Coming to unity on a boiling issue

In the Society of Friends, or Quakers, we never vote on the  issues before us as a community but rather pursue a more difficult route of finding unity in which everyone is in agreement. It’s not exactly consensus but rather trying to find the leading of the Holy Spirit.

It’s an amazing practice, actually, even though one person can hold up the motion of everyone else. Sometimes, as we’ve each discovered, that one person is closer to Truth than the rest of us. And so we labor together until clarity appears.

Without going into the details now, I’ll turn to a recent example of that discipline.

As we Friends in my congregation considered our response to recent racial affronts in America, we realized our reaction needed to go far beyond putting up a banner on the meetinghouse wall facing a busy downtown street or, for that matter, reciting certain trendy catchphrases.

As some among us observed, we needed to go to the spiritual heart of the conflict.

Here’s what emerged, a proclamation we recorded, after months of deep reflection, in our monthly meeting for business records. We do not do such things easily.


Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2, RSV)

Dover Friends Meeting affirms the deep truth we find in Black Lives Matter. It aligns with our conviction that there is that of God in each person.

Within our Meeting, we have Friends who have benefitted from racial privilege based on whiteness and those who have experienced pain, privation, and even peril because, as people of color, the onerous weight of institutional racism has been heaped upon them. Together, we reject the cultural fiction that “whiteness” has intrinsic value.

We hear, instead, a call to unity across our differences in our Meeting and in our society at large. This unity is a foundational truth of our lives. It stands firm on the bedrock of our primary experience that the Divine dwells within each.

In our entanglement with institutional racism, we have run afoul of Paul’s advice, “Do not be conformed to this world.” We sense a divine invitation to open ourselves to the revealing of ways we must cast off conformity to systems that unfairly benefit some and prepare ourselves for transformation through the renewing of our minds and hearts.

We come to this moment humble and ready. The rigor of the task ahead necessitates that we do this work, individually and collectively, in faithful Quaker community. We pledge to each other mutual accompaniment.

Dover Friends Meeting commits to proceed actively, following Spirit’s leading, to live into new ways to manifest equality and unity in our meeting, the Religious Society of Friends, and in our secular society.

Coronavirus fuels a news storm unlike any other

The Covid-19 pandemic is an ongoing news story unlike any other we’ve seen.

Most news reports are about things that have happened – past tense – but this one is more a matter of watching things coming our way, threatening to happen in the near future.

Add in the two-week period between the time of infection and the appearance of symptoms, there’s even a sense of something ghostly in the air, a present tense that’s uncomfortably ethereal.

The closest similar coverage I can think of comes in sportswriting, as in anticipating an NFL game coming up, say, next Sunday. There, though, there are only two possible outcomes, it’s a limited time span, and a score will settle the matter.

The unhealthy emphasis on public opinion surveys regarding upcoming political elections might also fall into this future-tense focus, though we still see reports of candidate appearances and policy positions along with charges and countercharges.

With coronavirus, though, the scope spreads across many beats rather than something only on the sports desk or political reporter. It’s not just medical and health fields but also stock markets and economics,  education, transportation, technology, even lifestyles as well as sports and politics as we go into lockdown and shelter-in-place. Americans aren’t used to being confined anywhere, especially with their mate.

Well, we are also seeing potential major changes in the way we do many things in the years ahead. How much will online meetings catch on, for instance? Or what will happen to local retailing? It’s all fascinating.


There’s one other ongoing story that might emerge along these lines. Climate change.

Let’s see if experience with one leads to an increased interest in the other.

How well are we hunkering down? Here are ten things to do in self-isolation

So here we are, spending too much time online digging for the latest in the Covid-19 deluge. I know I’m not alone there. The mere fact that so many sources for updated reports from around the globe are available only a few keystrokes away feeds our obsessive googling and scrolling – for many, a morbid fascination, for sure.

Having pretty much self-quarantined (in part at my wife’s nudging), I’ve been trying to continue generally as much life-as-usual as possible, which you’ve seen reflected in the posts here at the Red Barn. Admittedly, my life since retiring from the newsroom and turning my attention fulltime to a writer’s discipline has meant generally limited face-to-face social interaction anyway, but even I’m getting a bit antsy without my Quaker gatherings or daily swims at the city’s indoor pool or even dashes to the bank or grocery.

