Tag Archives: religion

“Faith and Practice” by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

Publication history:

  • 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.)

Sample Queries:

  • 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…

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“One Small Plot of Heaven – Reflections on Family Life by a Quaker Sociologist” by Elise Boulding

One Small Plot of Heaven: Reflections on Family Life by a Quaker Sociologist

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 Laughing Sutra” by Mark Salzman

I’m creating a new category for this book, which I read about 15 years ago, long before I had this blog. The category is

ADULT BOOKS THAT TURN OUT WILDLY POPULAR WITH KIDS!

Certainly Mark Salzman’s first book, the nonfiction Iron and Silk, an account of his time in China, was intended for adults. So when I came across his novel The Laughing Sutra, I expected the same. And initially, it was adult fiction. In fact, kind of scary. We witness a murder. But that was just a prologue… As I read on, and got to know the characters, I was amused and entertained, and wondered what my eleven year old son would think.

Hsun-ching and Colonel Sun are an unlikely pair of adventurers. Hsun-ching is a orphan, raised by an quiet, old monk. Colonel Sun is confused, wild, strong and lives for excitement. They join forces to seek a sutra (religious poem) wanted by the old monk.

When these two make it to the USA, the intercultural confusion blossoms into hilarity.

I started reading this book to my 11 year old, but the six year old was also captivated! We cackled our way through to the amazing climax, when Hsun-ching and the Colonel try to re-enter mainland China. (At that time, no one re-entered China. The border guards weren’t ready…) Colonel Sun became part of our family repertoire, like the characters in “Ghostbusters” and other favorites. He was at least as real to us as Superman or Johnny Appleseed. Who wouldn’t want Colonel Sun for a companion? I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you the source of the Colonel’s amazing powers.

So read “The Laughing Sutra”. I also liked Salzman’s next (and entirely entirely different) novel, “The Soloist”. I hope he keeps writing.

So far, I haven’t been able to think of another adult book that worked so well with kids. Any nominations for my new genre? I’m curious.

“Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City” and “Why We Chose This Way” by Turiya S.A. Raheem

Here I go again, writing about books I didn’t read, on the excuse that I met the author. Turiya Raheem gave a talk on her recently published book “Why We Chose This Way” at the Northfield (New Jersey) Public Library the first weekend in December.

The original announcement of Raheem’s book talk attracted some negative attention in Northfield. A few people objected to a public lecture by an African American Muslim woman writing ABOUT African American Muslim women. The Library declined to change its plan, and the lecture was very well attended – standing room only.

Raheem, who teaches English at Atlantic Cape Community College, first attracted media attention after HBO aired the made-for-TV period crime drama “Boardwalk Empire”, starting in 2009 and running for five seasons. The book “Boardwalk Empire” by Nelson Johnson had been followed by “The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City”. Reporters wanted to talk to people who remembered the Northside in its best days, when it was a hub of African American culture, a miniature Harlem, perhaps. After Raheem was interviewed extensively, she realized she had a potential book in her sights, and “Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City” emerged.

In her lecture, Raheem said that she found out that she loves the genre of creative non-fiction. (Readers of this blog may remember that I’ve expressed uncertainty how it is defined.) She decided to exercise her skills on her own demographic niche – she is an African American woman who converted to Islam as an adult.

The first requirement for this writing project was that she guarantee complete anonymity to the women she interviewed. She did this by changing names, locations, numbers of children, and other details, and by sometimes combining the stories of more than one woman. Her goal was to “normalize” these women, who may be thought of as different or exotic by those who don’t know them. She interviewed 30 women, all over age 50. Only one had been born into a Muslim family. Clearly these women find their lives richly satisfying.

The conversation at the lecture covered many topics. Muslim women make various decisions about their distinguishing dress, which makes them so much more conspicuous than Muslim men. This is a matter of choice and custom, not religious requirement. Raheem pointed out that only a limited number of practices are universal in Islam – the “pillars” like prayer and pilgrimage, and abstaining from alcohol or pork. All the rest (much of what we see) is cultural and depends on culture of origin.

Certain themes ran through the discussion – social justice, social class and the nature of community. Community and sisterhood seem chief among the reasons these American converts to Islam are content in their chosen identities.

I’m very glad I got to meet Turiya Raheem, and I’m looking forward to reading her books, which are available on Amazon.

“Faitheist – How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious” by Chris Stedman

I didn’t like the title of this book. “Faitheist” sounds contrived, and the subtitle describes the book perfectly well. I relented a little on learning that “Faitheist” was first used to Stedman as an insult from an angry atheist who thought Stedman was “soft” on Christianity. Shows how little I know about contemporary atheism. It’s a movement, not a description.

But that’s not the point of the book, which is fundamentally an autobiography, a very lively and interesting first person text.

Stedman is young, born in 1987 in Minnesota, the kind of intense child who took EVERYTHING seriously. He joined a “born again” Christian congregation shortly before he recognized his homosexuality. His pain and distress at the prospect of eternal damnation drove him to consider suicide. His mother and a sympathetic Lutheran pastor dragged him back from the brink. Spiritually, he developed into an independent atheist.

The real purpose Stedman found in life was social activism at the intersection between different religious groups and, later, between the “religious” and non-believers. He reached the important conclusion that “tolerance” between those of different spiritual paths is not enough – genuine respect is needed. It can only develop from deep friendship and careful listening. Stedman now works as Director of the Yale Humanist Community at Yale University.

Oddly, he never mentions Ethical Humanism.

Recently, a friend of mine observed that when President Barrack Obama discusses religious diversity, he generally includes non-believers as well as practitioners of all the world’s religions. Did Obama pick this up from the Unitarian Universalist congregation his family associated with? Stedman, whose family was decidedly secular, passed briefly through a UU group before his conversion to Christianity.

I mentioned a prominent atheist in a blog post dated January 31, 2014. This was Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, whom I found to be unpleasantly condescending towards religion and religious people.

I looked a little into the controversy around Stedman. He has been accused of “shielding” or apologizing for Christianity and failing to acknowledge its problematic behavior.

The best thing about Stedman’s book is his willingness to tell his own story. I think he recognizes the equal importance of listening to others’ voices. The US is in serious need of this type of respectful dialog.

“Home: A Novel” by Marilynne Robinson

This book covers the same time period and follows the same characters as the author’s Gilead, which I wrote about on May 16, 2016. Same story, different perspective, but Robinson managed, once again, to surprise me.

The Boughton family has eight children. The sons receive the names of family and friends, but the daughters are named for theological concepts – Faith, Hope, Grace and Glory. Big message right there – men and women fill very different roles in life. Seven of the Boughton children fulfill their loving parents’ expectations and grow into responsible, productive and apparently happy adults.

But then there’s Jack… He never “fits in”, always defies expectations. He fathers a child out of wedlock, and leaves, abandoning the child, the mother (still almost a child herself), his family and the community of Gilead. His father is grieved, angry and guilt stricken. He focuses intensely on Jack, who has almost no contact with the family.

At the start of the book, Jack comes home. Home is told from the perspective of Glory, the youngest daughter, who returns to Gilead in the early 1950s at age 38, to care for her aging father, just before Jack finally returns. Glory had worked as a high school teacher. Her personal life included a long, long engagement to a man she lately learned was married. At 38, she is a sad, thoughtful woman.

The question posed by this book is whether any redemption is possible for Jack. At the end of the book, Jack is still suffering. It’s less clear whether he still causes others to suffer.

Next I will read Lila; another perspective, I believe, on this Midwestern American version of the prodigal son. I’ve started to read Robinson’s essays. Stay tuned!