Balch (1867-1961)

1947 for Peace – American Friends Service Committee and Friends Service Council

1959 for Peace – Philip Noel-Baker (1889-1982)

1993 for Physics – Joseph Taylor (1941-), discovery of binary pulsar

1996 for Economics –William Vickrey

Artists:

Cassius Coolidge (1844-1934), Dogs Playing Cards

Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990) , illustrator

Sylvia Shaw Judson (1897-1978), sculptor and author of The Quiet Eye

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966), painter

James Turrell (1943-), MacArthur prize winner, famous for his SkyScape installations

Science: 

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-), astronomer, discovered pulsars

Peter Collinson (1694-1768), botanist

John Dalton (1766-1844), chemist, physicist, meteorologist; developer of atomic theory, first table of atomic weights, first description of color blindness, law of partial pressures of gasses

Arthur Stanley Eddington (188201944) – astrophysics, predicted that stars are fueled by the fusion of hydrogen into helium

Ursula Franklin (1921-2016) – metallurgist, feminist, peacemaker, environmentalist

Luke Howard (1772-1864), meteorologist and pharmacist, classified clouds

Len Lamerton (1915-1999), pioneer in nuclear medicine and radiation biology

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971), crystallographer

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889), astronomer

Thomas Young (1773-1829),doctor, scientist, developed theory of light waves; assisted in the translation of the Rosetta Stone

Joseph Taylor (1941-), astronomy, discovered first binary pulsar

Medicine:

John Fothergill (1712-1780), doctor who developed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, described trigeminal neuralgia and strep throat; also a famous botanist and founder of Ackworth School

Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866), physician who described Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Mary Calderone (1904-1998), advocate for sex education and the use of birth control

William Tuke (1732-1832) and son Henry Tuke (1755-1814), founders of the York Retreat which pioneered in the humane treatment of the mentally ill

Educators:

Elise Boulding (1920-2010), peacemaker, pioneered in peace and conflict resolution studies

Kenneth E. Boulding (1910-1993), economist, and educator

Henry Cadbury (1883-1974), Bible scholar, historian, chairman of the AFSC

Wilmer Cooper (1920-2008), founding dean of Earlham School of Religion, author of A Living Faith

Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990), management theorist, founder of the Servant Leadership movement

Barnabas Hobbs (1815-1892), first president of Earlham College later Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Indiana

Mary Mendenhall Hobbs (1852-1930), educator, historian, and worker for women’s rights

Rufus Jones (1863-1948), Quaker educator and theologian

Douglas Steere (1901-1995), professor of philosophy at Haverford College, international relief organizer, ecumenical and spiritual writer

Well-known writers:

Piers Anthony (1934-), prolific science fiction writer

Sandra Boynton (1953-), children’s book writer, composer, director

Margaret Drabble (1939-), The Millstone, Jerusalem the Golden

Richard J. Foster (1942-), Celebration of Discipline, Freedom of Simplicity

Elfrida Vipont Foulds (1902-1992), The Story of Quakerism, Blow the Man Down, Some Christian Festivals

Philip GulleyFront Porch Tales, Home to Harmony, If Grace is True, If the Church Were Christian

Jan de Hartog (1914-2002), The Peaceable Kingdom, The Lamb’s War, A Sailor’s Life

T. Canby Jones (1921-2008), professor at Wilmington College and noted scholar of George Fox and Thomas Kelly

Eric Knight (1897-1943), Lassie, Come Home

James Michener (1907-1997), Tales of the South Pacific, Hawaii, The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Tom Mullen (1934-2009), A Very Good Marriage, Where 2 or 3 Are Gathered, Laughing Out Loud

Daisy Newman (1904-1994), I Take Thee Serenity, Diligence in Love, Now That April’s Here

Parker Palmer (1939 – ), The Courage to Teach, To Know As We Are Known, A Hidden Wholeness

John Punshon (1935-2017), historian and lecturer, author of Portrait in Grey and Encounter With Silence