Still, I sympathize with those who have never undergone a discipline of doing without – as in fasting, leaving electronics behind for a backpacking or camping expedition, or even enduring an extended power outage. (As for the toilet paper, don’t get me going. That’s truly a First World problem!)

So while I’m treating these restrictions as an opportunity for reflection and renewal, here are ten things to make the best of it. And remember, if you’re sharing this hunkering down with a mate and/or children, try these together.

  1. Starring in the kitchen: Usually we’re too busy running around to actually take the time to cook attentively. You know, maybe from scratch. So reach into the backs of your cupboards and actually use ingredients you put aside for someday. When you don’t have everything a recipe calls for, be inventive. How does homemade bread sound right now? Pancakes? Your own pretzels? (Oops, I’ve got to check on that pork broth simmering on the stove!)
  2. Guilty reading: Got a pile of books or magazines gathering dust? Kick back and open a page. Don’t overlook ebooks, either. They’re easily downloaded … I have a few I’m recommending.
  3. Arts and entertainment: You might be surprised what’s being streamed, not just on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I’ve been watching a different Metropolitan Opera production for free at dawn every morning. (Often while I’ve been doing one of these other activities.)
  4. Deep cleaning and reorganizing: Revisiting old files in my cabinets or on my laptop and purging many of them is feeling so liberating. It’s allowing me to refocus, too. Think about your closets and drawers. Parts of the barn are going to be next, weather permitting.
  5. Seed planting and yard work: Hey, you can’t stay inside all the time! And when you do, you can get some of those seeds started.
  6. In-house exercise: The gym and indoor pool may be closed, but you can still go for walks or clear a space on the rug for yoga or pushups. I had forgotten we have hand weights, which I found while cleaning. Inhale, one, exhale, two …
  7. Games and puzzles: Get out the decks of cards or a board game. How long’s it been? Puzzles can keep you busy, too, solo or with everyone’s help.
  8. Phone calls and emails: Yes, keep in touch. I’m really behind here!
  9. Rest: What’s wrong with napping or staying abed longer? How often do you get a chance to do THAT? A deep, long hot bath is another soothing option.
  10. Prayer, meditation, and reflection: Many churches have mobilized streaming events on this front. Check out their websites.

Here’s hoping you and yours aren’t showing any virus symptoms.


What would you suggest adding? What are you discovering … or rediscovering?


When it comes to election results in most of the locales I’ve lived in, I’ve awakened to find myself in the minority. Sometimes, discouraged, I’ve wondered if it’s even made sense to show up to cast my ballot.

On the other hand, believe me, being victorious can feel unbelievably vindicating.

That said, let me argue that casting your vote is not about winning. It’s about taking a stand.

Here are ten reasons you need to do it – especially if you live in the United States today.

  1. It’s witness. The Bible presents a sequence of prophets and faithful individuals who have publicly done what’s right, no matter what. There’s good reason to have a multiparty system and its loyal opposition. Voting is one way of strengthening your own convictions.
  2. It’s protest. In the current political climate, persecuted people and other nations need to know that not all Americans accept the tragic and reckless actions our government has been taking. History needs to know there have always been people of integrity, even when the current turns toward fascism.
  3. You’re a reader. That means you’re better informed than the average Fox channel viewer. At the least, you cancel his vote. (Whew!) Better yet, you one-up him. (Yay!) Go for it.
  4. As an informed voter, you can know who the big PAC money is supporting and cast your ballot against their candidates. Remember, in the end, the PACs want you to pay your taxes for their benefit. Defend yourself.
  5. Some good people are running. Contrary to nihilistic conservative voices, not all candidates are crooks – in fact, that argument begins to sound like a mea culpa. Win or lose, honorable candidates need support in knowing they’ve done the right thing in campaigning. Otherwise, you’ve endorsed corruption and we’ll all pay dearly. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
  6. Officeholders often feel alone when it comes to being true to their own moral values They need individuals to confirm their intuition. You can sway them in the direction events take, even into the next term.
  7. Public policy decisions affect real actions for good or bad. You can back a candidate who’s going to solve problems rather than make more. And please, don’t settle on blank promises like “create new jobs” – ask what it actually means in detail. A job at Walmart won’t put much food on the table or pay the rent, not where I live, and will likely wipe out someone else in the process. Frankly, I’d rather have the someone else. Yada yada. Also listen for what they leave unsaid. Anyone remember hearing anything about taking over the Internet in our last national balloting?
  8. Nurture future leaders. I’m encouraged to see talented fresh faces stepping up to the challenge across the nation. They need a boost. And we need theirs. Confirm their idealistic aspirations.
  9. Screw the bastards. You can vote against incumbents and register your complaint, at the least. Rotten apples are destroying the barrel and need to be purged. This may be our last chance to trash them and wash the container. Don’t lose it. Let the good win out, please. Just look at what the partisan takeover of the Supreme Court is doing to the nation’s workers.
  10. Defend your liberty. In essence, not voting is the same as not having the right to vote. Think about that. It’s time to come to the defense of your essential rights or else lose them. Democracy is being assaulted by reactionary forces.


