Friday, April 29, 2011

Encountering Our Divisions –Young Adult Friends Gathering Video Series

By Micah Bales

This video is the fourth in a series put together from footage and interviews taken during the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita, Kansas. This gathering took place over the 2010 Memorial Day Weekend and was perhaps the most diverse and balanced YAF gathering in generations. Roughly equal numbers of Liberal-Unprogrammed, Pastoral and Evangelical Friends were in attendance, along with a small number of Conservative Friends.

In this segment, we hear from several YAFs about their experience of how divisions came to the surface at the Gathering’s Saturday-morning Bible study. During this time, Friends wrestled in particular with our different understandings of the role and centrality of Jesus Christ in our faith as Friends.

For more information about the 2010 YAF Gathering, please check out the official website, which features the advance materials that Friends were asked to use in their preparation for the conference, as well as the epistle that those gathered issued at the end of the weekend.

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Report on Cuba Yearly Meeting February-March, 2011

By Steve Angell

Heredios Santos, long-time pastor in Cuba Yearly Meeting, first mentioned the possibility of my going to Cuba in 2001. In 2008, there was an important informal meeting of Friends interested in Cuba at the Out for a walk in Cubameeting of the Section of the Americas of FWCC in Jackson County, Indiana. I was among those present. Maria Yi Reyna, pastor of the church in Holguin, Cuba, mentioned that the great need of the Cuba Yearly Meeting from Friends in the Americas was for resources to bolster their Quaker identity. A number of us sitting around the table were excited by this. Led by Kristen Richardson, the American Friends Service Committee sent a “Traveling Seminary” to Cuba Yearly Meeting in February of this year, with their Brazil rep, Jorge Lafitte, offering valuable workshops to Cuban Friends on non-violent conflict resolution and social change theory.

Meanwhile, Jay Marshall was in contact with the Clerk of Cuba Yearly Meeting, Ramon Gonzalez Longoria Escalona, and arranged a visit to the Yearly Meeting for me this February and March. I was invited to give a series of lectures at the Yearly Meeting sessions themselves, and afterwards a lecture at the Young Adult Friends Retreat and three workshops at the newer monthly meetings in Cuba.

A few observations about the background of Friends’ ministry in Cuba

I arrived in Holguin, Cuba, one of the larger cities in Cuba, at the eastern end of the island, on February 21. The following day, along with three representatives of New England Yearly Meeting, Benigno Sanchez-Steve and BenignoEppler, Victoria Rhoden, and Noah Baker-Merrill, I traveled the thirteen kilometers to Gibara, where the yearly meeting was to be held. Gibara is a small town of about 30,000 people on the coast. Hurricane Ike caused major damage in 2008, destroying much of the seawall. There has not been any money to repair the damage to the seawall. Friends in Gibara sheltered dozens of people in their church during the hurricane. Fortunately, there was very little damage to the church itself. They lost only a small portion of their roof. Also fortunately, Cubans were well prepared for the hurricane, and on the whole island, only two people lost their lives.

In the day before the Yearly Meeting sessions started, Benigno, a native of Cuba who emigrated to the United States at age 13, tried to orient us to the realities we would see around us. He emphasized that the Touring the beachorientation was coming through a particular lens – that is, his. The Cuban Revolution has emphasized human equality, but unfortunately, it has ended up with a process of equal immiseration, that is, everyone becoming equally poor. The Cuban government is the single employer. All property, including church property, belongs to the Cuban government – the Cuban government allows churches to use certain property, families to live in certain houses, and so forth, but all land belongs to the government. Industry and wages are at a very low level. Monthly wages of $15 to $25 are fairly usual for Cubans. It is not a living wage.

The Cuban revolution, Benigno said, was built on five pillars: Schools; Medical Centers; the Military; Prisons; and Emigration. So Cuba has a relatively high degree of educational attainment. It has an extraordinary high degree of doctors per capita. However, there are few jobs for those who finish schools. Doctors are paid very low salaries. Medical Benigno Sanchez-Epplerconsultations are free, but medicines are very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, even over-the-counter medicines such as pain relievers. In the stores, there is virtually nothing for sale. There are, for example, no cars for sale; the few cars that one sees on the roads are 1950s American vehicles, often lovingly and painstakingly maintained, or later era Soviet cars, but none of recent vintage. The Cuban monetary system is very difficult to figure out; the Yearly Meeting treasurers keeps accounts in three currencies, the regular Cuban peso, the convertible Cuban peso, and United States dollars. An international like myself can carry the convertible peso, but is not allowed to carry regular pesos. (The informal exchange rates for those two currencies are remarkably different.)

With the military and prisons, there is a high degree of state control. There is virtually no place for open expression of political dissent. One of The streets of Cubathe complicating factors for gathering people for the Yearly Meeting sessions was that in one of the cities where there is a Friends Church, Banes, Mothers in White, a group of Mothers for political prisoners, was gathering for a protest. So the Yearly Meeting bus (the Wawa) would have to penetrate intense presence of security forces in order to bring Friends from Banes to the Yearly Meeting sessions.

It is hard to walk very far on the streets of Gibara (something that I did every day) without having someone approach you to ask for money (often quite desperately). During the time that I was there, I talked with two men, one younger and one older, who had received permission to Streets of Cubaemigrate to the United States. If a resident of Gibara receives remittances from someone working in the United States, they will be much better off than the ordinary Gibaran. One day, the three New England Friends, a Cuban Friend, and myself were walking through the streets of Gibara. The Cuban Friend explained how every house we saw with a fresh coat of paint was someone who had a spouse living abroad who sent remittances. Remittances are the second most important source of income for the island of Cuba (the most important source is tourism, all those happy Canadians that I flew down to Cuba with, and also back to Canada with.)

Getting news in Cuba is a challenge. There is no internet, and only very limited television and newspaper news coverage. Ramon, in Gibara, had to work hard to have a periodical delivered to him, and finally settled on a weekly (the Juventud). The big city Friends’ Church (Holguin) was able to have a daily delivered, the Granma. Unlike Iran, there is no English language news service – it is also in Spanish.

Yearly Meeting Sessions

It was a wonderful group of Cubans who gathered for Yearly Meeting. My lectures covered different areas of Quaker doctrine: the true nature of Quaker Community; Quakers and holiness; The Holy Spirit and Revelation; the Light of Christ; and Quakers and the testimonies. For the first two lectures, I read Cuba Yearly Meeting Group Photothem from manuscript; the last three were spoken from the silence. I spoke in English, and Benigno translated for me.

The Yearly Meeting sessions were very lively. They completed an extraordinary amount of business. The list of the Action Minutes from the Yearly Meeting comes to 57 Minutes, and when printed out, they cover four pages, single spaced. The clerk does a lot of talking there, but Yearly Meeting members are not shy to express themselves when the Spirit leads. The items that led to the most extensive discussion were the Nominating Committee Report and the proposal to build a meeting house for the Programmed Meeting in Havana. In Havana, the programmed  Friends meet in a space they rent from the Episcopal Church, and the latter has not always been hospitable. The Havana Friends proposed to throw a slab on top of the house of an existing member, but there were various problems with that, most notably, that Cuban law would not allow any deeding of the Friends in Cubanascent meeting house to Friends until the slab is actually completed, at the cost of $10,000. After considerable discussion, the Yearly Meeting approved a very diplomatically worded minute postponing any further consideration of the Havana Friends proposal, until after the change of the property laws expected from the Government in April. The Clerk, Ramon, tells me that he thinks the problem with the Episcopal Church is mostly at the local level, and that involving the Episcopal Bishop for Cuba may be able to resolve the problems between Havana Friends and the local Episcopal Church.

Another issue was starting up a Center for Quaker and Peace Studies, to supplement what theological education is available elsewhere in Cuba. More on that later.

The Friends’ Church in Puerto Padre desperately needs repair work. The school was confiscated at the time of the Cuban Revolution and is now in great disrepair, missing some (or most?) of its roof. Cuban Friends are trying to reclaim the school, and also need to find their title (or claim of title: legalities in respect to property questions are very complex)  to the Church property in order for repair work proceeds.

My first three lectures went well, but when my fourth lecture was scheduled, for Saturday night, I was suffering from severe intestinal distress. I felt that I could attend and also that I could say something,173092_10150117826343896_607083895_6455731_1994217_o but I did not feel up to speaking for the entire hour. I did speak for five minutes at the beginning out of the silence, but then I sat down and ceded the floor. The Holy Spirit was in charge, and it worked out well; several Friends, Cuban and North American, spoke out of the silence. Noah Baker-Merrill, a gifted minister from Vermont, spoke movingly about his experience with the Light. By the time of my concluding lecture on the Testimonies the next day, I had recovered and that also went well. That afternoon, busload after busload of Friends left the Yearly Meeting compound in Gibara. New England Friend Victoria Rhoden commented that, “four days ago, I did not even know these dear Friends, but now I find myself crying as they are leaving.” It was indeed a very poignant moment.

Workshops that I offered after Yearly Meeting Sessions

The next day, Monday, Feb. 28, was the occasion for an outing on the beach, with the clerk of the yearly meeting and his family, and all four of us from the United States. The following day, I bid adieu to the New England Friends. My first workshop was in a smaller church in Holguin, by the name of Vista Alegre. I presented a session on the Testimony of Simplicity, and then my full presentation on the Light of Christ, contrasting the views of George Fox, J. J. Gurney, and Rufus Jones.

Then it was back to Gibara. That weekend the Young Adult Friends were gathering for a retreat. In many ways the Young Adult Friends are the 172742_10150117926143896_607083895_6456660_3544928_obackbone of the Yearly Meeting. There are nine monthly meetings in Cuba. The Clerk (Presidente) of Cuba Yearly Meeting, Ramon Longoria, is the pastor of the monthly meeting in Gibara. Most of the other monthly meetings are pastored either by a Young Adult Friend, or by someone who is only a few years removed from Young Adult Friends status (the upper age limit, there as here, is 35 years old). So, when I talked to the Young Adult Friends at their first session on Friday night, Mar. 4, I soon realized that I was talking to the emerging leadership of the Yearly Meeting. One thing that Cuba Yearly Meeting is asking for when they say they need help with issues of Quaker identity, is help with the spiritual formation of these Young Adult Friends who have stepped up into greatly needed positions of leadership in the Monthly Meetings.

I had been told that Young Adult Friends were very much concerned about issues of the Second Coming, so my talk on “the essentials of Quakerism” focused somewhat on the realized eschatology of earlyFriends talking in Cuba Quakerism, and how that connected to issues like early Quakers’ views of the sacraments. The next day had four sessions. One was a panel with three speakers addressing the three controversial issues among Young Adult Friends: what do Quakers think about the second coming; what do Quakers think about Satan; and should Quakers adopt a position of more latitude in terms of what church music are allowed into Friends’ churches.

This all plays into the Quaker identity issue in one way or another. Take church music: Quakers in Cuba are clear that they are not Pentecostal. They are concerned about the waves of Pentecostalism in Cuban culture that threaten to overtake variousCuba Yearly Meeting sessions forms of Cuban Christianity. One evening, while I was riding on the microbus, we passed a Pentecostal church service that was just ending. There were hundreds of people walking away from the church service. It was clearly very popular. Cuban Quakers like individual Cuban Pentecostals, (some work for Quakers in positions such as garderner) and even invite Cuban Pentecostal groups to rent their church complex: the “Orthodox” who rented the Gibara complex while I was there were Pentecostals, I was told. But Cuban Quakers are not about to adopt a premillennialist position on Second Coming for example.

One of the further workshops was offered by Lazaro, pastor of the Friends’ Church at Velasco, on the topic of “evangelization.” He asked me briefly to speak about evangelization in the United States, and IFriends at Cuba YM mentioned that evangelization by way of crusade seems on the decline here, but that the internet (both websites and blogs) were becoming more important in the US. I have a sense that evangelization in Cuba is quite different, especially since they have no internet.

The last week that I was in Cuba, I presented two more workshops. I visited the eastern end of the Yearly Meeting, in the neighborhood of Banes, the headquarters for Cuba Yearly Meeting sessionsthe United Fruit Company prior to the Cuban revolution. The Banes church is beautiful, with three F.U.M. work teams having done great work in restoring it. There is a beautiful garden in the Banes complex. Hurricane Ike occasioned great damage. Cuban Friends spent fifteen full days just getting the fallen trees and debris out of the Banes church grounds after the hurricane. But the garden has made a great recovery, albeit with many fewer trees.

This workshop was held in El Retrete, a church mission that was just given monthly meeting status. I was privileged to see the ceremony at which El Retrete received Monthly Meeting status. Within the space of a couple of hours, a Nominating Committee was Exploring in Cubaappointed, met, made its report, and the new Monthly Meeting, with help from many wise elders throughout the yearly meeting, composed its first minute. I then conducted a workshop, which included my Light of Christ talk, and a session on Quaker Spirituality focusing on John Woolman. My last workshop, at Bocas meeting, incorporated just the Light of Christ talk.

Cuba Yearly Meeting is a wonderful place that has accomplished much in two short decades under daunting odds. When the most severe repression ceased in Cuba, Cuban Quakers had less than 100 members. Anyone can tell you who were the faithful ones, the handful in each meeting, who kept the Cuban Quakers going in the years when the Cuban Communists were officially atheist and trying to put religion out of business. They are now up to about 500 members. Will they be able to keep their church growing?

Steve AngellSteve Angell is the Geraldine Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Following in the Footsteps of Thomas Kelly

By Carole Spencer

Good fortune
Divine intervention…

These are some of the words that came to mind upon finding myself in lush, colorful, exotic Honolulu in early April in the midst of a busy spring semester when the Mid-west was still recovering from an especially bitter and icy winter.  Finding myself in Hawaii unexpectedly in April 2011 connected the dots on my spiritual journey in a most intriguing way beginning with my introduction to Quaker spirituality through the writer, Thomas Kelly, many years ago.

Those of you familiar with the Quaker landscape will know the name Thomas Kelly--educator, philosopher, and Christian mystic who became legendary in the Quaker world after his early death in 1941 when occasional writings from the last three years of his life were collected andHonolulu published posthumously as A Testament of Devotion.

I first met Kelly through this slim, little book when like many spiritual seekers of the radical counter-cultural 60s and 70s, I had left my childhood faith far behind and was looking for something deeper and less “traditional” to fill the spiritual vacuum.  Ironically, in discovering Kelly’s book I found not only Quakerism, but a more ancient mystical Christian tradition that I had never known.  Kelly’s little book rocked my world and inspired me to join with Friends, go to seminary, and even played a significant part in my becoming a seminary professor.  But little did I know then that I would follow Kelly back to his Quaker home—literally!

When in the fall of 2010 a door unexpectedly opened to teach at Earlham School of Religion, I felt a strange nudge to book a flight to Richmond and interview for the position, even though I could not possibly imagine uprooting myself from my family and friends, the ocean and mountains of the great Pacific Northwest which had beenCarole and Renie home for 30 years, or George Fox Evangelical Seminary where I had taught for the past 15. Yet I felt a strong, distinct sense of call to ESR and Richmond. I could not explain the compelling leading, but it was unmistakable, and when the position was offered to me, I accepted with a sense of surprise and elation.

And through a most amazing experience of divine synchronicity I am now comfortably and joyfully settled into the house of my spiritual mentor, Thomas Kelly, which he had built in the 1920s when he taught philosophy at Earlham College.

It is not hard to sense the spirit of Kelly as I prepare for my courses in the same office where Kelly prepared, and pray in the same places where Kelly prayed.  And it appears that the spirit of Thomas Kelly is so strong in my life that it drew me to Hawaii.  So here is rest of the story….
In the middle of spring semester, in the wintry doldrums of February, an inquiry came to ESR from Honolulu Friends Meeting, which as “fortune” would have it, Mandy Ford, Director of External Relations, forwarded to me:


“I received a Traveling Ministries request from Honolulu Friends Meeting. They are looking for someone to provide a program on "Building a Spiritual Community", and I wanted to see if you would be interested. Of course this requires distant travel, although I'm sure you wouldn't mind a trip to Hawaii.”


Guessing that traveling ministry requests from exotic far-away places in the South pacific are not usual occurrences at ESR, I enthusiastically responded to the Honolulu Meeting Houserequest. Thus began a delightful email correspondence with the woman planning the program, Renie Wong.  Renie and I had what I can only describe as instant rapport; we seemed to be kindred souls.  And only much later, after spending a day with Renie on a “magical mystery tour” of the North Shore of Oahu, did I learn how both our stories connected with Thomas Kelly, but in very different ways.  It was only after accepting the call to visit Honoulu Friends Meeting, that I realized that Kelly had gone to Hawaii from Richmond 75 years before me, and I was following in his footsteps!

Kelly, I would come to learn, had grown up in rural Southwestern Ohio, and for much of his life seemed to be fleeing from his humble, mid-western Quaker roots. He once wrote “I hate the Middle West---every Meeting House Front Porchstick and stone of it.” In 1935 spiritually and intellectually restless in Richmond, Kelly wrote to a friend, “One can hardly comprehend the quest of the Buddha sitting under a maple sugar tree in a mid-west cornfield.” Shortly thereafter Kelly had opportunity to escape the Mid-west when he was offered a position at the Univ. of Hawaii where he could fulfill his deep desire to study Eastern philosophy and religion and engage in inter-faith dialogue in the crossroads of East and West.

After one year his plan of Eastern Studies in Hawaii was cut short when he was invited to join the faculty at Haverford College, his most cherished vocational dream. But in the short time he lived in Honolulu, Kelly left an indelible legacy.

My new soul friend Renie Wong, who organized the Quaker Gathering and invited me to speak, had a strong Earlham connection.  Her father, Sam Lindley, had been a student of Kelly’s at Earlham, and followed him Carole and David Woods (guide)to Hawaii, working his way across the Pacific Ocean on a tramp steamer. Thomas Kelly and Sam Lindley were part of a small group of Quakers who organized the first meeting for worship of Honolulu Friends and helped to found the meeting where I was now privileged to lead a weekend retreat on “building a spiritual community.” Sam Lindley like his mentor Thomas Kelly, became a professor of philosophy, but unlike Kelly, chose to make his home permanently in Honolulu.  A few years before Sam Lindley died, his daughter Renie returned to Honolulu and now lives in her father’s house.  Following Thomas Kelly and her father’s legacy, she is continuing to build a strong Quaker spiritual community in Hawaii where inter-faith dialogue and multiculturalism is always a part of the spiritual environment.

When I first accepted the invitation to visit Honolulu Friends, I did not make any connections between Kelly and Hawaii.  And not until I Friend-in-Residence David and Virginia Woodarrived did I learn I would be speaking to the very meeting he had helped establish in 1936.  And only after the Gathering ended did I learn that the Earlham student who admired and emulated Kelly so much he followed him across the ocean, was the father of the Friend who had invited me to Honolulu.  Divine synchronicity!

Carole SpencerCarole Spencer serves as Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Earlham School of Religion. She is a recorded minister in Northwest Yearly Meeting.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Young Adult Friends Gathering Video Series – Saturday Morning and Afternoon

By Micah Bales

This is the third in a series of videos put together from footage and interviews taken during the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita, Kansas. This gathering took place over the 2010 Memorial Day Weekend and was perhaps the most diverse and balanced YAF gathering in generations. Roughly equal numbers of Liberal-Unprogrammed, Pastoral and Evangelical Friends were in attendance, along with a small number of Conservative Friends.

This video provides a window into the first half of the first full day of the event, including interviews with participants.

For more information about the 2010 YAF Gathering, please check out the official website, which features the advance materials that Friends were asked to use in their preparation for the conference, as well as the epistle that those gathered issued at the end of the weekend.

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Joerg Rieger, in the Flesh and on the Page

By Wayne Williams
It’s really quite revolutionary what he’s asking us to consider. Rieger’s book, Remember the Poor, develops the liberation theology of Gustavo GutiĆ©rrez while holding hands with Jacques Lacan’s philosophy of the “other” and Frederick Herzog’s theologically impassioned social justice work in Latin America. To consider and elevate the poor by entering their world and giving them an authoritative voice requires us to reframe our privileged, empirical Christian worldview dramatically. Rieger’s Willson Lectures at ESR were grounded in his expert theological, Scriptural, philosophical, and ethical understanding of the problems contemporary Christians face to authentically carrying out Christ’s Gospel of good news for the poor. The problems are unequalled poverty in the face of capitalism’s ‘victory’, how to encounter the marginalized ‘other’, issues with questioning and relocating authority, and the need for the distribution of power. These manifold challenges can feel insurmountable to even a cock-eyed optimist like myself. Rieger was our theological tour guide into the Reality of the brokenness amidst our own Christian Empire. Aren’t we disgusted when the blinders come off? So when is the revolution?
The life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was the revolution. Or has Jesus’ own Life and praxis been diminished by a converted empire’s insatiable need for power and authority? Unfortunately, Christ’s Gospel ministry to the impoverished, the diseased, and the sinners in His 1st century world has largely been subsumed by our Judeo-Roman-Christian Empire over the past two millennia. Empire has bigger priorities than care of the sick and suffering. The institutions of our inherited culture value authority, wealth, power, and dominion. What would Jesus say about all this?
Rieger’s message resonates at the crux of Christ’s Gospel and Empire. He debunks Empire’s blind economic doctrines, citing the ‘prosperity gospel’ as a prime example of religion intersecting economics with a blind faith in ‘the big ideas.’ Rieger asks if those who blindly accept religious doctrine are more likely to accept economic principles on blind faith as well.
The gap between rich and poor gets wider all the time. The disparity is unconscionable. Rieger argues that our Empire wants us to believe there is only one way to solve this problem. If God is always envisioned at the top, then we correlate that the privileged and powerful embody God’s character. Rieger invites us to look at those on the underside to understand what is really going on. What if God were at work not from the top but from the bottom of society? After all, none of the rights gained for women or minorities were given by a benevolent leader. They were hard fought from a grass roots movement.
Rieger argues for the common good. He cites Apostle Paul, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” as having solid bottom up logic. Rieger believes that the common good can be built from the bottom up. He articulates the challenges that this paradigm shift presents in a new vision of justice for the poor. There is enough to go around. The re/distribution of wealth, along with a re-evaluation of the role and value of labor and production are necessary. Rieger proposes the “good news for the poor” involves production, organization, and honoring creativity to the benefit of all. New economic models and alternatives are already at work.
Wayne WilliamsWayne is a current MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion. He is a member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting, New York Yearly Meeting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rieger Without Romance - Reflections on the 2011 Willson Lectures

By Matt Hisrich
I would like to extend my appreciation to ESR for hosting the Willson Lectures, to David Johns for arranging Joerg Rieger’s visit, to Rieger himself for coming all the way to Richmond and presenting, and to Mandy Ford for working to make the lectures available for viewing online. I believe that Rieger’s goals are noble, and his analysis prompted me to give more significant thought to important questions than I would have otherwise. That’s a good outcome for the Willson Lectures, and I am confident that my experience is not unique.
Overall, my main response to Rieger’s lectures was of wanting more – a more robust critique of empire and economics, and more clear paths forward. After reading his book No Rising Tide in preparation for his visit, I couldn’t help but feel that the lack of clarity regarding the clear distinction between free markets and the interventionist chaos we are faced with today undermined both his analysis of economics as well asJoerg Rieger the validity of the conclusions he reached.  My hope as I arrived to listen to Rieger in person was that he would move beyond the limitations of that text.
Unfortunately, this hope was left unfulfilled. From the economic side, I stand by my initial critique of Rieger’s No Rising Tide as he offered little during the lectures to indicate that he does not in fact conflate free markets with a mercantilist system whereby “groups with political power use that power to secure government intervention to protect their interests while claiming to seek benefits for the nation as a whole.” This creates a significant problem in the solutions he presented at the Willson lectures – the political side of his analysis – grow out of this conflation.
As I read No Rising Tide, I was struck repeatedly both by the lack of clear steps toward the new reality Rieger envisions and by an all too uncritical approach toward public policy. He notes that “politicians are democratically elected by the people, while business leaders are not,” as if this puts an end to the discussion about corruption in government, and asks with genuine astonishment, “why would ‘government’ want to take just anything from its citizens, and who is ‘government’ in a democracy if not the citizens?”
These themes were again evident again in the lectures. Few concrete solutions were presented, and those that were raise more questions than real answers. He spoke several times about the importance of community gardens and labor unions, for instance, but it is difficult to see how these alone will begin to transform an empire and economic system that is so pervasive and domineering. His very limited comments on war and their connection to empire and economics should disturb any Friend. His assertion that when Jesus tells his disciples to tell John that the sick are healed and the blind can see is an affirmation of nationalized health care is an impressive leap. At one point during the Capitalismo - ApocalipsisQ&A period, he was asked how high unemployment should be addressed, and he suggested significant expansion of public sector jobs.
One must ask at this point why someone who speaks to “bottom up” power employs such “top-down” solutions through the state. The essential narrative that Rieger appears to operate out of is one in which the state is there to protect us from corporations. But while I would agree that the empire and economics as they exist today are pervasive and domineering forces in our lives, I wish that Rieger would expand the scope of his definition of empire to include democratic states that collude with business interests. 
His appreciation of democracy coupled with his disdain for corporations seems to prevent him from correctly identifying the crony capitalist nature of our economic system. This in turn prevents him from offering a response to empire-as-state that recognizes the incentives within the empire to expand the scope of its power whether employing the language or free markets or that of progressivism.  Sadly, therefore, the very remedies he suggests only serve to feed empire further.
In 1978, economist James Buchanan coined the phrase “politics without romance” to describe what he was trying to develop at the time – public choice theory. As Buchanan further elaborates, “Armed with nothing more than the rudimentary insights from public choice, persons could understand why, once established, bureaucracies tend to grow apparently without limit and without connection to initially promised functions. They could understand why pork-barrel politics dominated the attention of legislators; why there seems to be a direct relationship between the overall size of government and the investment in efforts to secure special concessions from government (rent seeking); why the tax system is described by the increasing number of James Buchananspecial credits, exemptions, and loopholes; why balanced budgets are so hard to secure; and why strategically placed industries secure tariff protection.”
In order to build upon the work he has already undertaken, deepen his critique, and point readers toward solutions that begin to sever the ties between empire and economic interests, I would encourage Rieger to further explore public choice theory. As Buchanan argues, “Regardless of any ideological bias, exposure to public choice analysis necessarily brings a more critical attitude toward politicised nostrums to alleged socioeconomic problems.” If Rieger or others seek to strengthen their understanding of the connections between empire and economics, I would suggest Anthony de Jasay’s The State and Robert Higgs’s Crisis and Leviathan.
One of the definitions of theology is “faith seeking understanding.” During his lectures, Rieger issued a call for truly understanding the nature of the world around us so that we can be effective agents of change. Here’s where I would agree with him wholeheartedly. If at least part of our faith involves helping to bring about a more just and humane world, then there is no time to waste.
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.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Young Adult Friends Gathering Video Series – Friday Evening Program and Worship