Brinton Turkle (1915-2003 ), Thy Friend Obiadiah, Obadiah the Bold, Rachel and Obadiah, Do No Open

Anna Sewell (1820-1878), Black Beauty

Elizabeth Gray Vining (1902-1999), Windows for the Crown PrinceAdam of the Road

Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911), The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life

Jessamyn West (1902-1984), The Friendly Persuasion, Except for Me and Thee, The Quaker Reader, The Woman Said Yes

Jane Yolen (1939-), Owl Moon, Sister Light Sister Dark, Sword of the Rightful King

Social change:

Jane Addams (1860-1935), social worker

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), American suffragist, abolitionist, and pioneer of feminism and civil rights

Eric Baker (1920-1976) activist, co-founder of Amnesty International and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961), economist, peacemaker, winner of Nobel Peace Prize

Sarah Moore Grimke (1792-1873) and Angelina Grimke (1805-1879), worked for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights

Benjamin Lay (1862-1759), early abolitionist

Sam Levering (1908-1994) and Miriam Levering (1913-1991) – peacemakers, guided the drafting and signing of the international Law of the Sea treaty in 1982

Alice Paul (1895-1977), worked for women’s right to vote

Clarence Pickett (1884-1965), longtime Executive Secretary for the American Friends Service Committee

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), civil rights leader.

Ham Seok-heon (1901-1989), Korean peace activist

Politics:

John Archdale, (1642-1717), Quaker governor of North Carolina

John Bright, (1811-1889), British politician, electoral reformer, free-trade advocate

Herbert Hoover (1864-1964), engineer, relief administrator, U.S. president

Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933), Japanese diplomat, educator, author

Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994), senator and U.S. president

James Logan (1674-1751), mayor of Philadelphia, merchant, scientist and developer of the Conestoga wagon

Philip Noel-Baker (1899-1982) British Olympic athlete, politician, peacemaker

Industry:

Moses Brown (1738-1836), industrialist and philanthropist

John Cadbury (1801-1889) and George Cadbury (1839-1922), chocolate manufacturers

Abraham Darby I (1678-1717), ironmaster
Abraham Darby II (1711-1763), ironmaster
Abraham Darby III (1750-1791), ironmaster

Charles Elmer Hires (1851-1939), pharmacist who invented root beer

Johns Hopkins (1795-1873), industrialist and philanthropist

Lydia Pinkham (1819-1883), creator of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, one of the best-selling patent medicines of the 1800’s, containing unicorn root, fenugreek, black cohosh root, and a large percentage of alcohol. You can still buy it at many drug stores!

John Wilhelm Rowntree (1868-1905), chocolate maker and reformer

Elbridge Stuart (1836-1944), creator of Carnation Evaporated Milk, “the milk from contented cows”

Journalism:

Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965), journalist

Other categories:

Ray Hayworth (1904-2002), major league baseball player

Jimmie Lewallen, NASCAR racing driver

Famous people with Quaker background:

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), author, printer, politician, inventor

Daniel Boone (1734-1820), pioneer

Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), Revolutionary War general

Dolley Madison (1768-1849), wife of US President James Madison

Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Trappist monk and writer

Annie Oakley (1860-1926), Wild West sharpshooter

Thomas Paine (1737-1809), political activist

Betsy Ross (1752-1836), creator of the U.S. flag

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), poet

Businesses started by Quakers:

Allen and Hanbury (pharmaceuticals)

Barclay’s Bank

Bethlehem Steel

Bradshaw’s Railway Guide

Cadbury (chocolate)

Carr’s Biscuits

Clark’s (shoes)

Friends Provident (life insurance)

Fry’s (chocolate)

Furnas Withy (ship builders)

Lloyd’s Bank

Rowntree (chocolate)

Sandy Spring Friends Bank

SONY

Waterford Crystal

Non-governmental organizations started by Quakers:

Alternatives to Violence Project

American Friends Service Committee

Amnesty International

Greenpeace

Oxfam

Right Sharing of World Resources

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Cherry blossoms

I’ve got a thing for cherry trees. As I write this, a big cherry tree is in full bloom right outside my office window. It looks like daylight fireworks – tens of thousands of pale pink blossoms exploding exuberantly, about 30 feet from my desk.

