Friday, September 30, 2011

Review of Jon Watt's New Album: "Clothe Yourself in Righteousness"

By Stephen Angell

Jon Watts is a post-modern George Fox, or Solomon Eccles. (Fox was the 17th century founder of the Quakers, Eccles a Quaker and contemporary of Fox given to prophetic actions such as stripping himself naked and running through the streets with a basket of hot coals on his head.) Like them, he is both prophetic and radical. Also like them, he is well rooted, but not lost, in the past (Christian or Quaker tradition), and is firmly devoted to speaking challengingly to his times. His rap poetry is exquisite and well suited to the delivery of a radical Quaker message, with gorgeous chords in the background that do not overwhelm the spoken word. 

This album is a poignant combination of the social, spiritual, and personal, a paean to simplicity and a radical critique of consumerism. It includes both a lament of lost love and a reminder of the Inner Light that all possess – that means we are all loved. Youthful like Fox was when the Quaker movement had its Pentecost in the early 1650s, Watts ends with a moving tribute to his elders. You’ll want to listen many times, and let the music and message soak in.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What is Quaker Spirituality? (Part 2)

George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Quaker movement, had numerous mystical encounters that he called “openings” in which he was given revelations that brought new insights. He sometimes described such experiences as being “taken up into the love of God.” One such insight, that everyone was “enlightened by the divine Light of Christ,” became a key concept in Quaker spirituality. This Light, they claimed, was universal and “would work out the salvation of all, if not resisted.” Originally called the “inward light,” in later periods Friends divided over its interpretation, evangelically-oriented Friends preferring to call it the Holy Spirit, and mystically-oriented Friends, the “inner light.”

Quaker spirituality initially developed around the idea of holiness, which they called perfection or union with God, a spirituality of radical optimism. Perfection, always a work of grace, brought power to overcome sin, a new sense of spiritual freedom, and soul-joy even amidst suffering. Quaker theologian, Robert Barclay (1648-1690) called perfection the “holy birth…fully brought forth.” Quakers always described perfection in biblical terms such as “The life hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), “Christ in you, the hope of Glory” (Col. 1:27), to “partake of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and to be “one spirit” with the Lord (I Cor. 6:17).

Early Quakers had a thoroughly biblical worldview and considered the Bible authoritative. However, Fox felt he was primarily called “to direct people to the Spirit that gave forth the Scripture.” Quakers believed revelation was not closed, nor confined to Scripture, but Scripture was the touchstone of truth, and would confirm all direct, personal inspiration. The Bible and the practice of communal discernment became safeguards for self-deception.

Early Quakers, like many puritans in their time, initially anticipated the imminent second coming of Christ, but when it did not happen literally they recognized that Christ had come again spiritually, within each person. Quakers then began to proclaim a “kingdom now” theology, preaching that the Kingdom is within.
Quakers were evangelistic and prophetic, preaching good news to the poor and denouncing oppression--religious, social and political. They became a missionary-oriented movement on a grand scale, adopting an itinerant, apostolic style of preaching. A concern for freedom of conscience, equality of all persons, and social justice were corollaries of their evangelism.

Early Quakers could arguably be called a grass-roots Pentecostal movement. The experience of being "in the power," which meant being Spirit-filled and led, is one of the most recurring phrases in George Fox’s Journal. Early Friends often used the term "poured down" to refer to whole meetings that were “in the power.”

The first generation of Quakers were often harshly persecuted for their beliefs, and thus identified themselves as belonging to the long line of martyrs for God’s truth. Their experience of suffering was viewed positively as identification with Christ, and brought redemptive meaning and purpose. The cross as a daily enacting of the suffering of Christ, became a central symbol of Quaker spirituality. William Penn wrote, “The bearing of thy daily Cross is the only true testimony.”

Quaker christology emphasized the inward Christ (the inward Light) and the cosmic Christ (the universal Light) more than the historical Jesus. Quakers proclaimed that Christ must be awakened and experienced inwardly, not simply believed in as an historic figure or event. Quaker preacher, James Nayler, testified to this Christology which is the basis of incarnational holiness, “None can witness redemption further than Christ is thus revealed in them, to set them free from sin: which Christ I witness to be revealed in me in measure. ”

A twentieth century Quaker spiritual writer echoes this Christology in his classic text, A Testament of Devotion, “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking voice….Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action. And He is within us all.” The biblical phrase “in Christ“ for Quakers did not mean simply being “in the church” or being “saved,” but signified a mystical relationship of divine indwelling and a complete transformation of being, a knowing God in oneself, and knowing oneself in God.

