Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What’s Your Tag Say?

Look at the tags on your clothing—where are your clothes made?  In China?  Central America?  The US?  Do you have any idea of who made your clothing and what his or (more likely) her life is like?

These are the questions that Kelsey Timmerman ( asked us at Peace Forum on March 24th when he came to speak about his book Where Am I Wearing?  A frequent international traveler, Kelsey wanted to know where his clothing was made and what the lives of garment workers are really like.  At Peace Forum, he shared stories of the people he met in garment factories and ideas about we can be thoughtful consumers of clothing.  The stories speak for themselves: In Bangladesh Kelsey met a mother who made only $25 a month and had to send her eldest son to work in the Middle East in order to make enough money to live on.  He met a couple in China who has not seen their son for 3 years because they work 100 hours a week at a garment factory.  As he explained to us, China’s workweek is limited to 42 hours, but factory owners simply tell workers that they must clock out and keep working . . . or new workers will replace them.  Friends at Common MealWe also heard the story of a woman in Cambodia who earns $50 a month as a garment worker.  While $50 is enough to support a single person in Cambodia, she supports 10 family members with this wage.

Kelsey’s writing is focused more on educated people about the consequences of their choices rather than suggesting a specific path they should take.  Strongly believing myself that the answer usually lies not in extremes but in balance, I appreciate this approach.  Kelsey makes it clear that there are no easy answers, but clothing choice is an ethical decision and consumers should make a conscious choice.

The “what ifs” are endless and not very encouraging: If Americans buy only US-made goods, foreign garment workers risk losing their jobs.  If workers demand higher wages, cost of production rises and American companies may look to other countries and other factories to fill their orders.  If American clothing companies offer slightly more expensive “fair-trade” items, they raise a simple question: “well if these jeans are made by workers getting a living wage . . . how are your other jeans made?”  Additionally, inspecting and certifying garment factories raises a whole host of issues about accountability and standards (for an example, see organic farming).  In the end, Kelsey suggests that consumers ask questions about where their clothing comes from, explore organizations that produce clothing at a living wage (see his website for a list), and make it clear to companies that they care about these issues.
Perhaps the best thing he pointed out to us is that sweatshops are not necessarily bad.  Timmerman visited a garment factory in Cambodia, but also visited the city dump, where people looked through trash to find recyclables.  Is working long hours in a garment factory better than digging through a dump? These jobs are a blessing for many workers, and sometimes a garment factory job in bad conditions or long hours is the difference between a family living and starving.

The speaker was preceded by a meditation on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which took place March 25th, 1911 (  Seminary students read the names of all 146 people who died.  It was a sobering way to begin a presentation, although2011 ESR Spirituality Gathering uplifting to think of the improvements in laws around organizing workers and demanding fair wage and good working conditions made after this tragedy.  The presentation was an important reminder that not every country has similar laws in place, and that we practice our ethics by how we choose to spend our money.

So, what is your clothes-buying philosophy?  If you had unlimited money (ha!), how would your habits change?  How do our spending habits relate to our (Christian) ethics?  What do you think ideal should happen with garment factories as globalization continues?  Are there areas other than clothing where you feel that your faith leads you to particular consumer decisions?

For myself, I buy clothing as infrequently as possible and frankly don’t worry too much about where it comes from.  I should.  Most of the “fair wages” kind of clothing I’ve seen out there does not fit my body well and is not suitable for working in a professional environment.  Given this, I appreciate Kelsey’s acknowledgement that garment factories in and of themselves are not evil, and agree that I would be willing to pay more for my clothing if I knew that money went directly to the workers.  Thoughts?

Valerie HurwitzValerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Voices from the ESR Access Community (Part 1)

By Valerie Hurwitz
In January, I asked some of our Access students attending the January intensive courses to talk about their classes. The results were illuminating, as people talked about how their classes challenged them and open their eyes to new ways of looking at things.  The May intensive is coming up, May 16-27. For Access students or residential students who attend intensives, do you have any tips for taking intensive courses, travel, or comments on the videos? Anyone planning on coming to the May intensive? What class do you plan on taking?
Angelina Carpenter (Knoxville, TN)
Kevin Ring (Lynchburg, VA)
Patty Willis (Amado, Arizona)
Valerie HurwitzValerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Friday, March 25, 2011

An Invitation to Quaker Spring

By Deborah Haines

Have you heard about Quaker Spring?

For the past four summers, Quaker Spring (formerly called QuakerCamp) has been held in Barnesville, Ohio. This year we will be gathering on the campus of the Meeting School in Rindge, New Hampshire, from Friday, June 17 through Wednesday, June 22. Everyone is welcome!

So, what is Quaker Spring? It’s an opportunity for Friends to come together to sit at the feet of the Inward Teacher, to explore the inward landscape, to listen to the winds of the Spirit. We have worship and Bible study in the morning, time in the afternoon for conversation (or play, or rest), and evenings devoted to group discernment. Folks at Quaker SpringOften there’s singing, or dancing, or picnicking. It’s a time to rejoice in God’s goodness, and to know each other in that which is eternal.

To some extent, Quaker Spring grew out of my personal frustration with the frenetic pace of the Friends General Conference Gathering. I love lots of things about the Gathering, but it’s enormously complicated. It requires the work of several staff people, which makes it expensive, and hundreds of volunteers, which makes it very busy. Why so much programming, when all God requires of us is to be present in love?

So a group of us decided to try something different: a simple, inexpensive Quaker gathering with no workshops, no plenary speakers, no staff, as little overhead as possible, and lots of time to be present to each other and to God. It would be an informal, worship-centered version of the FGC Gathering, a time to find out what Spirit-led Quakerism is all about.

For our setting, we chose Barnesville, Ohio, where we could worship in Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Stillwater meetinghouse, camp out, or sleep in the dorms of Olney Friends School, eat in the school cafeteria, and take long walks through the woods and pastures. We planned just enough of a daily schedule to provide an underlying rhythm for our time together. YAFs at Quaker SpringWe wanted to create a framework that would gently remind us not to get lost in busyness, but to look deeper, and to experience the spaciousness of God’s time.

I think we called it “Quaker Camp” because of my memories of a weekend I spent in the woods with a group of Girl Scout leaders years ago. There was really nothing to do all weekend but cook meals and take walks. It was beautiful. There was time enough for everything, and time to spare. It helped me rediscover the joy of simply being alive.

