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Archive for Quaker Life Magazine – Page 3

First-Time Attender, Long-Time Listener

By Steve Olshewsky

As we know far too well, there is much more work to be done than we will ever complete. We pray for help with all that could be done, not just locally, but around the world in which we live. The FUM Triennial was a great way to catch up with so many of God’s harvesters — the living answers to our prayers.

Looking at Matthew 9:37-38, Mark 4:29, Luke 10:2 and John 4:34-38, what else can be our calling than to harvest the opportunities that God presents us? It was exciting for me to find so many faithful Quakers answering this call of “A Great People to be Gathered: in Christ, in Community, for Mission.”

My drive to Marion, Indiana, was immediately rewarded by the welcoming staff of FUM who had obviously worked extremely hard to make my experience a smooth and easy one. Volunteers pitched in to ensure that I received what I needed in good order. This first contact set the tone for engaging exchanges over the next few days.

Many of the items discovered in the check-in packet were novel, yet useful. This included toys that were both were both fun and practical, thus characteristic of most Triennial activities. I still use the bag it all came in for groceries.

Because there are no FUM affiliates in Kentucky where I worship with Quakers, my experience with programmed Friends has been limited. However, the good work of so many has been so noticeable that the opportunity to attend a Triennial was compelling. While I know very little about FUM itself, many of the people were recognizable from other Quaker arenas, and the work of everyone there was a joy to discover. It was humbling to realize I was breaking bread with such luminous children of the Light.

I enjoyed speaking with current and former fellow students, as well as professors, from Earlham School of Religion. Talking at length with a chancellor of Barclay College, or trustees of such places as Friends University, reminded me that my academic world is larger than realized.

Many funny jokes were told, and Quaker humor was openly encouraged. Referring to iPhones as Apples (because they are so tempting) took the serious edge off of thinking about my electronic idols. Laughter was a common, refreshing part of the Triennial.

Many amazing stories of money miracles made the fish and the loaves seem almost commonplace. One example was found in Del and Suzanne Livingston who made my drink seem more precious as they told me about their efforts with Living Water in Africa. They helped me realize how far the seeds we plant can extend.

The economic and political aspects of African countries embracing a Quaker initiative seemed less important than the practical aspects of providing drinkable water for a household of 10 to 12 with raw materials as simple as sand and gravel. Hearing prices like $1.20 or 50 cents per month gave me a new perspective on my water bill, but also on what is really important to do with all the blessings I enjoy, whether clean water or an hourly wage. How much easier would healthcare issues like cholera or AIDS be if the world had an available water supply?

Many of my quandaries, like how I could ever be as Christlike as those around me, were addressed by plenary speakers. The dilemma of reflecting Christian virtues while being authentically human is not new, but it was previously unimagined that Jesus living in us makes us sacred the way an artist’s signature adds value to a painting.

FUM’s mission statement: “to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord” was echoed by employees describing their callings in the same terms. Each talked about how, according to their individual gifts, God led them to this harvest.

Henry Freeman’s definition of a disciple as a student spoke to my condition of being in school, and his entertaining presentation persuaded me that fundraising is a different process than I imagined. He described it as uniting people with their dreams, or their true callings, as I might term it.

The FUM staff had worked so hard to organize the Triennial as a vessel, making it an environment that allowed us to better hear the authenticity behind the voice rather than the presenting voice. This sense of gathering and quickening overshadowed any sense of differences and gave participants a sense of being called.

Donne Hayden reminded me how important it is to go to each other’s “do’s,” and how attractive Quakers are to the outside world when we are united. That was easy to see at the Triennial where members of Liberal, Conservative and Evangelical branches joined in with, and were celebrated by, FUM Friends.

The cross-sectional nature of the conference was not limited to organizational styles, but was seen in the mix of ages. Thus it was easy to confer about how to engage young adult Friends in Quaker programs. Who would have otherwise thought to frame the issue as how to support the excellent work already being attempted in youth programs?

As many Quaker events as I have been to over the years, I was sad that so many display tables were new to me. Displays not seen before ranged from earning Quaker badges in conjunction with scouting to Lugulu Hospital in Kenya with the motto: “We treat, Jesus heals.”

The whole experience fed me intellectually with sound theology and insightful perspectives on the Bible. The difference between works and the word effort used in II Peter 1:5-7 solved the age-old “grace versus works” problem, and called us to action.

I came away from the event refreshed and encouraged that so many good Friends are diligently working for a better world, and that FUM gives us a venue to learn about, as well as join in with, so much good work.

Steve Olshewsky is a Writing as Ministry student at the Earlham School of Religion.

Quaker Life – September/October 2014

2014 Triennial Gathering of Friends United Meeting (FUM)

Influence comes from not trying to do things on my own; it doesn’t come from my ego or determined sense of independence. It comes from trusting that my life, hidden in Christ, will influence. If I am one in Christ, the kingdom in which I reside becomes influential. The most significant part of the U-turn is the truth that it isn’t my life that influences, it is Christ’s.

I need to go back to a practice of listening intently and trusting that Voice. Christ’s voice spoke loudly during Triennials, “Annie, you are one in whom I dwell and take delight. Why don’t you let go and live in the strong, unshakeable kingdom in which I reign? The influence will be My job, if you just listen and trust my Voice.”

FUM, as a body, I believe, also heard its GPS say the same words. I found myself praying throughout the time,“We are listening, O God. May Your life become tangible to anyone we encounter. If we need to, may we turn around and make a U-turn right into Your strong and unshakeable kingdom. May the world experience Your influence, again. Amen.” It is a prayer I pray for you, my Friends. And, may you never get lost.
Annie Glen – Communications Editor, Friends United Meeting

Formed in the Image of Christ – By James Bryan Smith

“Jesus did not preach a gospel of hell evasion. He gave us a gospel of heaven invasion. God didn’t come just to get you, out of hell. He came to get heaven into you, now!”

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First-Time Attender, Long-Time Listener – By Steve Olshewsky

“I came away from Triennial refreshed and encouraged that so many good Friends are diligently working for a better world, and that FUM gives us a venue to learn about, as well as join in with, so much good work.”

Read more



Hidden in Christ – By James Bryan Smith

“The key to Christlike living and Christlike loving is knowing that you are sacred and valued of worth. … Try saying this, ‘I am one in whom Christ dwells and takes delight. I am sacred and precious and valuable.'”

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Toward a Quaker Renaissance – By Richard Foster

“This vivid experience of Jesus as present Teacher is at the very core of the Quaker witness. Let me say as clearly as I possibly can, Jesus Christ is alive and here to teach his people himself. He has not contracted laryngitis. His voice is not hard to hear. His vocabulary is not difficult to understand.”

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Energizing, Equipping and Connecting for the Work of God – By Colin Saxton

“FUM is a global community where Friends are energized, equipped and connected in order to carry out the work God is calling us to do in our time and place.”

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Reflection of Peace – By Mary Lord

“There are two predictors of violence in a society or a country apt to come to war. One is the degree of inequality, especially if there are many poor and few rich. The other is the percentage of young men between the ages of 15-25 with no job, not in school and no hope. They are very vulnerable to those who would use them for violence.”

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Stories of Faith and Peacemaking – Global Peace Panel

“Panelists from across the Quaker world share about their experiences of faith and peacemaking.”

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Joyful, Fearless and Always in Trouble! – By Colin Saxton

“Joy, fearless, trouble. These are signs of vibrant Christian life. And all we need to get there is near-death experience.”

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Other Articles In This Issue:

Staff Columns

Out of My Mind – Colin Saxton
Meanderings & Musings – Annie Glen

FUM News and Updates

FUM News in Brief

Other Content

A Spontaneous Prayer – Ruthie Tippin
My Visit to Baragoi in Samburu North – Sammy Letoole
Passages: Quaker Obituaries

Formed into the Image of Christ

By James Bryan Smith

It is an honor to be with you tonight. I am a United Methodist. You might think I am an interloper here. When my friend and colleague, Erwin Stanley, sent me an email and invited me to this event, my heart was strangely warm.

My life at Friends University introduced me, certainly, to the writings of George Fox and William Penn . . . as well as the writings of Thomas Kelly and Elton Trueblood . . .

But, I am not really a Quaker. Someone once called me the “Typhoid Mary of Quakerism.” It means I carry the disease, but don’t have it. I am sort of a carrier of this thing you all have and I am an admirer of all the things you have done.

Frederick Buechner once said, “Your calling is where your passion and the world’s great needs meet.” My passion is transformation into Christlikeness, Christian spiritual formation . . . Helping people grow into an instant life with God.