The Japanese have an enormous nation-wide cultural thing for cherry blossoms. During cherry blossom season, huge crowds of people go to the parks to enjoy them. Every night on national TV there are reports of how the season is progressing in different parts of the country. Pictures of cherry blossoms are on everything from kimonos to corporate logos. Every school child in Japan knows the cherry blossom song – Sakura, sakura.

Part of the Japanese love for cherry blossoms is simply that they’re so beautiful – something beyond our human ability to make or build. It’s a beauty which stretches our sense of the divine, which connects us directly to God without any words or explanation being necessary.

The other side of cherry blossoms, of course, is that they are fragile and only last a few days. A high wind or a late frost can wipe them away. This year we had a long spell of unseasonably cool weather (for North Carolina) which made the cherry blossom season last longer than usual. We had a sleet storm last weekend and I thought they would all be gone, but it warmed up the next day and they bloomed more beautifully than ever before.

For the Japanese, cherry blossoms are a symbol of life – how brief a time we have here on earth, how important it is to stop and appreciate moments of beauty, how much our souls yearn to connect with God.

Sometimes I think that Quakers have it right, when we stop to listen or wait until God speaks, remembering the advice of London Yearly Meeting: “Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts, which are the leadings of God.” At our best, Quakers are experts at noticing those “cherry blossom moments” in our individual lives and in our life together.

In our not-so-good times, though, we forget that time is flying past, that a whole generation can come and go without our trying to really listen to them. We live in the past so much that we can completely miss the present, and do nothing to build for the future.

Yesterday evening I was walking home from our midweek Bible study and happened to look up and saw the full moon nestled in the top branches of the cherry tree. If I’d been walking along as usual with my nose to the ground I would have completely missed this transcendent moment, which brought me to a stop for at least ten minutes. It was a blessing beyond words.

Even though the tree outside my office is still in full bloom, a few petals are already falling. There’s a beauty in that, too, when a light breeze makes the petals fall like rain, and children from the neighborhood go dancing through them with their hands reaching up toward the sky. There’s a beauty in old things (and older people) who have filled their lives with beauty and know the right time to fall to the ground.

Yesterday when I went to open up for Bible study, a couple of dozen cherry petals blew in through the door to rest on the mat. Even in our indoor lives, God has a way of invading our space with beauty and with reminders to stop and enjoy.

Trash talk

Every now and then, when I’ve got a free half hour and need a break, I grab a couple of big black garbage bags and a set of nabbers and walk along the roads that bound our meeting’s property. It still amazes me, the things people throw out.

Today I filled two large bags in no time at all. Dozens and dozens of bottles – North Carolina doesn’t have a bottle and can deposit law. Hard liquor, malt liquor, soft drinks, go cups, soda cans, bottled water, baby food, energy drinks, you name it. I know every fast food place in this part of town, and I could probably tell them all what their customers’ favorites are. I picked up soda straws, empty cigarette and cigar packages (Newport Menthol appears to be the favorite around here), snuff containers, paper bags, styrofoam trays and lottery tickets.

Some things were too big to pick up or drag back, and will have to wait till our meeting’s Clean Up Day next month – a shopping cart, old tires, a TV set, old window frames. Down at the corner by the cemetery, this week somebody abandoned a Chevy 3500 van in the ditch. Whoever did it left the license plate on, so when I called it in the police will have something to go on. Maybe it was stolen or taken for a joyride.

As a Christian, I know I’m supposed to be non-judgmental, but picking up hundreds of pounds of other people’s litter every year gets to be kind of old. I mentioned this to the head of our House and Grounds committee, a native of the area famous for his bluntness, who said, “Hell, they don’t care! They just drivin’ on down the road and phwtt! out the window she goes!”

