Ways Quakers differ from other Christians

Admittedly, it’s hard to generalize. And not everyone agrees we’re even Christian, though our historic roots certainly are. In addition, for some of these, it’s more a matter of degree in comparison to some other faith traditions.

With that, let me suggest that those of us in the Society of Friends (Quakers) are distinguished by our:

  1. Open worship conducive to reflection or even meditation, at least for some part of the service. This is best seen in the traditional hour of silent Meeting.
  2. Personal direct experience of the Divine, rather than what I’ll call speculative theology.
  3. Queries to guide personal daily practice and awareness rather than recitation of dogma or creed.
  4. Emphasis on what we do in all facets of our lives rather than on what we believe or are supposed to believe.
  5. Metaphor rather than law as the language of our faith.
  6. Corporate decision-making. No vote. (This could lead to a whole other Tendrils entry!)
  7. No outward sacraments. Baptism is of the Holy Spirit, not water.
  8. Shared discipleship. We learn to listen to each other openly, sometimes even as “listening in tongues.”
  9. Pacifism and non-violence as essential tenants of faithfulness. Here, we unite with Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren as historic peace denominations, though Quakers are more likely to take public action.
  10. We find our name appropriated by whole lines of products we don’t make, starting with Quaker Oats. What other denomination is so, uh, honored, apart from some later applications of Amish in recent years? Seriously!

 

How close do we hew to an ethnic tradition?

One of the dilemmas in shaping my novel What’s Left, involves the naming of children. I felt a repetition of first names in successive generations, such a common Greek custom, would have simply become too confusing for readers to follow. Am I right?

~*~

In a passage I cut from the final edition, the unifying influence of tradition or spiritual practice is considered:

Let’s face it, our worst disagreements are insignificant compared to the conflicts that could be erupting within our circle.

~*~

Not all families get along, after all. Even Cassia’s will face some difficult trials.

For the moment, let’s look at names. Cassia, in the novel, is short for Acacia, a tough wood mentioned in the Bible. (In the King James version, though, it’s called shittam. Ugh.)

Do you know what your name means? Were you named in honor of anyone? Do you like them? Would you prefer something else?

~*~

If it were only pink, like the one in my novel!

 

In my dreams for 2021

Here’s to restoring civil discourse to public places. Here are a few ways to begin.

  1. Real analyses rather than tweets and insults. A respect for facts rather than fabrications or superstitions. Yes, empirical science balanced by intuition and empathy. And historical perspective as well.
  2. Ethics and spirituality voiced from personal practice as essential points within a wider community rather than kept to the margins of polite discussion. Faith really matters and touches on our highest aspirations. Let’s not bury it.
  3. An embrace of high culture as enriching human awareness and feeling.
  4. Financial and artistic recovery for musicians and actors and others whose livelihoods depend on public performance. Covid-19 has been especially devastating.
  5. A renaissance in reading and literature as well as lively conversation thereupon. Even at the reopened coffee house on the corner or local bookstore.
  6. Lengthening attention spans and a recognition that “fun” is not a destination in itself but at best a way of living and working playfully.
  7. A Second Amendment firearms stance requiring membership in and supervision by a well-regulated militia. Anything less is on the road to anarchy and slaughter.
  8. A celebration of work ethic rather than gambling. And an admission that CEO compensation is way out of line, any way you dice it.
  9. Reframing corporate existence, starting with its legal basis (not as a fictional “person”) and extending to size, global spans, and taxation. We’ve been socializing capitalist risk too long, while privatizing the public.
  10. A day of Sabbath for all. Not necessarily Sunday, but one that could float through the week. Does any company really have to be open 24/7? Much less, any one worker be on constant call?

~*~

Gee, this almost starts pointing me in the direction of a set of Ten Commandments.

What would you add to the list?

A little idealism helps

Somehow, in starting from the finale of an earlier novel, my novel What’s Left would have to resolve a gap between the five siblings’ Greek ancestry and their interest in Tibetan Buddhism, along with the challenges of running a restaurant shortly after the loss of their parents. Their view of business is more radical and community-focused, for one thing.

Yes, they were young and idealistic, but would that be enough to get them through?

What would you hope to see change in your surrounding society? Or even your own life?

Looking at movies set in the subway

I’ve expressed my surprised there aren’t more stories set along the underground rails, and now I learn of one based on the eight fortified trains that were painted yellow like other MTA service trains as a disguise. The so-called money trains regularly picked up millions of dollars of toll fares in the wee hours every night in New York City.

Their existence was a well-kept secret that finally surfaced in a 1995 flick starring Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, and a young Jennifer Lopez. If only the movie had lived up to its promise. The film, though, was a bomb, snarled in Hollywood clichés and comical misteps. Maybe they should have played it as comedy rather than criminal action.

Meanwhile, the trains themselves have become history, in part due to the MTA’s switch to from cash and tokens to MetroCards issued at vending machines, typically using credit cards.

Well, it’s one more element that could have gone into my novel Subway Visions, maybe as a somewhat friendlier bank-on-wheels, back before we had ATM machines everywhere.

Can we really keep up with all this change, everywhere we turn?