But many people seemed to interpret “camp” as “highly organized activity for children,” which wasn’t what we intended at all, although families are most welcome. In 2009, we decided we needed another name. During deep worship together we found ourselves drawn to a passage from the writings of George Fox that grabbed at my heart when I first read it years ago:

“For there is the flock lying down at noonday, and the feeding of the bread of life, and drinking of the springs of life, when they do not speak words…”

We chose the name Quaker Spring. There is rest for the weary, comfort for the lost and the lonely, nourishment for the faint of heart, livingBridging Generations at Quaker Spring water for the thirsting soul. There is total, trustful dependence on God for everything we need.

I think I used to imagine the flock at rest as a covenant community of the faithful. Maybe I was hoping to find my true flock at Quaker Camp. But the experience of Quaker Camp/Quaker Spring has helped me understand that I am not personally called to covenant community, although others may be. It has been laid on me that I am not to choose who should or should not belong to my flock.

My own meeting, fractious as it is, is my beloved flock, and so is Quaker Spring, and so is any other group I find myself worshiping with. God does the gathering. All we have to do (the challenge and the joy) is to stop running around bleating at each other and simply settle down in the presence of the living Christ. We can experience that blessed rest anytime, anywhere, if we are willing.

A few years ago I was troubled to hear a valued Friend complain that worship in her meeting didn’t feed her soul. I prayed and worried about it and eventually came to two conclusions. First, complaining is fundamentally incompatible with worship.The Day's Agenda And second, we come to worship to learn from the Inward Teacher who knows our every need. If we are not being fed in meeting, it may be that we are not attending to the One who is right there among us, holding out to us the Bread of Life.

These two understandings—that complaining undermines worship, and that we need to attend to the Inward Teacher instead of relying on each other’s wisdom—are deeply woven into the expectations of Quaker Spring. We do not come together to tell each other the truth as we conceive it, but to invite everyone into the place where truth is revealed. We do not come to find a refuge from Quaker meetings we find unsatisfying. We come simply for the joy of being together in the presence of God.

Is Quaker Spring a Christian Quaker gathering? Christian-Universalist might be closer, although theology is really not the point. To me, Christ is the Word spoken at the moment of creation, the Light that lights everyone coming into the world, the manifestation of God wherever we find it. In my experience, God’s love is infinite and all-inclusive; it is no more possible to step outside the circle of God’s love than it is to step outside the universe. As John Woolman said:

“There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names…. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity.”

There are Christ-centered Friends who might find Quaker Spring a challenge because we do not define a circle that bounds us. There are liberal Friends who might find it a challenge because the living Christ, After Worship at Quaker Springwhom some call Jesus and some call Light, is indisputably the foundation stone.

Quaker Spring is intended for those who are willing to go deeper than words, to set aside judgment for a time, and simply experience God’s mercy. “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust….Be ye therefore perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Who are we to judge? Why not just gather in contentment and humility, to see what Spirit has to teach us?

So Quaker Spring is open to everyone. Come if you are weary, or thirsty, or lost, or full of the joy of spiritual discovery and longing to share. During this week there will be time enough and time to spare. As Kenyan Friends like to say: God is good (All the time); All the time (God is good).

Deborah HainesDeborah Haines is clerk of Alexandria Monthly Meeting, Baltimore Yearly Meeting. She was one of the founding organizers of Quaker Spring in 2007. She serves on Quaker Spring’s ongoing planning committee.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Some Thoughts on Rieger and the Austrians

A partial review of Joerg Rieger's No Rising Tide

By Matt Hisrich

In preparation for the 2011 Willson Lectures at ESR I tracked down and have been reading a copy of Joerg Rieger’s book No Rising Tide: Theology, Economics, and the Future. I have been interested in the ideas of liberation theology since my days at ESR, where I wrestled with the work of Gustavo Gutiérrez. Whereas Gutiérrez and others such as No Rising Tide - by Joerg RiegerLeonardo Boff represent what could be deemed the “first generation” of liberation theologians, Rieger and Jung Mo Sung are examples of a resurgence of activity around the core ideas of liberation theology – an intriguing development all on its own.

Aside from a general interest in matters of theology, part of my interest in liberation theology generally has to do with its explicit effort to connect economic concepts to faith. Having a background in economics and public policy before coming to ESR and continuing to seek out and address the intersections of these disciplines during and since I cannot help but be drawn to the work of Rieger and others engaged in similar work. What is of particular interest to me in the work of both Rieger and Sung, however, are their comments regarding the Austrian School of Economics. I first became acquainted with the ideas of the Austrian School in high school and it was these ideas that led me to study economics in undergrad and explore the overlaps with theology in seminary.

Now, I should preface all of the thoughts I am about to share with a number of caveats:

1) While I have come across Rieger’s work in several different contexts I have not completed a thorough analysis of his whole body of research and therefore these comments are limited to the contents of No Rising Tide alone;

2) I think both the general principles of liberation theology and how those are employed within the work of specific theologians and in specific texts such as No Rising Tide merit a much broader consideration but I will attempt to limit my comments here to Rieger’s discussion of the Austrian School only;

3) I am sympathetic to his critique of empire and have benefitted from spending time with his book; but

4) Just as I have found a theological home in Quakerism, I have found an economic home in the Austrian School, and these positions necessarily inform my understanding and color my analysis; and, finally

5) I am neither a professional economist nor a professional theologian and so I enter into this discussion knowing that I may well be in over my head.

So, what can be said about Rieger’s discussion of the Austrian School in No Rising Tide? In short, while his presentation of the Austrian School is important to the overall structure of his argument (as with Sung’s in Desire, Market and Religion), it nonetheless requires a fundamental distortion of the ideas of the Austrian School that unfortunately weakens his argument and reveals a lack of familiarity with important concepts in economic thought that are essential to Rieger’s project of critiquingfree-market economics.

Here is why:

- Rieger sets up an “us v. them” dynamic in attacking what he defines as mainstream economics and praising what he defines as heterodox economics – from institutionalism to Marxism. According to his interpretation, every school that he sees as questioning markets is heterodox and therefore offers something positive while any school that he sees as generally supporting markets – from Austrian to Chicago – is mainstream and therefore problematic. This creates two problems for Rieger. First, it puts him in an awkward position with regard to Keynesian economics (which I would argue holds far more sway in contemporary economic thought and public policy than he seems to feel it does). This is because Keynesians essentially seek to use the tools of state intervention to save capitalism from itself because left to its own devices it will destroy itself, and Keynesian economics and neoclassical economics have in many regards merged. Is such a position one that supports or questions markets? The ambiguity is clear in Rieger’s comments.Joerg Rieger Second, it forces him to conflate schools of thought that are not nearly as compatible as he would seem to suggest – namely the neoclassical and Austrian Schools, the latter of which is generally considered a heterodox school outside of Rieger’s analysis.

