Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tell Pharaoh, Let His People Go...

No Richard, thee is not Pharaoh. Pharaoh is the culture of greed, the culture of blind consumption. I am not Moses, I am only a Quaker. Moses was not Moses, he was a Jew who listened to the voice of God within telling him to speak truth to power.

In the past, we Quakers built great institutions through the process of unity. We did so well, we built institutions for others. We had elders, not leaders. Decisions were made in unity for the common good.

Today, Pharaoh has nearly completely taken those institutions away from us, but, the small week grasp we have on out past offends this culture of elitism, of greed, of exigency, of me first and last. So, Pharaoh attempts to make us feel small by the dazzle of golden idols such as the respect out school has in the hierarchy of the culture of Mammon.

Then, to dazzle and confuse further, Pharaoh twines away some of the faithful, teaches new dances, which distract most of the children of light from the reality of their former power, power in their faith rather than power granted in small parcels by Pharaoh.

Once Fox, who also was not Moses, guided the children of light out of Pharaoh’s grasp on our souls. Now, thee and a handful of others lead the children of light out of the desert, the road to attention to the voice within, and back to the halls of Mammon.

In order to work Pharaoh’s will over our children, lies must be the unquestionable truth. For lies to be taken as true, Pharaoh must place the priest’s hand over the mouths of all who ask why, all who point to the wrongs, from the products of slavery in our shelters - prison labor used by Friends, to the grasp for power to lead by Trustees, to the misappropriation of our name by those who raise money for their own ego at the cost of our reputation.

No, Richard, thee is not Pharaoh, and I am not Moses or Fox. But, I do hark to the voice of God, who for all the ages has said to each of us to tell Pharaoh to let His people go, that we might serve him. Speak truth to all power, even our dear friends. Let His people go.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The last gasps of our former faith

I would post these words to the 15th Street Meeting’s Google group, however, they now employ Richard A. Evans, as a censor and as a child of the McCarthite America, and proud son of a father who resisted the banal evils of that day, I refuse to write in censored forums.

Leadership always seeks the last word, if not a monologue when power is threatened. Quakerism rose out of a need to break the patterned thinking of power’s culture through the empowerment of the individual voice in a disciplined community, disciplined by eldership, not leadership seeking power over the souls of the membership.

This is no longer true of Quakerism in the New York Quarterly Meeting. Today, leadership seeks to entrench its power by the same old banal evil which a small band of courageous souls risked death to oppose in our early days. Today, these leaders do not have the tools of the pillory, the scourge or the hangman’s noose, but they have the law and they have the closed committee doors.

We are plagued today by closed committee meetings which spread untruths about members, and destroy the comfort and involvement of the best of us. Why is this happening? Because great amounts of money are at stake as the emergent leadership in our Meetings squander the accomplishments of generations of Friends by giving over more and more of what Friends built in the past to non-Quaker businesses. Our schools are now bastions of elitism and classism, and the few voices in our Meetings which cry out for transparency in the dealings in these matters are branded as trouble makers and opposed by a controlling few in all nominations to positions of eldership in the Meetings.

We once sought to empower diverse voices, in a sort of spontaneous act of genius, early Friends realized that God’s plan centered around diversity, and in order to be truly a diverse community of freed minds, we must empower each voice to bring light to the whole. We also realized that the law of states must not constrain that diversity of conscience. As a result we placed our faith over laws which bound others to slavery, which sent us to war… However, today, there is a committee in the Quarter which seeks to overturn the expressed unity of the Quarter on the role of Trustees. Two years ago, during the Seventh Month business meeting, we were in unity on following the British Yearly Meeting lead, that Trustees had no power, other than to rubberstamp for the State the decisions of the gathered meeting in unity.
Now, however, Trustees claim power given them by the State is in conflict with that minute and have put together a committee of Friends and Lawyers to define their powers. This is one more nail in the coffin of Quakerism in this quarter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A very Otway THanksgiving

Damian getting ready for Thanksgiving...

Ever since the first Otway fell off the boat into the new world, we celebrate Thanksgiving by remembering the story of the first thanksgiving.

The youngest child, generally the only one sober enough to speak, tells this story, before joining the adults in a gin and tonic.... Story of the First Thanksgiving.