 

When she phoned again

within some perspective, the past and future as an hour-and-a-half chat in part about her new love or lover, how could Squirrel not be pained trying to separate truth from layers of self-deception making him wonder if she’d ever seen him clearly as he was after all moving into other circles as one eligible male the single women had their eyes on yet what shock he realized later seeing how blinded he’d been, his heart solely on her, the news coming amid gossip of that “intimate little dinner that breaks things off” where he heard, fourth party from a third, “first, pour me something stiff” and salty as teardrops running for miles while most really do want nuts, no matter what they say

 

As for my greatest extravagances?

We’re on a tight budget, but even so …

  1. Bombay Sapphire gin. Or a few other brands in that price range, when they’re on sale.
  2. An hour-long professional massage once in a blue moon.
  3. Two two-pound lobsters from a roadside stand. A purely impulse buy.
  4. Upfront seats for the whole family at Christmas Revels.
  5. Yearly Meeting boarding in a dorm rather than a tent.
  6. Time squandered online.
  7. Dining out. Not that we do it often.
  8. Drafting and revising rather than attending to household chores.
  9. Serving the rabbits too many greens each evening in season. Won’t they get fat?
  10. Feeding the wild birds. Those bags of blended seeds get expensive.

~*~

Anyone have generosity on your own list?

 

Little room to be fully alone where she is

When it comes to her cohort of close cousins in my novel What’s Left, I don’t want to give away too much. Let’s just say there are a lot of them, and they come to prominence in the last half of the story. You just might have reason to be envious.

As an author, this presents a challenge. How can I narrow the focus for the reader yet maintain an awareness of the scope involved by the time we get to a fourth generation of this family in the New World?

In this case, I chose to concentrate on a handful of Cassia’s cousins, at most, and deal with the rest of them in quick glances, often as part of the pack, sometimes simply a cluster of names in a single brushstroke. I hope it’s sufficient.

Perhaps it also helps that apart from Cassia’s best friend forever, Sandra, the cousins don’t step into the spotlight until we’re well into the story and some of the other earlier characters have already stepped offstage.

~*~

As a passage I deleted from the final version suggests, her upbringing was quite different from her father’s.

He must have been very lonely, always on best behavior, without any of the competitive mischief that runs through my family.

~*~

One of the things that amazed me about my college girlfriend’s family was the number of cousins she had and how often they visited each other — second- and third-cousins included. They seemed to know where everyone lived and what they were up to. Mine was nothing like that.

Do you have any close cousins? Do you find any of them to be special? Annoying?

Or if you’re from a big family, how close are you to your brothers and sisters? Which ones more than others?

Who would you turn to if you were in trouble?

~*~

Coming across a family photo like this one online fills me with admiration. They seem so close and happy together. The one I found is captioned Three Greek Sisters. I’m assuming they’re Greek-American, but who cares? By the way, those look like some lucky guys, too.

Care to share in my field notes from a lifetime’s zigzag trip?

Writing has been a means for me to investigate the question, “Who am I,” and of recollecting fragments, especially those that might eventually coalesce into a larger perspective. Unlike many adults, I have few vivid childhood memories, but what I am piecing together is often troubling. I grew up in Ohio in a mainstream Protestant tradition, became an Eagle scout, loved chemistry, hiked and camped, that sort of thing. I can blame becoming a hippie on my first lover, and thank her, too, for pointing my life in an unanticipated direction even after she flew ever so far away.

In the years since, I’ve followed a zigzag journey that’s been rich in many ways excepting money. Let’s just say it’s been off-beat.

Now retired from a career in daily newspaper journalism, I’ve married for the second time, live in a historic mill town in the seacoast region of New Hampshire, and am an active Quaker. It’s a full plate. What I didn’t expect was how much of my own “contemporary” fiction is now history – so much has changed so quickly in my own lifetime.

It’s hardly the end of the story, though. Not if we can help it.

 

Let’s get back to addressing some really big social problems

Had enough with boogie men spooking us? The last four years have only let the really big issues fester. Here are some top items that need our full attention now. All of us.

  1. Ending systemic racism in society and its underlying assumption of white superiority.
  2. Climate change. It’s real and worsening.
  3. The environment and energy. We were making progress, weren’t we? Clean air and water should belong to all, not the corporate polluters.
  4. Curbing the undue influence of political lobbyists and PAC funds. Yes, Citizens United, too.
  5. The gross imbalance of wealth in America and the demise of the middle class. Progressive tax rates could provide for many services such as health care and education – now borne privately, largely by the lower brackets – to instead be provided across the board.
  6. Also, reviving Social Security. Taxing excessive incomes at the full rate would be a start.
  7. Redress the changing realities of labor, compensation, community, and commonwealth. In short, who benefits when computerization takes over? It’s a much bigger issue than simply raising the minimum wage.
  8. Abolish the Electoral College and voter repression. Under the current system, a shade over 25 percent of the total votes – meaning a bare majority in just 12 states – could elect the president. The majority of the nation’s voters lost their voice in three recent presidential elections, with Republicans given the office. It’s still an attack on democracy and the people.
  9. Health system reforms. Obamacare was a start, but much more needs to be done, including mental health systems and, as we’ve seen with Covid-19, pandemic planning.
  10. Education systems have also gone largely unchecked. Student loan debt is a serious burden on their lives and our economy, just for starters.

Yes, we really can get the upper hand here, if we join together. But the damage has been deep and need time to repair.

~*~

What would you add to the list?