- At this point, it would be fair to ask why Rieger (and Sung) include a discussion of the relatively small Austrian School at all. This is an important point. Much of what Rieger criticizes with regard to empire and market has a lot more to do with a mercantilist hybrid of state and business interests, not with truly free markets (the same could also be said of more popular theologians such as John Dominic Crossan).  But whether Rieger fails to understand this distinction or chooses to ignore it for the sake of his argument, what he appears to want to critique in the book is free markets and not mercantilism. Unfortunately, schools of economic thought that advocate for genuinely free-market positions are few and far between. To accomplish this goal he must employ the Austrians for the sake of rhetorical power alone, using their words as a stand-in for what he wishes genuinely mainstream neoclassical economists would actually have said.

- It is possible that Rieger’s understanding of the Austrian School lacks sufficient depth to fully comprehend the distinction, for it is clear that he draws from only one economist from the school (Friedrich Hayek) to represent the whole, and he even goes so far as to use Capitalism for Beginners as a source for one of his Hayek quotes. Setting aside developments in the school since the era of Hayek, that one can bring in a discussion of the Austrian School without even mentioning its central figure, Ludwig von Mises, is telling. Just to provide one example of how Mises might have informed Rieger’s analysis, here is a quote from No Rising Tide: “A deregulated economy has been allowed to produce an imperial bubble where the stock market, the housing market, and the lending sector built forms of power that were more and more disconnected from real values and real life;” and one from Mises’s Human Action, “Nothing harmed the cause of liberalism more than the almost regular return of feverish booms and of the dramatic breakdown of bull markets followed by lingering slumps. Public opinion has become convinced that such happenings are inevitable in the unhampered market economy. People did not conceive that what they lamented was the necessary outcome of policies directed toward a lowering of the rate of interest by means of credit expansion. They stubbornly kept to these policies and tried in vain to fight their undesired consequences by more and more government interference.” Nonetheless, even working with Hayek alone it should become clear that the system Rieger seeks to attack as a tragically deregulated market bears little resemblance to what Hayek understands as a market free from state intervention. As Hayek commented in 1935, “[I]t is a fallacy to suppose capitalism as it exists today is the alternative. We are certainly as far from capitalism in its pure form as we are from any system of central planning. The world of today is just interventionist chaos."

To close, I do think that liberation theology adds to the richness of the theological landscape and should not be ignored as such. Nonetheless, as a proponent of this view Rieger would be more convincing if he displayed a greater depth of economic knowledge. In particular, if he chooses to single out particular schools for criticism, it would behoove him to devote significant attention to the origins and contributions of those schools if he seeks to level effective critiques. Austrian economists have contributed much to the study of how war, oppression, and poverty are connected to naïve or intentional use of state power for supposedly positive ends. That Rieger finds it necessary to ignore these contributions in order to advance his thesis ought to be of concern to anyone seeking to think through how economies can or should function in light of ethical standards and Christian faith. If readers are interested in a critique of Austrian economics from a faith perspective, I would recommend Charles McDaniel’s God & Money: The Moral Challenge of Capitalism. While I don’t agree with his conclusions, it is clear the McDaniel spent considerable time trying to understand and confront the core ideas of the school.

Having spent some time with Rieger’s written work, I am looking forward to the chance to hear him in person at ESR this April. I have no doubt it will be an interesting discussion!

Matt Hisrich is the Ministerial Advocate for Indiana Yearly Meeting. He lives in Richmond, Indiana, with his wife and two daughters, and is a member of First Friends Meeting there. Matt is a graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan and ESR, where he received his MDiv in teaching and theology. Prior to enrolling in seminary, he worked with non-profit public policy organizations in Indiana, Kansas, and Ohio.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Preparing Leaders to Think Theologically

By Jay Marshall

In an increasingly diverse world, how can theological education prepare leaders to work spiritually and practically with people from different backgrounds and different faiths?

Theological education forms how one views God, self, others, and the world. Even more, it shapes how one understands the interactions between each of these participants within life’s sandbox. I think that may be the most powerful contribution theological education makes to the preparation of leaders. Skills are important, but framing how we perceive, critique, and reflect, informs one’s decisions and consequently, one’s actions.

At least four questions underlie this one about a leader’s work with diversity, and the answers given to the four will greatly determine how the one may be answered. Those four are: What is the purpose of theological education? What is a leader’s work? How does leadership intersect with spirituality and practicality? How do we conceive of relationships with the “other?”

There is no one, universal answer to the question of how to offer theological education. Some programs exist to promote the doctrine of a particular denomination. Others wrestle with theological questions with an academic thrust apart from connection to a living faith tradition. Of course, there are a myriad of positions between those two poles. Two key elements of theological education at ESR are rooted firmly within our accreditation standards: spiritual formation of the student, and development of an awareness of context. As those two intertwine, theological education invests much energy into helping students come to know themselves and to become clear on their place and stance within the culture. One facet of the process involves introducing students to people, classmates, readings, and practices that have or represent different points of view than that of the students. A valuable outcome of engaging with different viewpoints is, in addition to learning about a different tradition, we come to know ourselves more truly. As those knowledge bases are honed alongside one’s understanding of God, theological education ultimately helps those it forms to live with integrity of conviction.

Conviction, though, can be an unstable element in the equation. Perhaps it is usually or even always an unstable element. Conviction drives the one convicted. This can create volatility—not necessarily a bad thing, though when it seeks to convince by domination or suppression, conviction may cross the line of acceptable behavior if being respectful of divergent points of view is to be valued. While the expression of conviction can create tension, coming to the point of knowing one’s own convictions is a useful, even essential, process as part of theological education.  I am of the opinion that the better we understand our own reasons for being persons of faith and the truths we hold, the less troubled we are by lack of uniformity in the beliefs of others (unless we stake out an exclusivist position in which only one way, and of course by “one” we mean “our” way is holy enough gain Divine acceptance). When we can finally sit with the unanswerable questions without fear, fight, or flight, our need for neatly gift-wrapped answers decreases, as does the unease created when others’ beliefs do not match our own. Having reached a place of internal knowing, we can articulate our point of view while allowing space for others to do the same. This is a position of confidence and strength, but appropriately humble as well; even as we know why we think as we do and are convinced of the truth, we are deeply aware of the limits of our knowledge. Pride and arrogance simply aren’t options.