It was the night before Christmas, and the Pilgrims where feeling a bit peckish, after the long swim from England, the Mayflower having hit an iceberg and sank. Captain Smith ordered the woman and children into the life boats first, as he knew that there were not enough boats for all, an old tradition in the British maritime, only to find they had forgotten the life boats all together. Although they were still in the Themes Estuary and a scant 10 minute swim to Wapping, they decided that as long as they were already wet, they'd go for it and struck out for New York.

On the way they talked it over and decided that as long as they were going through all the trouble they might as well swim to Massachusetts so that their grand kids would all be rich New Englanders in stead of poor New Yorkers, and who wanted to live in a city where the Mayor was a bad tempered Dutch guy with a wooden leg who called the place New Amsterdam anyway, so I am getting off the point, it was time for dinner.

So there were Indians there also, John Smith and his wife Pocahontas, because she was tired of her dad chasing her husband John around with an axe every time he made the same old joke "Hey, did the White guys pay the rent yet?". Christopher Columbus got the place of honor at the head of the table. He was very old at this point, and probably dead, but was such a figure of respect that no one told him, but rather made sure the head of the table was down wind from everyone and they didn't ask Chris to carve the turkey or they'd all starve.

The Turkeys were much larger then, as it was a long time ago and they were still evolving from their Dinosaur ancestors, so one or two fed all of New England, and there was still some left to make clothes out of. So, now you know why we pardon a Turkey at the white house every year, then chop its head off and eat it.

Happy Thanks Giving to all and to all a good night, after a little Alka-Seltzer



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Slavery and dissident Quaker voices today

Elizabeth Buffum Chace

Well over one hundred years ago, Elizabeth Buffum Chace wrote some words which I hope give comfort to the persistent voices out of step with the Meeting, and I hope give pause to those who feel they know what is best for Quaker institutions and are well ensconced in the Friendly mainstream. She writes:

Several persons, in various parts of the country, were forcibly carried out of the Friend's meeting for attempting, therein to urge upon Friends the duty "to maintain, faithfully their testimony against slavery," as their Discipline required. A few meeting houses in country places, had been opened for the Anti-Slavery meetings, whereupon our New England Yearly Meeting adopted a rule that no meeting house under its jurisdiction, should be opened except for meetings of our religious Society.

During those years, I could not help feeling a sense of gave responsibility for these unrighteous proceedings, so long as I remained a member of the Society, and my mind was deeply exercised concerning my duty in the matter. Other Anti-Slavery Friends thought it was best to remain in the Society, and strive to reform these abuses. But we were few in number; and the great body of Quakerism in the country was against us. Our lips were sealed in the meetings, and out of our meetings we were in disgrace. -" despised and rejected. " One young Friend in Massachusetts had written a very earnest, open letter to Friends, in remonstrance for their pro-slavery position. He was universally condemned by all the powerful influences of the Society.Talking with one of the most influential members at our Yearly Meeting, who expressed strong condemnation of this young man's presumption, I said, "But is not what he says true?" And the man replied, "Well, thee may be sure, it will certainly kill him as a Friend."

No belief in Papal infallibly was ever stronger in the Catholic mind, than was the assumption, not expressed in words, that the Society could do no wrong, and that on this question of slavery, silence should be maintained and no reproof, exhortation, or entreaty against the pro-slavery attitude of the Society, should be tolerated. The claim of Friends, that the transaction of their Society affairs, should be under the immediate inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, so beautifully set forth in so many of their writings and sermons, as well are required in their Discipline, was sometimes perverted to authorize proceedings and actions which were far from being holy...

Reading this today, some argue that there are no issues as pressing as was slavery ... the wrong of slavery was as profound a stain on the soul of our nation as ever existed, and as such, such observations as that of Friend Chace cannot be applied to the petty questions of freedom and fairness of the world today. And yet, perhaps this should cut in the opposite direction. If we Friends turned the other way in the face of our sisters and brothers chained to plow and property, perhaps because it was the way of the world of that day, we should be careful to weigh our processes against our being inured to the way of the world today.

Today, some friends notice that there is a profound wrong in the use of prison goods in our Meeting houses, there is a profound wrong in sacrificing even one Quaker child to the ideal that certain children are not clever enough or wealthy enough to be deserving of a Quaker education, that our Meetings would turn their schools founded by our spiritual ancestors over to non-Quaker business interests, or that there should be an end to secret back room dealing on nominations, that there should be transparency in our business dealings, that trustees should never act on the power given by the state but should only following the dictates of God speaking through a Meeting in unity and that unity should include dissident voices with the same weight and equality of the institutional status quo, the "great body of Quakerism"... I can only urge faith and gentleness of people who profess the same.

