Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Olney Friends School: Survival at Stake

In Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard,  a family's fortunes become more and more dire, and yet the family is unwilling to sell its valuable cherry orchard. It refuses to cut down even part of the orchard. At the end, the bankrupt family must sell their estate. The first act of the new owners is cutting down and selling the entire cherry orchard.

Olney Friends School needs $250,000 to stay open. This is a small amount in the grand scheme of things, but would make an enormous, a vital, difference in the life of the school. If the school closes, and is sold, this "cherry orchard" will be lost forever. Or to mix the metaphor, this Humpty Dumpty can't be put back together again. Once gone, it's gone. It's really gone. The complexities and expenses of reopening would cost far more than $250,000.

Please don't let this happen.

It almost goes without saying that Olney changes lives. My three children attended the school. It was a game changer for them. They met and made friends with students from around the world. Rooted in the local, their vision became global. They received a level of attention and had their intellects excited in a way that will be with them for a lifetime. They lived Quaker values.

A certified organic farm and a school that is an oasis of light.

We've already lost one Friends' boarding school, the Meeting School in New Hampshire. Very few are left: Westtown and The George School in Philadelphia, Scattergood in Iowa, and Sandy Spring in Maryland, which is mostly day students.

If Olney closes, it will also be a huge blow to future students and to Stillwater Monthly Meeting. Though the school is no longer under the care of Ohio Yearly Meeting, Stillwater and Olney are tightly intertwined. They share spaces, and the staff and students of Olney provide vital blood and energy to the meeting. A dead, shuttered campus or a campus bought by interests antithetical to Quakerism would change the Meeting in incalculable ways. The Meeting would almost certainly no longer have the infrastructure to host Quaker wide events, such as QuakerSpring or the Conservative Friends gathering.

Moving back to The Cherry Orchard metaphor, what might--what almost certainly--would be the first move of the  new property owners? Selling the valuable fracking rights--and with who knows what restrictions? Maybe next to none. Maybe the whole point of the investment would be to extract the gas below as lucratively as possible, no matter what the environmental damage. Stillwater Meeting could find itself next to 1000 watt neon lights and tall pumps working 24/7. Olney, now a certified organic farm could quickly become an industrial wasteland. This is not dystopic fantasy but a real scenario.

So far, the school, despite its financial issues, has resisted signing a fracking contract.  However, that's an option, and one that, at least in the hands of the school, could be controlled and done with decency and restraint--and the school would survive. Nevertheless, it is an option the school is trying with all its heart and soul to avoid.

It feels that it would be a win for the corporatism and homogenization of world culture, the replacing of thousands of small independent visions with a single, totalizing worldview, if Olney folded. It is a place that has stayed true to itself over the decades. It remains a very down-to-earth place, though most of its graduates get into good colleges--and getting into college is a graduation requirement. It hasn't cut corners on what is important, such as making its own food and organic farming or being there one-on-one for every student. The entire staff has traded income, most living very simply so as to make the school as close to an ideal place as it can. The school provides a counterweight to a society in which profit, self and violence are proclaimed as the paths to success.

Olney Friends School has over the last century built layer upon layer of Quaker traditions. The traditions are tied to the location.  As Wendell Berry and Native Americans would state, local roots are all important. There is a history here and a community that accretes over time and can't simply be manufactured like the latest MacDonalds. It can't just reopen somewhere else.

Olney operates on a shoestring: nobody is getting rich or even modestly upper middle class from this investment. Yet its thousands of students have enriched the world. As with the Sanders campaign, or the community that pulled together in It's a Wonderful Life, many small donations (and a few large)  add up. If you donate, you will be helping to make the world a more humane place. To donate, you can send a check made payable to Olney Friends, 61830 Sandy Ridge Road, Barnesville, Ohio, 43713 or link to the donations page at http://olneyfriends.org/support-olney/. You could also phone in a contribution or call for more information at 740-425-3655.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Dreams of Christmas

Dreams of Christmas

Ellen in a recent blog (https://austenreveries.wordpress.com/2017/12/25/doing-christmas-in-the-heartsomethingcathartic/) likened Christmas to a dream, and I believe that gets at the heart of what Christmas is: a dreamscape.