This leads us directly to the second question: “What is the leader’s work?” Simply stated, it is to live with integrity of conviction, according to the gifts given and the calls to ministry received. Good theological education accompanies students’ quests to discern those gifts and hear those calls. Particularly when those gifts take one outside of traditional ministry contexts where the work has a specific “religious” nature, the intersection of leadership with spirituality can become more complex. In conversations with students in classes on leadership, one hurdle to always be crossed is broadening the view of faith within leadership as something other than religious jargon or pietistic expressions that sometimes seem disingenuous. It is a conversation that typically moves the participants to consider issues of authority, communication, relationships, and values. Once those are considered as integral to formation and expression of faith--as lived spirituality--then spirituality and practicality are virtually inseparable. A leader’s work in the world is always, on the most basic level, an expression of his or her spirituality.

This connects with the fourth question: How do we conceive of relationships with the “other?” By other, I mean those of different faith backgrounds and faiths. The answer to this question connects tightly with the nature of the theological education one receives. Theological education, remember, considers spiritual formation of the student to be an essential part of the educational process. The assumptions held and transmitted by the educators will be extremely influential in shaping the minds, hearts, and ministries of its graduates. If the curriculum is rooted in an exclusivist point of view, it is entirely conceivable that theological education may not prepare persons to work with diverse backgrounds and faiths at all (allowing, of course, that in these contexts students might take a contrarian position and move to a dissenting position).

Exclusivist perspectives might refuse to work with those of differing points of view. Or, they may work with them; having in mind that the ultimate goal is to convert the other to their point of view (conviction running rampant!). A more inclusive outcome, and preferable given my own set of convictions, is that the theologically formed leader who offers her or his ministry with some degree of confidence and conviction is able to engage in God’s work alongside whomever is encountered along the way. With clarity of belief and truthfulness, with awareness of those points on the horizon where clouds of unknowing are most dense, well-formed leaders are capable of making their contribution alongside a variety of partners. They find common ground, staring simply with their humanity and their sharing of space in God’s creation. From there, in most cases, respectful conversation will divulge shared values that provide a place to stand in unity without compromising integrity. Except in the most extreme circumstances, that is usually sufficient to allow good, faithful, collaborative work to unfold without threatening diversity or undermining particularity.

6Jay Marshall is Dean of Earlham School of Religion and a native of North Carolina. Before beginning his service at ESR, he was a pastor in Western Yearly Meeting.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reasons Quakers Don’t Read the Bible

By Paul Buckley

Originally published as the introduction in Buckley, Paul, ed., The Quaker Bible Reader (Richmond: Earlham School of Religion Publications), 2006.  Used with permission of the author and publisher.

Modern Quakers do not neglect books in general.  Professionally, Friends are found in academic and other intellectual professions well out of proportion to their numbers in the population.  In any moderately sized collection of Quakers, there is likely to be at least one librarian.  Nor are Friends uninterested in spiritual matters.  A quick review of the materials offered in the various Quaker bookstores reveals long lists of books on spirituality, Quaker biography, other religious biographies, devotionals, guides to spiritually-based social action, and a variety of religious study materials for all ages.  But listening to conversations, especially among more liberal Friends, might give the impression that more copies are sold of the Gnostic gospels than those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

While the Bible used to enjoy a privileged position in the English-speaking world, today’s world is vastly different.  Even beyond the constant and unavoidable impingements of non-print media in our lives, the competition for a reader’s attention is enormous.  Our lives are flooded with books, newspapers, magazines, catalogs, mail, email, text-messages, and more.  In modern America, discarded print material is the single largest source of consumer garbage.  As a spiritual resource, the Bible competes with abundant other sources, from traditional writings to the products of self-help gurus.  Within the category of sacred works, the Bible now shares shelf space with the scriptures of other religions.  This diminished role makes itself apparent in everyday life.  While in the seventeenth century, scriptural quotes and allusions were the commonplace of daily conversation and literary works, today’s popular culture recycles lines from songs, jingles, slogans, and advertising.

Competition with other resources aside, however, I believe one of the principal reasons many Friends do not read the Bible is they do not have any idea how to approach the Bible as Quakers.  Some have never been introduced to it.  Other may have learned at an earlier time in their lives to read the Bible in a particular way.  For various reasons, they have come to reject that way of reading and, in rejecting the interpretation, they have thrown the text out with it.

Many people had their first encounter with the Bible in a Sunday School (or, as Quakers call it, a First Day School) class.  In this setting, the stories are reformulated to present a simple lesson for a young mind.  Complexity is rooted out, and a single, simple message—appropriate to a child’s understanding—is emphasized.  Only a small sampling of the whole is presented: Adam and Eve, the flood, Moses parting the sea, and Jesus feeding thousands with a few loaves and fishes are popular; Joshua conquering the Canaanites and the vivid images of the Apocalypse are not.  There are implicit or explicit theological assumptions underlying the selection and rewording of the Bible stories, but these are invisible to a child.  In fact, a young child hearing a Bible story is not likely to be taught that there is any interpretation involved.  Children do not interpret stories, they just listen to them.  It would never occur to them to deconstruct Dr. Suess, so why should they treat Bible stories any differently?  As he or she grows, such hidden assumptions may or may not become more apparent.  In any case, they are often very different from the theological assumptions and beliefs that an older child or adult holds.  For some, it is easy to believe that, just as they no longer read picture books, they have likewise outgrown the Bible.

Other Friends learned to read scripture within another faith community before coming into our Society.  This may mean reading the Bible as literally and infallibly true or as a book to be understood only in the light of church traditions and teachings.  (Being brought up Catholic, I fall into the latter category.)  The distinction between the words of scripture and the meanings ascribed to those words is often lost.  Leaving ones spiritual community for another entails giving up certain beliefs, perhaps including those about how to read scripture.  Where text and interpretation have been thoroughly entwined, it may seem to a newly-convinced Quaker that the Bible can no longer speak to his or her spiritual condition.  The God who directed the flood (at least as they were previously taught) cannot be the God who leads them to embrace the Peace Testimony.

