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.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A New Definition (perhaps) of Right and Left

Recently, I have been thinking about folks who are at odds with liberalism. Makes me rethinking, right and left. I think a good way to see it is that Leftists put process first and last, we are always in process while the Right puts conclusion first last foremost and often in thy face.

What is the implication of this... Marx was all about process, and Stalin all about conclusion, Jesus was all about process and most church leaders about conclusion, Jefferson as a revolutionary was about process, as a slave owner and president, was rather about conclusion (that is why he is SUCH an interesting fellow!!!)

Name calling is conclusion, clearness is about process. Reaching back into the past of movements is about conclusion, that is to see the history of a movement as a Merry go round, while seeing a movement as a river is ... process.

So, Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, called faith. He fell, half the pieces said, my, look at us, where are we now? The other half ... each small piece claimed to be Humpty.

Joe "Beppe"'s wonderful questions

Joe, "Beppeblog" in response to my responses to his pod cast, to which folks should really listen - Joe is great e-radio!, made the following response. It is so pithy, so much to think about and respond to, I thought it deserved a post on my blog, rather than a long thread of responses on his... so here is his response... I think it is accurate to say, Joe has been looking for something other than Quakerism, due to the lack of form ( I think) he finds in "Liberal Quakerism"...

Let me clarify something: I do not believe that acceptance is wrong or a bad thing, hence my example of how well liberal Friends have done in accepting glbt [ Lorcan's translation of Joe's initials correct me if I am wrong - Gay Lesbian bisexual and transgendered ] folks. My concern was that acceptance tends to be the primary internal issue for Hicksites (to use your label) Friends (at least here in the U.S.). It doesn’t seem to go deeper or at least beyond that issue as a community.
I also disagree with you about your branch of Quakerism avoiding “splits”. True, there are no official splits, but plenty of people have left liberal Quakerism over issues of theology and/or practice. It just hasn’t happened as a “movement” of sorts.
Despite all of the claims to “diversity” to the contrary, I think your branch of Quakerism is pretty monoculture internally, pretty much like most other communities. Its monoculture by drawing people to it that view individualism as their most important spiritual issue and who reject or avoid any element of authority as inherently problematic. It also tends to draw people who want as much latitude around issues of theology. It’s the perfect religion for white, middle-class, liberals (and the occasional radical). Nothing wrong with that, in my book. But, the community won’t diversify, as it so much wants to do, if it can’t acknowledge its own monocultural ways.

(From Beppe's new blog, see my links... )

Where to begin? How can one divide our acceptance of one kind of diversity and hold us to task for another? Yes, acceptance IS a primary issue, as diversity is certainly part of God's plan, and to find unity in God, we must accept unity on many many levels, from sexual diversity, to diversity in expression. I think that the question you pose about going deeper, is in regards the diversity of our community economically and racially, looking ahead to the end of Joe's comment, I answer this in a moment, but I am not sure this is what Joe means in the first paragraph.

Thy disagreement on splits. Let us look at the difference between official splits and people walking away. We lost several members to our same sex union minutes in many meetings, and if that is a Liberal Quaker issue, well, we did not read folks out of meeting, they chose more exclusive communities. They chose schism because they did not accept that it is God's intention to bless the union of people who were not sexually wired as they were. I fail to see this as a schism on our part. In our meeting we have several Friends who have said they prefer to worship in exclusively Christocentric meetings, though they have not left over that. In no recent letters asking for release I can recall is there mention of our inclusion of non-Christocentric Friends. But, as with leaving because of our inclusion of GLBT Friends, it seems to me that this is not our monocultureal outlook.

I would not say we, in our meeting, reject authority. Rather we are very careful to seek God's authority and not the authority of our individual ego. Most of us agree that God's authority is expressed in our seeking unity. That is a difficult process, but one we work very hard and very seriously towards in my home meeting. We have a remarkable clerk today, one who I do not see eye to eye on everything with, but who seeks unity with energy and talent and one who expresses the greatest strengths of Liberal Quakerism, patience and resolve. Bad clerking can harm any meeting in any branch of Quakerism and should not be laid at the feet of one or another Quaker expression.

