Tag Archives: Quakerism
“The Fearless Benjamin Lay – The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist” by Marcus Rediker
“The Fearless Benjamin Lay – The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist” by Marcus Rediker: Beacon Press, 2017, 150 pages plus notes, index and illustrations.
A fascinating book by a distinguished historian! Benjamin Lay was born in 1682, a third generation Quaker who was more serious about religion than his parents. He described himself as having been “born contentious”. He was radically outspoken.
Lay was a dwarf, about 4 feet tall. This had so little impact on his life and self image that I don’t know why Rediker put it into the title of the book. I also wonder why Rediker consistently referred to Lay as “Benjamin”. It seems patronizing, when everyone else in the book is identified by his or her last name or full name.
This books provided me with an expanded perception of Quaker history and the roles of George Fox and James Nayler. Several dissenting movements of the same era (Ranters, Diggers, Levellers,) were suppressed, and left no organized legacy of their aims and accomplishments. George Fox imposed discipline and saved Quakerism from that fate. But he dampened the spontaneity of the first generation of Quakers, and people like Lay wanted to get back that initial wildness sometimes referred to an antinomianism. Lay initially turned his attention to “false preachers” and prideful, dominating ministers. He raised trouble in several English meetings.
Lay worked as a shepherd, glove maker and sailor (ordinary seaman), after which he settled into trade, dealing mostly in books. His twelve years at sea gave him a wide range of experience and considerable sophistication. Time spent in Barbados opened his eyes to the violence and cruelty of slavery, and he devoted much of his life to abolition, starting with elimination of slave trading by Quakers.
This book is worth your attention.
Mary Caroline Reed Hopkins, 1928-2019
Mary Hopkins died last November. We were friends in the late 1970s and through the 1980s. Two organizations were important to us. One was the Women’s Traveling Meeting, a regional Quaker group. The other was the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology, an independent Quaker group for those interested in Jungian psychology.
Both Quakerism and feminism were extensively discussed at Mary’s memorial service. Later, I remembered something about Mary that was NOT mentioned in her obituary or at the service.
For years, Mary sought to explore the nature of female identity by focusing exclusively on women.
- She did not SPEAK TO men, other than from necessity.
- She did not SPEAK ABOUT men. When they were the subject of conversation, she remained silent.
- She read ONLY works by women, listened only to women’s music, studied women’s artwork.
I don’t know how long Mary immersed herself in womankind. I think I remember her saying she expected to focus on women for ten years. I never heard her reflect on it afterwards.
What an interesting and radical personal experiment!
I’ve known people who focused on a racial, ethnic or other identity group, often for the duration of a college course, or even to the extent of earning a related academic degree. What I don’t know is whether they took measures to reduce their exposure to and consumption of “mainstream” culture (which Mary regarded as wholly masculinized) while they concentrated on their chosen area of study. Some people chose to live in an identity enclave, like Little Italy or the Gayborhood. Mary lived exclusively among women for short periods, at conferences which she often spoke of as “peak experiences”. I shared in some of these wonderful events.
A social movement that arose towards the end of Mary’s life was intersectionalism. I first encountered it when African American feminists began to challenge their white feminist counterparts to examine their racial prejudices. Other populations now making their presence known include gender identity groups, handicapped advocacy groups and the elderly. I don’t know how (or if) Mary embraced these challenges.
Here is a quotation from Mary’s video Woman and Her Symbols.
“The male god of law and order, tempered by the unconditional love, nurture and creativity of the female goddess, may return us to a bountiful, beautiful and peaceful world, in which we may all fully realize that of the divine within ourselves and each other.”
Rest in Peace, Mary Hopkins. May we have the grace to listen to your advice.
“Faith and Practice” by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
- Adopted 1955
- Fifth Revision 2017
- Ninth Printing 2018
310 pages, including:
- Foreword and Preface
- detailed information on sources
- biographical information on authors, of which there are >125
Genre: Book of Discipline/DIY (religious life)
Faith and Practice starts with a disclaimer. The reader is admonished that the book is “a guide, and not a rule…”
There’s so much included in Faith and Practice. I refer to it frequently, but the closest I ever came to a complete and careful read-through was when I was planning to be married in 1979. I’m sure I skipped a good deal. Investments? Someone else can decide. Committees? Are they mandatory? There have been many changes since 1979, but the book is only a little thicker. Certain newer concerns have emerged, like environmental stewardship.