Special attention is due to those you tell you that they have “wounded by scripture.”  I have frequently heard women, people of color, poor people, gay men, and lesbians refer to instances when various passages have been used to attack, demean, and belittle them.  Over the years, the Bible’s words have been used to justify verbal, spiritual, emotional, and physical violence.  These attacks do not always issue from the mouths of bigots or intransigent reactionaries, but may come from loving, kind people who were taught “the right way to read the Bible.”  In response, many of those who have felts so assaulted have denied the validity of the claims made in the name of the Bible.  Others, however, accept their attackers’ interpretation as a true reflection of the scriptures themselves.  They then see themselves as faced with a stark choice: to deny themselves or to deny the validity of the book.  It is no surprise that many of these people have chosen to turn away from the scripture.

Others see the Bible as no more than a set of legends and fables, offering insight into the minds of an ancient people and a foreign culture—much like Beowulf or Aesop’s Fables.  The Bible presents western civilization’s myths, but for truth about the world we live in, they turn to science.  Or they may look at the rich variety of other spiritual books and question the special status accorded to the Bible.  Why, they ask, grant it pride of place instead of reading the Koran or the Upanishads or the sacred works of the Druids?

The Goal of This Book*

It may be useful at this point to introduce one technical term: hermeneutics.  Every time someone tells a Bible story, they are engaged—consciously or not—in interpretation.  There is a set of rules that they use to ferret out the meaning of a text.  For example, while “serpent” may just be a fancy name for a snake, to many people the serpent that tempted Eve into eating forbidden fruit is more than a common snake—but what?  Some will tell you the serpent is a devil in disguise.  This interpretation contributes to and supports a particular meaning for the story.  Others consider the role of the serpent as minor and come to different conclusions.  Each set of rules—implicit or explicit, known of subconscious—constitutes what Bible scholars call hermeneutics.

There is no one set of Quaker hermeneutics.  As well be seen in the chapters that follow, there are a number of techniques and approaches to understanding scripture that are consistent with Quaker beliefs and practices.  I hope that this book will provide readers with a sense of the varieties of Quaker hermeneutics—assorted, Friendly ways to read and understand scripture.  But this isn’t the goal of the book.  As Manuel Guzman-Martinez says, “Unfortunately, no one learns in someone else’s shoes.”  Our goal is to help you find your own shoes and put them on.

Find the “Quaker Hermeneutics” that speak to your spiritual condition may allow you to engage the Bible in an honest conversation.  Then you, too, can do “Quaker exegesis”—not passively accepting someone else’s interpretation; not looking for “the good parts” and skipping the rest; not contorting scripture to support predetermined ideas—but entering into a dialogue with this ancient book, exploring your own assumptions about God, and deepening your relationship with the divine.  In the process, I believe you will also come to have a more grounded understanding of who Quakers are and why we believe what we believe.

*(A note from the bloggers--this piece was originally the introduction to an anthology of essays on different ways modern Quakers read the Bible, a purpose clearly referenced in this section.  We have left references to this larger context because keeping the original words and intent seemed better than extensive editing.)

Paul BuckleyPaul Buckley is a writer and translator of Quaker thought. His book Twenty-First Century William Penn has made Penn accessible to many, and he is the editor of the recently re-published Journal of Elias Hicks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bible Among Friends

By Paul Buckley

Originally published as the introduction in Buckley, Paul, ed., The Quaker Bible Reader (Richmond: Earlham School of Religion Publications), 2006.  Used with permission of the author and publisher.

For many Friends, the Bible is a lost resource.  They don’t read it, and they don’t miss it.  This is not a new situation—complaints that too few Friends read or know scripture have been heard consistently for at least the last two-hundred years.  For example, more then fifty years ago, Henry Cadbury, a Quaker and one of the twentieth century’s great biblical scholars, decried this condition in an address at Guilford College.

In some ways, this is a surprising situation.  Friends in the seventeenth century were devoted to their Bibles.  Early Quaker writings seem at times to consist of little more than stringing together selected bits of scripture.  George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends, knew scripture so well that Gerard Croese, in his 1696 book, The General History of the Quakers, makes the claim that “though the Bible were lost, it might be found in the Mouth of George Fox.”  Early Friends, of course, were not unique in their love of the scriptures.  Three hundred and fifty years ago, the Bible was the pre-eminent book in the English-speaking world.  For many people, it was the only readily accessible book and it profoundly influenced views of life, society, history, politics, and the world.  George Fox was far from unique in committing it to memory.
Despite this intimate familiarity with the Bible, the tension between roles of immediate revelation and of the scripture had been present from the very earliest beginning of the Quaker movement.  In the section of his Journal devoted to 1648, George Fox wrote:

I was to direct people to the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures, by which they might be led into all Truth, and so up to Christ and God, as they had been who gave them forth.  … I saw that the grace of God, which brings salvation, had appeared to all men, and that the manifestation of the Spirit of God was given to every man to profit withal.  These things I did not see by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter, but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his immediate Spirit and power… for I was in that Spirit by which they [the scriptures] were given forth, and what the Lord opened to me I afterwards found was agreeable to them.  I could speak much of these things and many volumes might be written but all would prove too short … (p. 34)

Fox is claiming immediate revelation for himself and declaring his mission to be directing all people to know it in themselves.  The final sentence makes it clear that these revelations are more than a mere reiteration of the recorded scriptures.  At the same time, he acknowledges that afterward he found that what had been revealed to him was “agreeable” with scripture.  This formulation—continuing revelation that does not contradict (but may go beyond) the Bible became the Quaker norm and appears in the writings of many other early Friends.  The evolving structures of gospel order did little to provide precise definitions of what was agreeable and what contradicted scripture.  In general, it was left to subgroups within the Society—monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings—to deal with individual cases.  This process led to a degree of local conformity, but no Society-wide standard.

This tension remained unresolved at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  If anything, the cracks were widening as ideas were absorbed from both the Enlightenment and from other Protestant sects.  The events leading up to painful separations in the Society in 1827-28 prominently featured charges and countercharges over how the Bible was read, how it should be read, and how it was properly interpreted—although not over its ultimate status among Friends.  Of course, each side claimed proper use for themselves and charged serious error on the part of their opponents.

Nor are the 1820s unique in this respect.  Today’s structures, organizations, and practices within the Religious Society of Friends are the product of our history.  It is only a slight exaggeration to say that it is impossible to understand Quaker history without having some understanding of Quaker theology and impossible to understand Quaker theology without knowing something of the Bible.  The peace testimony, the practice of simplicity, both silent workship and the elements of programmed worship, and the other hallmarks of twenty-first century Quaker faith and practice were firmly established on biblical foundations.
Even understanding the ways we speak of ourselves depends on scripture. 