The way I define Christian spirituality, or Christian formation, is that it is a process of being formed into the image of Christ; so that we can live a good and beautiful life for the sake of ourselves and others to change the world. That is what I get excited about every day. That is what I think about. That is what I write about. What I want to talk about tonight, is a journey that I went on. It was a long journey of discovery to figure out how that works. . . .

Most of us when we think about transformation and growth, think we are going to change via our will power. We think that we want to more of this and less of that. We think we want to be more committed to God, pray more, etc. Whatever it is, we think, “I just need to muster my will and get it right.” I am going to let you in on a secret that took me 15 years to discover. Your will doesn’t have any power. The will is a capacity to choose. It is a capacity within the soul. It is much like a muscle: it gets bigger if it use it more, smaller if you don’t use it . . .

Here is an illustration of what I mean: For seven years at the university, I coached the men’s and women’s tennis team. One year I had a player on the men’s team who was my number one singles player. He was a great player. He was a tall, lanky kid with a big Adam’s apple and he had a deep voice. He could imitate Darth Vader’s voice. It was spot-on, perfect . . .

One night the team had a dinner together. The next day they came to practice. They said to me, “Hey, Coach! We watched Star Wars after dinner last night. Jeremy has a great line for you.” I said, “What is it?” They said, “You know, it has to be given at the right time.” I thought he would do it sometime during practice, but he didn’t. He didn’t do it the next day, nor the next. A week passed and I had completely forgotten about it.

As we prepared for a match, I was sparring against him and his double partner. I served to him. I am left handed. So is he. I hit the best serve I could possibly hit. It was all I got. I nailed this serve. It hit the back of line and I was certain it was not coming back. I was thinking it could have been an ace. I took two steps in, pretty confident that no play would happen. But, it was in his forehand range. He hit a shot that went right by my feet, skipped right by me. He looked at me and said (in that Darth Vader voice), “Your powers are weak, old man!” — Timing is everything. We fell on the court laughing and never recovered that entire practice.

As I was laying on my back on the court, laughing; I had an epiphany. I realized my powers are weak. Disconnected from God — that is life lived in the flesh — I don’t have any power . . . what we are doing in Christian spiritual formation is accessing the power of God. . . In fact, Paul was so bold as to say, “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.” . . .

In spending all this time, particularly with Dallas Willard and his work in what became The Divine Conspiracy, . . . I began to see what he understood and frankly, it was not only what Dallas understood; it was what the early Quakers and early Methodists understood.

The process of transformation into Christlikeness isn’t a mystery. It is a combination of doing several things that in conjunction, naturally lead to transformation. The work that I do is really resourcing the old tradition.

I think the struggle that we have, if I can be bold for a second, is that when a movement happens — whether it is with the Methodists or the Quakers, the Baptists or whoever — the movement is fueled by the power of God. People get on fire. Eventually the movement needs to have some sort of a vessel around that treasure . . . Eventually, the focus becomes more on the vessel than on the treasure. A lot of your time is spent in propping up the vessel . . . If you trace back you will see that the basic elements of genuine transformation are the same . . . if you can get at the heart of it . . .

The way that we are transformed is by working three different angles underneath the leading of the Holy Spirit. Imagine a triangle. At the top of the triangle is the word, narrative. Narrative consists of ideas and images that are put in story form. Human beings think in terms of stories. That is how we remember. For example, if I asked you right now to name the Ten Commandments or the nine Beatitudes, some of you could do it. But only a very small portion of humans can. . . . But, if I ask you to tell me the story of the Prodigal Son, I believe I could get 100% of you to tell me the story. That is because our minds think in terms of narrative . . . Another angle that shapes humans and who they are, are practices. These are our common habits, the things we do on a consistent basis that mold and shape who we are. Those things done over time, then, make us the kinds of people that we are. The third angle of the triangle is community. That is the people that we spend our time with do have an influence on us . . .

At the center of the triangle, is the Holy Spirit, who is at work leading us . . . In the book, The Divine Conspiracy, chapter nine is entitled, “A Curriculum of Christlikeness.” . . . I read this 10 times, wrote all over the margins and highlighted in multiple colors. It wasn’t until the 11th reading that I finally figured out what Dallas was trying to say. One line jumped off the page, “In order for people to enter into a deep relationship with God, they have to be led to the good and beautiful God that Jesus knew.” . . . That really hit me . . . The narratives we have in many of our churches about the nature and character of God are not those of Jesus; and they are toxic and even deadly. For example, a study conducted at Baylor in 2004 interviewed Christians of all denominations across the United States. Most of the people described God this way: “God is angry judge who is poised to punish us for our sins.” Nearly 4 in 10 who say they are Christian will say when asked . . . that God, “is up in the heavens and he is mad. He is watching us — every move we make . . . If we do something wrong, he is going to get us.” That is the dominant view of God and it has been around for a very long time . . . Our second child was born with a chromosome disorder that caused multiple birth defects . . . Six months after our daughter was born, a pastor asked to have lunch with me. Right in the middle of the salad portion of the meal, he said to me, “So, Jim. Who sinned? You or your wife? Who was it that caused this?”

Now, when something like that comes across as starkly as that, it hits you at a visceral level. You feel that something is wrong with that. But, in truth, we do think things are like that . . . Spiritual formation into Christlikeness is removing those false images of God and replacing them with those of Jesus. Did Jesus ever face that narrative? He did on two occasions . . . [In both cases,] Jesus had a chance to either affirm or deny these narratives. As we all know, he denied them. Jesus simply said, “Neither his parents nor this man sinned, but let God be glorified.” [In both narratives,] . . . God was glorified and we still talk about it to this day . . .

I have discovered that if we have narratives about God that are beneath who God is (that is, the God who Jesus revealed); then we won’t be able to enter into a vital relationship of intimacy. The process of growing into that relationship is a process of examining our narratives. It is something we don’t often think about . . . We tend to jump right into disciplines and practices . . . If you have toxic views of God and start practicing the spiritual disciplines, you will get worse . . . This work of a deep life of God involves understanding the God that Jesus knows. Narratives are really, really important . . . One of the most fundamental teachings that Dallas Willard helped me with was when he explained to me that most Christians think grace means “unmerited forgiveness”. Grace actually means God’s action and power in your life. He asked the question, “So, Jim. Who do you think utilizes more grace? Sinners or saint?” He said, “. . . if grace is God’s action in your life — accessing the power of God in your life — then sinners don’t access much at all.” “Saints,” he said, “burn grace like a 747 burns jet fuel on take-off.” That image stuck with me.

When we are practicing exercises, or disciplines, we are accessing the grace and power of God. That leads to transformation. So our narrative changes. Practicing and creating the space for God, for grace in our lives and then, being hooked into a community that shapes us. . . .

The center of that triangle is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us to Truth . . . to practices and . . . speaks to us in our communities. Nobody knows that better than the Quakers.
Again, the process of being transformed into Christlikeness is not a great mystery. It is not like clenching your teeth and hoping it happens. It is about working all of those angles consistently over time. . . .

Narrative change is really hard. . . .There are two narratives that if you would commit yourself to them over the next year, . . . you will become “an alleluia from head to toe,” as St. Augustine once said.

The first one is: “I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights.” Paul wrote about Christ in us 89 times. His understanding of the identity of Christ follower was they were in Christ. . . . It is Biblically accurate. . . . it tells you of your sacred worth . . .

One of my favorite stories is John of Kromstadt, a Russian priest of the 19th century. Each morning he would walk to his church. On the way, he would see men and women in the street, drunk. Many of the priests would walk right by, sort of in judgment of them. Not John of Kromstadt. John of Kromstadt would lift them up and cradle them in his arms and say, “This is beneath you. You were meant to house the fullness of God.” I love that story. “This is beneath you. You were meant to house the fullness of God.” . . .The Inner Light gives dignity to all people. This is beneath you. You were meant to house the fullness of God.

Here is the second truth: “I live in the strong and unshakeable kingdom of God.” Jesus’s Gospel was the available life with him and his kingdom. That was his good news. Jesus did not preach a gospel of hell evasion. He gave us a gospel of heaven invasion. God didn’t come just to get you, out of hell. He came to get heaven into you, now!

The kingdom of God, which is God’s great plan, is, as Dallas Willard puts it in The Divine Conspiracy, is grace. His kingdom is available now for us to step into. Here is the thing, the kingdom of God is never troubled. We struggle, we come and go, our churches have their days, but the kingdom of God (if we align ourselves) is always salvation. That is why I live in the strong, unshakeable kingdom. No matter what happens to me. . . “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” basically says, “Don’t worry about a thing.” Live in that reality.