Why did I put “DIY” above, marking this as a do-it-yourself book? Because Quakerism is do-it-yourself religion! We do not ordain or employ ministers, pastors, priests, etc. There’s no centralized authority, like a bishop. We share responsibilities. Occasionally we hire people to perform services, like a secretary or custodian or landscaper. But our religious life is what WE make of it.
My favorite part of Faith and Practice (judged by how often I read it) is the Queries. A query is a question addressed either to the individual or to a group of Quakers, a meeting. (A meeting is a Quaker congregation.)
- For the individual (from the 10th Query, Ministry of Outreach): How do I share my spiritual life and experience with others?
- For the Meeting (from the 11th Query, Education): What does our meeting do to support and improve public education?
Obviously, there are no “right” answers!
The Queries are written to be pondered. They are grouped into 12 sets, so a person or meeting may consider them over the course of a year. But in practice, there’s plenty of skipping around! A concern for social justice may lead to review of the 9th Query, Equality and Justice.
I just looked up Faith and Practice on Amazon. The book I have here in my hand is not listed. Too new! It can be ordered from Quakerbooks.org. The versions on Amazon are obsolete or come from Quaker organizations outside the Philadelphia area, like Baltimore Yearly Meeting or Britain Yearly Meeting. Each is a Book of Discipline assembled by Quakers.
But, oh no! WHAT’S THIS??? “Amish Romance Onmibus (Amish Sweet Faith Boxsets Book 7)”. Amazon, how could you do this to us? To the Amish? Quakers and Amish are NOT THE SAME!! Don’t get me wrong. We admire the Amish. We hope they like us. We share a commitment to peace, a concern for simplicity. BUT we came from different places, at different times. Quakerism emerged in the 1640s in England, the Amish in the 1690s in Switzerland. Quaker historical documents are in English. The early Amish spoke German and they still use it sometimes. Both groups are derived from “mainstream” Christianity. Each was in some sense schismatic or dissident. (I wonder what the Amish think of these romance novels!)
But Amazon should know better! Wikipedia is quite clear. I must find a way to educate Amazon.
And I must spend some time with the new Faith and Practice, reading and thinking…
“One Small Plot of Heaven – Reflections on Family Life by a Quaker Sociologist” by Elise Boulding
Pendle Hill Publications, 1989, 216 pages plus bibliography and index. Why did I pull this old book off my shelf? Just looking for comfort, in these difficult times, and remembering Elise Boulding’s husband Kenneth from a lecture many years ago.
This book is a collection of twelve separate speeches and pamphlets. It’s far from coherent, but I’m glad these essays were assembled in one place, for our benefit. I read Born Remembering (third chapter) many years ago with a discussion group.
This time my attention was drawn to two chapters written THIRTY-FOUR YEARS apart, in 1952 and 1989. The essay from 1952 was entitled Friends Testimonies in the Home. My reaction to it was that Elise Boulding set an impossibly high standard for home making and child rearing! I mean, totally out of sight. On a scale of one to ten, my parenting (~1984 to 2010) would have rated about 0.3. When she wrote this essay, three of her five children had been born. Wikipedia describes her as “home maker and activist”. She lived in proximity to other Quaker families and attended a large meeting that provided substantial attention and support to families. A major focus was on how to raise children who would become peacemakers. Motivation, I think, sprang from post WWII international considerations and Cold War fears.
Thirty-four years later, Elise Boulding was looking at a very different world, and her focus was not on international considerations like war but on her beloved Religious Society of Friends. Quakers had recognized some of their failings, including the occurrence of violence in Quaker families. How could she have missed this, she asks? She admits to “willful blindness” and describes the “strong effort of the will” it took for her to confront the ugly truth. Then she proceeds to offer analysis based on both Quakerism and sociology.
Boulding identifies and describes what she calls a “residue of emotional turbulence” and “the unacknowledged residue of anger” among Quakers. Yes.
The perfect Quaker family is a “fictive reality” (Boulding’s term).
This is an oversimplification. But I know from personal experience that trying to create the “perfect Quaker family” (or marriage, or persona) can lead to trouble.