Many contemporary Friends take pleasure in referring to themselves as belonging to a “peculiar people.”  But to say we are “peculiar” is not to claim that we are odd.  The phrase is found in both the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) scriptures.  As a Quaker, my favorite example is from the first epistle of Peter, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  We Quakers are well acquainted with that “marvellous light.”  This is, of course, the translation in the King James Version of the Bible.  In modern English versions, “peculiar people” is rendered as “a people belonging to God” or “God’s own people.”  To say we are a peculiar people is to claim that the Religious Society of Friends is the chosen people.

Early Friends indeed made this claim, but we shouldn’t think it was a point of pride.  They knew the implications of being God’s people—it may be an honor, but it is much more a responsibility.  To know the elements of that responsibility, you need look no further than the historic Quaker testimonies.  Early Friends described the testimonies as “peculiarities,” but not to suggest these were mere idiosyncrasies.  These are the obligations that God’s people carry.  A person adopted Quaker dress, speech, and practices as an outward sign of submission to God in all things.

Paul BuckleyPaul Buckley is a writer and translator of Quaker thought. His book Twenty-First Century William Penn has made Penn accessible to many, and he is the editor of the recently re-published Journal of Elias Hicks.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What is the Greatest Challenge Facing the Church?

By David Johns

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the church in our own time is the greatest challenge facing the church at any time: understanding the times and discerning the Spirit in how to respond.

This is not easy work. It requires careful observation and critical thinking. It requires the courage to 'desacralize the status quo,' whether that status quo is in society, nation, cherished denomination, place of employment, or our own heart and assumptions. Until this status quo is desacralized it can not be analyzed, and until analyzed it can not be determined to be just or unjust, that is, whether it is in step with the gospel message of life and hope, or whether it is simply another means for exploitation and idolatry.

A seminary education can help us consider differently what is the sacred, how to see clearly and to evaluate faithfully, and how to know more profoundly the gospel of life.

Here is the difference, however. Some programs of study place emphasis either upon the analysis or upon the action. When we are at our best -and we strive often, I think, to evaluate whether we are so doing -  ESR attempts to bring these together, understanding the times, and discerning the Spirit in how to respond. It is easier to give our attention to only one piece of the equation, but that is not in the long run going to form women and men prepared to address creatively the challenge of being the people of God in our time.

David JohnsDavid Johns is Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. He has traveled extensively among Friends in Mexico and Central America and is a regular contributor to Quaker Religious Thought. He resides in Richmond, Indiana with his family.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spirituality Gathering: “Leaps and Bounds: Faith, Ecology and the Global Economy”

By Diane Reynolds
Artist and activist Tevyn East used modern dance, song, movement and story-telling to embody earth care as the keynote performer at Saturday’s Spirituality Gathering. East, a member of the Church of the Tevyn East performing Leaps and BoundsSavior and the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, appeared joyous and sometimes radiant as she absorbed herself into an hour of using her body and voice to express sorrow, wonder and hope over the fate of the earth. Borrowing words and images from Torah, Jesus, and peace advocates such as Ghandi, East encouraged her audience to care for creation as a creative and spiritual practice.
After her performance, East invited onlookers to share practical issues that block their paths to living more simply.  Answers included not wanting to give up privacy to share space to not knowing who could most benefit from produce from our gardens.
In the afternoon, following lunch, a varied program of workshops included spiritual dancing, taizé, understanding place, communicating about eco-spirituality, yoga, midrash journaling and a nature walk. In a session on economic discipleship, Roland Kreager and Cindi Goslee of Right Sharing of World Resources, led participants in exploring how those in the “developed” world can better practice the self-reliance, Earlham School of Religion 2011 Spirituality Gatheringsustainability and mutual support and accountability that we often ask of our Third World partners.
Themes that emerged from the gathering included the role of art and imagination in supporting our connectedness to the earth. In her keynote, for instance, Tevyn evoked oneness with creation with a poetic image of humans “eating the sun” when consuming plants that are nourished by light. Also woven through the day was the theme of simple, local steps as beginning answers to global environmental problems.
Many prospective ESR students who attended an open house at the seminary on Friday stayed for the Saturday gathering, getting them a taste of how the school Tevyn East performing at Earlham School of Religionreaches beyond the conventional classroom to offer a creative and embodied education. ESR students, including Pat Thomas, Linnea Stiffler, Dagmar Bollinger, Dave Wunker, Emma Churchman, alumna Summer Cushman, and yes, me, Diane Reynolds, led workshops, an affirmation of the school’s emphasis on developing leadership. But most of all, we enjoyed a day of spiritual exploration of body, mind and heart.
I was impressed by the loving and optimistic  tone of the gathering. While creation care is an urgent concern, leaders and participants focused on spiritual  responses to the crisis, not stridency, recognizing that inner healing is a first step towards healing the planet.
A query: As Quakers, situated wherever we are, what are some steps we can take right now toward greater harmony with our environment? How can art and imagination help that process?

Diane Reynolds is a student in Earlham School of Religion’s Master of Divinity program. She maintains a personal blog, Emerging Quaker.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Serving the Poor in Richmond, Indiana