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

This text is excerpted from the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, Ed. Glen G. Scorgie.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Peace Forum, September 15, 2011 - Living Out Your Faith

By Valerie Hurwitz

Joshua Abel, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, came to speak to a group of ESR, Bethany, and Earlham students at Peace Forum.  ESR MDiv student Erin Hougland did her Americorps work at the NCLC, and now works as their volunteer coordinator.  The NCLC began in 1991 when a Presbyterian pastor used his sermon to discuss the need for free legal assistance in the impoverished community surrounding the church building.  Six attorneys in the congregation decided to create a legal clinic that provided pro-bono legal services to low income neighborhood residents.  NCLC has from a volunteer organization to a not-for-profit corporation with 30 employees, including an Executive Director and 10 attorneys on staff.  They offer legal services free of charge to those at 125% of the poverty line or lower.  Areas of expertise include landlord/tenant law, foreclosures, child custody and visitation, immigration, bankruptcy, taxes, and wills.

A few things of note here: this is the first legal clinic that came out of a church setting, at least as far as the American Bar Association is aware.  Second, the clinic does its work as a way of demonstrating the love of Christ.  They do not evangelize in the sense that we think of evangelizing in the 21st century.  One could argue that they are evangelists in the sense that they bring “good news”; much-needed assistance to the poor and needy.  I am reminded of John 1: 46 where Nathaniel asks if anything good can come out of Nazareth and Philip answers “Come and see.”  Evangelism may simply be letting your work in the world and what you advocate be a reflection of your faith.

The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic is always looking for partners; non-profits who can refer clients, attorneys willing to volunteer on cases, donations, churches willing to serve as intake sites, etc.  There was talk at ESR on Thursday of where a good intake site in Richmond would be.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see one soon.

On a more personal note, I have dealt with legal bureaucracy two memorable times in my life.  One was because the IRS made a mistake on my taxes and insisted that I owed money, while the other occurred because a landlord was (amazingly, suspiciously) slow in returning a security deposit.  I muddled through both situations, but remembered thinking that this would be extremely difficult if I did not have the ability to take time during business hours to handle this, and if I did not feel equipped to research tax law and landlord-tenant law and argue based on that research.  I mentioned these two examples to Erin Hougland, and she affirmed that these were not unusual issues for the legal clinic to deal with.  For people who feel as though “the system” is stacked against them, having someone to affirm what their legal rights and assist them in navigating it is good news indeed.

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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What is Quaker Spirituality? (Part 1)

I am the Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Earlham School of Religion, a Christian Quaker seminary where students can choose a spirituality emphasis. When people ask me what I teach I am always a bit reluctant to say “spirituality.” It sounds so self-righteous and superior! I continually wonder if it is even possible to “teach” spirituality, and on a more fundamental level, what it is that I am actually teaching. Spirituality is a slippery word that can mean practically anything, and is notoriously difficult to pin down to a simple definition that can be universally agreed upon. 

All spirituality is contextual. That is a postmodern axiom, true for all spiritual traditions, and emphatically so for Quaker spirituality which has always been contextual to the core, developing in reaction to, as well as accord with, its historical circumstances. When I teach Christian spirituality I bring to my classes a broad background of a lifetime of immersion in Protestant Christianity, as well as scholarly study of the diversity of Christian traditions. I also bring the experiences of my own spiritual journey and its grounding in the context of a particular Quaker tradition with its own unique history and development.

If I were to ask ten Quaker students at ESR to define and describe Quaker spirituality I would be certain to receive ten different descriptions each shaped by that student’s particular context and life experience. Granted there might be some commonality, but also wide divergence.

Knowing it is virtually impossible to summarize Quaker spirituality in a way that would be acceptable or recognizable to all within the diverse body called Quakers, it takes some boldness and even chutzpah to attempt such a task in 850 words or less. Yet this was my challenge when asked to write an entry on Quaker spirituality for the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, recently published by Zondervan. So I offer it not as an authoritative description, but merely as a place to begin a conversation around the question, what is Quaker spirituality?

Quakerism began as an experiential faith with a strong mystical interiority, yet a mysticism that was not primarily individual but oriented toward the creation of an alternative community and mission in the world.  Being theoretically non-creedal and non-sacramental, its spiritual expression became highly malleable to historical trends and conditions.

Although we rarely think of Quaker spirituality today as puritan it was originally molded by its emergence in a Puritan/Calvinist context, and subsequently shaped in turn by forces of Quietism, evangelicalism, revivalism, modernism, pluralism, and secularism. In each new context, divergent forms of Quaker spirituality developed, conserving some elements of the tradition and secularizing others.

