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:
- 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.
- Personal direct experience of the Divine, rather than what I’ll call speculative theology.
- Queries to guide personal daily practice and awareness rather than recitation of dogma or creed.
- Emphasis on what we do in all facets of our lives rather than on what we believe or are supposed to believe.
- Metaphor rather than law as the language of our faith.
- Corporate decision-making. No vote. (This could lead to a whole other Tendrils entry!)
- No outward sacraments. Baptism is of the Holy Spirit, not water.
- Shared discipleship. We learn to listen to each other openly, sometimes even as “listening in tongues.”
- 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.
- 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!
Here’s to restoring civil discourse to public places. Here are a few ways to begin.
- 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.
- 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.
- An embrace of high culture as enriching human awareness and feeling.
- Financial and artistic recovery for musicians and actors and others whose livelihoods depend on public performance. Covid-19 has been especially devastating.
- A renaissance in reading and literature as well as lively conversation thereupon. Even at the reopened coffee house on the corner or local bookstore.
- Lengthening attention spans and a recognition that “fun” is not a destination in itself but at best a way of living and working playfully.
- 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.
- A celebration of work ethic rather than gambling. And an admission that CEO compensation is way out of line, any way you dice it.
- 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.
- 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?
We’re on a tight budget, but even so …
- Bombay Sapphire gin. Or a few other brands in that price range, when they’re on sale.
- An hour-long professional massage once in a blue moon.
- Two two-pound lobsters from a roadside stand. A purely impulse buy.
- Upfront seats for the whole family at Christmas Revels.
- Yearly Meeting boarding in a dorm rather than a tent.
- Time squandered online.
- Dining out. Not that we do it often.
- Drafting and revising rather than attending to household chores.
- Serving the rabbits too many greens each evening in season. Won’t they get fat?
- Feeding the wild birds. Those bags of blended seeds get expensive.
Anyone have generosity on your own list?
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.
- Ending systemic racism in society and its underlying assumption of white superiority.
- Climate change. It’s real and worsening.
- The environment and energy. We were making progress, weren’t we? Clean air and water should belong to all, not the corporate polluters.
- Curbing the undue influence of political lobbyists and PAC funds. Yes, Citizens United, too.
- 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.
- Also, reviving Social Security. Taxing excessive incomes at the full rate would be a start.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
This round, I’m sticking close to home – places I return to.
- My studio and loft.
- Our Smoking Garden and adjacent fern beds, in season.
- Our 1768 Quaker meetinghouse.
- Dover’s indoor swimming pool downtown and its Olympic-size sister outdoors in Guppey Park, Portland Avenue. Gee, does that mean there’s actually a locker room or two as part of my favorites list? Let’s not slight the long, hot showers.
- Annunciation Greek-Orthodox church. Visually stunning interior, for starters, and some fine folks.
- Sander’s Theater at Harvard. Think of Shakespeare’s Globe and start adding on things like a ceiling.
- The Maine coast, from the Isles of Shoals on up. Could lead to its own Tendrils entry.
- The Community Trail running through town and out along the river.
- The waterfalls downtown. Always changing.
- Lickee’s and Chewy’s Candies & Creamery in the Cocheco Millworks.
Tell us something about one of your own favorites.
Safe to say, it’s been unlike any 12 months before it.
- A hunkered-down lifestyle. Shelter-in-place and other Covid-19 social measures. (OK, we all have that much in common.)
- Learned to Zoom. But it’s not the same as face-to-face meetings.
- Tripped over my wife more than usual. More likely, found myself appearing unintentionally in her Zoom meetings.
- Appreciated a six-hour Smashwords writers’ conference online back in April. Those folks are amazing. Which leads to …
- Saw my novels become available in paperback at Amazon. Eight of them! Alas, book signings are still on hold, as are public readings.
- Missed having weekly choir practice, my daily laps swimming, and in-person Quaker worship and committee work together.
- Watched a lot of Met opera streaming. A different performance every night (or sometime during the following day, depending on my schedule). More than a hundred different works, in addition to the same pieces in different productions or castings.
- Returned to the workplace, part-time, as a Census enumerator. We were supposed to start in May, but that got pushed back to August before being cut a month short. Don’t be surprised if it has to be redone in two years.
- Missed the Greek community, Orthros and the festival, especially.
- Drank too many martinis.
I’m not counting the big move, which really fits more into the coming year. For now, it’s feeling more like acquiring a summer home, except that our adventure starts in winter.
What’s been big in your year?
Frankly, I can do without all of the secular holiday music, or at least most of it. I want something less contrived and commercial. Even Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score wears thin.
I’m not entirely insensitive, though. Here are ten I enjoy singing, especially in a choir.
- People, Look East: this 1928 Advent carol by Eleanor Farjeon is a joyous accompaniment when making preparations ahead of Christmas.
- In the Bleak Midwinter: I want to think of this as a plaintive folksong, but the words are by Christina Rossetti and the music’s by English master Gustav Holst. It catches the blue side of the approaching winter, but also the hope and comfort to be found therein.
- Once in Royal David’s City: If you can, go for the fully celebrative midnight mass with a full pipe organ and all five verses sung in the Anglican style that alternates soft and loud.
- There Are Angels Hovering Round: It’s an old call-and-response hymn that seems to have hundreds of verses, if you want to keep going. There’s no escaping the sense of togetherness when you’re singing.
- Fairest and Brightest (Star of the East): I first heard this in a recording by Kentucky folksinger Jean Ritchie, but it also works in formal arrangements. The text is a protest song befitting the suffering classes of the story.
- Nouvelle Agreable: by Swiss composer Jean-Georges Nageli, the bouncy music almost sounds like Mozart though even Native Americans near the Arctic will sing and dance to it, too. (Check it out on YouTube.)
- La Valse Cadienne de Noel: words and music by Jeannette V. Aguillard. What, you don’t waltz during the Twelve Days of Christmas?
- Traveler’s Carol: A traditional Catalan carol of coming together for the holiday. We use English by Susan Cooper in an arrangement by George Emlen.
- The Coventry Carol: a haunting sense of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents and of the crucifixion to come infuse this lullaby.
- The Old Year is Dying: a cheerful Welsh piece to welcome the New Year. Again, New Year’s Day falls in the Twelve Days.
What are your favorites?
What do I want my life to say?
(Even at this advanced age.)
How about you?