The essay and the book end with hopefulness. More hopefulness than I can sometimes muster. Guess I better keep the book around, to help me through dark moments.
“Unlearning God – How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe” by Philip Gulley
Amazon is having time trouble – you know, publishing reviews of a book before its publication date… Somebody better call the Chronopolice (Literary reference! Get it?) But, hey, Amazon is supposedly remaking America. So what if they mess with time?
The three reviews published by Amazon award Gulley one, three and five stars. The jury is still out.
The first two thirds of this book constitute a memoir. Gulley’s personal history is interesting, but bashing the churches of his childhood is small minded. Humor should be used very gently in such writing. Every author should have a “humor editor”, to help achieve desired tone and balance.
I liked the later part of the book better, when Gully wrestles with contemporary issues and discusses the role of change in spiritual life. Can you change your mind about an issue and remain faithful to your spiritual tradition?
So how did I acquire this book? It arrived unsolicited in the mailbox at my Quaker meeting. The publisher seems to have been unaware that there are several kinds of Quakers. Gulley is a pastor and has spent his adult life in paid employment with a Quaker congregation. My kind of Quaker, generally referred to as “unprogrammed”, does not ordain pastors or employ paid spiritual leadership. Nonetheless, we decided to look at Gulley’s book in our discussion group. His informal and lively approach worked well for us and supported several good sessions, so I recommend it to anyone interested in the role of faith in contemporary life. But it’s far from the “whole story” when it comes to Quakerism!
The Stockton Oratorio Society visits St. Matthew’s Baptist Church
Last week, I ventured far from my usual Sunday morning territory. I’m a Quaker, and regularly attend worship at the very small meeting where I’ve been a member for 20+ years. When I say small, I mean that attendance averages fewer than 12 people. Our worship is based on silence. We are listening for that still, small voice. If someone feels moved, they speak. Sometimes we spend our hour together in calm silence. This is my chosen spiritual path.
But I love to sing! I sang in church choirs from the ages 6 through 17, before I found Quakerism (at age 30+). This year I joined the Stockton (University) Oratorio Society in order the sing “Messiah” in December. The Oratorio Society was invited to sing at the Sunday service of a local congregation, and November 15 was the day.
St. Matthew’s Baptist Church is a megachurch. We were asked to sing at their celebration of 28 years of service by their pastor. We were invited as a choir, but the real agenda was hospitality, with a grain of missionary zeal. I never figured out if our St. Matthew’s hosts knew there were non-Christians among the choir, in addition to Christians who were not (by their definition) “saved”. The choir’s status as part of a public university should make it obvious, but…
St. Matthew’s sent their bus to pick us up. What did we find?
The congregation and the building are huge! The sanctuary seats 2000. It was almost full. You could get lost looking for the ladies room. Because of the size of the sanctuary, a high tech, high quality sound system was in use.
A service at St. Matthew’s is carefully choreographed. Nonetheless, participants stand and call out spontaneously. The mood was energetic and very, very happy.
- Gender roles at St. Matthew’s are traditional. Men fill the visible leadership roles. Training for ministry may be restricted to men.
- The idea of noise induced hearing loss hasn’t been introduced. If I attended regularly, I’d use earplugs, the kind from the drugstore that make loud sounds seem further away.
- Theology is important at St. Matthew’s. Religion is both emotional and intellectual.
Singing at St. Matthew’s was a real high! There was the usual rush that comes with performance, without the anxiety and formality of a concert. We plunged into an unfamiliar venue, gave it our best and were rewarded with noisy, delighted enthusiasm. Yes, I’ll do this again!
One of my reasons for visiting St. Matthew’s was to increase my understanding of African American life. (It’s ridiculous how little I know of these neighbors I’ve lived alongside of for so many years.) I’m distressed by the accumulating evidence that America is (still) a very racist place. I was happy to see the strength of community and vitality of leadership at St. Matthews.
We were invited to stay for lunch. I thought the whole church was having lunch, but it was a special spread for our choir, to fortify us before the trip home. Thank you, new friends, for a great Sunday morning!
Birthday Greetings to JHD
Happy Birthday! I wish you health and every kind of good fortune.
Thank you so much for inviting us to share memories from age 25! OMG, that was 40 years ago! We’re not just talking pre-internet, we’re talking pre-microwave.