By Diane Reynolds
The poor may be with us always… but we can help.
At ESR’s common meal last Tuesday, students, staff and visitors heard Sharlene George, Laura Arendt and a few others from Open Arms Ministry in Richmond speak of the growing number of working poor and newly poor in the Richmond area—and the efforts Open Arms is making to serve both the freshly minted poor and the entrenched generational underclass.
Sharlene George, the executive director of Open Arms, said that the organization is seeing more people than ever who are seeking aid for the first time. People in this situation are often embarrassed. Some are angry Open Arms at ESR Common Mealthat although they are working very hard, they can no longer earn enough to make ends meet. Open Arms works with these clients to focus on what they can be grateful for as they adjust to the reality of poverty.
Beyond financial aid, the organization offers budgeting help and offers itself as on-going spiritual and community support system that clients can call on for prayer, for referrals as other needs arise and for caring attention to them as human beings. One man, for example, who was just out of prison, came in for help paying for a prescription drug. When he mentioned that he was going on a job interview, Open Arms noticed he might need a hair trim and connected him with a beautician who offers free hair cuts to people in need. Another time, while talking to a woman with young children who came in for help, Open Arms realized that, beyond her immediate problem, this mother had no money for Christmas.  They took the initiative to recommend her to a group wanting to sponsor a family’s Christmas. 
Open Arms, which began in 2009 after several years of planning, is a partnership of a dozen faith groups in the Richmond area that pool resources to assist to people in need.   The ministry, which dispensed $11,000 in funds last year, offers financial help of up to $250 per needy family every six months. It works to meet people’s need by partnering with other agencies: $100 pooled from several different groups each donating $25 can make it possible to pay a bill.
They say the hardest clients to deal with can be the generational poor,  because they are used to living on the social services system, and thus can sometimes appear to be demanding.  The staff pray daily to keep an unbiased attitude and open heart toward this population, who have deep and real needs.
As I listened to the story of Open Arms, I found myself remembering Jesus’ comment that “the poor will be with us always.” This statement occurred to me as I was pondering how we could structure a system that wouldn’t enable people to skate along in poverty but would encourage Open Arms at ESR Common Mealthem towards independence and fuller life. Then I realized, that as it was impossible to engineer the Tower of Babel, so it’s impossible to structure a perfect human system, much as we might long for a shalom world where God’s abundance is distributed such that every person has enough.  So for the people who are left at the bottom, scraping along to survive inadequately, we need to offer help and compassion, not condemnation.  As seminary students, sometimes caught up in the intellectual realms, it’s also good to have a stream of reminders from places like Open Arms of faith in practice and of missional opportunities in our own community and around the world.
Open Arms is also aware of the fine line it walks between counseling people to adjust to straitened circumstances and the issue of addressing structural problems that are causing an upsurge in poverty. While an attitude of gratitude is helpful, acquiescing to a new normal in which poverty is acceptable is counterproductive.  In addition to giving or receiving charity, people need to be talking to Washington.
Ministries like Open Arms that address the whole person, spiritual and emotional as well as financial, fill an important and urgent social role. George noted that when poor people, who could be any of us, receive dignity and respect, they are more likely to give back to the system that helped them. She said that the woman whose family received Christmas gifts “paid it forward” by leaving a bread maker on the Open Arms doorstep, hoping it could be used by someone else in need.
Open Arms can use both monetary donations and volunteers. They can be contacted via their website, and they are always open to phone calls or visitors.

Diane Reynolds is a student in Earlham School of Religion’s Master of Divinity program. She maintains a personal blog, Emerging Quaker.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Leadership Formation at ESR

By Jim Higginbotham

I believe that a good leader attempts to respond in a relatively less-anxious manner to the powerful dynamics of an organization's system. When a group begins running around like they're rearranging chairs on the deck of what seems like a sinking ship, instead of trying to direct people over the howling winds (as the group expects), a leader might simply sit down on one of the chairs in the middle of the deck. Even if we can't calm the winds like Jesus did when his followers were panicked in the storm, we can exhibit peacefulness when others are overwhelmed.

As the above image implies, I believe that becoming a good leader is a product of spiritual formation. Only when we are well-connected to theCarving Pumpkins at ESR depth of who we are created to be can we live less reactively (among other important qualities of a good leader). Jesus' ability to inspire and empower his followers was directly connected to his depth of spirituality. He constantly went away to pray before important events in his life. Similarly, we need strength from a Source that will help us to face challenges less afraid and not anxiously respond to the pressures that a group places upon us. In other words, we can not act peacefully if we do not possess peace.

This spiritual formation requires self-awareness and a willingness to open ourselves up to a transforming Spirit. Although the Gospels seem to portray that Jesus developed his own spirituality, if this picture is completely accurate, it was only due to his unique relationship with God. We need others to help us understand our strengths and growing edges as well as to connect to the power of the Spirit. That is one of the primary reasons that Earlham School of Religion focuses our program on spiritual formation; it is a corporate activity that can't be done only in isolation. We need to worship and pray together to find our spiritual center. When we are vulnerable with spiritual friends and others whom we can trust, they Jodi and Shelley - Friends at ESRcan help us to recognize our gifts and the areas in us that need to be transformed. Usually, hidden parts of our soul are the source of our anxious reactions to others.

For example, a goodhearted person might sometimes rescue others when they don't need so much help because s/he is uncomfortable with seeing people struggle. A hidden part that this person might need to discover is that s/he feels responsible for others' pain even if s/he hasn't contributed to it. This person takes responsibility for the struggles and thus robs others of the chance to grow from facing their own challenges. Such over-responsibility is not just a personal foible, but it is also a spiritual issue. This hypothetical person needs to learn to turn their concern over to a Comforter that can empower others in their struggles. If we believe that there is a power greater than ourselves, we must learn to trust this Spirit. It can be difficult when we feel uncomfortable, but having faith that God will be present frees us to do what we do best and allow others to use their strengths and gifts as well.

Obviously, leadership requires knowledge and many kinds of skills which seminary helps to develop. ESR's program is based in spiritual formation, because the world needs leaders formed in faith.

Jim HigginbothamJim Higginbotham is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care at Earlham School of Religion. He live in Indianapolis.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Authority and Love

By Dortha Meredith

John 15 tells us that God is the vinegrower. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. God is the gardener, tends the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches that bear fruit. The sap that runs through the vine and the branches is Love. We are called to Love God our gardener, love Jesus and ourselves so that we can love our neighbor. So far this sounds quite simple. But as human beings we soon discover that life isn’t that simple. In fact, it rarely is. Let me illustrate that with a situation that has been on my mind over the past several months.

There has been a lot of talk about authority and submission in discussions between Indiana Yearly Meeting and its Monthly Meetings in the past few years. It is a topic that comes up from time to time – it seems especially when one or the other is in disagreement with actions the other has taken. A few years ago there was a small group of meetings who wanted the yearly meeting to change our Faith and Practice to allow meetings to use the elements of water and bread and wine (probably really grape juice) in the sacraments of baptism and communion. Before that, there was a movement within the yearly meeting to state that homosexuality was a sin. Recently, a question has arisen and has been accompanied by an argument between some Meetings and the Yearly Meeting about whether the Monthly Meetings should submit toIndiana Yearly Meeting Office the Yearly Meeting or whether the Meetings and the Yearly Meeting should submit mutually each to the other. 

Surrounding all this is the question about authority and who has authority over whom.  What does authority mean? Our Faith and Practice says this about authority: “The Yearly Meeting exercises such power and authority granted to it by its members in annual session.” To me this says that whatever power and authority the Yearly Meeting has is granted by its members. There is mutuality built in here.