Quakers are supposed to be advocates for world peace and non-violence, and I don’t think I would actually do any physical harm to these jerks. But it’s depressing to think that there is simply no way anyone on earth could reason with people who throw their trash by the roadside. They really don’t care, and I doubt that anyone will ever make them care.

There are much worse sins than littering, but in a way it’s symptomatic of the way human beings are broken. How could people who are made in God’s image, who were formed for the garden of Eden, who were told by God to be stewards of this earth, act this way?

Could be that their parents didn’t teach them. Could be that they’re so poor that they don’t feel any sense of ownership or belonging or responsibility for the community they live in. But I have a feeling that until people care enough to quit littering, we won’t have peace in this part of North Carolina. And if we keep filling up the world with garbage and don’t care who has to deal with it, we may not have peace with our neighbors, or with the world.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep on picking up trash in our neighborhood.

Happy New Year!

Quakers, of all people, recognize that whatever we call “worship” doesn’t have to follow any set guidelines. Even in Quaker meetings where the worship is programmed or semi-programmed, most don’t have a lectionary (a regular schedule of Scripture readings used by many churches).

We have customs, and many of our customs can get pretty set in stone – there’s the time-worn joke, all too true, about a visitor being told by an old-timer, “You’re sitting in my seat!” Quaker prayers and sermons can start sounding pretty much the same from one week to the next – or from one year or decade to the next.

Entering a worship space can be very daunting. Newcomers may be impressed by our plain and simple architecture, but they may also be wondering, “Where’s the cross?” Or, if they walk in during open worship, they may be wondering, “Why isn’t anybody saying anything?” Even lifelong members and attenders may not know the reasons why Quakers do some things (and don’t do others).

It’s nice when we can shake things up and let everyone recapture the sense of wonder, of worship, of friendship and joy.

Last Sunday, on New Year’s Eve, we were expecting record low temperatures and a correspondingly low turnout for worship. The big room where we worship most Sundays was likely going to be three-quarters empty, and it was going to take a LOT of fuel oil to bring it up to a comfortable level of warmth.

So we asked around to see if anyone would mind if we moved worship into the chapel, a smaller, seldom-used room which was built in the 1950’s to accommodate the large number of weddings we held during the Baby Boom years. We sent out a mass e-mail, and put up some signs re-directing people to the chapel on Sunday morning.

One other factor was that most of us were feeling pretty “Christmased out”. The avalanche of Christmas specials on TV, the carols in the stores that started playing this year back in September, the sales, the decorations, the parties, the whole nine yards of American hyper-celebration. Our meeting didn’t stand aside from all this, either – our young people put on a creative and hugely successful Christmas dinner theater. Our choir had a wonderful Christmas music Sunday. We packed the worship room for our Christmas Eve candlelight service. We were “all in” for Christmas this year, but by New Year’s Eve we all felt a little trashed – the pastor included.

So, we moved into a different and slightly unfamiliar space for worship. We still had about a dozen poinsettias left (most of them had gone home the week before), so we put them on the windowsills. I thought some people might be chilly – people in North Carolina get cold any time the outdoor temperature drops below 30 degrees – so I put a bunch of shawls and blankets up on the railing of the facing bench. Best of all, I brought in a couple of rocking chairs from my office.

No one really wanted yet another sermon about the meaning of Christmas, so we ditched the sermon. Instead, I read the story of the wise people who came seeking the newborn baby Jesus, and played a bunch of carols which were new to most of the people at worship that day – the Holly Tree Carol, The Friendly Beasts and the ancient carol, The Miraculous Harvest. They were surprised when I told them that I Wonder As I Wander was collected in nearby Murphy, North Carolina, by the pioneering folklorist, John Jacob Niles.

One of my deepest convictions is that Christ came not just for Christians in America, but for people everywhere in the world, so we sang Silent Night in several languages. I shared the new carol I wrote this year, A Christmas Blessing. And we all joined in singing O Come, All Ye Faithful.

Instead of being spread out thinly in a chilly room, we were just a little bit crowded in the chapel, and it felt great. Two of our older members beamed at everyone from the rocking chairs – it felt more like a family get-together in a living room than like a church. Or is church supposed to feel that way?