Thine walking cheerfully across the world - out of step with all but the still, small voice of God within all,

Friday, October 30, 2009

Faith or Fashion among Friends

Seth Arthur Lorcan Florence (Mum) by Eugenie Gilmore-Otway

Dear Friends:

I find a lot of wisdom in the plain faiths which have not given into the fashions of the day. A plain Mennonite was quoted in a recent book, "We aren't told by our church what jobs to take, but, if you can't dress plain in your job, it is likely the wrong job to be doing." That statement is a deep river.

It gets back to me, from many Friends, that many feel those few of us who still dress plain are eccentric. A few, very few Friends actually say this to our faces. On the other hand, in the world at large, we find our plain witness is understood and we can dress plain in our work lives, as we travel, as we visit other churches, other communities, other nations. "If you can't dress plain in... it is likely the wrong..." What has become of our faith, when people wear bits of army uniforms to Meeting without thought, and it is not eccentric in a community that witnesses to peace... where Friends can wear business suits which cost far more than their cloth is worth - valued as a statement of class and fashion, but to dress to one's faith as a Quaker is considered anything from quaint to eccentric.

There is a lot about being a Friend in the Society of Friends today that seems to have gone out of style with plain dress. The depth of thought which rose out of our birth in a faith called the "Seekers" seems to be becoming out of fashion. Our faith, more than our clothing should be free of the slavery of fashion.

But, in my life time I watched as the deep discourse of my childhood was dumbed down in response to the fashionable discourse of the day. Eldership was rejected with the coming of the generation which worshiped youth and rejected the old traditions which they saw as autocratic. Some traditions were, but the baby was tossed with the bath water.

I remember more wisdom from my First Day teachers of the early sixties than from any other point in my experiences with Friends. Take for example, the view on sin expressed by one of my early First Day teachers, I think it might have been Herb White.

Sin, he said, is not about right or wrong, it is about separation. Sin is when even good things I do, set me against others and God.

Such wisdom would serve us well today, as we alienate each other over the business of the Meeting.

The next epoch I have seen is the effect of "Identity Politics" on seeking within the Society of Friends... it seems the youth culture gave way to the "shut up" culture. Who was talking became much more important than what was being said. It was true, there was a White male Establishment, but once again, the baby was thrown out with the bath water and more and more the conversation was focused on "listen to me" rather than the quality of what was being said.

I hope we go back to the simplicity of our faith - seeking God in our daily work, not just a hour a week in worship. All the good, hard work of innovators who wanted more voices heard, from the young to alternatives to the White middle aged male, seems to have turned this process of waiting for God's will expressed in our Meetings, over to a cynical few who would lead... maybe even a cynical majority... it is hard to know the state of the Society with so much happening in back rooms and cliques.

In the dumbing down of our culture, there are many who say I write too much. I think of the letter from the Birmingham Jail... the correspondence over the Hicksite\Orthodox split, the old age of writing... and I hear what Friends are saying, and wonder why they have little response other than you write too much. Well, there we are, living in the "shut up" generation, and seeking light in a sound bite.

For me, I think we should be cautious with every fashion, from fashion of thought, to the statement of our clothes... I think that testimony of our past has wisdom and depth today.

All I know is that I miss the faith of my youth.

She likes Quakers

Thine in the light

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Youngering or Eldering - a Core Problem


Dear Friends:

For years now I have seen the New York Quaker Quarter deal with conflict badly. We are pulled along by people with obvious issues and little personal discipline. I believe, this is in part, an outcome of an age (the Sixties and Seventies) where discipline became stigmatized.

So, to begin, let's look at the concept of discipline - from the root disciple. In our Meetings, we are not disciples of Gurus or Religious leadership, but of God as expressed in the gathered Meeting coming to unity.

If discipline breaks down, our discipleship is without meaning.

In the past, in a Hicksite Meeting, discipline was maintained by reading out of Meeting those who consistently broke discipline by not allowing a Meeting to elder them, by ignoring the process of unity. Again, it was about process, not about behavior, not about opinion. I make the distinction between Hicksite practice and the Orthodox sects, as the Orthodox sects read out of Meeting on the basis of theology, and reading out in a Hicksite Meeting was rare.