What reasons would you add?


For much of the year, before the foliage fills out, I can see the Garrison Hill observation tower from the third-floor attic room where I write and revise. Not that you can often detect our house and barn in return – they’re obscured by the surrounding trees.

So here, taken a few houses down the street, is a suggestion of what I see from below, followed shots at the foot of the tower itself and then some views it offers from its top deck.

Getting to the tower offers a pleasant bit of exercise, beginning with a five-block walk (cutting through a neighbor’s yard, of course) and then taking a wooded trail to the top of the 298-foot-elevation hill. (You can drive, if you want, but then the car gets the workout.) From there, getting to the top of the tower adds another 76-foot gain.

The views range include the White Mountains to the north (Mount Washington often appears as a snowy shadow or a low cloud) to Maine to the east (with Mount Agamenticus, which offers even more stunning views) to the Isles of Shoals five miles out in the Atlantic (something I’ve never quite detected in the blur, even though I’ve seen Garrison Hill from the ferry returning), to the three Pawtuckaways in the west. Plus our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, and a host of passing birds. Quite a panorama.

But I’ll spare you the sordid history surrounding the naming of the hill itself in the Colonial era. These days, I’m happy to see how much this landscape blends forests and farms and small communities in a place I call home.


A lighthouse has stood at this site along Portsmouth Harbor since 1771, where fortifications were first erected in 1632. The long dark stonework along the water was part of Fort Constitution. Historically, it was the site of Fort William and Mary, the first armed skirmish of the American Revolution.
A lighthouse has stood at this site along Portsmouth Harbor since 1771, where fortifications were first erected in 1632. The long dark stonework along the water was part of Fort Constitution. Historically, it was the site of Fort William and Mary, the first armed skirmish of the American Revolution.

This year’s Patriots’ Day comes next Monday, a holiday in Massachusetts and several other states to commemorate the April 9, 1775, Battles of Lexington and Concord that inaugurated the American Revolutionary War. These days it’s also the occasion of the 117th annual running of the Boston Marathon as well as a late-morning Red Sox game at Fenway.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, traditionally marked the event obliquely, with its own Fast Day the following week, ostensibly originating in 1680 and officially abolished in 1991. We got Fast Day as a holiday free from the office, but the only way we knew when it would fall in a particular year was by paying attention to the Marathon — and we’d get the following Monday off.

While Patriots’ Day marks the historic “Shot Heard Around the World,” the actual first armed skirmish happened months earlier at Fort William and Mary along the Piscataqua River in New Hampshire. On the evening of December 13, 1774, Paul Revere rode north from Boston with reports of the latest British actions, especially in Rhode Island. The news sufficiently angered 400 Sons of Liberty led by John Langdon to march on the fort, one of several protecting the mouth of Portsmouth Harbor, and raid it, carting off 98 barrels of gunpowder, roughly five tons. The next night, a small party headed by John Sullivan carried off 16 pieces of small cannon and military stores.

These supplies were then distributed to hiding spots, including the cellars of Boston churches and at least one New Hampshire home, before being used in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17 the next year.

Known as the Powder Major's House because of the gunpowder secreted in its cellar after the attack on Fort William and Mary, the residence of Major John Demeritt in Madbury likely originated around 1723 as the wing now attached to the larger Colonial home.
Known as the Powder Major’s House because of the gunpowder secreted in its cellar after the attack on Fort William and Mary, the residence of Major John Demeritt in Madbury likely originated around 1723 as the wing now attached to the larger Colonial home.


As I said at the time, carrying a picket sign, after all those years as a professional journalist, crossed a barrier. We don’t take sides, in public, so what does one do in a labor impasse? I realized this is what my younger stepdaughter, the political activist, called a “viz,” for visibility event, and that we could add more posters to our sticks, to create a “totem pole.” I also recalled a Friend, speaking of driving along and seeing a vigil and then stopping and opening his car trunk for the sign he always carries, just so he’d always be ready to join in anywhere. There was something liberating in this, even if it was an “informational picket” rather than a straight-out strike line.

Now, having retired from the profession, I sense another opening. A return to an earlier calling. My entering journalism, as a public witness and service, is restored to its original prompting of advocacy and reform, before it was confined by corporate media – the very bottom-line organizations right-wing critics overlook when they accuse “liberal media” of, well, reporting both sides. Maybe I’ll become a Quaker agitator, after all. (As the retiree activist, I might say: Thank you, Megan. And Iris. Especially.)


Pejorative labels do nothing to advance public discourse. Rather, they’re intended to stifle it. Even worse, they inhibit clear thinking or positive outcomes.

Consider the charge of “liberal media.” Or even “the media,” especially when used in the singular rather than the plural. In reality, American newspapers, magazines, and commercial broadcast stations have long been corporately owned, with the focus on some very profitable bottom lines. Corporations, as the epitome of capitalism, rarely fit neatly into the liberal end of the political spectrum. And so “corporate media” would be far more accurate than the “liberal media” mirage. A closer look would also find most of the editorial pages are of a conservative slant – and nearly all of the political and economic columnists syndicated in the past quarter century have been openly conservative. I’d like to hear of any liberals. In addition, in my experience, the media are highly competitive – there’s no collusion or conspiracy regarding what we’ll cover or ignore, Fox News excepted. For that matter, the media extend into the entertainment media as well – Hollywood, Nashville, Madison Avenue, and Broadway, among others.

Professional reporters and editors, meanwhile, learn to keep their own political and social views out of the way: the goal is to listen carefully and respectfully to all relevant sides of the issue and to present that as clearly as possible, especially in determining what’s new in the event being covered.

I’ve come to the conclusion that those who accuse news organizations and personnel of bias actually have no interest in objective reporting – what they want is bias, of their own right-wing persuasion or even more blatant propaganda. Ideology, rather than fact. The truth be damned, in their hearts.

Perhaps nothing should be more telling than Spiro Agnew’s rabid attacks on a free press, especially when we consider he had every reason to keep reporters off the track of his own criminal actions – and those of his boss, Richard Nixon, all the more. All the while, we covered his attacks on us verbatim and uncontested – had we been anything like he accused us of being, his words never would have seen the light of day, or blasted by critical comment as he spoke them.

If anything, I think of all the years when I willingly suppressed my own convictions – and the price that’s imposed. At last, finally out of the trade, I can truly speak and write freely.


Ever since Watergate, daily newspapers have devoted more and more of their resources and attention to what they consider local news. Editors and publishers look at surveys where readers say the want local, and decide that’s what we’ll give them – at least until the news business tailspin.

Never mind that the readers’ definition of local news might be quite different from what happens at city hall or even the school board. Or that what happens in one town holds absolutely no interest to the readers living in 99 other localities.

In fact, most of the time, there’s nothing more boring than local news.

When Thomas Jobson led the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, he relied on a different definition – not “local news,” but “news of local interest.” And so a Mike Royko column out of Chicago just might run on the front page. Circulation at Jobson’s paper soared, while at least one of its neighboring rivals withered.

I’ve taken the lesson well.


Journalists learn the importance of covering all the bases they can before the deadline cutoff. You learn the risks of running a single-source story. Even when you’ve talked on record to several people, you’re urged to make one more phone call. Just to make sure.

Sometimes, that’s when the reporter tells an editor, “There’s no story.”

“What do you mean?”

It was simply a rumor. It didn’t happen at all. The problem was fixed long ago. The guy we were going to praise has a serious drinking problem. The person who called in the tip is a crook or simply dishonest. You get the picture.

As for what had seemed to be a hot story, there was just one phone call too many.