Altogether, it was a wonderful morning, and people lingered after meeting longer than usual to ask about each others’ families and to wish each other a happy New Year.

Answering

One of the most popular phrases in the Quaker grab bag is “answering that of God in everyone”. It dates back to George Fox and the first generation of Friends in the 1650’s. The idea is that wherever we go, we have opportunities to speak to people and listen to their hearts. Whatever our differences, we will find something in common – a spark of God – which is similar to the fire in our own hearts.

Last month I had several experiences of this. The first was when I found a serious leak in one of the drain lines in the basement at the parsonage. Somehow, when the building was being renovated last year, one of the workers must have cut off the line and instead of closing up the cutoff end, just left it and went on to some other task. Every time we took a shower, the water was coming out in a little waterfall down in the crawl space.

I called the plumber and he came the next day. It wasn’t a difficult repair, maybe 10 or 15 minutes. I sat on the basement steps and talked with him while he fixed the drain. He knew that I’m a Quaker pastor, and he talked about a conflict which had left him deeply shaken – so much so that while he still believed in God, he could no longer pray or go to his church.

He talked, and I listened. I said a few things which seemed to help. He asked me to pray for him, so we prayed together down in the basement – maybe that’s where the best prayers need to take place. When he left, his heart seemed a lot lighter. I want to call him in a few days and see how he’s doing.

Last Sunday morning, my wife called me just before Sunday School was about to start. She said she thought she saw someone standing under the tree in our back yard. Our neighborhood has a lot of good people in it, but it also has a lot of crime and other bad things, so she didn’t want to check it out herself.

I walked over, and saw a woman huddled down on the ground under our tree. Many of the families in our neighborhood are immigrants from Pakistan, who came here to work in the factories in our area. This woman was dressed in traditional clothing, and she was crying uncontrollably – the kind of wracking, heart-stopping grief that you read about but seldom see.

I walked up slowly, and got down on the ground a few feet away. I didn’t want her to be scared, and most Muslim women in this area are careful not to speak to men. I spoke as gently as I could and said, “My sister, what is the matter? Can I help?”

She shook her head and kept crying. After a minute, she said, “My English not so good. I cannot explain.”

I said, “Is someone ill? Has someone died?”

She sobbed some more and said, “No. It is my oldest son. He. . .it is not good with him. He is smoking.”

I asked, “Is it tobacco? Or something else? Is it drugs?” She nodded hard. Her son, in his 20’s, has started using drugs, and she was heartbroken.

I couldn’t help much because of the language barrier, but I said that God is merciful (one of the shared beliefs in both Christianity and Islam), and perhaps God will help. She clung to that like a life preserver and said, “Pray for me.”

People in our community are often afraid of our Pakistani neighbors, but when I told folks at meeting for worship that morning, they all agreed to pray. Another opportunity, another opening.

After meeting was over, I went out to see if she was still there, and she had gone. But two people came strolling out of the meeting cemetery, looking around with interest. I walked up to them and introduced myself. One was a middle-aged African-American woman who said she lived just down the street, and the other was a friend of hers from Connecticut who was visiting. They had seen the old buildings and wanted to know what went on here.

I gave them the two-minute elevator speech about Friends that I’ve given so many times, and they asked more questions. I offered to give them a tour of the meetinghouse, and they were excited – neither of them had ever been in a Quaker place of worship. They asked more and more questions – about the Underground Railroad, about women’s rights, about discernment and Quaker migrations and peace and quiet prayer. Not bad for a casual encounter.

One way for Friends to grow again is for us to be more open to the opportunities to reach out and listen, to be ready and willing to pray, to have prepared ourselves with basic information for people who want to know about us, to share the love of God on a simple human level.

As George put it so well, so many years ago:

“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”

P.S. – the plumber never sent me a bill.

What went wrong with Friends?