Christmas, as we know, has long become a domestic holiday. We spend it inside our homes. Whether it has snowed or if our area of the country never sees snow, a hush falls over the world as for one day most businesses close and commerce stills. We have, for a moment, the time to stop, reflect, and dream. 

In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard connects the dream to the house:
the house shelters day­ dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace. Thought and experience are not the only things that sanction human values. The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity in its depths.

Christmas dreams of a better world, at least in the wisps and fragments of reverie. 

The consumerism at the heart of the modern Christmas is distorted, but it is the distortion of a dream--the dream of what the world could be if people acted with the material generosity to each other all the time.

Christmas may accentuate social isolation and family dysfunction, but central to it is a dream of community and family in shalom order and the home as haven. I did appreciate this Christmas card from friend Sherri Morgan:

Yet Christmas speaks as well to something deeper.

I find myself drawn this year to stories that are not Christmas stories but seem like Christmas stories to me because they touch deeply on the Christmas dream. This year I have been revisiting Peter Pan, a story that opens with domestic whimsy and humor  about the intrusion of the dreams of childhood into the intensely  domestic space of the Edwardian London townhouse. Peter Pan is openly the symbol of  imagination, imagination unfettered by rational adult constraints. This seems at the heart of Christmas.

I reread too part of The Sign of the Twisted Candles, a Nancy Drew mystery, but intensely a domestic drama of  interiors and a dream of righting the wrong in a domestic space that has been invaded by evil. Protecting the innocent and vulnerable, the very elderly and the young, is at the heart of this children's mystery and the Christmas dream.

At Christmas, we decorate the prosaic pine tree. We make the ordinary beautiful.

I came across this in the New York Times, and it has helped guide my days recently and bring a touch of joy centrally to them:

Each morning I write the words “I Will Feel Great About Today If I …” on a notepad. This is NOT a “to do” list. It is purely about creating the “reward” you describe: feeling great.
George Eliot puts this a different way: “The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.”

It helps me to think of Christmas as a dream and a choice. The dream imagines a world of peace and goodwill, of gift-giving, community, healing, harmony and generosity. This is both a secular and a Christian dream, the dream of all tears being wiped away. If it is not here, we can start to dream it into being. We also have the political choice: we could, if we wanted, make a better world much more of a reality than it is right now. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

For the first time on the web: Margaret Fell's "A Few Lines concerning Josiah Coale," 1671

Thanks to fine sleuthing by John Jeremiah Edminster, we now have the entire text of Margaret Fell's only known poem to put on line, an elegy on her friend, Josiah Coale (circa 1632-68), who died at around age 36. I had previously found 11 lines of this 44-line poem, but the rest seemed to have disappeared. It deserves to be on the web in its entirety, so I have placed it below.

Coale, like many early Quakers, traveled far and wide to spread the word about Friends, visiting both Holland and the American colonies. He was beaten and jailed by the Dutch and the Puritans. He received a warmer welcome from the Susequehanna Indians, with whom he negotiated a land deal.

Isabel Ross's Margaret Fell: Mother of Quakerism depicts Fell as appreciating Josiah's vibrant personality and strong faith. Fell was 18 years older than him, and saddened by his death. Though not one to write poetry, perhaps it was Coale's own poem, “A Song of the Judgments and Mercies of the Lord," written  in 1662 that inspired her own verse. According to Quaker Artists's History, a facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/quakerartisthistory/posts/1526146597680647):
He said his poem was “written at the movings of the spirit of the Lord”. The piece concerned the new revelation brought by Christ as reported by John in the New Testament. An excerpt:
“Until Johns Ministry I came to see, which was the great’st of all,  The Prophets which had gone before: from the great’st unto the small,  For then the way was made so straight, the path was made so plain  That, th’ Coming of Gods Son I saw in his great power to raign;  Whose kingdom now is Come with power, the Lamb is sets on’s throne.”
Like Coale's work, Fell's 1671 poem uses rhyming couplets. The poem, not surprisingly, is 
religious, celebrating Coale's faith, discernment, vigilance, and sufferings as he traveled abroad. Interestingly, a variation of Mary's Magnificat--"My should doth magnify the Lord--" is put into Josiah's mouth as "Let God be magnified, that was his [Josiah's] Song." In the final couplet, Fell, now presumably speaking for herself, again uses the word "magnified" in praise of God, connecting both Josiah and herself to an extremely important female figure. Mary, as Fell argues in Women's Speaking Vindicated, indeed preached in her Magnificat, a beautiful retelling of Hannah's speech about being a humble handmaiden of the Lord. This Lord notably takes cares of the poor and lowly, as Mary celebrates:
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 