The first Quakers called themselves “Children of Light” and “Publishers of Truth” but were derisively called “Quakers” because they trembled when they spoke through the inspiration of the Spirit. Quakers today rarely tremble, and the spirituality of its various contemporary branches ranges from conservative evangelical to non-theist.

Quakers are uniquely divided by two forms of worship, “unprogrammed” Friends, meet in silence, without clergy, music or visible sacraments; and “programmed” or pastoral Friends follow a set order of worship, with hymns, scripture, sermons, and prayers. Early Quaker worship was both contemplative (based in silence and surrender) and charismatic. After a long period of silent waiting, messages would be delivered spontaneously through the inspiration of the Spirit.

Quakers of all types continue to be connected by a strong sense of history, as well as a few unique elements such as a consensus decision-making, a testimony to peace and gender equality, and an appreciation for the spiritual value of silence. The basis of all Quaker spirituality is a direct, unmediated experience of God. This may happen individually in the process of conversion and prayer, and communally in the experience of worship.

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

This text is excerpted from the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, Ed. Glen G. Scorgie.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Uncharted Waters

By Anna Woofenden

September 13th Common Meal 
Annie Glenn: Uncharted Waters

Annie Glenn came to ESR in 2004 as an unprogramed Quaker who was happy to state whenever need be: “I would never be a pastor.” Coming out of a rich variety of vocational experiences as a caseworker, writer and editor and a teacher, she came to ESR as a gift to herself. At age 49 she decided to give herself a 50th birthday present and explore spirituality.  Her ministry goal, “To talk with people in all aspects of life”, or as she candidly admitted, she didn’t know where she was heading.

As Annie shared her story of formation and transformation during her time at ESR she highlighted the process of having everything she knew be broken down and from that place God calling her in her continued ministry. Annie related to Abram and his call and pondered how long between he received his call and struck out and followed it.  In her journey, this call to ministry has landed her right where she thought she’d never be, as a pastor of a programmed meeting. Though she fought this along the way, she’s found clarity of purpose and usefulness as she is actively walking alongside a congregation in their work. 

Annie exhorted us as seminary students to, “Let our lights shine” knowing that God will call us into and out of the work God has for us. She called out for the continued raising up of leaders, particularly in the Quaker community. Leaders who can use their gifts, resolution and guidance within a structure that honors each person’s gifts and purposes.  She ended by sharing, “I don’t think ministry is defined by a job. It is the gifts, the leadership and the calling. What defines me is the gifts that the Spirit of God has given me.” 

Anna Woofenden is a first-year MDiv/MMin student at Earlham School of Religion.  She is a member of the Swedenborgian church and did outreach work for a church in Colorado, as well as for the national office of her denomination, before coming to ESR in January of 2011.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Report from New York Yearly Meeting 2011

By Wayne Williams

Being both a member of New York Yearly Meeting (Brooklyn) and a student at ESR, I was invited by the school to attend the 316th Session of our Yearly Meeting this summer at Silver Bay, NY.  While there, I provided a presence for ESR and had the opportunity to meet and engage with Friends, old and new.  When asked to submit an article about my experience for ESR’s blog, Learning and Leading, I said that I would.  Why has it taken me so long to respond?  Only recently did I discern the reason for my delayed response - I have something to say that I don’t want to say.  New York Yearly Meeting needs prayer for its future.

Christopher Sammond, NYYM General Secretary, reported a 50% loss of membership in the past 56 years.  Today’s membership is 8% less than what it was 10 years ago.  Only 32 of 53 Meetings mention new attenders in their State of the Meeting Report, and some meetings conclude that they do not have the energy to do outreach.  Many Meetings are in danger of being laid down because, as Christopher Sammond reports, “We are nearing the time when we may not have the necessary critical mass to do the work of outreach necessary to preserve many of our meetings.”  Christopher suggested that this steep downward trend could be averted only with a change in current behaviors.  He called us to carry this concern when decisions are made regarding resource allocation and programming.

Christopher spoke on the topic of agency, “the person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved.”  He defined it as “the innate capacity to effect change.”  I would agree with Christopher’s assessment that we underestimate our ability to be change agents.  Often, the discrepancy between where we are and where God wants us to be can produce overwhelming feelings: inadequacy and apathy are two common responses.  However, he spoke of certain Meetings that were finding renewal and strength in unity.  However, he encouraged Friends to support individuals “on fire with commitment.  A Friend with gifts in forming community, with gifts in witness, or with gifts of spiritual depth can act like a seed crystal, inspiring those around that person to join in creating a more vibrant meeting.”  Having made over 150 visits to worship groups and meetings over the past seven years, these are the qualities he observed in Friends’ responsible for bringing fresh fire to meetings.