As I have said in so many posts on this blog, a spirit of separation has taken over Friends. Once one of the most united bodies in the entire Christian family, Quakers in this generation have increasingly decided that they are better off not having anything to do with each other.

It’s been growing for quite some time. In early 1980’s, the worship wars were mainly over music. As years went by, Friends hardened positions over theology, politics, and sexuality until we reached the point where Friends decided we can’t be friends any more.

In my opinion, the change has been largely driven by pastors – most separations are driven by a small group of leaders rather than by a groundswell of broad feeling.

Separation has also been driven by sheer weariness – unending conflicts, relentless griping, non-stop fault-finding, nitpicking over details, and personal attacks against leaders.

Finances are also a major contributing factor to our breakdown – many more Quaker organizations all asking for money, plus the pressure of yearly meeting budgets based on head-count which actively discourages local meetings from adding new members. I have seen dozens of local meetings where the yearly meeting askings amounted to more than 15% of the local meeting budget – and I have heard hundreds of Friends asking what their yearly meeting is really doing for them.

Several yearly meetings have collapsed from the sheer weight of their books of Faith and Practice, which spell out in excruciating detail about structures which stopped functioning decades ago and battles over historical statements of faith which nobody reads.

Yearly meetings imploded when the number of appointments and committee slots to fill became greater (sometimes 2 or 3 times greater) than the number of people who were reluctantly willing to be appointed.

For more than 30 years, I was always the youngest member of any Quaker board I served on – a symptom that Quaker organizations were no longer attracting the energy or the interest of the next generation. It’s not that younger Friends don’t have concerns, but most of our Quaker organizations have failed dramatically in capturing their interest.

In much of my work with Friends, local meetings are widely scattered and isolated, and people are hungry for opportunities to worship together, build friendships and work on common concerns. Pastoral exchanges, traveling Friends, Young Friends events and visitors were so welcome! I’m still a newcomer in North Carolina, but my impression is that Friends here are reluctant to cooperate or visit. Meetings here are physically closer together, and Friends in North Carolina are scared that other meetings will poach or steal members from each other – a fear that is all too well-founded in some cases.

The life expectancy of many Quaker organizations is dwindling – even our yearly meetings, which for almost 400 years have been the bedrock of organized Quaker activity. Meetings are choosing sides and separating, or choosing to go it alone.

But to use John Donne’s famous phrase, “no man is an island” is equally true of local meetings. No congregation is an island, separate unto itself. We need each other to survive, to stay fresh, to remind ourselves of who we are, to do projects together which are too big for one small group. Friends who attack and destroy organizations without building something better are irresponsible.

What’s happened? Worshiping together stopped being the glue. Gatherings stopped being fun. We focused on building budgets rather than relationships, and we told people how much they had to give instead of asking what they could manage. We didn’t ask our young people what they wanted to do. We wasted endless time and energy on attacking leaders. We were afraid. We listened to people who wanted to divide, and we didn’t have faith that God wants to keep us together.

None of this was inevitable, and Quakers in different places are trying to rebuild. But it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be a lot harder if we don’t learn from our mistakes.

Have we learned anything?

Quakers don’t seem to learn. There have been several major divisions in the last few years over conflicts related to sexual issues and faith – in Western Yearly Meeting (2003-2009), Indiana Yearly Meeting (2008-2013), North Carolina Yearly Meeting (2016), and currently in Northwest Yearly Meeting.

I don’t know what your position is on these issues. Quakers are all over the map, which should be no surprise at all by now – an old joke goes that in any group of 10 Quakers, there will be at least 15 opinions.

What bothers me is that Quakers have refused to learn from experience – the experience of our own generation, repeated multiple times in numerous bodies. I’m not surprised that we don’t agree – I’m just surprised that we haven’t figured out that this disagreement is apparently normal, and that we keep hammering at each other in an effort to create and enforce a uniformity which isn’t about to happen any time soon.

I’m not pushing for anyone who reads this to agree with how I interpret the Bible on these issues. What I’d like to point out are the practical lessons which Quakers across the board in this generation haven’t figured out.