Our Faith and Practice also cites this on the topic of subordination: “Subordination as used in this Faith and Practice does not describe a hierarchy but rather a means, under divine leadership, of common protection between IYM and its Quarterly and Monthly Meetings. It is a relationship among Friends ‘submitting themselves to one another in the fear of God’ (Ephesians 5:21). In the spirit of Christ who ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death’ each member, each monthly meeting, each quarterly meeting and the Yearly Meeting submits to each other in the love of Christ. Subordination is the assurance that no monthly meeting is alone, autonomous or independent.

“Thus Monthly Meetings recognize the legitimate role of the Yearly Meeting in speaking and acting for the combined membership. Likewise the Yearly Meeting recognizes the freedom of Monthly Meetings and the validity of their prophetic voices. Each needs the other in order to be Indiana Yearly Meeting Faith and Practicestrong and vital, and both need the mediation of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” 

I think there is room for love to grow in an environment where there is mutual respect – that acknowledges divine leadership that speaks to individuals as well as organizations. That speaks of submitting to one another in the fear (awe) of God. 

I should not leave you with the impression that everyone in Indiana Yearly Meeting interprets our Faith and Practice the same way I present it here - and that is the cause of recent conflict and disturbance in the Yearly Meeting. Some folks think that authority is one dimensional and top-down; whereas Quakers have traditionally organized themselves in the opposite direction from the bottom up - beginning with the Monthly Meeting and ending with the yearly meeting. As it is stated in the front of our book of discipline, “Indiana Yearly Meeting is a uniting of Monthly Meetings who have come together to work and witness in the name of Christ. We seek to do cooperatively the tasks which can best be done together.” The Yearly Meeting is established to do what individual meetings cannot do alone. 

Without love, the whole question of authority becomes slavery. We can submit to each other if we love and trust each other. Mutual respect creates an atmosphere of trust that allows love to flow. We must allow God the gardener to tend our vines and branches so that we will bear fruit for a hungry world.

Dortha MeredithDortha Meredith is a recorded minister in Indiana Yearly Meeting and has served as pastor at Williamsburg Friends Meeting. She also has been a member of team ministry at West Richmond and First Friends. She is now retired from Earlham College where she served as director of the Newlin Center for Quaker Thought and Practice and as Exec. Sec. of the Peace Studies Association. She also worked at Friends United Meeting with Harold Smuck in Wider Ministries.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Festival of Friends meets in Richmond

By Valerie Hurwitz

On Saturday, February 26, 2011, the Festival of Friends took place at First Friends Meeting House in Richmond, Festival of Friends at Richmond First Friends Meeting HouseIN.  These gatherings began a year ago with the purpose of allowing Friends from different yearly meetings to gathering and worship together.  There are no business sessions and no agenda, other than to enjoy each other’s company.  The gathering on Saturday night drew Friends from Western Yearly Meeting (FUM), Indiana Yearly Meeting (FUM), and Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting (FGC).  Though this is the first time the Festival of Friends is in Richmond, it took place last summer and the winter before at Indianapolis First Friends.

I was there ostensibly as the choir director.  I usually direct the West Richmond Friends choir, and we rehearsed with the First Friends (Richmond) choir to sing two songs during the worship service.  Worship began with singing hymns, and then a member of the planning committee explained what he hopes is accomplished by these gatherings.  As some of the local Yearly Folks lining up for food at Festival of FriendsMeetings have experienced tension lately, a group of Indiana Friends decided to plan these gatherings to build connections and understanding between meetings.
After a choir piece, ESR students Emma Condori and Evelyn Jadin got up to speak about the book Spirit Rising. Spirit Rising is a collection of writing and visual art by young Quakers from across the world and across the theological spectrum of Friends.  Evelyn and Emma have been involved as editors in this project, and shared some common themes.  They spoke of the work young Friends have done in gathering together, listening to each other, looking for what they have in common, and trying to better understand their theological differences.  I would encourage you to read this book!

One of the interesting parts about their talk was that much of their audience was *ahem* an older generation of Quakerism.  Did this older generation try to reach across branches of Quakerism and bridge theological and liturgical differences?  What happened?  Are projects likeTable fellowship at Festival of Friends the worldwide YAF gatherings (in England in 2005, Richmond, Indiana in 2008, and Wichita, Kansas in 2010) merely a reflection of youthful idealism, or can they  create a convergent Quakerism for the twenty-first century?  What does that convergent Quakerism look like?  These questions rose up during the open worship that followed.  Several spoke about wanting to share their stories with Young Adult Friends, and the difficulties and hurt that some carry from trying to reach across boundaries in their own time.   Open worship ended, to me, on a meaningful note: “Who are we to tell Young Adult Friends that they won’t be able to form and nurture these connections?  Maybe they will.”
In every organization and every community, there is a natural and healthy balancing act between wanting to keeps things the way they are and wanting to change and try new things.  Change for the sake of change is as damaging as just wanting to keep things the way they’ve always been.  One of the tasks of leadership is to understand what to keep and what to change.  This is not a unitary process, as the same thing may be kept in one setting and changed in another, and different leaders may honestly disagree.

Worship was followed by a meal and then a concert by the Earlham College Gospel Revelations choir.  Katie Terrell, communications editor of Quaker Life magazine, brought copies of Spirit Rising to sell, and Paulette Meier (from Cincinnati and a member of Ohio Valley YM) brought CDs of her music (  Connections, in my opinion, are best formed over meals.

Quakerism is not my faith tradition, and for those of you that do not have a Quaker background, some of the above might have looked like aSpanning generations at Festival of Friends jumbled alphabet soup (FGC?  FUM?).  Suffice it to say that there are different branches of Quakerism that include a range of worship practices and theological views.  Like the person at the family reunion that you look at and question, “Am I really related to this person?”, the different branches of Quakerism sometimes look at one another in confusion, thinking “Do we really share theological DNA?”  What I admire about Quakers is that there is some historical sense of what it means to be Quaker, aided by the small size of the community in comparison to mainline Protestant denominations.  In one sense, it may seem like a tenuous tie that different branches of Quakerism claim the same first generation of ministers, writers, and evangelizers, but in another sense that is an enormous connection.

I am curious to hear the thoughts of others: For anyone else who was at the Festival of Friends, what was striking to you about the gathering?  Do you have any thoughts about Spirit Rising?  Do you think that modern convergent Quakerism is something new and different?  What does a convergent Quakerism look like?  How do we balance youthful idealism and energy with the knowledge that comes with experience?  Could you imagine an event like this in your local area? 

Valerie HurwitzValerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.