Today, a small number of people hold sway in the Meeting by employing public anger, by obstructionism, and by backroom politicking - keeping secrets from the Meeting as a body.

When challenged in the manner employed by friends from the start of our faith, the writing of Friends to each other, the reaction is predictably negative. In the past, even at time of great stress in the Society, Friends have answered writing with a response in writing, or a request for clearness, or a request for threshing.

Today, we are adrift, seeking ways to go forward, without any examination of the past. I heard a Friend respond to a call for our Quarter to look to elders by saying, "We need youngering, not eldering." Frankly, we have been "youngered" to the point that we have lost our way. If we do not look to the past strengths of our faith, we might as well call it a day for the Society of Friends.

Thine in the light


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Joe McCann and the war in Ireland - a letter to Nuala

In the middle or at the root of the problem
Belfast 1977

Nuala, a chara:

Your father was killed when I was a teenager, trying to make up my mind about how, as a Quaker in the US, to handle the Vietnam war draft.

We are an Anglo Irish family in the States, and there have been family members on both sides of the issues in Ireland, as far back as Roger Casement, who is an Otway on his mother's side.

I joined the official Republican clubs, and was involved with them until the killing of Seamus Costello, at which point I remained a non-aligned Republican - in support of civil rights, but unlike some, not judgemental of the armed struggle.

My concern, as a Quaker, was twofold, one of truth and the other of the inescapable chain of responses to violence. I will return to this, as it is a complex issue, taking a little personal history to link it to the statement about judgemenalism...

Even growing up in a pacifist community of faith, many of us had to face the often expressed opinion that we were objectors to war out of cowardice. So, at some point, I decided to go to war with a camera, to witness what war was, and help create an understanding among those who support war without knowing it closely and personally. Your father was one of a few figures which made the struggle in Ireland, for me, the war I would observe.

There were other figures as well, Bernadette McAlisky, Eamonn McCann, Seamus Costello, who inspired me to believe that even in the armed struggle of war, there were some seeking truths. I came to see, however, that even deep thinkers, like your father, might be being used cynically by governments which so obscured the truth of the conflict, what good and moral people were simple pawns, symbols, and sacrifices to events beyond understanding at the time.

I've come to believe, that there was a complex of struggles on going in occupied Ireland at the time. To those on the front lines, struggling against often unchecked or government sponsored violence, the struggle seemed to be the simple economic struggle of colonialism. But for the British government, it was a matter of keeping a community divided by violence through British Millitary sponsored sectarian killings, and the shoot to kill policy.

Over the years, I began to believe that Britain and the US created the war in Ireland as a tool in the control of Ireland as a buffer in NATO's plans to contain the Warsaw Pact. Seeing Ireland as a case of Low Iintensity Conflict, explains the decades of infiltration of the armed politic on both sides of the struggle. As Spain, and France pulled out of NATO, NATO sought a staging platform for a war in Europe, as Ireland became during the Gulf Wars.

I am the first to say, even in hindsight, that it is impossible to say the continuation of a non-violent, resistance struggle would have been successful or even possible. I believe that Britain as the agent of NATO, would have murdered people like your father to insure that Low Intensity Conflict kept Ireland divided and occupied. The complex of issues spinning off of this, from Jack Lynch and Charlie Haughie re-arming Republicans... point to the war as being manipulated, and impossible to have understood for its real politic on the streets where people fought for survival.

But, true internationalist thinkers, like your father, kept a small number of us seeking, hopefully learning... There is much more I could write... but, here in New York, I will leave it to those who risked much more to take stock of what happened in Ireland during your father's life. It seems the years pass by with such speed... a life time since your father was killed. Unfortunately it is no longer seen as shocking to murder a wounded combatant, as was done to your father.

We live in times, today, where wars are used to obscure truths, to control masses of people and where many good people on all sides are sacrificed to plans which are never disclosed to those behind the guns. Understanding the life and times of your father is vital at this point. He was a brave, and a good man, who gave his life for justice, and was likely a tool used by cynical and evil governments. His loss cost Ireland and the world a voice which should have grown with age like so many in the armed Republican movement.
All the very best
Is mise, le meas