Age 25 was the year I (unexpectedly) stopped moving around. In the previous seven years, I had lived in three states, attended two universities, occupied two dorms, three apartments and three houses, and spent eight months in Europe (another apartment, another dorm, another house and many cheap hotels).
So I did NOT expect, when I moved to New Jersey, that I would stay. I was offered a job with a time limit of five years. But here I am! No regrets. I live in “the other New Jersey”, aka South Jersey or the Pine Barrens. I’m out in the country, surrounded by blueberry and Christmas tree farms, and wonderful farm stands brimming with fresh fruits and veggies and flowers.
Age 25 was the year of my second career change. At 23, I had abandoned chemistry to work in environmental regulation. Two years later, I moved to New Jersey to teach at what was then Stockton State College. Stockton was new (founded in 1970), small and willing to overlook the fact that my only teaching experience had been running Freshman chemistry laboratory sections.
I was part of Stockton’s last “expansion class” of faculty, hired into a new teaching line, so I could make up my classes as I went along. I taught in an Environmental Studies program, one of the country’s first, among academics from fields like ecology, hydrology, geography, geology and forestry. I was the “dirty side” environmentalist, teaching about pollution of the air and water, and about solid and hazardous waste management.
In New Jersey, I met most of the people who have become lifelong friends and companions, including my husband. I met Quakers and attended my first unprogrammed worship, joining that denomination years later.
Can I offer you any advice from my forty-years-older perspective? Nope! Forty years is two generations. You are growing up in a different world, facing different challenges and equipped with different training and tools.
I wish you joy and love and adventure and safety! Take care, and please keep in touch!
“The Signature of All Things: A Novel” by Elizabeth Gilbert
Yes, this is the book that threatened me with “literary flu” (see December 17 blog post.) I bravely fought off my burning desire to read instead of going to work. I even managed to make this wonderful, absorbing book last six days!
This book is the story of a American life, from birth in 1800 to very old age.
Some pluses… It’s about a woman’s life. Much of it takes place near Philadelphia. Although none of the characters is actually a Quaker, Quakerism is given its due as an aspect of Philadelphia society. Abolitionism also plays a part.
But fundamentally, this is a book about the study of nature, especially plants. Alma Whittaker was the daughter of a man who grew plants, sold plants and supported the study of plants, with the emphasis on their medicinal qualities. He became fabulously rich in the process. Alma grew up surrounded by scientists (they called themselves natural philosophers) and businessmen of all sorts. Female role models were in short supply, but Alma, perhaps because she had no brothers, was encouraged to be intellectually bold.
Elizabeth Gilbert creates a memorable protagonist in Alma Whittaker and then surrounds her with intense, surprising characters. There’s Prudence, who turns up one dark night and is adopted as Alma’s sister. She sheds her background of poverty and ignorance and grows up to be a dedicated abolitionist. There’s a man named Tomorrow Morning, who loses his entire family, selects a new father and builds a new, rich life. Gilbert even manages to make a dog named Roger into a memorable character. (I don’t usually pay much attention to dogs, in life or in fiction.) Not every character is benign. The peripheral Mr. Yancey is mysterious and very dangerous.
Another “plus” from my point of view is that several characters in this book are Dutch and some of the story takes place in Netherlands, a country I for which I have a decided soft spot.
This book celebrates the beauty of nature and the JOY of studying nature. Neither is sufficiently appreciated here and now. Other types of intellectual activity are also lifted up – the study of languages, for example. Our heroine speaks four languages, plus Greek which she regards as a special treat. She undertakes to learn an Asian language under challenging circumstances.
One criterion of an excellent book is that it encourages you to read more, and not just work by the same author. This book led me to think about reading Darwin, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man in particular. I tend to think of myself as well informed on the subject of evolution. I hang around with biologists and experts in related sciences, but no, I have not read Darwin, though his books and many commentaries thereon are around the house. I envision reading Darwin as a project that might take years! I wonder if that’s true.
I have intentionally written this post without looking at the reviews of others, or even checking on Ms. Gilbert’s other published works. A few years ago, I read her two non-fiction books, Eat, Pray, Love and Committed. The first was good enough, the second (to use a culinary turn of phrase) disagreed with me. I never expected The Signature of All Things to be so very marvelous.