Frankly, on the issue of race and diversity, that is very complicated. In our deep history, many of those who opposed the underground railroad, also opposed Hicks on antislavery. Hicks believed in full inclusion of Black Americans in education and industry. Our meetings have struggled with race, and I remember those struggles with some concern and sadness in the 1960s. Frankly, our meeting is not as diverse as it should be, but, at least one Black fFriend in the meeting has expressed to me, and I agree with her, that the fault is not the theology of our meeting, that is what brings her to meeting, but the elite nature of the school. She feels that returning to the birthright of Friends to Quaker education would create more racial and class diversity in our meeting. I am rather in unity with that, and find that concern spoken to in Quarterly meeting minutes from the 1970s. I wonder why thee thinks that only White Middle Class Americans distrust arbitrary authority. I say arbitrary authority, as in our meeting it is not a free for all, but authority must be justified as flowing from God, not one theological clique in our meeting. I hope thee does not mean that to accept God's authority without that definition of God being Jesus as Christ is to be without authority...

Well, that is a start, hope I begin to get to the core of thy concerns Joe. I hope thee has an opportunity to visit us in 15th Street during one of our business meetings. I joke about it turning off Quakers, but in reality, we are doing it rather well these days, and have had some great clerks in the past as well.

All These Friends Who Are Distancing Themselves From Liberal Quakerism...

lib·er·al (lib'?r-?l, lib'r?l)
[Middle English, generous, from Old French, from Latin liberalis, from liber, free.]


Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
Liberal. Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
Not strict or literal; loose or approximate: a liberal translation.
Of, relating to, or based on the traditional arts and sciences of a college or university curriculum: a liberal education.

Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.


A person with liberal ideas or opinions.
A member of a Liberal political party.




liberal, bounteous, bountiful, freehanded, generous, handsome, munificent, openhanded These adjectives mean willing or marked by a willingness to give unstintingly: a liberal backer of the arts; a bounteous feast; bountiful compliments; a freehanded host; a generous donation; a handsome offer; a munificent gift; fond and openhanded grandparents.See also: broad-minded
Antonym: stingy

The American Heritage® Dictionary

Kind'a sounds like a Quaker to me!?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Speaking To Each Other in Partisan America

What do we need to do to learn to speak to each other? I've noticed that we have become such a divided people, that we cannot ever say that folks we disagree with, dislike, are not of our party, are ever right. We loose a lot of the strength of our point when we concentrate on, for example, the intellect of George Bush. His intellect is not the issue, it is his actions and his programs. I have seen this among Quakers, we tolerate, support even Friends in ad hominem attacks, and wonder why we are as divided as the rest of the nation.

I have a friend, an anarchist, who cannot say a good word for the police or most folks in uniform. The other day he was speaking of the inherent stupidity of court officers. Then he began to speak about the exception, the court officer who had again and again been kind to him.

Maybe we need a series of exercises to retrain us, away from insult and to get to be able to speak to each other, not at each other. There is a flow chart in our meetinghouse on how to judge one's message, and if, it is political, personally from the ego... to return to centering. I think we need to help each other to do this. No, Paul, I do not think it is a minor thing to accuse another Friend of whining, when that Friend is frustrated and hurt from the faithful attempt at fulfilling his service. This does not mean that I think Martin is ... any number of words one might place, as name calling, mean, wrong, a bully ... but, rather, he is, as we all often are, in need of the eldering we as Friends enter as the agreement to not have a hierarchical faith.

So ... what is it to call someone a name. Someone says something unkind. Let's say someone says that another has not told the truth. Name calling equals "That Friend is a liar" What is the Quaker way, "That Friend and I are not in unity on the conclusions..." This second way is an opening for the "liar" to explain his or her truth to thee. Name calling is a shut door. We have a profound tradition of it, that Friends should practice and help each other. Most Friends, traditionally, when I was young, did not use words like "murderer" "liar" "thief" "Bum" etc. We are NOT what we do, even if it is proven that we have done what we are accused of doing. Once named, it is almost impossible to come back from that label. The same is true of labeling another's actions subjectively. It is not speaking to the truth to say that Friend Jeavons was whining. In point of fact, he was speaking his truth as he saw it. To call it whining is just simply not to speak the truth, it is not only insulting, it is not truthful.