Those two narratives, I call the “Power Narratives” . . . they change your perspective . . . They make you want to meet with God.

I want to close with a story that draws this together from my very first Apprentice Series spiritual formation group. One of the guys in the group had come back from a business trip. He said, “Hey guys, I want to share a story to see if you can help me process it” He was a . . . zoo architect [who had worked at a site] in Europe . . . He and his business partner had arrived and saw that the plane was delayed an hour . . . it became two hours . . .The night went on and that wonderful moment came when the sign said, “CANCELLED.” . . .

He and his business partner went to rebook their flight. There was a long line, as you can imagine, with very angry people. They were all taking it out on some poor, young woman who was not responsible . . . as the man got to the young gal and he said, “I just want to say this right away. I am not going to be mean to you.” She smiled and tears developed in the corner of her eye. She said, “Thank you.” He very politely rebook his flight, thanked her for her work and said some encouraging things to her.

He stepped aside and his business partner rebooked his flight. As they were walking away, his business partner said, “Craig, I have worked with you for 10 years. A year ago, you would have taken her head off. You would have been the meanest person in the line. What have you been eating and drinking?” Here was his great response. He said, “It is not what I have been eating and drinking. It is what I have been doing and thinking. I have been engaging in practices like solitude, slowing down and rest. I recite the 23rd Psalm. I have been changing my understanding of who God is and what life is about.” He said, “Here is the bottom line: I am Craig in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in his strong and unshakeable kingdom.” . . . Craig then said to us, “Do you think I am starting to get it?” We said, “Craig, you are a Jedi man! The force is strong with this one!” . . .

It is my hope and prayer that we can somehow avoid getting too caught up in the vessel and remember that really it is the treasure — human life with God — . . . So God bless you and all the work you are doing.

Editor’s note: Due to space limitations, portions of the banquet speech were excluded, which are marked with an ellipse ( . . . ).

James Bryan Smith has been a theology professor at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, since 1990. He is also a writer and a speaker in the area of Christian spiritual formation and is the director of the Apprentice Institute on Christian Formation at Friends University. Jim is married to Meghan. They have two children: Jacob and Hope. Jim has been mentored by two great Christian leaders, Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Jim was a student of Richard Foster from 1981 to 1984 and has collaborated with him ever since. Jim also co-taught spirituality and ministry with Dallas Willard for 10 years. He was a founding member of Renovare, a spiritual renewal ministry started by Richard Foster in 1987.

Quaker Life – July/August 2014

A People to be Scattered: Risk Taking

I find it interesting to compare how people of faith are much like my family when it comes to taking risks. Some confess that they will be able to face the risk and move on, only to fall smack on their faces. They react to everything that comes their way and boldly make statements of faith that have no substance. With such an individual little time is spent in prayer, gaining discernment and understanding.

Others will take a chance only when they can see they are in a position of strength. Little trust is given to the Lord. They will take a risk only when they believe they cannot lose. Everything has to look like it will work before they move. They don’t act upon faith. Yet some have faith that they can take risks — but only when it will benefit themselves.

And finally, there are those who wait and move when the time is right. These individuals have seasoned their relationships with God in such a manner that they know the time to move and the time to sit back. Taking a risk is not something frightening, but a matter of the right move.

I wonder, in the walk of faith, which player describes you?

Annie Glen – Communications Editor, Friends United Meeting

Faithful Risk Taking – By Dorlan Bales

“At its best, faithful risk taking is a response to the experience of God’s love and the Holy Spirit’s call to share that love with others. What could it mean today to hear and obey a spiritual call to move beyond what is safe and familiar?”

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The Risks You Take Will Make You Well – By Scott Wagoner

“If we are faithful, we also can hear the words of Jesus, ‘Courage, Friends and Quakers. You took a risk of faith, and now you are well.'”

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Re-Imaging Prophethood from within the Belly of the Machine – By Evan Knappenberger

“Here is the promise: thirst for justice, yearn for the voice of God in all things, hunger for right relation with God, with neighbors, with sparrows, and even with the text read-from-without.”

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The Balance Beam of Risk – By Mimi Marstaller

“I think God wants us to be spiritual entrepreneurs. I think he wants us to knock on new doors, explore unknown territory and embark on new paths, unimpeded by the fear of failure.”

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Towards a Practical Peace Movement – By Isaac May

“A great people gathers as they energize and equip others for reaching out for Christ to the whole world.”

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Investing the Quaker Way – By Norval Reece

“A great people gathers as they energize and equip others for reaching out for Christ to the whole world.”

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Other Articles In This Issue:

Staff Columns

Meanderings & Musings – Annie Glen
Spreading the Word – Micah Bales

FUM News and Updates

FUM News in Brief

Other Content

Time for the Highroad – Steve Olshewsky
Letter to the Editor – David Zarempka
Book Reviews
Passages: Quaker Obituaries

Time for the Highroad

By Steve Olshewsky

After a lovely day on the banks of the river, we were ready to go home. Running around for hours left us dehydrated. But which way was quickest?

A 12-year old wondered aloud while walking uphill: “Why is this the fastest way?” Anxious to share a geometry lesson, I explained that the shortest distance between two points was not meandering along the winding waterway.

Soon, the steep climb was made harder by the unshaded heat of the sun. The high road had become the path of toil. We had left the tree-lined, scenic route behind. We began to sing as a distraction in our best Scottish accent: “O, Ah’ll take the high road, and ye’ll take the low road; and Ah’ll be in Scotlan’ afore ye.” A handy reminder that this trek was the price of getting there sooner.

Another lyric we remembered was: “for me and my true love will never, never part.” This inspired joy for the highroad. We later learned that the actual words of the song has the singers taking the low road, and never seeing their true love again. So why risk striking out on the high road at all? In this case, we were led to where the sun-loving flowers seek the light, and we found time to enjoy supper before bedtime.

Steve Olshewsky is a Writing as Ministry student at the Earlham School of Religion.

Investing the Quaker Way

By Norval Reece

I grew up in the Midwest, one of five kids of Glenn A. Reece and Velma Leonard Reece. Dad was raised in a Quaker family on a horse ranch in Western Kansas; Mom was the daughter of Quaker wheat farmers near Pratt, Kansas. They met at Friends Bible College and married. Dad became pastor of Friends Churches in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Indiana and Ohio. He then served as Superintendent of several Yearly Meetings and as General Secretary of Five Years Meeting (now FUM).

Back then, we had little money. By necessity, we kids learned early in life how to earn and save money. But how to invest money was a “whole ‘nother kettle of fish,” as Dad would say. I learned about the ethics and options involved in investing only when I had to — after selling in 1999 the international cable television company I had founded.

After the sale, I had more money than I needed — “extra money.” An “endowment” if you will. Where should I put it? To what end? In a savings account? Money Market funds? Stocks? Bonds? Private equity? Hedge Funds? Under the mattress?

Each of us is a steward of our Friends churches, meetings, schools, colleges, retirement communities and other organizations and their endowment funds. How do we “pay it forward” in the most effective and beneficial way for our Friends institutions and their missions while remaining true to our Quaker values? We all know the field of investment is so risky. Is there a Quaker way to invest funds with little risk?

One group, Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC), says “Absolutely!” Created by Friends for Friends in Philadelphia in 1898, the not-for-profit manager of over $290 million for 300 Friends churches, meetings, schools and organizations has an impressive history of following Quaker values and principles in its financial management. Friends Fiduciary does not manage money for individual investors like me, but it does an outstanding job for Friends’ organizations, trusts and endowments.
I was talking to a Friend recently and mentioned that I had joined the Board of Directors of Friends Fiduciary Corporation. He asked me, “Why would a nice guy like you want to do a thing like that?”

I said, “For pretty much the same reason I wanted to serve on the Board of the Earlham School of Religion – to do what I can to help an outstanding Quaker organization shape a robust future for the Society of Friends.”

Earlham School of Religion (ESR) does what it does better than any other school of religion I know (having graduated from Yale Divinity School and being familiar with several others). ESR provides excellent, inspirational and practical training for people called to leadership and ministry in Friends Churches and organizations — a service much needed for a robust Religious Society of Friends.

Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) also does what it does better than any financial institution or manager I know (having worked with and been a client of several major ones). FFC invests the money of Friends’ organizations according to Friends’ values in a professional, efficient, low-cost manner with excellent results (+18.56% last year) — a service much needed for a robust Religious Society of Friends.

Friends Fiduciary Corporation was started 115 years ago by Friends to do precisely what Quakers have been bringing to the business world since the late 1600’s.

Forbes 85th Anniversary issue included an article about Quakers and their out-sized impact on the business world.

“Look past today’s scandals and you’ll find that capitalism has always been founded on trust, honesty and decency. That’s the only way it works.

Initially their success was built around the benefits Quakers got from trading with one another. Because they dissented from the Church of England, members of the sect were barred from the professions and as a result gravitated toward business. When Quakers went looking for credit or for trade, then, they found it easy to partner with fellow believers. Their common faith facilitated trust, allowing a Quaker tradesman in London to ship goods across the ocean and be certain that he would be paid when they arrived in Philadelphia.

Quaker prosperity did not go unnoticed by the outside world. They were well known already for their personal emphasis on absolute honesty, and as businessmen they were famously rigorous and careful in their recordkeeping. They also introduced innovations like fixed prices, which stressed transparency over sharp dealing. All of this clean living, as it were, paid off. Soon, people outside the sect began to seek out Quakers as trading partners, suppliers and sellers. And as Quaker prosperity grew, people drew a connection between that prosperity and the sect’s reputation for reliability and trustworthiness. In the long run, observant businessmen came to see, being trustworthy was more lucrative than being Machiavellian. Honesty was the best policy.” Forbes Magazine, 12.23.02, A Virtuous Cycle by James Surowiecki

What Quakers have been bringing to the corporate business world for 300 years is what Friends Fiduciary Corporation is bringing to the business of investing. Friends Fiduciary stands rock-solid in the great Quaker tradition of doing business based on Quaker values.

What does this mean in practical terms? Just as 18th century Quaker-owned ironworks in England refused to make cannons, Friends Fiduciary has stringent environmental, social and governance screens (ESG). It excludes investments in companies producing weapons, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, those running gambling operations and for-profit prisons, and those with histories of poor environmental and employment practices. In good Quaker fashion, it also is actively engaged as a shareholder with companies with regarding issues of concern to the Society of Friends.

Quaker Green Fund

The latest exciting FFC’s response to a changing world is the Quaker Green Fund (QGF) begun on January 1, 2014. Fossil-fuel free with a proactive investment in “clean tech” companies, QGF joins FFC’s flagship balanced Consolidated Fund, the Quaker Index Fund for larger endowments, and the Short Term Investment Fund for clients with needs for ready cash. The Quaker Green Fund’s allocation to clean tech companies incorporates investments across nine positive environmental themes: advancements in sustainable use of agriculture resources, alternative and renewable energy, efficient transportation, energy conservation, water filtration and conservation, low carbon finance, and cutting-edge clean technologies. Jeff Perkins, FFC Executive Director, calls this “a ‘smart strategy’ which will increase the impact while reducing the risk of this part of the QGF portfolio.”


In short, there is a “Quaker Way” to invest money according to Friends Fiduciary and I’m pleased to be a part of it. They’ve been doing since 1898 what I knew nothing about as a Quaker kid growing up in Indiana. And the more I learn about their tough screens, detailed analyses and careful shareholder activity on matters of importance to Quakers, the more impressed I am.

So, while this writer may still need to monitor his personal investments, it’s comforting to know that a smart, dedicated group of Quaker professional money managers are taking good care of some of the Quaker organizations to which I donate. As a business person and as a Friend this is important to me. My own Newtown Monthly Meeting, Newtown, PA, for example, is happily invested in the FFC Consolidated Fund and the new Quaker Green Fund.

As I mentioned to my inquisitive Friend, I wish all Quaker organizations would put their endowment funds to work with Friends Fiduciary Corporation. It provides big-time leverage for Quaker impact in the corporate world, and Friends Fiduciary is proving you can have excellent long term market performance without sacrificing Quaker values. That’s not only comforting. That’s impressive!

Norval D. Reece is a birthright Friend, member of Newtown Friends Meeting (PA), cable television international entrepreneur, on the Board of Trustees of Friends Fiduciary Corporation, George School, and the Haverford College Corporation, and formerly served as Chair of the Advisory Board of Earlham School of Religion, Board of Directors of AFSC, and Pennsylvania Secretary of Commerce. He is a graduate of DePauw University and Yale Divinity School.

Towards a Practical Peace Movement

By Isaac May

This past year, as the United States seemed to be ready to leap into the conflict in Syria, there was a small gathering on Boston Common to oppose American intervention. At this rally, representatives from several anti-war groups spoke, from the well-known, such as the American Friends Service Committee, Green Rainbow Party and its leader Jill Stein, and Veterans for Peace, to small and newly established groups, including the Pacifism and Nonviolent Association, a student group that I founded and currently direct as a student at Harvard Divinity School. Yet for all the star power of the organizations and the speakers, for all the gravity of the event, it was clear standing on Boston Common that day that the modern peace movement suffers from serious flaws and that it is far less effectual than its forerunners earlier in the twentieth century.

You could sense the irrelevance of the demonstration merely by observing the crowd. Of the barely 100 or so people who gathered, a significant minority of those attending were bedecked in Soviet paraphernalia of various kinds, not only the ubiquitous Che Guevara tee shirts but also ones with images of Stalin and Mao. Many in the crowd seemed more drawn by the chance to distribute their own pamphlets than by the cause of peace. … From the sea of grey hair in the crowd one could not escape the conclusion that for many present, this was an attempt to recapture the youthful radicalism of the 1960s and 70s.

While the United States ultimately decided not to intervene in Syria, this had more to do with the international outcry and a public weariness of conflicts in the Middle East than activist protests. Many peace groups since the Vietnam War have embraced problematic perspectives, buying into the myth that the societal issues of violence and an aggressive foreign policy can be solved through personal activism. … The harsh truth is that to speak of “local” or “personal peacemaking,” to delude ourselves that our grassroots efforts make a more just world and reduce conflict merely because they are our efforts, and not because they effect concrete political and economic change, is at best a harmful construction. Just as an act of charity to a beggar does not eliminate poverty, attending a rally or signing a petition does little to end the scourge of war.

War and military action are more of a threat now than they have ever been. Although war between nations has in fact been in steep decline, technological development now means a single conflict between world powers has the potential to be far more devastating than any in the past. … A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, for instance, could, by virtue of smoke and debris created by burning cities, lead to a global climate shift that would cause an estimated two billion deaths, and, according to a recent report, “effectively end human civilization.” While such apocalyptical musing might seem the stuff of science fiction — after all, few think a war between industrial powers likely — the situation is remarkably less stable than the geo-political order before World War I. As historian Margaret MacMillan observed recently at a forum at the Brookings Institute, the world today in “too many ways — unsettling ways — resembles that lost world of the years before 1914.” …

Religious organizations at present seem less invested in trying to end war than those originators of such impressive past legacies. In 1926, Harry Emerson Fosdick, perhaps the single most influential religious leader in the United States, could stand up and publicly denounce war from his pulpit. He thundered that violence and horror caused by modern conflict were incompatible with Christian life, and a nationwide audience listened through his radio show and read his books.

Today such an idea would be unthinkable. Working towards peace now means doing things unconnected to actually preventing conflict. In addition to my studies, for example, I work in a Just Peace Ministry of the United Church of Christ operating a homeless shelter. While the charity work that the shelter does is admirable, it still shows that the UCC, perhaps the most liberal of mainline denominations, has shied away from proclaiming the need to end war. Now “peace” as a ministry merely means handing out meals.

If commitments towards “peace” today mean commitment to charity, it also seems to imply a commitment to pluralism and diversity. While these things are admirable, they are not the same as working towards ending violent conflict. All the evidence we have suggests that merely increasing understanding and communication may actually do very little to further the cause of peace. It is worth remembering that area studies arose as a tool of imperialist domination. At Harvard I have witnessed classes and events about Islam which are thickly attended by those whose interests are in the national security field, and who seek to follow Sun Tzu’s dictum to know their enemies.

Even if these measures do in some way foster peace, they steal the thunder from the political movements which work directly to end violent conflict. Organizations dedicated to pacifism have all but disappeared in the United States. It is politically astute to be against “the war” (almost always now meaning Afghanistan,) but to be against war and for peace as a practical and sustainable goal is a more controversial stance. Even my own denomination, the Religious Society of Friends, has grown increasingly critical of backing the idea of peace. For many Quakers, adherence towards our religion’s traditional peace testimony, which requires us to “resist not evil,” has started to simply mean supporting an agenda of liberal internationalism. Sitting down with the Executive Secretary of New England Yearly Meeting, the body of Quakers that I belong to, I inquired if we might at least note our stand on Syria. “What exactly should our stand be?” he asked, indicating that opposition to conflict is no longer automatic to Friends if they support the politicians that order it. The Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Quakers’ main lobbying organization in Washington D.C., has at times endorsed the idea that the United Nations has a “responsibility to protect, and despite its commitment to nonviolence, raised questions about whether using military force to protect civilians might be acceptable.”

At first this may seem innocuous. What monster could oppose stopping genocide, of turning our guns to protect human rights? Time and cultural amnesia paper over the fact that the cry of humanitarianism often camouflages the worst kinds of abuses. During the 1960 crisis in the Congo, that was the cover that led blue-helmeted UN troops to assist the Belgians and the United States in unseating and killing the democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo while securing access to that country’s mineral wealth. The pacifists of the past remembered that many of them had thought World War I was the great fight for democracy, a struggle to end war itself. The sad truth is that most wars seem to be just wars to those who fight them.

Secular peace groups today have also echoed the idea that we should support “good wars.” When I formed my student group at Harvard, I went immediately to the Quaker chaplain. What peace groups in the local area might be willing to work with a student group opposed to war and violence, I asked him. To my surprise he explained that Veterans for Peace would be hostile to us, because they do not oppose all war, only “bad wars,” and support the concept of armed interventions. It is not as if the pacifists and peace activists of the past did not face such choices. Most of them chose to decry all violence. Contrary to the reconstruction of history that developed after World War II, these pacifists actually had remarkable success, and their commitment to nonviolence did work. In the 1920s, for example, there was a naval arms race between the United States and Britain. The two powers created war plans against each other, and while each spoke of friendship, they stood ready to fight over their imperialist ambitions abroad. The United States drew up plans to invade Canada, while the British prepared to send a battle fleet to strike at the continental United States.

Battleships were the most important element in military hardware of the era, a nation’s prestige and power were measured in the size and numerical strength of their fleets. They were pivotal to the potential war plans of both sides. The costs of constructing and maintaining these vast fleets were enormous; the United States spent more on its navy after the First World War in a year than they had spent in running the entire government before the war.

Yet thanks to the pressure of the peace lobby, the great powers of the world which met at the Washington Naval Conference restricted the tonnage of battleships that could be built. This was a remarkable act, far more military and politically significant than any of the nuclear weapons treaties that have ever been conducted. There were problems and debates, and nations tried to skirt the treaty and build submarines or more powerful ships, yet the treaty was effective…

It might be charged that decrying war, and the argument that a past age did more for peace then the present, is nothing more than a Jeremiad. Yet the prophet Jeremiah was faced only with the destruction of one state and one people. As children of the modern world, where the ever-growing capacity for destruction allows the extermination of most of the human race in a handful of hours, we have every reason to engage in grand rhetoric.

Yet unlike Jeremiah, for us the proper course is not to restore “faith” in anything. In fact, the notion that peace is a kind of personal duty, part of a radical chic, is exactly the problem. Instead a modern peace movement must above all be effective. Perhaps our greatest example in this could come from someone like turn-of-the-century AME Bishop Reverdy Ransom, who would inspire Martin Luther King, Jr. Faced with the problems of lynching and segregation, Ransom understood that the answer for the African Americans was not education or building culture, but securing rights through political effectiveness. Having impressive rhetoric and feeling the moral righteousness of one’s cause were important, Ransom explained, but if a movement was not successful at generating change then it was a failure. The modern peace movement likewise should be known for its fruits, not its ambitions.

The single most important task which faces those interested in creating a viable modern peace movement is giving such a movement intellectual respectability. Without the support of intellectuals, any idea advanced about foreign policy or diplomacy can only sound crazy to the public. While there are a handful of theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas and the late John Howard Yoder who have notable books on pacifism and peace, in other scholarly disciplines, perspectives critical of militarism have disappeared. There used to be a robust field of peace history which studied peace movements, but many of its most prominent practitioners, like Merle Curti, Charles DeBenedetti and Peter Brock, have died and no one has taken their places. In the discipline of “International Relations,” different schools of realism or aggressive liberal internationalism reign supreme, with only a tiny number of scholars even suggest limiting international military interventions.

The academic and political community has seized on the idea that so long as politicians and soldiers obey “Just War theory,” a rather byzantine set of conditions about when and how to go to war, the morality of war itself is beyond question. At Harvard I attended the only course that the Kennedy School of Government offers on the morality of war. The students, who will go on to become the next generation of policymakers around the world do not argue about how to stop war; a pacifist or even an outspoken peace advocate would not be taken seriously in the room. Rather, Kennedy School students wonder if war could even be limited. They do not ask if using a bomb is moral, for they have already concluded that it is. They ask instead if using a tactical nuclear bomb is moral. They do not wonder if civilian loses are acceptable in war; they are, they insist. They speculate in turn on how many civilian loses are acceptable. …

Any modern peace or pacifist movement must also have a broad appeal. Peace activism is associated mostly with a population of baby boomers who have persisted in the activity since the end of the war in Vietnam. Their admirable dedication nevertheless lacks resonance with other generations. I have been at talks where speakers told crowds of how we “struggled against Reagan alongside our Latin American brothers and sisters,” a statement that only makes sense if one assumes that the intended audience is at least almost two decades older than I am.

There is no simple solution to this age gap. Organizations that make an effort to recruit the young and to be “hip” are likely to see that strategy backfire. The limited success of the Occupy movement may initially give the impression that all peace groups need to do is wait for young people, coasting on a wave of activism created by social media, to come to them. Taking away this message would be a dire mistake. Occupy failed, unable to achieve any concrete political goal. It remained an ideological blank slate, and often its adherents embraced violent tactics. Pacifists and peace groups cannot afford to act like this. They need to have concrete ideals and policy objectives, and attract a population of young people who will spend the years necessary locked in legislative battles to realize a pacifist vision.

Transforming the peace movement is partly about changing its aesthetic. The White House Peace Vigil, for example, is made up of crude poster boards and a tent, a presence which has stayed relatively consistent since it was erected thirty years ago. While the principle and effort of the volunteers who run the vigil are laudable, we must question whether the vigil has had any effect in fostering peace in a meaningful way. Young people will not support, let alone be a part of, an organization that does not appear reputable and established.

Further, peace organizations need to work harder to train younger leaders. When peace movements were at their most effective, organizations like the Fellowship of Reconciliation employed young people, preparing them to engage in effective organizing. Major Civil Rights leaders like Bayard Rustin came through the ranks of these organizations. One could fill volumes with the names of staff members of peace organizations who began their involvement in political action through their encounter with AFSC work camps or relief programs during the 1920s and 1930s. Generations before that, in the campaign against slavery and the work undertaken by the American Peace Society, lecturers and other advocates were employed to spread these organizations’ messages. Today, while some organizations offer week-long summer programs to train college students in lobbying and unpaid internships (which ethically are questionable themselves,) the opportunities they offer to improve the skills of young people are much more limited than they were in past decades.

Beyond tactics and organizational strategies, the modern peace movement needs to internalize the reality that change is political and social. Supporting peace is not a way to alleviate notions of our own national or personal sins or a kind of clothing to wear. It is measured in the lives that are not expended in war, the dollars not spent in conflict. To be an effective pacifist, to embrace peace, must mean being pragmatic.

This was perhaps the single greatest failure of past generations of activists. In moments like the passage of the Kellogg Briand pact, the failed attempt to outlaw war before World War II, pacifists gave themselves over to utopian ambition and mistook the will to make a more peaceful world with the work of doing the same. As the present reality of the peace movement shows, it is far easier to praise a supposed moral commitment to peace than it is to actually act.

Abraham Johnson Muste, one of the leaders of the Fellowship of Reconciliation who worked on noble causes from abolishing nuclear weapons to winning a living wage and civil rights, declared that his pacifism meant that “if I can’t love Hitler, I can’t love at all.” One can admire or fault Muste’s dedication to a moral ideal of “love thy neighbor,” but it was not his rhetorical commitment that mattered. It was the fact that he organized, that he did more than preach or think, that he understood that peace was something that had to be created.

Muste understood that a peace movement was something that, like any other political or social gain, has to be won. In the present, when the threat of war brings the prospect of mass death that is literally beyond human comprehension, we need to seize hold of this same insight. Peace is a lofty ideal, but achieving it starts here in the mud and grit of the world.

The Balance Beam of Risk

By Mimi Marstaller

Thanks mostly to my upbringing at Durham Friends Meeting, my understanding of spirituality has been closely linked with my experience of community. The basis of my spiritual life sprang not from lectures, sermons or personal study, but from spending the first decade and a half of my life in constant contact with dedicated Quakers. By following their example I learned that a spiritual community is nourished by the continuous efforts, large and small, of its members to give of themselves in the ways that the Spirit leads. Thus, my understanding of a spiritual life was built on learning to being present and dedicating myself to making contributions to whatever I am part of today. My spiritual life since then has been an effort to practice this principle of being present, listening for how God would have me contribute and taking the indicated actions with an open heart.

After leaving home in Maine for boarding school and college, my spiritual study became more focused and I intentionally sought the guidance and example of those whose spiritual lives I admired. As a student at a demanding boarding school, it was difficult to engage with an off-campus church community. I gained more spiritual growth from conversations with professors and peers than I did from the isolated services I attended. I found a spiritual fellowship in these conversations. With their support, I could share the daily journey toward stronger faith and my spiritual life took off. It was through this spiritual fellowship that I learned the two essential pillars to uphold my own spiritual development: constant contact with God and continuous engagement with a community of fellows where I can be of service every day.

For the past five years, fellowship with others on the spiritual path has been such a rewarding experience that I am eager to pursue work with a spiritual community through ministry. I now find myself in a position, to intern in a life-role where I can be of service to those around me and help facilitate the kind of spiritual community from which I benefited as a youngster at Durham Friends. This pastoral internship offers me the opportunity to learn from the example of two experienced Quaker pastors, as well as from each member of Durham Meeting. More amazing is the fact that this internship will give me the chance to put the spiritual principles into practice on a daily basis as I try to contribute to the life of the meeting.

In a college class on entrepreneurship, the professor opened our first lecture with a single statement: “Starting your own business involves absolutely no risk.” Members of this class met his assured expression with mild confusion. This little nugget contradicted everything we had ever heard about striking out on one’s own.

He elaborated by offering us a metaphor. “Walking on a balance beam,” he proposed, “is only risky if the beam is up high off the floor. If the beam lies on the floor, the consequences of a wrong step, a stumble to the side, are not at all serious or debilitating.” Continuing on he said, “When starting your own business, you never need to take the balance beam off the floor. By taking actions where failure or mistakes don’t carry a high cost, you insure yourself against risk.”

To my amazement I find this particular business principle has given me some guidance in my spiritual life. I have discerned that the pastoral internship experience during the summer of 2014, reflects the same idea that “new” and “different” doesn’t have to mean “risky”. By having the continual support of my home meeting, I felt I was being offered an opportunity to keep my balance beam on the floor while exploring a path that has pulled at my attention for a long time: the path of Quaker ministry.

One of the fascinating current discussions in education explores how we can reduce the cost of failure in order to encourage students to go out on a limb: try a new idea. When contemplating my path toward ministry, reducing the risk of failure turned out to involve spending a lot of time in prayer and meditation and inviting others into the waiting process I chose to propose the internship because I wasn’t ready to dive into seminary. Without knowing much about “on the ground Quaker ministry,” taking on such a financial, practical and emotional commitment felt risky. Considering the cost, the time spent pursuing a theological degree instead of some other higher degree and the emotional investment in moving to a new place and beginning a new program, the thought of jumping headlong into traditional theological training made the balance beam hover perilously high.

The internship idea came at the right time and developed slowly into a program that includes lots of “new” and very little “risk.” Daily listening and the support of my Quaker community created a floor that is soft and springy that is ready to help me rebound from any missteps.

All this is not to say that the internship is a guaranteed “hole in one.” There are still unknowns; will this internship illuminate a clear path for study? How will I feel about my ability to participate after having been away at school for many years? And more intimately, what if I don’t relate to the Quaker philosophy and faith as much as I anticipate? This project will, after all, be the most intensely faith based activity I have ever undertaken.

Following a spiritual leading might seem more risky than pursuing the socially validated steps of seeking an existing internship that would look good on a resume and lead more directly to long-term employment. But looking back at the process of following this leading, I note that each prayer has been answered. Funding opportunities presented themselves. Beautifully complementary summer classes are being offered at a nearby seminary. Members of the meeting came up with their own ideas for how to enrich the program. Transportation to yearly meeting fell into place. So far the spiritual path feels just as assured as any well-mapped, heavily-traveled life path I’ve been on recently; this new one is assured by God’s encouragement, more so than society’s approval.

I think God wants us to be spiritual entrepreneurs. I think he wants us to knock on new doors, explore unknown territory and embark on new paths, unimpeded by the fear of failure. Prayer and community support offer us powerful tools to keep that balance beam on the floor even as our spiritual endeavors become more and more involved and far-reaching.

Re-Imagining Prophethood From Within the Belly of the Machine

By Evan Knappenberger

Editor’s Note: Bethany Theological Seminary reinstated its Peace Essay Contest in January 2014 with the hope that people think creatively about peacemaking. Below is snippets of one of the 34 entries, which was submitted for publication by Bethany Seminary.

James Fairfield’s life was changed by a song. “Oh Shenandoah/ I long to see you,” — words that he sang as a child almost 80 years ago, while the cold Canadian arctic winds howled against the windowpanes of his one-room school house. Decades later, disillusioned with his job in the family business, called by God to find something more, Jim packed up wife and kids and headed south to the valley praised in his beloved song.

The human experience is one of movement, but this is amplified in the Euro-American narrative — our ancestors were compelled onwards towards something unknown, pressured from their homes for political or religious or economic reasons. Our people brought their wars and diseases and ambitions with them across the cold oceans; but they also brought their dreams and spiritual missions. This is something I have trouble accepting in my own prophetic narrative.

My people and James’ came and built cities and factories and participated in the projects of modernity. But the rains fell on their unjust endeavors even as they fell on the peaceful aboriginal tribes; the unique problem within the American condition is one of self-justification. What does it mean that our fathers murdered a thousand cultures for a handful of dirt or gold? What does it mean to sleep in our beds in a stolen land? How do we forgive ourselves for the iniquities of the third and the fourth (and even the tenth and eleventh) generations of our forefathers? . . .

On top of the guilty awareness of our historic genocide, European-Americans carry the double existential guilt of ongoing ecocide. We repress the guilt down into our subconscious minds, waiting for a righteous God to come and take back what we stole. And so we avoid looking truthfully backwards to our roots, steeped in trauma, which makes a lie of any forward-looking aim of restoration and peace with the earth, with other people, and with God.

The Dead Flag Blues’ Prophetic Vision

When I returned to Virginia from the war in Iraq, I could sense the slimy film of this double guilt covering the violently conquered territories of the New World. As I drove homeless across the North American landmass, seeing things in a new way, listening to the groans of highways and the wails of highvoltage wires, my identity became consumed in the sounds of civilization. By chance, I had a few CDs of my mother’s in the car with me, including one with the song that changed James Fairfield’s life, “Oh Shenandoah.” I was moving westward, though, and in contrast to the pioneers who wrote the song as they themselves headed westward over the not-yet-subdued land, I was not interested in looking backwards towards a place I could not stay. And so that particular song, so relevant to James Fairfield, remained un-listened to in mine. Instead I queued an eclectic mix of strange sounds and discordance, reflecting the moody awareness of a people disconnected from
the narrative truth of their homeland, the alienation between human and earth, the ontological gap between subject and object which is magnified in the Cosmopolis.

By chance I landed in the Pacific Northwest and decided to stay for a date with a woman — and ended up staying for five years. One day as I walked through the Bellingham, Washington rain in the place that would soon become my home — as I rejoiced in a blooming relationship that would become my marriage — I listened to an album randomly purchased from one of the few music stores surviving in the era of iTunes: the CD was Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s 1997 album, “F# A# ∞”. I walked along scenic Whatcom Creek replete with cascading waterfalls and salmon-ladders. Mist floated through towering cedar trees, rising from the estuarial waters that once teemed thickly with fish a century before my birth. I headed back to the borrowed apartment in which I was sleeping . . . and buried myself in a wave of cold sound. Somehow something encoded on that plastic disk touched my soul, and with the first track of the album I soon developed a close relationship.

The experience I am describing is actually one of the few meaningful memories from that brief but profound period of my life, predating my marriage and the trauma of eastward returning in the wake of divorce five years later. The memory is filled with palpable potentiality — I was a young man with few resources but enough courage and calling to compensate. Soon I would be literally and figuratively on top of the city of Bellingham, my voice on the airwaves across the country, and my heart resonating with the deep mission of peace and justice which, if a person knows how to listen, can still be heard echoing over the mountains and whispering through the deserts of our stolen hemisphere.

Listening to “F# A#∞,” I heard the resonance of a righteous intention percolating upwards through the centuries into that moment in 2007. I heard it that day in a recording of a train whistling into the Quebecois mountains, and I heard it in an eschatologically-charged poem, read by a native man at the pace ofthe slow burn of occupation. As I lay face-down in the afternoon chill of a typical, clouded Bellingham spring day, my awareness filled with the sparse sounds of a Montreal electro-ambient post-rock collective, feeling something like what I expect Jim Fairfield felt as a child singing in class, “away, I’m bound away.”

I cannot describe the sound of the voice of God — it wasn’t exactly a “still, small voice within” — but I can say that it resonated in me in an expression of utter sublimity, reflecting entirely what I have often called a “will-to-transcendence.” And the dark overtones within the recording, the ambient discord of what philosopher Gilles Deleuze might describe as a “deterritorialized flow” — these sounds stood starkly, like a witness to the crime of our collective presence on this continent. I heard in this music by anarchistic Montrealers a reflection of the American landscape that I had just been experiencing as a raw, unmediated tragedy — for the first time in my life — as I wandered homeless with war-opened eyes.

Then, for a moment, silence. A train whistles sharply, and in the echo of the whistle can be heard the landscape of the Quebec wilderness all around.

The Street Prophet

James Fairfield’s family emigrated from Scotland and founded a textile business in Manitoba in the industrial era. Jim says in his memoir that he did not feel entirely comfortable taking his inherited part in the business when it was time. I hear in his words that melancholic train — outdated relic of the industrial era trapped beyond itself in a post-industrial context — whistling in the chill darkness behind him. But unlike the whistle of the train, “Oh Shenandoah” was surely God’s promise to Jim of what in ancient Hebrew is termed berit, the promise of a Holy Land.

Like Jim, who built a new life of the spirit within the context of his calling, I heard this promise in a song too. It was “F# A#” as much as anything else which launched my public life and guided me through the turbulence of the times. One phrase in particular comes to me, continues to come to me like the echo of the train-whistle in the wilds of Quebec, revealing a horizon of exploration: the skyline was beautiful on fire.

The skyline was beautiful on fire. You grabbed my hand and we fell into it, like a daydream, or a fever. To me, this is the eschatological promise of the Holy Spirit. Car bombs were slaughtering and continue to slaughter) hundreds of Iraqis every day: the twisted metal stretches ever upwards. All my enemies — whom I loved in typical consumer fashion (they exist as the means of my completion, as commodities of consumption) — were at that time being hunted down and murdered by the troops who had just replaced me in Iraq. To all outward appearances, the circuit of destruction was being completed. But on flimsy scaffolding above Bellingham, in the orange hazy light of burning pipelines, the Spirit still sanctifies love relationships like the one that I initiated that spring with Marie, who would become my wife. Even now that our marriage has ended badly, the eschatological promise of unity remains. Oh my lost love, who has made you my enemy? The infinite loop — F# separation and A#reconciliation? — of our atonement, the coming of the New Jerusalem — will it return us to our fever? I say to Marie: my dearest, truly these are the last days — and I say to the Holy Spirit — let us put away our enmity and fall into fever! . . .

Away You Rolling River

I recognize in James Fairfield something of my own love for well-conceived prose. Appreciation like this is only gotten one way: by reading-from-without. Often the academic inclination is to read-from-within; I must know, we tell ourselves, I must connect with the subjective truth of the text. God, however, may perhaps exist as the Subjective itself — as something in which we all participate equally, as children of God. Therefore, reading-from-within is a redundancy, and plural truth is subjective truth and comes-from-without. Jim, I like to think, would agree with me in this speculation.

Jim’s book, Frog Hollow Journal, is a theological reflection, almost a confession. Jim knows God’s presence experientially, in the expression of the birds on his porch, in the fields full of thorns, in the daily routine of an old farm wife, and especially in a single, simple song. I firmly believe that Jim was engaged in a prophetic calling when he uprooted his family and started
southward. I feel as if he and I share the willingness to follow the prophetic path.

This claim regarding the nature of the prophetic tradition is problematic though. Everything with significance is significant in retrospect, right? Nothing is memorable in itself, right? A song, a verse, an apple falling from a tree: totally ordinary things being ascribed meaning retroactively. That song was sung at a formative time in a young life, that apple happened to fall of all possible places, on Newton’s bewigged head. Meaning, we read in Derrida and others, is a human construct applied post hoc, not a telos propelling us like trade winds across landmasses and oceans!

But isn’t retroactive meaning-inscription part of the prophetic tradition? What is the prophetic calling, if not (first) simultaneously relational and oppositional, and (also) both retrospective and prognostic? My unwillingness to look backwards — my shortcomings in the business of prophetic response — severely limited my forward-looking capabilities as activist and as husband. I couldn’t focus on important things, but got stuck in the truly meaningless details of building a typical American fantasy life. Trapped once again in the American Dream, I was unable to engage in questions of the past — too painful — and thus lost sight of the trajectories of meaning which it is the prophet’s job to trace out to an ultimate conclusion of grace.
I was not engaged in biblical discipleship, because I saw it as a past disconnected from the present and irrelevant to the future. On my journey in 2007, I couldn’t listen to James Fairfield’s song. But had I been willing to read-from-without, had I listened to the words as he had —

Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away you rolling river.
Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away, I’m bound away,
‘cross the wide Missouri.

— I might have understood their prophetic potential. To his credit, James Fairfield was present-with, open to what I was not; even as a young boy, Jim was able to hear the prophetic voice over the howling Manitoban winds rushing against the windowpanes of a single-room schoolhouse. Coincidentally, both Jim and I eventually found ourselves in the beloved Shenandoah, following our callings, though he died before I could meet him in person.

To Jim, I am convinced that the words of “Shenandoah” conveyed a personal promise. It was a promise on which he made good throughout the rest of his life. It was, I want to assert, an eschatological promise as well. I believe that Jim heard the same voice of the Holy Spirit in “away you rolling river” that I did in my “skyline beautiful on fire.”

Imagine a child hearing God’s voice inside his own as he sings, God saying unmistakably: away you rolling river, I long to hear you, with all the eschatological implications of God’s saying such a thing. I imagine a flash of recognition: there will come a day, little brother James, when your heart will sing these very same words to you, and you will know that moment as the fulfillment of the promise of your creation. When you cross the wide Missouri, take comfort, for even rivers and valleys are impermanent; but your simple longing for God’s promise is where the Holy Spirit resides. When your heart sings these words, you will know that the Holy Spirit is in you now and forever.

Would that we could all have such moments, such flashes of recognition.


Reading Frog Hollow Journal, I am struck by Jim’s presence of mind, his insight into the land itself. There is one episode where he describes the healing of the hillside above his farmhouse from previous negligent caretakers who clear-cut it and shamefully allowed it to erode. The grasses and roots and the hill itself, under James’ watchful eye, initiated a slow process of recovery, an almost glacially-slow coming-to-terms between the inclination of natural ecosystems on the one hand, and the destructive impulse of greedy humans on the other. The lessons of restoration are not lost to Jim, and the way of miraculous healing can be often gleaned in the details of such things.

Jim’s love of nature wasn’t always rosy and exciting however; he and his family and neighbors also struggled with the problems of life on the land. This struggle to survive-with is clearly something central to Frog Hollow Journal. Similarly, I struggle to find the prophetic purpose of my surviving-with the destructive and purposeless vanity of life in present-day America. Must I re-imagine the fact of my ancestors’ violent intrusion? Must I retrospectively re-purpose their short-lived but all-too-human pathos into something worthy of divine grace and even sublime? How can we begin the glacial process of restoration, of making whole that which was broken by our fathers? How can we heal relations with other peoples, with the way we relate to the earth and most importantly, to ourselves? If we are to take James Fairfield’s cue, the answers are all around us, spoken to us through the healing of an eroded hillside, howled at us in train whistles, demonstrated to us in the love of a neighbor, and sung in one-room schoolhouses.

We must open ourselves to both creative re-imagination of the past — making sense of ancestral wrongs — and also to being called into the future . . . This often involves a traumatic experience, an existential crisis. We must wake up one morning and fall a little further down. We must open our wallets and see that they are full of blood, before we can move forward.

The same prophetic calling is open to all humans with any room in their hearts. After all, we all exist together in the belly of this horrible machine, dying the slow death of a thousand lonely suicides. The prophetic is a deep effervescence within the vibrant heart of all creation, calling out from inside all things. It is always-already our purpose and right in front of us. If we seek the Lord: in our neighbors, in the fields and the sparrows, in the songs we sing every day — we will hear it like James did eighty years ago, and we can communicate it as Godspeed You! Black Emperor communicated it to me in a life-altering kind of encounter. If we do this, then ultimately, all humans will be given new hearts to know the prophetic truth of things. This is when we will hold hands and fall into a daydream-fever. This is when we remember the beloved river — always flowing down like peace — a sound we long to hear as we cross the wide Missouri.

Here is the promise: thirst for justice, yearn for the voice of God in all things, hunger for right relation with God, with neighbors, with sparrows, and even with the text read-from-without. Hunger for rightness, we are told, and you will be filled. Amen.

The Risks You Take Will Make You Well

By Scott Wagoner

Here’s something you probably don’t hear very often: “Take a risk. You’ll live longer!” That does seem a bit oxymoronic; intuitively, risk taking implies doing something dangerous, scary, even life threatening. Yet, what may seem risky to one person may seem merely an exciting adventure to another. But that doesn’t matter. It’s all relative and we all have risks that we tend to avoid.

According to Jesus, taking a risk will make you well. At least that’s what this story in the Gospel of Matthew seems to suggest: A woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years slipped in behind Jesus and lightly touched his robe. All she wanted was to simply put a finger on Jesus and, she was confident, that would heal her. She took a risk. That a woman would reach out to touch a man would have been taboo in her culture, yet she was hoping against hope that she would be healed simply by reaching out. Risks abound for this suffering woman. What if she isn’t healed? What if she’s rejected? Jesus sensed that someone has touched his robe and he caught the woman in the act, but rather than rejecting or avoiding her, he affirmed her riskiness: “Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.” Matthew 9:20-22, The Message)

That seems so counterintuitive. It would seem that if you want to stay well you would avoid risk. But maybe in the paradoxical world of faith, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, avoiding risk is the sure way to lifelessness and even death. I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps the reason Quakers find themselves in somewhat of a decline is that we aren’t taking enough risks. We have chosen safety over risk and we are beginning to pay the price. Rather than reaching out with courage, we shrink back in fear. Perhaps the reason we are not as well as we could be is that we have not admitted the reality of our condition. Like the woman reaching out to Jesus, we are hemorrhaging but in the form of people and finances. We may not be losing blood but we might lose a whole generation. In this case the greater risk would be to do nothing.

If we, as Quakers, were to reach out in such a way and risk so that our faith would make us well, what would those risks look like? Based on my own experience and observation, here are some risks to take.

The risk of moving forward into the unknown rather than simply following the known because it’s safe and comfortable. Abraham was a champion risk-taker. We are told in the book of Hebrews that when God called him to set out for a place he was to receive as an inheritance, Abraham obeyed and “…set out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8, NRSV)” Abraham obeyed God’s call even though he had no idea how he was going to get there. All Abraham knew was that he sensed God calling him in to a greater promise and future. But in order to do that, he had to leave all that was familiar and comfortable.

Obedience often withers at the altar of familiarity and comfort. We want to live faithful lives, but if that pulls us too far out of our comfort zone, we hold back. Early Friends continually lived out of their comfort zones. They took great risks. They had no idea what the future held for their movement. All they knew was the voice of God calling them to a brighter and more radical future. Are we as Quakers today more comfortable with what is familiar? Are we not willing to take the risk of faith and step away from the familiar and follow God’s voice in to the unknown?

The risk of being open to new leadership with new ideas and solutions. Our unwillingness to embrace risk often reveals itself when someone new to Quakerism assumes a leadership role, and their new ideas are met with suspicion and ambivalence. We love having new folks in leadership and on committees; we’re just not too comfortable with new ideas and approaches to ministry. It would just be easier if the new leadership would simply implement the old and familiar ways. To perpetuate the old and forsake the new (and creative) often becomes the benchmark of comfortable leadership.

An important and significant risk that needs to be taken by Quaker meetings and organizations is that of allowing those new to Quakerism the chance to lead and implement their ideas and creativity. New people don’t often purposely set out to disrespect history and tradition. They simply approach situations with new eyes and fresh spirits. The risk is to see these people as gifts and to welcome their perspective and energy.

The risk of vulnerability and sharing openly and honestly with one another. When we think of risk, we imagine people sky-diving or climbing up the side of a mountain. We very rarely think of risk in the context of building community with one another. But for some, sharing openly and honestly with others can feel like a greater risk then jumping out of a plane. Consequently, we keep who we truly are to ourselves and the potential for important relational bonding is often lost in our faith communities and local meetings.

To risk vulnerability with others is not just about sharing those ways in which we are wounded and hurt; it also involves a willingness to share our visions, dreams, ideas, opinions, and truth. It means stepping out from behind our masks and allowing others to see us as we really are. It’s being authentic and genuine with those around you and allowing others to care for you as well.

Out of all the risks a faith community could take, risking vulnerability could be the most important and has the potential to yield the most fruit. This invites us to speak the truth in love to one another and to open ourselves to the counsel and correction of others. It takes great humility and courage as well as great love and gentleness. It is a risk, but a greater risk is the possibility of having a community in which superficiality of relationships is the norm and avoidance of the tough issues is accepted and encouraged.

The risk of losing a few in order to gain a lot. This is the one risk that most meetings and individuals very rarely take: the risk of being willing to lose folks from the meeting and letting them go when they decide to leave. Such losses are often precipitated when the meeting has chosen to go in a new direction or has made a decision that necessitates a move away from old patterns and traditional ways of doing things. Some meetings do this in a proactive manner and make these kinds of decisions before the downward slide begins to happen. Other meetings may do it more reactively and are spurred on by a sense of urgency that things need to change before they go out of business. Either way, decisions to go in a different direction or to discard tradition often result in some folks choosing to exit.

Before they exit, though, there is always the possibility that they will seek to exert some form of control, often by announcing that if they don’t get their way, they will leave or withhold much needed funds from the offering. In this case, the greater risk might be to allow insecure, emotionally immature folks to bully the meeting into maintaining the status quo. A meeting shows courage when it faithfully follows the leadings of Christ toward the future even when it means letting go of old and cherished traditions in order to embrace the new. As hard and painful as it might seem, the risk of losing a few and letting them go opens up the possibility of new growth for both the meeting and the departing individuals.

The risk of being faithful to our Quaker story and testimonies. In a time of declining numbers and finances, the tendency is to toss aside the peculiarities of one’s tradition and opt for a more generic version. The thinking is that the society will have much broader appeal if all the unique aspects and peculiar habits don’t get in the way. When this happens, local meetings and churches end up succumbing to the overall narrative of consumerism and forsake their callings to live as communities that manifest and live alternative values. In other words, let’s put aside our radical approach to faith and market ourselves in a much more palatable way.

The way of faithfulness is often the risky way. For Friends the way of risk would be to live the Quaker story of a people radically transformed by the Living Christ in such a way that they become living witnesses of those who practice simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. In a culture that often worships consumerism and looks to violence to solve problems, the Quaker way would be a risky and radical way. In a culture that often overlooks duplicity, the Quaker way will be risky and radical. And, in a culture that glorifies individual rights over the common good and well-being of the community, the Quaker way would be risky and radical. Faithfully living out the Quaker story can seem risky since it is such an alternative way of living and the fear is that it may seem too radical too some. But the reality is the world needs such a way of life and it needs a people to faithfully live that way.

The hemorrhaging woman took a risk and reached out to Jesus, who said to her, “Courage daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.” In her condition, the woman knew that she needed to take a risk and reach out towards the wholeness that lay before her. In our present condition as the Religious Society of Friends, we need to reach out as well to the One that can make us well, to the One that can make us whole. As we reach out, we will be led in to new areas of ministry, new areas of mission, new possibilities for growth and opportunity. Each of these will, most likely, bring the invitation to step away from the familiar to the unknown filled with promise and possibility. But it will mean taking risks. And if we are faithful, we also can hear the words of Jesus, “Courage, Friends and Quakers. You took a risk of faith, and now you are well.”

Scott WagonerScott Wagoner is presently in his 12th year as Pastoral Minister of Deep River Friends Meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). Scott is a graduate of Taylor University and the Earlham School of Religion. He is married to Lynda Wagoner. They have two grown children, Chad and Erin. You can reach Scott at He is available for Congregational Coaching, retreats and special speaking engagements.