By Micah Bales

This is the second in a series of videos put together from footage and interviews taken during the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita, Kansas. This gathering took place over the 2010 Memorial Day Weekend and was perhaps the most diverse and balanced YAF gathering in generations. Roughly equal numbers of Liberal-Unprogrammed, Pastoral and Evangelical Friends were in attendance, along with a small number of Conservative Friends.

This particular video gives a glimpse into the opening evening of the YAF gathering, as Friends gather and begin to get to know one another.

For more information about the 2010 YAF Gathering, please check out the official website, which features the advance materials that Friends were asked to use in their preparation for the conference, as well as the epistle that those gathered issued at the end of the weekend.

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friendsand is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Joerg Reiger: Challenging Empire

By Diane Reynolds
How can Christianity challenge Empire? Joerg Rieger, professor of theology at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, author of several books, including Christ and Empire and NoJoerg Regier speaks at Earlham School of Religion Rising Tide: Theology, Economics and the Future, asked that question when he came to ESR last week as the seminary’s Wilson lecturer.
Empire concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a few, Rieger said, and works to convince the people under its rule that it represents the only viable way to live. Military might supports and enforces this empire vision. The U.S. is an empire today, Reiger said, as the Roman Empire once was. In both cases, Christianity threatens to undermine Empire’s totalizing tendencies.
Empire has long tried to domesticate and dilute the Christian message, but has never been able to do so entirely. The alternative Christian vision flourishes at the bottom of society and works its way up. It can be foundJoerg Regier lectures at ESR not in Empire promises of future benefits, but in the here and now—where the sick are healed, the blind see and the lame walk. It offers a shalom vision that challenges a top-down, all-powerful Empire.
Much of what Rieger said accords with Quakerism, which has traditionally spoken truth to power and aligned itself with the marginalized. Quakerism roots itself in an understanding of Christianity that opposes Empire’s hierarchy, oppression and material pomp.
Rieger explicitly linked Christianity to economics and politics. As I listened to him, I found myself agreeing - and wishing an alternative voice would debate him. Where do progressive notions go awry? Where can they be critiqued? In an era, unprecedented in my lifetime, in which the social contract appears to be in process of being fundamentally renegotiated, where do we find new ideas? When Reiger, for instance, was asked what could be done about “permanently disappeared” Jeorg Regier at ESRjobs, his answer was a government jobs program. However, in this political climate, the government doesn’t seem inclined to create jobs.  What do we do instead of looking to the government?
In a blog on the high tuition of a Quaker school in New York City, Bob Doto described a punk mentality, where, instead of fighting with the system, we find spaces where we can live with integrity. I’d love ESR to invite Rieger back, along with a punk theologian, and a conservative theologian, to debate each other and spark some perhaps heated conversation. After all, as the early Quakers knew, Jesus came not to support the status quo, be it progressive or conservative, but to light the world on fire.

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

Monday, April 11, 2011

Localize: Your Vote Counts

By Diane Reynolds
When one side of an argument speaks louder than the other side, local governments and develop skewed policies that are not based on the wishes of the majority of their electorate.  It's no mystery that elements of hate and intolerance in our society have advanced their agenda through grassroots organizing.  Progressive people can do the same, said Allan Kauffman, mayor of Goshen, Indiana and father of a Bethany Seminary student at this week’s Peace Forum lunch held at ESR.
Nine votes or fewer can decide who is elected to a town or city council, and one council member can change the whole political balance of a town, Kauffman Allan Kauffman - Mayor, Goshen, Indianasaid, encouraging listeners to become civically engaged at the most local level of government. “Local issues count,” he said.
In Goshen, said Kauffman, a member of the Church of the Brethren, most of the city council now comes from historic peace churches, primarily the Mennonites, changing the tenor of government business practices. Now, the council puts more emphasis on consensus, and is less likely to support an item that passes on a divided vote, such as 4 to 3, knowing that such narrow margins lead to divisiveness, not unity. The desire for consensus also leads to more creative problem-solving, he said.
Even when their ideas are defeated, having progressives on the council has brought good to the city, Kauffman said. The council was able to create a Human Relations Commission (HRC) in response to an influx of Latino immigrants into Goshen, who came seeking some of the many blue collar jobs there. When the Ku Klux Klan, which has historic ties to Goshen, marched in the city, the commission organized a fundraising drive for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization loathed by the Klan. As long as the Klan stayed in town, the fundraiser continued, which encouraged the Klan to leave. Later, the city passed an ordinance that supported free speech but required that the speaker be unmasked.  Although the ACLU contested this law in court and won—the Constitution protects anonymous speech—Kauffman felt the project was success because it brought ordinary citizens into local government action. Similarly, when the HRC proposed the city adopt languageAllan Kauffman to protect gays and lesbians, outside pressure defeated the measure—but civic engagement increased.
Since the 18th century, Quakers have had an ambivalent relationship with governments, both withdrawing from and engaging in political action. Clearly, from a religious viewpoint, political engagement must be Spirit-led, raising the question of what exactly a Spirit-led politics look like? Yet with the U.S. economy shaky and politics growing more extreme, Kauffman makes a strong case for progressive people of faith to engage in the process of discerning where and when to get involved, even at the most local level.
Questions that cross my mind are these: Are Quakers hampered by “old wineskins,” sometimes hanging on to cherished notions from the 1960s that have become outdated? What are some new ways that Quakers could get more creatively involved local politics? What impedes our civic engagement?
Diane Reynolds is a student in Earlham School of Religion’s Master of Divinity program. She maintains a personal blog, Emerging Quaker.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Young Adult Friends Gathering 2010 Video Series

By Micah Bales

This is the first in a series of videos put together from footage and interviews taken during the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita, Kansas. This gathering took place over the 2010 Memorial Day Weekend and was perhaps the most diverse and balanced YAF gathering in generations. Roughly equal numbers of Liberal-Unprogrammed, Pastoral and Evangelical Friends were in attendance, along with a small number of Conservative Friends.

I hope that these videos will provide you with a sense of the importance – and complexity - what took place in Wichita last May. Coming together from across the United States and Canada, we sought to draw together in the Holy Spirit. Through our joys and our struggles, we came to know each other better and to understand more deeply our shared heritage as Friends.

For more information about the 2010 YAF Gathering, please check out the official website, which features the advance materials that Friends were asked to use in their preparation for the conference, as well as the epistle that those gathered issued at the end of the weekend.

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Less-Anxious Leadership

By Jim Higginbotham

Being a less-anxious presence is a core concept of pastoral care. (The literature actually uses the term “non-anxious presence”; I think that's unrealistic.) Being anxious comes in many forms. For example, students in my classes are encouraged to recognize the ways they over-function in helping another person. Giving advice, asking too many probing questions, and doing things for someone who could do it for him/herself are some of the common ways that caring people try too hard to help. What students often discover is that the more they attempt to alter someone's behavior or feelings, even out of compassion, the less the other person changes. Ironically, doing less often has more power.  Under-functioning is another kind of anxious reaction, which is often related to a history of woundedness.

Systems theorists assert that managing anxiety is the key to effective leadership. The less anxiously a leader reacts to the dynamics of a group the more effectively s/he can guide them through even the most difficult situations. Less-anxious pastoral careUnfortunately, leaders, like everyone else in a group, have difficulty recognizing their own reactivity. Organizations of all sizes have particular, often unrecognized patterns to their interactions, which are most characteristically exhibited in difficult decision-making. Groups will repeat the same “mistakes” over and over, even when the leadership changes. In small groups, people take on roles as if in a play, and it is hard to escape these roles without leaving the group. This is most evident in families, of course. Even in large organizations, systemic dynamics encourage the leader to react in a certain manner: the leader rose to that position, in part, because his/her style fits the system.

Therefore, good leadership is often not about changing the group you lead, but changing how you react to the group. Less reactivity can affect group dynamics. Similar to pastoral caregiving, leaders need to recognize when they are trying to do too much or when they are helping the group continue to spin in a direction that hasn't worked. In the latter situation, pushing the group to change directions probably won't be effective. However, if a leader stops enabling the current patterns and reacts with less anxiety when the group “rebels” against this new style, the group might slowly begin to function in a new manner. Organizations will also react strongly when one stops over-functioning. For many of us, it is hard not to rescue a group when it seems like it will fail without our doing what we have always done. However, good leadership has to allow the members to do what they can do for themselves, even if it means they have to learn the “hard way.”

So, what do you think about this idea of becoming a less-anxious presence as the heart of good leadership?

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

Monday, April 4, 2011

Voices from the ESR Access Community (Part 2)

By Valerie Hurwitz

A follow-up to my post from last Monday--two more videos of ESR Access students discussing their January Intensive classes.  View Part 1 here.  Any tips from Access Students about travel or taking classes in the two-week intensive format?  Who plans to take a May intensive?  What class?

Rob Pierson (Albuquerque, NM)

Tandy Scheffler (Oak Ridge, TN)

Valerie Hurwitz

Valerie 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, April 1, 2011

The Story of Fancy Gap Friends

By Tony Lowe

Fancy Gap Friends Fellowship began as a Bible study/discussion group in the summer of 2004 with a dozen or so folks that met weekly at our house. A few months later, we began meeting for worship on Sunday mornings as well, partly because folks who had previously been part of a church still felt the need for a Sunday gathering, but also because they wanted a deeper worship experience than the Bible study. Some folks then chose to only attend the Sunday meeting for worship while others due to schedule conflicts or other things could only commit to the week night Bible study. Then one of our teenagers started a weekly meeting on Sunday afternoons for young people, so we soon had three separate groups meeting. In order to create some sense of community, we tried to have a picnic or some other kind of fellowship at least once a month soFancy Gap Friends folks in the various groups could get to know one another.