Speaking with precision and kindness and care is core to being a Quaker. So, I say this in answer to Paul's note to me, not as an unkind response but expecting to be eldered as well when I stray from that loving path. Sometimes truths are direct and not polite. Politeness expects the other is not big enough to hear truth in light of error. But more, eldering expects a community loving enough not only to listen, but not to slam doors in each others face. In this, I still, now very publicly call on Martin Kelly to meet with me for clearness on things he has written to me which I find to be not within our tradition of loving confrontation.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Quakerism 101 Name Calling in the Society of Friends

Paul L's comment that Martin's article is well balanced is rather disturbing. In America today, we seem to have lost sight of the difference between statements of fact, the basis for loving confrontation and opinion and insult. For Quakers and Christians this is not a light issue, it is the core of our faith, which contrary to what Martin has said, IS to be present to that of God in everyone. I agree with a Wilberite recorded minister, with whom I discussed this several weeks ago, that the core of our faith is in the recognition of this and the living of this presence and one has removed oneself from process to the point that one is no longer a Quaker without this presence to God in others.
I think we really need to get back to basics. In the last post, I might not have been clear enough. I see name calling again and again in the Society of Friends. It can be funny, when it is the all too human frustration in a Friend who then actively looks inside. For example, I received a call a few years ago from a Friend who was beside himself, as another Friend called him a liar. I said to him that he was right, that is not right, If a Friend does not see eye to eye on the facts of a thing, instead of saying the Friend is a liar, one should seek out that Friend and say, I don't understand thy conclusion, I see it like this ... name calling gets us no where, it stops the conversation and breaks the relatedness at the core of our society. "Your right," the Friend replied, "the bitch!" True story. But the end is what makes if funny, that Friend looked within at the conflict within himself and came to terms with his own conflicts.

When a Friend accuses another of whining, of this is simply name calling, simple ad hominem attack and does not bring us to unity. To claim to be in the Quaker mainstream and be a Friend at all is to show a complete lack of understanding of our faith and our practice. The only road to unity possible in the face of name-calling is for one or the other to leave the meeting, and that is not our way. The mainstream of faith demands a degree of personal humility and bending towards each other. This faith only works when Friends respect each other, and actively work for peace in our meetings. I think the most critical part of my being a mainstream Friend is that I walk to meeting. I have seen many Friends who travel to meetings because they can't get along. If a Friend can't get along in the Friend's home meeting, that Friend might do well to actively seek out the reason why, not in others, but in that Friend's heart.

If the Friend believes that the Friend as clerk does not call on young Friends, has this Friend approached the Friend and asked for clearness? If Friends support this Friends observations, instead of supporting him in his name calling, have they approached the Friend and attempted to help bring about clearness? All this is not only the first fundamental of ALL expressions of Quakerism, it is fundamental and core in Christianity, in the sermon on the mount when we are reminded not to go into the temple without attempting to end on going conflicts... Frankly, I am at a loss. I see more and more Friends supporting conflict over loving confrontation and adding fuel to the fire by supporting those who express hateful things, who divide us while refusing to meet for clearness with other members. This is no little matter. Without loving attempts at unity this is simply an exercise in hypocrisy. Now, let us look at that... I am not calling Martin a hypocrite, that would be simple name calling. What I am saying is that none of us can claim to be a member of a peace community if we slam the door in each other's face. The aspect of hypocrisy is the simple. How can you call yourself a person devoted to peace if you (pl.) can only make peace with people with whom you agree? Peace is about opening to those with whom you are in conflict. War is just that, folks killing each other until they have lost enough that they seek peace. We who as Friends state we will not study war anymore, seek peace first, open ourselves with respect to each other.

Folks often seek power by pointing people to their inner weaknesses. The oldest trick in the book is to become leadership by saying, "folks don't treat you right, but together we don't need the others ... we are an elect..." Such movements do not move to the center of a community but become a self supporting clique within. It takes the realization that thee and the other are both deserving of respect to become part of the mainstream. We are not a community of marginalized angry people, we are a single society of love. There are other faiths that point fingers, and name call, and dig in, fortress ing our prejudices, angers, hurts, but this is not Quakerism.

If I did not love Martin, as much as any other Friend from the youngest child in our meeting to the oldest member, I would not pursue this. I will not give up on him assuming that he is beyond introspection. I continue to invite him to meet for clearness, with me and with all the others in our society who he attacks on line by name or by inference. I invite him to enter the main stream of the society he claims membership within.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

In Need of Clearness

Our fFriend Martin Kelly publishes a list called Quaker Quaker, and self identifies as a "peace activist". Some Friends where upset that I have called him to the light, in the past, neglecting that I followed Gospel Order to the letter. I wrote to him, was ignored, invited to go to see him for clearness, was turned down, fFriends wrote to him, they were ignored, I then did what gospel order calls for, and placed the issue before the religious society. At no time have I said that I am right and he is wrong, but rather I have invited him to look at issues he raised with me. I really think we should help each other learn what it is for Quakers not to contradict each other, but build on each others light. Again and again, fFriends have written to me about Martin blocking them from comment on their blog, black listing one or another Friend, and have seen comments from him which have attacked even Rufus Jones, one of the greatest peace activists our society produced. Once again, Martin comments on other Friends in a way which is not loving and I wonder if he has made any attempt at clearness first. He refers to another Friend as whining, and as being a failed leader. I don't feel this is in the manner of Friends. I continue to urge Martin to seek clearness when he is in conflict with Friends, and perhaps attend some Quakerism 101 classes. Martin, these attacks on Friends are not the way of peace making, and do not sew love in our society and I just wish thee would stop it. Now. Seek clearness not war on thy Friends.
In fairness, here is Martin's post in full.