 The final couplet of Fell's poem sounds Shakespearean, but it's unclear how familiar Fell was with Shakespeare. Quakers shunned the theater, and Shakespeare had not yet secured the superstar status he would after 1700. She might, however, have read his sonnets.

I particularly like the intimate, personal nature of the opening stanza: dear Josiah, the repetition of "gone" emphasizing the sense of personal loss, and the gentle, domestic image of Josiah resting on God's bosom.

There's also a poignance in the last verse, as Fell, who would have been 54 at the time, remembers that God, and implicitly Josiah lying in his bosom, "never waxeth old."

A few lines concerning Josiah Coale

Is dear Josiah gone? Yes he is gone;
He’s gone from us, in the Eternal one
Where he from all his labor is at rest.
I’th Bosom of the Father, who is forever Blest.

Ah Valiant Champion for God’s Truth, so pure,
Thy Name’s as precious Ointment, thy memory shall dure
In upright Hearts, from them nothing can hide,
Thy worth, thy faithfulness, all shall abide,

To their refreshment, though thy Body’s laid
I’th bowels of the Earth, yet as thou said,
God’s Majesty was with thee, and the Crown
Of Immortal Life is on thee; and that will renown

Thy Name to Generations, yet unborn,
When they shall hear, Josiah  did adorn
The Gospel of our Lord by Doctrines that was found,
Within his Native Land, yet he was found

In foreign Lands, spreading forth the fame
Of his beloved Lord: and that his Name
Might be Advanced, thought no Travel long
Let God be Magnified, that was his Song:

His Travels they were sore, within, and eke without:
His Recompense was large; yes, there’s no doubt.
Now he shines as a Star, of no small magnitude,
Who, by the Power of God, hath convinced a Multitude.

Many are the Children, he hath gathered
To the Knowledge of the Lord, and Christ their Head.
He rightly did divide the Word of God;
Gave Milk to Babes; but Fools are for the Rod;

He sweetly comforted the Meek:
Ah, he was strength unto the Weak;
But terrible he was to the Stout-hearted,
Who verily was smote before he parted.

The Workers of Iniquity by him
Were trampled under foot; the man of sin
Was sorely wounded by his powerful Hand
The hypocrites before him could not stand;

 But by the Power of God he did them flay:
But now, alas, he’s gone, he’s gone away,
And we who loved him, though our Loss is great;
Yet being fixed in God, we are compleat;

There meet with his Spirit, who gathered is
Into the Mansion of Eternal Bliss.
Praised be God, and Magnified be He
Who never waxeth old, nor chang’d can be.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Quakers and accumulation

In her biography, Margaret Fell: Mother of Quakerism, Isabel Ross traces an 1826 Quaker advice on Keeping Clear Accounts back to the frugality of Fell and her daughters: 

“It is the duty of all to arrange their expenditure with due regard to their income; and clear and correct account-keeping is a means of avoiding reckless expenditure on the one hand or unjustifiable accumulation of wealth on the other.” (my italics)

When I wondered, did we as a larger society in the United States and the West lose sight of the idea that too great an accumulation of wealth is unethical? We certainly know these days that it is a severe problem.

Often the idea that we should limit wealth is ridiculed on the basis of it being impossible to determine where the "line" should be drawn. Do we condemn someone who feels they need three cars instead of two? How do we decide what "unjustifiable accumulation" is? 

These questions, in my experience, are raised to shut down conversation. They are rhetorical: implicitly the only answer is we must not engage in the question because we can't answer it. We have no choice but to leave the decision up to the individual, even if that person shows every sign of an uncontrolled money addiction.

But what if we took the 1826 query, which has its roots in early Quakerism, seriously? What if we tried to decided how much is too much: at least as a guideline? At what point can we no longer justify our accumulation? At what point do we start dispensing our material wealth outward? At what point do we internalize the dispersal of our wealth, so that it would seem as twisted and unnatural to hoard it when others were in need as it would to own a slave or watch someone in an arena torn apart by wild animals? What constitutes reckless expenditure?

These are questions to ponder, not to dismiss. What is a reasonable guideline? When we have our bills under control and a year's income in the bank (or two) do we then give away our excess savings? Are there other guidelines to use? If we have large sums of money do we hold on to the principal but give away the interest income? Clearly these guidelines would be meant to be just that and not clubs with which to beat people who don't adhere entirely to our ideas of reasonable expenditure and savings.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Beyond Good and Evil ... the Quaker way

“ Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.” 
Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers

The quote above seems to capture exactly what Quakers, whether universalist or Christian or of whatever stripe are at core about--or what I dream they are about.

Jesus and George Fox preached in fields (and both would have talked about wrongdoing and rightdoing) but I also imagine in both of them acceptance and love, a genuine listening, an encounter--and isn't forgiveness, reconciliation and love of your enemies on some level about meeting in a field?

The quote moved me because it doesn't say their is no wrong or right doing--it acknowledges we all have our own ideas of what these are--but yet there is a place where we can meet each other deeply.

We don't have to talk about right or wrong. We can just meet.

I thought of Ken and Katharine's question about where love is calling us today. Maybe to a field where we'll meet a stranger.

I saw this on my friend Elaine Pigeon's blog (https://pigeonfiles.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/city-of-refuge/) and immediately felt an emotional response to it, though I knew nothing of Mbue or Behold the Dreamers. 

A quick tour of Amazon yields the following about Mbue's 2016 novel:

A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award • New York Times Notable Book • Longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award • An ALA Notable Book
 The quote also reminded me of quote, written as grafitti on a wall in Havana: "We believe in dreams." I have long hung onto that--and feel the need more than ever to do so in these times.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Katharine Jacobsen's Memorial: Love and Gratitude

I was very grateful to have had the opportunity of attending the memorial service at Stillwater Meeting House in Barnesville this past Saturday for Katharine Jacobsen, who died in January.

Ken wrote a poem two days before Katharine's death that captures my sense of their loving relationship:

Oh my love, as I sit by you, breathing with you
as your body softly lays itself down like a prayer
I'm feeling our ten thousand days--
the gift of our ten thousand days
of traveling together this blue planet among the stars,
this living school for love called earth,
traveling together to find out what love is about.
I'm feeling our ten thousand days--
ten thousand mornings of prayer time in the quiet,
side by side, wherever we've found ourselves,
like here, like now, drinking in the dawn,
listening again, for what Love would have us do this day.
I'm feeling our ten thousands days--
ten thousand evenings of prayer time in the quiet,
side by side, drinking in the darkness
listening again, for what Love has taught us this day,
as we lay ourselves down to sleep.
Oh my love, I'm feeling in my grief
the joy of our ten thousand days,
how this school of love is just beginning,
our school of love is just beginning,
with you needing to leave your body now
and I given to stay in mine,
and we're just beginning to find out
what Love is all about.
Oh my love, I'm feeling in my grief
the joy of our ten thousand days,
on this sweet planet among stars,
thank you, my love, thank you.

"this living school for love called earth"

This poem moved me in its simplicity and sincerity. Roger and I recently celebrated 30 years or 10,000 days together, and if Ken feels as I do, it has all gone by in an eyeblink, and he feels he could step through a door back into 1986 as if no time has passed.

My main acquaintance with Ken and Katharine has been on a Quaker committee, where instead of seeing me as "difficult," they were able to understand and respond to me as a human being trying to be heard. That was healing for me. The committee members, knowing each other so well, inadvertently and with no malice, had turned into a clique over the years, where despite the Quaker equality testimony, some were more equal than others. I flapped my wings to avoid being overlooked, felt roundly condemned as a troublemaker, was patronized, and felt increasingly both frustrated and determined to speak my truth--for if I couldn't do that, why I was in this spiritual community? There was and is no secular reason for me to be here. Fortunately, Ken and Katharine were able to hear me: I felt I was alive to them as a person, not just as a problem that had to be dealt with. They didn't have to do this, but they did. Naturally, once I was heard and responded to with understanding and respect, everything began to settle down. Naturally, I felt and feel a great outflow of love to both of them: being treated as fully human generates love, and as I felt grateful for their response and the time they took with me, I began to see them in return as more fully fleshed and particularized humans. And such is what I understand the healing power of the Holy Spirt to be, how I believe Jesus interacted with the people who crossed his path, and I know that by following that path we can all see each other in our true humanity--and then love grows.

One other memory stays with me. At a Friends Center event, I was paired with Katharine and she told me about her childhood, when she would sail with her father on the lake at their summer home and how wonderful that was for her. Katharine radiated with joy at that memory, and so what stays with me is a mental image I have created of a teenaged Katharine on a sailboat.

I did not paint this but it corresponds to my imagination.

Further, with the state of public discourse as it, it is deeply solacing to know that there are people like Katharine in the world who are so formed--of such a character--that such words as we sometimes hear would never cross their lips.

Losing a loved one is the most painful experience ever, for no matter how assured we might be we will be reunited with them, our heart longs for them and them alone to be with us now. Ken wrote this poem after Katharine died:

In the end, my love,
in your final days with us,
I found you were made of nothing
but gratitude,
all you could say was
thank you, thank you, thank you.

He also added to the program words from the Rule of St. Benedict:

When we rise from sleep
Let us rise with the joy of the true Work
we will be about this day,
and considerately cheer one another on.
Life will always provide matters for concern
Each day, however, brings with it
reasons for joy.
Every day carries the potential
to bring the experience of heaven;
Have the courage to expect good from it.
Be gentle with this life,
and use the light of life
to live fully in your time.
Those words struck me powerfully.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Towards Peace: Hannah Arendt

Given how violence-saturated our culture continues to be and how wedded we are in the U.S. to thinking violence is the only viable form of power, it's refreshing--and  important-- to read Arendt argue that violence is the antithesis of power. She and Audre Lorde think along similar lines: that power arises through community or the deep relationship building that Lorde called erotics. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Kelly also advocated the formation of strong, deep (in their cases, spiritual) community as the key to speaking truth to power. It's also notable that all but Lorde formed their convictions about community in response to the shattering ultra violence and worship of violence that characterized the Nazi regime (and is now characterizing many of those in political power in this country). Needless to say, Jesus also saw the value of deep community building (which he identified with love) as more powerful than violence. 

It's important that we not accept, even if half consciously,  the canard that violence is the only form or the best form of power, despite that message being dunned into our heads over and over through the propaganda machine, including the fictional culture (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Westworld, etc). People keep noting the peaceful nature of the women's marches last Saturday: that's obviously important. Any whiff of violence simply gives the other side the justification to respond with extremes of violence. We also have to keep noting that non-violence can bring significant change, despite the persistence of the belief in the popular culture, reinforced by TV fictions, that it never works and is a sign of weakness and ineffectuality. As with violence, sometimes nonviolence wins and sometimes it loses. The fact that war so often is a dead loss never seems to delegitimize it: we can't let the fact that non-violence sometimes doesn't work blind to us to the many times it does work. Of course, this is preaching to the choir. 

  From the New York Times:

 Arendt draws a sharp distinction between power and violence as well as between liberty and necessity.
What does this mean? In her lexicon, power and violence are antithetical. Initially this seems paradoxical — and it is paradoxical if we think of power in a traditional way where what we mean is who has power over whom or who rules and who are the ruled.
Max Weber defined the state as the rule of men over men based on allegedly legitimate violence. If this is the way in which we think about power, then Arendt says that C. Wright Mills was dead right when he declares, “All politics is a struggle for power; the ultimate kind of power is violence.”
Against this deeply entrenched understanding of power, Arendt opposes a concept of power that is closely linked to the way in which we think of empowerment. Power comes into being only if and when human beings join together for the purpose of deliberative action. This kind of power disappears when for whatever reason they abandon one another.
This type of power was exemplified in the early civil rights movement in the United States and it was exemplified in those movements in Eastern Europe that helped bring about the fall of certain Communist regimes without resorting to violence. Violence can always destroy power, but it can never create this type of power.

As Quakers, we have the important task of keeping non-violent protest front and center as shake up and turbulence increasingly characterize the political discourse.