  1. Division means loss – fewer members for everyone. Friends who advocate division almost always claim that we will be stronger if we break into more theologically uniform groups. In practice, every division I’m aware of has led to a drastic loss of membership. When a yearly meeting divides, there aren’t just two groups – a bunch of Quakers simply leave altogether. In the two yearly meetings I’ve studied most closely (Indiana and North Carolina) there was an overall loss of nearly 30% of the total membership.
  2. In a division, many meetings choose to not to belong to any yearly meeting. We don’t know what their future will be. A few, with considerable effort, manage to retain their Quaker identity. Many eventually disband, or become generic community churches.
  3. Attacking individuals and meetings only makes things worse. I’ve seen a number of campaigns to “get rid of the problem” by attempting to rescind the credentials of Quaker ministers or expel local meetings which don’t toe the line. This makes sense to Friends who are intent on closing ranks and cleaning house, but it doesn’t work very well on a yearly meeting scale. Other Friends rush to their defense, and the whole conflict becomes personal and bogs down.
  4. When you start making threats to leave or withhold funds, the game is over. In several yearly meeting conflicts, large meetings have threatened to pull out if they don’t get their way, or groups of meetings have announced that they will hold back funds to the yearly meeting until the conflict is settled. These tactics are seen by other Friends as little more than playground bullying.
  5. Appealing to Faith and Practice as the “rule book” may work tactically, but it doesn’t fix the real conflict. I’ve seen this tried in almost every yearly meeting I’ve ever been a part of. It’s usually seen as manipulative by the losing side. Appealing to the rules may work for the moment, but it doesn’t bring Friends back together. Changing the rules to get what you want, or ignoring Quaker process altogether, is also always seen as unfair and makes division almost inevitable.
  6. In a division, ministries and missions always suffer. In spite of the fact that these are usually the most popular part of a yearly meeting, when Quakers start talking about division, funding and interest goes down, participation drops, and gifted mission workers and ministers and their families suffer. Youth programs, schools and cooperative efforts of all kinds which have taken generations to build can be destroyed.
  7. As a practical matter, time and generational change seem to be on the side of welcoming/affirming Friends. For most Quakers under the age of 40, this is a non-issue. And for many Quakers, it’s mostly about family or close friends or co-workers – they refuse to condemn people they love. They may not have any other agenda. Federal and state laws have changed, major employers pay no attention to sexual identity, a lot of society has moved on.
  8. Quakers aren’t the only ones dealing with these issues. Other denominations are having the same problems, and they’re often making the same mistakes and refusing to learn from them. Why we think we need to re-invent the wheel, have the same conflicts, and then be surprised by the outcome is really beyond me.

Here are a few positive lessons which I wish Quakers would pick up on:

  1. Being connected matters. Belonging and being active in some kind of organization is better than belonging to none. Friends may need to find ways to change or re-purpose our structures so that we can continue to pray together and to do ministry and mission together.
  2. Ignore the boundaries. When Indiana Yearly Meeting broke up, one of the first things that happened is that the United Society of Friends Women announced that they were going to continue to meet and work together. When everybody else is set on dividing, find new ways to work together, worship together, and get to know each other.
  3. Respect each other. During a conflict, Quakers usually try to follow this, but it often breaks down in private. I’ve heard a lot of vicious name-calling, demonizing and attributing of malicious intent during Quaker conflicts. Genuine respect for the motives of people I disagree with goes a long way towards keeping things on a more even keel.
  4. Choose your Bible texts carefully. Most of us are familiar with the texts having to do with sexuality, and we’re not likely to change each others’ minds about how they should be interpreted. If we want to find our way through conflict, maybe we need to look at some different Bible passages. My personal favorites which I recommend to Friends are Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17:11), the description of how conflict was handled in Acts (Acts 10 and 11, also Acts 15:1-35), Paul’s counsel on handling disagreement (Romans 14-15), and Paul’s advice on discerning what spirit is present in a group (Galatians 5:13-23).

Disclaimer

All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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