Strangely enough, the Philadelphia Inquirer has published a front-page article on leadership in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Friends frustrate some of their flock, Quakers bogged down by process, two leaders say. To me it comes off as an extended whine from the former PhYM General Secretary Thomas Jeavons. His critiques around Philadelphia Quaker culture are well-made (and well known among those who have seen his much-forwarded emails) but he doesn’t seem as insightful about his own failings as a leader, primarily his inability to forge consensus and build trust. He frequently came off as too ready to bypass rightly-ordered decision-making processes in the name of strong leadership. The more this happened, the more distrust the body felt toward him and the more intractible and politicized the situation became. He was the wrong leader for the wrong time. How is this worthy of the front-page newspaper status?

The “Making New Friends” outreach campaign is a central example in the article. It might have been more successful if it had been given more seasoning and if outsider Friends had been invited to participate. The campaign was kicked off by a survey that confirmed that the greatest threat to the future of the yearly meeting was our greying membership and that outreach campaigns should target young adult seekers. I attended the yearly meeting session where the survey was presented and the campaign approved and while every Friend under forty had their hands raised for comments, none were recognized by the clerk. “Making New Friends” was the perfect opportunity to tap younger Friends but the work seemed designed and undertaken by the usual suspects in yearly meeting.

Like a lot of Quaker organizations, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has spent the last fifteen years largely relying on a small pool of established leadership. There’s little attention to leadership development or tapping the large pool of talent that exists outside of the few dozen insiders. This Spring Jeavons had an article in PYM News that talked about younger Friends that were the “future” of PYM and put the cut-off line of youthfulness/relevance at fifty! The recent political battles within PYM seemed to be over who would be included in the insider’s club, while our real problems have been a lack of transparency, inclusion and patience in our decision making process.

Philadelphia Friends certainly have their leadership and authority problems and I understand Jeavons’ frustrations. Much of his analysis is right. I appreciated his regularly column in PYM News, which was often the only place Christ and faith was ever seriously discussed. But his approach was too heavy handed and corporate to fit yearly meeting culture and did little to address the long-term issues that are lapping up on the yearly meeting doorsteps.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard some very good things about the just-concluded yearly meeting sessions. I suspect the yearly meeting is actually beginning a kind of turn-around. That would be welcome.

From the Quaker Ranter by Martin Kelly

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Courage to stand up to fear

Friends... I have been thinking of black lists, of jails, of fear, of censorship, cravenness, ego, and otherness, and mostly I have mused long and with longing on my faith as a Quaker. It boils down to the courage to be open. I have thought of Friends who block comments on their blogs, who have little cliques of "faith" and I am called to hold them to the light and ask them if they would choose to join those who stood for those ideals of liberty ... those with the courage to look harm in the face, from Mary Dyer to those who stood before the House un-American Activities Committee and said I am not afraid of you. I call Friends to be open and unfearing, because fear is a wall you place between yourself and God in others, and when you put that wall between God in others, you have blocked God in your own heart, I am as sure of this as any other thing.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Saint Brigid's

St Brigid's
Well above is the church in which I married my Catholic wife, below is the true story of what is up over there...

St Brigid's
Words and music Lorcan Otway

Last night I had a visitor, a dream I think but true
And if you spare a moment, I’ll share that dream with you.
An Irish shipwright’s son took me, to see his father’s pride
The famine church, Saint Brigid’s church, on New York’s lower east side.

He put my hand upon a stone, that stone is mine he said
I placed it here, so long ago, he said lifting his head,
My father placed this heavy stone between my little hands
Then helped me to lift it to the wall where it now stands.

I watched my father work each day, to make those stone walls rise
Two spires reaching for the clouds, which sailed on deep blue skies
Each stone he placed, he said a prayer, for lost ones left behind
This church to stand their faith to prove, until the end of time.

He pointed to a bearded face, high on the wall of stone
That was me Da, he said to me, here in my dear faith’s home.
It seems to me he’s watching us, as generations pray
To remind us of his loving toil, so long ago today.