I’m not an expert on agency, but my belief is that the Living Christ is “that person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved.”  Some Friends do not welcome such a perspective in NYYM.  The growth and spread of Quakerism in the 17th and 18th centuries was undoubtedly due to those agents of Christ.  Women and men who were filled with the same fire and commitment Christopher Sammond has observed in contemporary Friends over the years.  

My heart grieves when I reflect on the reality that today, Christ-centered Friends at NYYM appear to be meeting like a special-interest group.  I worshiped with “Christ-centered Friends” in a separate bedroom on the second floor of the Inn.  Was there no other room in the Inn?  I understand that these Friends request to worship separately from the body.  Why?  One individual informed me that her vocal ministry had been silenced in the past because, “they don’t want hear about Jesus.”  Therefore, in order to share without fear of censorship or disapproval, “Christ-centered Friends” gather for worship to speak freely and in support of each other’s witness to the Foundation of our Society.  Apparently for some Friends, Jesus isn’t even welcome at the table.

Does it surprise me that when Christ is excluded from fellowship with His people that we witness a decline in membership?  No.  Fifty-six years ago, when NYYM had 50% more members, was there such a label as “Christ-centered Friends”?  I don’t know, but I think perhaps it’s time to examine if there is a correlation between our changing theology over the years, and the current state of our Yearly Meeting.  There is room for all at our Quaker table, but let us not forget from whose table we are given our Spiritual gifts.  

My theory is that perhaps some desire to limit God-talk or reject vocal ministry that calls upon the name of Jesus because they secretly fear the change that the Living Christ in our midst can lay claim to.  Personally, as a Christ-centered member of NYYM, I welcome that baptism. I pray God gives me the courage to witness to the miracles and healing that the Living Christ can perform, and wants to perform, for each of us.  Can we open our hearts and welcome in this Light?  It’s already here…waiting.  Please keep New York Yearly Meeting, her stewards and prophets in your prayers, and support our precious agents of Christ. 

Wayne WilliamsWayne is a current MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion. He is a member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting, New York Yearly Meeting.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Silence of Holy Saturday

By David L. Johns

The most penetrating sound of September 2001 came
not on Tuesday the 11th but on Sunday the 16th.

In November of 1963, only two days after Kennedy
was murdered in Dallas, gridiron warriors assembled on one
hundred yard fields and pushed, and tackled, and punted, and
passed. Near capacity crowds were somber, but nevertheless
cheered on seven NFL games; Pittsburgh tied Chicago 17-17,
Cleveland trounced the Cowboys by ten points. On a Sunday
afternoon in late January 1991, while soldiers were engaged in a
Storm in the Desert, the most creative television commercials of
the season were shown during breaks from Super Bowl XXV.
Allied troops fought Saddam; the New York Giants beat the
Buffalo Bills 20-19.

The most penetrating sound of September 2001 came
not on Tuesday the 11th but on Sunday the 16th; in stadiums
across the country there was no football, there was only silence.
The silent stadium was a more truthful witness to the moment
than were the immediate demands for war; the silent stadium
spoke more poignantly than the immediate calls for peace.

It was the simple-minded naiveté of both the hawks and
the doves that first made me uneasy. It was all so simple. Too
simple. “Steer clear, dear Odysseus, steer clear and save your

On one hand, there was the immediate response to “kill
them,” “retaliate with everything we have,” “unleash the dogs
of war.” We are victims, they are the enemy! On the day
after, Lance Morrow wrote in Time magazine, “A day cannot

live in infamy without the nourishment of rage. Let’s have
rage. What’s needed is a unified, unifying, Pearl Harbor sort of
purple American fury—a ruthless indignation.”

At the same time, another chorus of voices sang a
dirge of national self-loathing. Here the model of blame is
inverted…they are the victims and we are the enemy. “Our
foreign policy has alienated and disenfranchised and, therefore,
the actions of the terrorists, while horrible, were certainly

It was all so simple.

Then came the statement of Pat Robertson and Jerry
Falwell—identical in sentiment to the statements made by
some others. “The United States is getting what it deserves,
what it has asked for. The anger of God (or, Disenfranchised
Arab and Muslim peoples) has been simmering for years and
on September 11 it reached the boiling point. We know who
the guilty party is, says Falwell and Robertson: homosexuals,
the ACLU, feminists, and abortion rights activists; we know
who the guilty party is, say the purveyors of national self-abuse:
corporate America, the government, the military establishment.
Therefore, since we are guilty, the attacks of God (or,
Disenfranchised Arab and Muslim peoples) is understandable, if
not actually justified.”