This idea like most of our basic format came directly from a conference I had attended in Richmond earlier that year on simple churches led by Doug and Wendy Biehr. Their presentation was really about gathering friends and neighbors as a way of starting new unprogrammed Friends meetings, but it seemed to me it could work in what I would call a semi programmed setting as well. So we kept the idea of meeting in small groups in a home setting, but I (or occasionally someone else in the group) would share some Scripture and reflect on it as a way of leading the group into worship. For me that meant condensing my remarks into a no more than fifteen minute time frame and leaving things more open ended, making fewer statements and raising more questions for folks to wrestle with in our time of open worship.

We also did a couple of service projects. We got the names of several needy families from Social Services at Thanksgiving and shopped together and then delivered baskets with turkeys and all the works they would need for a traditional Thanksgiving meal to each household. We were also in contact with a military chaplain in Iraq who was involved in the “balls instead of bombs” campaign, and we bought and packed boxes of soccer balls, baseballs, footballs, dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys to be distributed to Iraqi children. When Christmas came, we once again adopted a couple of neighborhoodFancy Gap Friends families through social services and provided toys, clothes, and food for their holiday.

Along the way it became clear to us that we were no longer just a Bible study group, but had become a real faith community doing everything we thought a church should be doing. Our original group had five or six folks in it who had been a part of a Quaker meeting in the past which is why we had the word Friends in our name. Most of the others had no strong ties to any particular church, but really liked the way we did worship and the service aspect of our fellowship, so they were comfortable with the idea of becoming a Quaker worship group. Since a number of us were or had been affiliated with North Carolina Yearly Meeting -FUM, in April of 2005 we asked to become a preparative meeting under the care of the quarterly meeting in closest proximity to us.

Making the transition from a fellowship to a preparative meeting was relatively Fancy Gap Friendspainless. We were already basically using Quaker business procedures and we had folks in the group who volunteered to be our presiding clerk, recording clerk, and treasurer. Thus far we have had 4 presiding clerks, 3 recording clerks, and 3 people serve as treasurer, none of whom are the same, so virtually everyone in the fellowship has served in one capacity or another. We have even had two of our Young Friends serve as presiding and recording clerks.

Although we are somewhat different from the more traditional programmed pastoral meetings that make up most of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, we feel that we have much in common with early Friends. Quakers from the very beginning have understood the church to be the people in whose hearts Christ dwells by faith rather than a building or some other gathering place. Our fellowship has embraced this concept as a way of breaking down the barriers between sacred and secular space since God is everywhere. With this goal in mind, we have purposely chosen not to have a regular meeting place, but instead gather in homes, parks, coffee angel tree shopping 056houses, restaurants, even at overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway for worship and fellowship.

We also feel very strongly connected to the “emerging church” (the word is Convergent among Quakers) and identify very closely with the characteristics of this new movement, some of which are not new to Quakers at all, like the idea that worship should be experiential and interactive. In addition to the traditional Quaker period of open worship, during our “preaching time” folks are also free to raise questions, make comments, and share their own observations and illustrations (some of which are often better than mine) as we work through a passage of Scripture together. We always end our Sunday worship with a communal meal.

We also relate to the emergent idea of “being the church” rather than going to church. Our treasurer came to me once with a note of thanks from someone we did not know. It turned out that a couple who had not been able to get to worship for a couple of weeks because of their work schedules had heard about a need in their community and just gone out and bought groceries and other necessities and showed up at the family’s door and told them they were from Fancy Gap Friends Fellowship. Some of our folks have gotten together in teams of two or three to volunteer at local food pantries. A group of youth and adult volunteers spent most a Tony Loweweekend last summer installing new shelving, repairing leaks, and sorting and shelving food in the food pantry run by our local Red Cross.

Because folks are constantly taking on these kinds of projects, we do very little in the way of programs. Most of the folks in our fellowship have pretty demanding jobs (teachers, mental health counselor, chaplain, real estate agent, etc) so we don’t try to add on additional responsibilities but encourage them to be salt and light in the places God has already put them (something Jesus said about making disciples as you go). At this point there is no one on our fellowship who wasn’t invited to come by a family member, friend, or co-worker. And since we don’t have a building to maintain or programs to support, we are able to put most of our resources to work in our community, either through help given directly to individuals and families or by supporting the local food banks and other community agencies.

We’re a user friendly group. We don’t have it all together, and we don’t pretend to have all the answers (we don’t even have all the questions yet). We’re just a group of folks on a journey together, learning as we go, encountering God along the road in ordinary people, places, and situations in ways that make them all extraordinary which is verily, verily awesome.

Tony LoweTony Lowe is a recorded minister in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). He is a graduate of Houston Graduate School of Theology and Carolina Evangelical Divinity School. After serving five years as a pastor in more traditional Friends Meetings, Tony became the pastoral minister of Fancy Gap Friends Fellowship. In addition to his work with Fancy Gap Friends, Tony is very interested in Convergent Friends and enjoys traveling among different groups of Quakers to promote mutual respect and understanding.