He sailed away from Kerry’s shores, leaving family behind
To try and make a better way, to start an up hill climb
But as he built a new life here, each hard and pain filled day
Those distant hills of Kerry seemed to slip farther away.

Then news reached us, of wretched times, back in his native land.
Millions of Ireland’s people starved, with food so near at hand.
Out from each Irish seaport town, the starving sought to flee
While landlords loaded food to sell abroad for a ripe fee.

Sick starving, bodies broken, our families reached this shore
My father and our neighbors helped their future to restore
And raised these walls to thank our God and mark forever more
The place of their deliverance, here on this hope filled shore.

I woke up in the morning, and I still could see his pride
Reflected in his beaming face, across time’s constant tide
I wondered how in these soulless times, these wall can be torn down
These stone church walls his father built, to sell this sacred ground.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Use it Too much, Loose it, Don't Use it, Loose it.

Met rosery bead

AOL is causing me grief these days. Two days ago, against my wishes, AOL updated my AOL 9.0, destroying my computer. It began with an error message when I attempted to get on line yesterday, which kept me on the phone to AOL from 7:30 am until 10 something PM, and the result is that my computer just simply will not go on line, so, I have to use another to do this... big problem, not important to explain it all, except to say I don't wish to use the music computers to go on line, as I don't want to loose all my recordings ( again ) as there are recordings I would have loved to reedit, well never mind. Use AOL too much, loose it.

I don't talk enough to humans. Folks who see me once a week at meeting would laugh at this, but I try and get a weeks talking into one day. That's not a great thing, I find myself dearly hoping a few Friends will go out for a soup after meeting ... the upshot is that talking to marginalized folks in the park as I work is nice, but the conversations follow certain patterns, and not a lot of the gray matter gets used. Odessa, my only hope of a conversation once and a while, if by chance there is an agile mind alone at the next table, raised their prices to the point that I can't go there for dinner every night, lowering the chances that the one or two nights a week I eat in public, I will have a good natter.

So, this week, two dear friends where in from Jakarta, and Karin and I (Andrew's wife, a pal from my early 20s.... ) spent a few days talking. It took me three days to remember Al Gore's name ... and that only after he was mentioned on the morning news, it took me most of one day to remember Sanford White's name, and on and on. The disnomia is profoundly worse from not speaking out loud to people, about new things. I had a great time today, photographing Bob Wilbur's son, Sam, but the struggle to remember proper nouns and words, and the feeling I was grasping at concepts left me with an awful headache and a feeling that my usual old disnomia is looking worryingly like something else. Oh well... this past year took a rather hard toll on me... I suppose we all have to begin to be comfortable with the idea that one of these days soon, all our learning and lives will amount to mulch.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Simply God

A number of times I have labored with Friends to express what it means to me to have no other God but God, and be present to God in others. Let me try to put it simply. It is about simplicity.

The most visible aspect of God most theologians note is love. Love is both attraction and responsibility, care and respect. A balance learning from and teaching. Now when all these things are predicated on a separately injected symbol, one can't truly love without Jesus, Mao, Marx, Mohammed, Baal, the Red White and Blue... one has tied the simple truth to a system, and all systems divide.

While in Canada, on the radio, I heard a fellow express a similar interpretation to my own, on the story of the tower of Babel. That the relation to God is not in the image, and those faiths which put their image forward as a singular truth destroy the message of God.

So... how do we go to simplicity? In proposing that I do not worship any symbol for God, I deeply offend people who see God through their symbol for God. Meanwhile, for the first time in human history, the world is completely interdependent, one on another to overcome the divisions between us to survive. Some faiths, such as some Christian fundamentalists teach that survival is not the goal, that in order for the rapture to happen we must abandon this planet to war and want. They express joy in the killing in the middle east, and don't worry about the expending of the world's resources in their faith that God has given us just what we need, Jesus will return and they will be swept to a heavenly existence while the rest of us will sink into our well earned torment.

This does not speak to me of love, of responsibility to that gift God has created. But, even if it is true that the only salvation is a perfect anarchy in God, how to express that without that idea becoming an exclusive system. I am fully convinced that Yeshua attempted to express that in saying there is no tribe in following God, but when later Christians tied him so closely to their worship of God, the message was lost, only our tribe in Jesus is the state of being without tribe. Oh well... I'm at a loss. Many Friends dear to my heart are deeply angered by this expression that love should be unconditioned on specific belief. So, I remain rather sad, well very sad.