It was all so simple.

But it was precisely the simplicity of the solutions that
convinced me of their impossibility. From the “war on them” to the “war on us” everything had the ring of sanctimoniousness and superficiality. Many organizations hastily generated statements concerning the attacks. These statements appeared so swiftly it was obscene.

It was so with Friends. By Wednesday morning the
Friends Committee for National Legislation and Friends
General Conference had posted statements on the internet.
FCNL even posted photos of its office draped with a banner
sporting a bumper-sticker-esque slogan: “War is not the
answer.” Like many other colleges, even my beloved Earlham
jumped into the real-time statement game. In a statement dated
September 12th and posted on the college’s website: “Yesterday
[the] President, student leaders, and teaching and administrative
faculty leaders drafted this response to the day’s events.” I
was breathless. Memos and family pictures from the World
Trade Center towers were still drifting over Manhattan and we
were announcing to the world what we would and would not
do, what was in principle acceptable and what was not. For a
denomination that speaks much of the value of silence there was
precious little of it in response to September 11.

These statements were formulaic and predictable—
like form letters resting peacefully on a hard drive waiting for
someone to fill in the blanks, verbal ejaculations to protect
against our fear of corporate anger. They included a ceremonial
denunciation of the attacks to quiet the masses, then they
stated prepackaged solution. But how could we know how to
respond? In rushing to make statements we demonstrated just how messianic some of us think we are.

Blaming clogged the internet, but empty football
stadiums spoke more truthfully. The orthodoxy of political
correctness, of course, still grants permission to make
demeaning and smug remarks concerning “brainless
testosterone-driven athletes who sit in the back of the
classroom;” however, it was the chorus of silence sung by
absent line-backers that spoke more wisely than the erudite
prose of any academic.

Our time is distinguished by a certain ambiguity. An
ambiguous time is a time in-between, a place of tension, a time
when simple answers simply do not answer; the foundations
that once supported us have been removed and nothing is
completely settled. Louis-Marie Chauvet has written that even
God does not guarantee our certainties. By scrambling to ease
our dis-ease we ingest a panacea that inoculates us from living
with the pain, the anguish, and the anger of real victims.

Each year in the liturgical rhythm of the Christian
calendar a little noted day is lodged between two more
celebrated days—Holy Saturday. It is often neglected, but
it speaks to this moment in our history. Our time is a Holy
Saturday. The horror of the crucifixion is over; the image of
the embodiment of our hopes broken and bleeding and dead still
lingers fresh and raw. In the liturgy, Holy Saturday reenacts
a waiting for something we know has come. Our waiting is
different. In agony and in fear we want to rush into the tomb
and rescue Jesus, to save him from the chill of the tomb. But when we remove Jesus on Saturday we have nothing but a corpse. Easter has not yet come. And who knows, maybe Easter will never come. But, if it does, who can know what form it will take?

Holy Saturday is a day of wondering, of anguish, of
anger, of gnawing emptiness, of fear, and of the questioning
eyes of children. Holy Saturday is a place in-between, a time of
waiting, a time for tears, a space for grieving. Holy Saturday is
a day to remain silent before the ambiguity of life and death, of
death in life.

In many ways, Holy Saturday is the longest day of the
year. “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord
one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one
day” (II Peter 3:8). This longest “day” began on September
12th , but it has not been respected nor reverenced by us crafters
of words or by backseat legislators. Yet, silent stadiums …

Plato spoke of metaxy as an in-between place, a place
where humans meet God. We are standing now between
horror and hope in a chasm of betweenness, uncertain, messy,
dangerous, ambiguous. Yet, this metaxy is the place where
God is. On the lengthy Holy Saturday following September
11th I did not stand with chattering academics or with military
advisors or with spin doctors or with resolute pacifists; I chose
to stand in-between, beside the padded shoulders of a silent line

This essay will be included in an upcoming book, Quakering
Theology, and first appeared in Friends Journal (March 2002).

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, September 2, 2011


Hi everyone,

Summer is coming to a close, and we here at ESR are in transition. Like all educational institutions, we are welcoming a new cohort of students - both residential and Access - and gearing up for another year of classes, seminars and events.

This summer was a rich and productive one for us. We had the opportunity to visit Yearly Meetings all over the country and touch base with Friends from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. We were also able to host events here on the campus of Earlham School of Religion.

One event we were able to host this spring was the annual Willson Lectures. This year, our lecturer was Joerg Rieger. We invite you to enjoy the video series that we have produced from his lectures: