14 January 2021

Collateral damage, part two: Noah and the flood

Edward Hicks, Noah's Ark (1846), source.

Part one.

Some at the window, some at the door,
Some cried, "Brother Noah, can't you take on more?
But Noah cried out, "Uh uh, my friends.
The angel's got the key and you can't get in."

("Didn't It Rain," as performed by Sister Rosetta Tharpe -- see end of post.)

With the New Year, my Bible reading cycle starts all over again. Back to Genesis, where God creates us and everything else, and says, "It's all good."

Of course, before long the Serpent tricked us into craving control (that's my non-inerrant interpretation of the forbidden tree episode). We found ourselves excluded from the Garden of Eden.

Cain and Abel were brothers but their relationship came to a tragic end. Cain took offense at God's apparent favoritism toward Abel. God gave Cain a very interesting warning: "Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it."

Cain doesn't master it at all; he kills Abel, and things go downhill from there. By the time Noah comes around, God has had it up to here with us humans and our violent ways. Having decided on a reboot of the entire landside animal kingdom, including us, God makes an exception for Noah and his family, because Noah seems exceptionally righteous. God shares the divine plan with Noah -- "It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep." And God commands Noah to build a huge teakwood ark to preserve a set of humans and animals (both clean and unclean) with which to restock the earth after God uses a flood to wipe out anything that can't survive submerged.

I've read this story annually for decades without thinking much about it. This year, for some reason, it hooked me. It's not the logistical problems that gave me pause -- for example, how the animals and birds were persuaded to board, how they were provisioned for a year, how heaven and earth supplied sufficient water to inundate the planet to a depth of 20 feet above the highest mountain, and so on. Nor was I troubled by similarities with two or three other worldwide floods in literary sources even older than Genesis.

However, there is one aspect I found it impossible to reconcile with my belief in divine mercy: Isn't this flood the ultimate example of collateral damage? Are Noah and his family literally the only innocent creatures (human or animal!) on the face of the earth? Did God have no other option than to cause everyone else to suffer the fate of Pharaoh's horses and riders, thrown into the sea?

Honestly, when I encountered this story this year, I was actually hooked by something I was feeling that day: a sensation of being flooded in our own time by the sheer deluge of challenges hitting us. We have a global public health emergency; the resulting massive economic dislocations; the widening gulfs between idealists and cynics, between wealthy and poor, between populist cults and their angry critics; and, not least, everything that conspires to draw our attention away from the environmental crises that promise actual floods. In the light of all these challenges, it seems reasonable to take another look at Noah and the flood. Here's what struck me:

God's plaintive voice. I think I got this insight from Walter Brueggemann. God warns the disobedient Adam, Eve, and Cain, that because of their rebellions, things are going to be tough from then on. They'll suffer physical privations and social oppression. It would be hard to blame them for feeling discouraged. "My punishment is too much," says Cain. But it isn't long before God also feels regret. In The Message's retelling, "God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that [God] had made the human race in the first place; it broke [God's] heart."

How did God evaluate the results of the flood solution? Upon disembarking from the ark, Noah takes some of the limited stock of animals and sacrifices them, resulting in a sweet aroma that seems to please God, who responds: "I’ll never again curse the ground because of people. I know they have this bent toward evil from an early age, but I’ll never again kill off everything living as I’ve just done." It's a powerful paradox: the sovereign God, powerful enough to kill off everything, seems to rethink God's own response to human evil, already acknowledging ("I know they have this bent...") that evil will persist.

Noah's limited righteousness. The pre-flood Noah pleased God, but commentators have pointed out a stark contrast with his descendant Abraham. The latter protested God's plans to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah: "I can’t believe you’d do that, kill off the good and the bad alike as if there were no difference between them. Doesn’t the Judge of all the Earth judge with justice?" Maybe I shouldn't argue from silence, but Genesis records no such protest from Noah. Of course it may be God's promise not to repeat this extinction event that provokes Abraham's protest six generations later.

Noah's behavior after disembarking from the ark is also a bit dubious. One of his first priorities, it seems, is to plant a vineyard. He then gets so drunk on his product that he passes out naked. In his hangover, instead of apologizing for his indiscretion, he blames his son Ham for having seen him naked -- and goes on to curse Ham to eternal servitude to Ham's brothers! In one of history's all-time grossest abuses of the Bible, defenders of chattel slavery somehow justify their race-based institution on this curse. As God seems to have anticipated ("I know they have this bent..."), evil and violence roll on.

God's direct instructions to Noah and his family. Despite God's misgivings about human weakness, God promises never to perform another lethal reboot. Crucially, God does not require the flood's survivors to wallow in shame. Not at all! It's God's explicit instructions that I want to carry with me into this new year: Reproduce! Flourish! Bear fruit! Live bountifully! (Drawing from Genesis 8:15-9:17....) God seals this command and commitment with the rainbow sign -- visible to God and to us. I'm led to believe that God intends these instructions to humanity as a whole, not just a lucky few.

If we let our primordial inclination toward evil to win out, this is how we will know: we will use violence to make sure our own flourishing is at someone else's expense. When we binge, we'll find someone else to blame. Instead, let the rainbow remind us to learn how to flourish together, so our planetary ark will have enough provisions for all. Maybe then we'll have the best reboot of all: as George Fox envisioned, we would find ourselves back in the Garden of Eden, once again equal and once again unashamed.

The Noah story from beginning to end. I originally wrote parts of this meditation as a sermon for Spokane Friends Meeting, and I wanted a conversational tone, so I chose Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, but the online text can be switched to another translation if you prefer. 

Walter Brueggemann on Noah.

Alexei Navalny's upcoming return to Russia on Pobeda (Victory) Airlines lights up the Russian Internet. (And RFERL's analysis.)

Speaking of RFERL, the turmoil at its parent agency continues.

William de Arteaga on false prophecies concerning Donald Trump's second term. De Arteaga is the author of Agnes Sanford and Her Companions.

David French on church and insurrection.

Jay Marshall on centrifuges, the Ungame, and the concept of enough.

Quardricos Driskell looks at the attacks on Raphael Warnock's faith.

Nancy Thomas on the best books she read in 2020.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "Didn't It Rain" and "Trouble in Mind" (from Granada TV's "Blues and Gospel Train," 1964.)

07 January 2021

"A country deliberately founded on a good idea"

Those who violently broke into the United States Capitol yesterday may have actually felt that they were Patriots. That's how they they were addressed by their idol, the president, and his accomplices. (That's how I was addressed in the 1,929 e-mails I received over these past months from donaldtrump.com.)

What is this patriotism? As a grateful immigrant, I have some views on this question, but they're certainly not original to me. Once again I turn to the journalist John Gunther, whose introduction to his book Inside U.S.A. (1946) calls the USA "a country deliberately founded on a good idea." Our founding documents make that good idea clear: we were all created equal; and our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are derived NOT from a ruler's indulgence or from social rank, but irrevocably granted by our Creator! Abraham Lincoln expressed in the simplest terms how such a free people are to be governed: through a "government of the people, by the people, for the people...."

Every aspect of this "good idea" has vulnerabilities, and our nation has tested them all. Do we really believe that we're all created equal, or can we cut some corners to the advantage of those we identify with most? Can we really govern ourselves, or are there some tacit standards of wealth, education, good connections, or other badges of entitlement that represent shortcuts to power? When our inevitable conflicts arise, do we have trustworthy mechanisms to discern justice, or do the loudest or most resourceful communicators prevail? Do we prioritize the fair distribution of opportunities to pursue happiness, or do we (as John Fea suggests) rely on the manipulative power of a mythical nostalgia? 

The conflict that came to a head yesterday -- and certainly threatens to return -- is a story of broken faith. These patriots do not appear to recognize either the "good idea" of equality, or our nation's judicial system. In November 2020, "we the people" elected a new president through the tested mechanisms of state-based elections; and irregularities were investigated and adjudicated through the courts. Against these routine and regular processes of self-government, the president and his co-conspirators flooded the public arena with falsehoods and slanders that were so far-fetched that they often could not even be submitted in good order to an actual court. Trump's attempts to prevent the peaceful transfer of power (the glory of any democracy) were presented to us as grievances, often with obvious links to white people's fear, nostalgia, and blood mythology. Apparently, anyone who shares these grievances was entitled to bash their way into "our house," the Capitol, and sabotage the regular order of our self-government as it attempted to implement the people's choice.

Why did I preface these thoughts by calling myself a "grateful immigrant"? I'm simply referring to the incredible magnetic power of Gunther's "good idea." Acknowledging the incongruity of all settlements from across the oceans having been imposed on this continent's first nations, this new country organized around our founding ideals was substantially built and populated by wave after wave of immigrants. Most of them, in the early years of the colonies and the new USA, were from places where wealth, aristocracy, or monarchy ruled. In Thomas Paine's words,

Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her--Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

Paine's portrait of the rest of the world is severely out of date, but the USA -- at least until recently -- continued to attract people like my own parents, who brought me here from war-scarred Europe and then had two more children born here. I still hear from former students in Russia who want my advice on resettling here. And, sadly, there are still places in the world where the USA represents, not just an opportunity for improvement, but a chance for survival.

The forces of fear and nostalgia, some daring to call themselves Christian, threaten to neutralize our "good idea," declaring that our country should no longer receive the fugitive nor prepare an asylum -- and they even call this new fear-based isolationism "patriotic." The resulting confusion weakens our own country, and gives great comfort to the leaders of countries that prefer to rule the old-fashioned way, reserving power and wealth to those who already have it, and assuring their populations that that is the way things work everywhere. As Anne Applebaum said, concerning yesterday's events,

Schadenfreude will be the dominant emotion in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Caracas, Riyadh, and Minsk. The leaders of those cities—men sitting in well-appointed palaces, surrounded by security guards—will enjoy the scenes from Washington, relishing the sight of the U.S. brought so low.

Americans are not the ones who will suffer most from the terrible damage that Trump and his enablers have done to the power of America’s example, to America’s reputation, and, more important, to the reputation of democracy itself. The callow insurrectionists who thought it would be amusing to break into the debating chambers might go to jail, but they will not pay any real price; neither will the conspiracy theorists who believed the president’s lies and flocked to Washington to act on them. Instead, the true cost will be borne by those other residents of Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Caracas, Riyadh, and Minsk—the dissidents and the opponents, the would-be democrats who plan, organize, protest, and suffer, sacrificing their time and in some cases their life just because they want the right to vote, to live in a state governed by the rule of law, and to enjoy the things that Americans take for granted, and that Trump doesn’t value at all.

After yesterday, they will have one less source of hope, one less ally they can rely upon. The power of America’s example will be dimmer than it once was; American arguments will be harder to hear. American calls for democracy can be thrown back with scorn: You don’t believe in it anymore, so why should we?

During yesterday's melee, I saw a little alert on my computer screen, telling me that Russia's Dozhd' independent television network was covering events live at the Capitol. When I opened their coverage, the presenter in the Moscow studio was interviewing a Russian-speaking academic in the USA. He pointed out the similarities between the assault on the Capitol with the October 1993 crisis in Russia, featuring the confrontation between Yeltsin and the legislature. The presenter objected: "But that was Russia. This is the USA!!" These things don't happen here!

Here's another twist: On Twitter, Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, commented on the Capitol attack: "Today was the worst day in American democracy in my lifetime. So angry. So sad." Among the responses he got was this comment in Russian:

People have an opinion. They express that opinion. It seems to me that it's better to rejoice that those people are not as passive as they are here. They are citizens, and not bumps on a log. Just think about it: there is a certain country, namely Russia, where the authorities tried to kill off their most outstanding political opponent, and NOBODY came out to protest. Your people are able to stand up for their positions. That's not a bad thing.

If actual massive perversions of the USA's electoral process had happened, I would cheer this comment, because in principle the writer is correct. So here is a case study of what happens when two countries are both trying to cope with public spaces flooded by lies ... in both cases from the leadership! I cannot answer for Russia, but in the USA, we citizens, not being bumps on a log, have another choice: get rid of the lying leadership.

Headline in RT: "Russia says American system ‘archaic’ and not up to ‘modern democratic standards’ after rioters raid Washington’s Capitol building."

Russian Friends have published German Friend Eva Hermann's In Prison Yet Free. Russian. English. The Hermanns in the Righteous Among the Nations database.

Honestly, does anyone actually still believe in a two-state future for Israel and Palestine?

An Englewood Review reading guide: antiracism books for Christians.

Despite white evangelicals' serious blind spots, Daniel K. Williams has not abandoned evangelicalism.

Breaking from my single-track tradition, I'm going to present some full-length blues programs of the pandemic era. Here's Kim Wilson with the Rhythm Scratchers:

31 December 2020

Digesting 2020

Welcome to my blog post number 902. This time it's my annual sampling from the year's posts. In a couple of cases, I've included runners-up that I would have included in this digest if I didn't have such a rigid format.

Wayne Copenhaver. Source.
One of this year's themes for many of us is "loss." The planet and nation have lost so many people to the COVID-19 pandemic -- a scandalous proportion of whom might have lived under more competent and less politicized public health management. 

Also: Beirut lost part of its harbor district in a warehouse explosion. The Atlantic hurricane season seemed unrelenting, with part of Central America hit twice within a few weeks. In a non-COVID year, wildfires might have been the year's biggest disaster story in several parts of the world.

Most of us had very painful individual losses this year; among mine have been Anne ThomasRamón González Longoria Escalona, and Wayne Copenhaver

Losses that are, at first glance, far more trivial -- no 2020 Waterfront Blues Festival, for example, or the cancellation of my visit to Moscow Friends and Elektrostal last March -- point to the business and employment crises connected with art, entertainment, travel, and other economic sectors we usually take for granted.

Our nation's embedded demon of white nationalism accounted for searing experiences of loss, grief, and anger, of whom the murder of George Floyd in full public view was only the most visible instance to most of us.

Other themes that cropped up on my blog, roughly in order of frequency, were presidential corruption and incompetence; Christian/Quaker history and discipleship; topics related to Russia; the USA's 2020 Census; books; and humor (too rarely, and usually political).

January: "Our life is politics"

[After being told by a Palestinian teenager that "our life is politics."]

There's a way of understanding politics that is far more descriptive and analytical than all transaction-based descriptions -- and to my mind, far more helpful. "Politics" simply refers to the social processes by which a community allocates scarce resources. It's not just limited to the arrangements in place at the moment -- it also includes the marketplace of ideas within which we advocate fairer and more transparent processes and learn to do that advocacy more persuasively. There are few forces that can resist the power of an idea whose time has come ... thanks perhaps to years of intelligent development and persistent advocacy.

It's that kind of alertness to the forces at work and readiness to respond knowledgeably, rather than dependence on heroes and villains, that may be one important way of understanding that "our life is politics." It's a refusal to resign oneself to a passive acceptance of whatever happens, in favor of awareness of today's hazards and tomorrow's possibilities of change. The more hazards you face (e.g., Gaza!!), the more important it is to stay aware.


February: William Barr, Max Boot, and "the vapor trails of Christianity"

Here's what I'd like to discuss with both Barr and Boot: the usefulness of the word "religion" as a meaningful category. Barr says that religion makes all the difference -- and at various points he shifts from "classic Christian" to "Judeo-Christian" to the role of religion in general in the full 50,000 years of human development. Boot and Cho refer to the full variety of religions in the ten most religious and ten least religious countries they studied.

Here's the problem. A couple of years ago anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas wrote about the influence of religion in general to their ethical behavior: "No matter how we define morality, religious people do not behave more morally than atheists, although they often say (and likely believe) that they do."


Also ran: Is the Bible nice?

March: Stress test

Despite what conspiracy theorists say, no Western agents of russophobia, anti-Trump media, or other plotters developed this novel coronavirus. It apparently has the same genesis as countless other viruses in human history, some of which have wreaked similar havoc. It spreads in ways similar to other viruses as well, by contact with respiratory droplets from infected people. Because a typical infected person may spread the disease to several others, the progress of the disease is exponential until people learn to stop giving the virus opportunities to spread. Although much research needs to be done on specific features, treatments, and prevention, nothing about this current pandemic is unprecedented or particularly mysterious.

I don't mean to minimize anything. Once infected, most patients recover, but it's a considerably more dangerous virus than a typical flu, especially if the patient already is vulnerable for one reason or another. (Again, see this WHO site.) But, aside from the medical questions, what are we learning about ourselves and our societies from the stress imposed on us by the coronavirus? Or to put it another way, what stress tests have we already flunked?


Also ran: To Russia with love

April: Paying for health care

Health care's dependence on the free market is based on a myth: the relationship between an independent consumer contracting with an independent professional in the community to provide medical services in times of need. Although cash was usually expected, it was certainly not unheard of for doctors (maybe especially in rural areas) to be paid by barter. A doctor might treat two or even three generations of a family.

This mythical doctor had no priority other than your health. Lobbyists for this classic system fiercely defend our right to choose our doctors and build congenial relations with them, per this heartwarming myth. I know doctors who, even today, try to honor this private-contract fee-for-service model and the ideals of individualism and human-scale medicine embedded in it.


May: When fear is a gift // a guest post

With the college classrooms, library and student union on one end of the campus, the walk from the library to my dorm late at night tended to be a solitary one. It was a long, dark, lonely walk. Walking home from visiting a friend off-campus was dark, too -- all those large, lovely trees hid the street lights, and townspeople tended to close up shop and stay home after around 9:00 pm.

That first year, I would refuse to walk alone after 9:00 pm or so, early hours for a college student. My female friends would tell me not to be silly. I was very shy in other ways, not tending to bother others. But in this I was resolute. I would not visit them late, nor leave a party alone. I remember my friends’ impatient reponses. My fear was unpopular; it was regarded as stupidity, and bending to it was a sign of weakness.

By my third year, it had all changed.


June: Bolivian Friends: a grand and modest epic

[My review of A Long Walk, a Gradual Ascent: The Story of the Bolivian Friends Church in its Context of Conflict, by Nancy Thomas.]

There is genuine heroism and amazing self-sacrifice in this movement, including, at times, serious persecution from the unsympathetic sectors of the Roman Catholic church, sometimes in combination with skeptical politicians. However, Nancy also reveals less heroic dimensions of the story: conflicts among church leaders and among missionaries, and several instances of leaders falling into various moral pitfalls, both sexual and financial. (There's also a story of a genuine, touching romance with a heartbreaking conclusion. Here is a missiological study that doesn't lack for human drama!) The theme of conflict arises repeatedly, sometimes among church leaders, often between INELA's Bolivian leadership and the Oregon missionaries, and sometimes between generations in the church. The Thomases' commitment to tell the story from both "inside" and "outside" (from the Bolivians' viewpoint as well as the missionaries') means a commitment to unvarnished truth.


July: The most important question

"What would it mean for me to put God at the center of my life?"

... In the long term, answering [Jennifer Haines's] question has led me to invest my life in the Quaker movement. (This is no guarantee that my day-to-day participation has been flawless!) Our little corner of the Christian world has sometimes seemed to me to be too shy, at other times too full of itself, but for me personally Friends faith and practice have been a way of life based, directly and simply, on trust in God. We trust God to lead us in our personal lives and in our lives as communities, and we are skeptical about falling back on leaders and ceremonies that could mask our lack of trust.

I had to call on that trust many times in 1977. I left Canada with my bachelor's degree in Russian, returning to the USA with absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my future, but with the hope that it would involve Quaker service. The visit to Pendle Hill took place during those months of uncertainty, and it could not have been better timed. I decided that putting God at the center meant meeting uncertainty with trust.


August: The socialists are coming!

Democratic socialism shares the same major goal as classic socialism: eliminating the social and economic causes of suffering. Eliminating preventable suffering is also a major ethical priority of Christianity, which is probably why so many socialist thinkers have been Christians. For example, Canada's democratic socialist political party, the New Democratic Party, included Christian politicians such as J.S. Woodsworth and Stanley Knowles among its formative leaders. The Roman Catholic Church's social teachings helped form the modern labor movement in many countries. Prominent Christian socialists in the USA's history include Norman Thomas, Dorothy Day, A.J. Muste, Kirby Page, and Mother Jones. This history, if better known, might go a long way to correcting the impressions left by the celebrity Christians of the far right.

Democratic socialism recognizes that there is no way to impose this laudable goal of eliminating preventable suffering from the top down. Coercive centralized planning, no matter how elegantly organized or diligently practiced (see Red Plenty), involves a monopoly on power, and we humans have a terrible record with unchecked power. Democratic socialists rely on two major devices to keep power in check -- a system of political checks and balances, and a market economy. Strangely enough, these are the same mechanisms favored by conservatives!


Also ran: Seeking to justify myself

September: "The mere sound of his name will signal hope" (Matthew 15:21, The Message)

How do these verses -- particularly the name of Jesus, the handpicked Servant -- give me hope?

First of all, his messianic job description includes justice, and Isaiah promises that this justice will triumph. All of us Quakers who yearn for justice are part of the Jesus story. To the extent that we are persistent in working for justice in his name, that name will signal hope. The fact that there are Christians who seem indifferent to justice as we understand it shouldn't discourage us.

Secondly, this handpicked servant will neither bully nor coerce. Anyone whose idea of Christian service (for justice or for anything else) is to play the big shot is not -- emphatically not -- signaling hope to far-off unbelievers. With humility but great confidence, we ought to challenge anyone who damages the credibility of the Good News with their arrogance. I will not name names; I trust you recognize them when you see them. In the meantime -- good news! -- we're under no obligation to imitate their tactics.


October: God's sweet revenge

Grayson Gilbert wants us to know that "There Are No Atheists in Hell." ...

Gilbert's God: "What are you looking at me like that for? See, I'm real, you damned atheist. You had a lifetime of opportunity to repent and believe the good news, but you squandered them away in (a) riotous living, or (b) helping other people to the best of your secular self. Go to hell and fry forever!"

(I know we're supposed to imagine them roasting or broiling, or as the vivid icon in Ivan's the Terrible office shows, boiling in oil, but my mother used this specific curse when she was really angry: "Go to hell and fry forever!")

The Pope's God: "Surprise! Maybe now you'll believe me. Beloved, welcome to my house!"

Yes, I'm having fun now, but actually I'm angry. What evangelist in his or her right mind thinks that we can build a case for a loving and merciful God by insisting on God's final revenge on those who cannot cross the threshold of faith, not because their atheism masks a "concealed hatred of God" but because (1) they can't work it out intellectually, despite genuine efforts, or (2) they've never heard a coherent and credible presentation of the Gospel offered without hidden agendas, or (3) most members of God's fan club they know seem to revel in malice, racism, xenophobia, violence, or greed.


November: Election week shorts

[Comparing the USA's 2020 election with our experience four years earlier, when we still lived in Russia...]

... In 2016, almost all of our face-to-face social community was pro-Trump (and assumed we were, too). With some of our friends and colleagues, we had a lot of explaining to do. Now, thanks to the pandemic, we temporarily don't even have a face-to-face social community, but most people we're in daily contact with are not Trump supporters.

Election day itself was also very different. Four years ago, I was teaching a class at the Moscow Theological Seminary on election day. Now we're retired -- and on Tuesday we dealt with the stress of election-day suspense by going to the Oregon Zoo, where the residents were definitely able to take our minds off our anxieties:


December: Earlham College, ESR, and Anna Karenina

[Notes from a developing story of conflict and denial.]

All happy families are similar to each other. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Actually, if you substitute "colleges" for "families," the situation is probably reversed. All happy colleges, in the USA's current economic, political, and public health context, are probably unique, whereas unhappy colleges have many features in common -- the frightening and repelling prospect of higher education debt, increased skepticism about the value of their product for happiness, spiraling costs of competition in amenities, cycles of costcutting that lead to reliance on mercilessly exploited adjunct faculty, ... and all that was going on before the pandemic.

However, the case of Earlham and ESR has its unique aspects. Judged by numbers of students, ESR is a tiny division of the larger organization, but legacy has given it an outsized importance, both for the denominations it was founded to serve (Quakers in all our variety) and for the integrity of Earlham's identity as a whole. It cannot be treated as a modular profit center whose assets and goodwill can be lightly disposed of. By its very nature, it serves a community that can rarely afford to carry its share of ESR's costs. That has been the heart of ESR's case to Quaker donors: help us raise and nurture Friends' future leadership for the good of all of us.


Another year-end review from a Quaker blogger -- more elegant and compact, and highly recommended: Mark Russ thanks his readers in 2020.

Somewhat along the same lines: Open Culture lists its fifteen most popular posts of 2020. Enjoy!

Internet Monk is wrapping up. I could not choose a particular post from the flurry of "last posts" on the blog. Just read everything: internetmonk.com

Navalny and more: how things look in Russia from the point of view of human rights defenders... Authorities open a new criminal case against Navalny. Is the Navalny poisoning fiasco hurting Vladimir Putin? Shaun Walker wonders whether the regime is worried. Kirill Kobrin on the post-Putin consensus among the liberal intelligentsia.

While we're on Russian topics, this article is making me really homesick: here's how many Russians celebrate the New Year.

Mrs. Anderson, step-sister of blues legend Robert Johnson, is determined to set the record straight. (Thank you to Mary Kay Rehard for the link.)

My favorite music video of the year, presented as a tribute to Little Richard:

24 December 2020

Christmas Eve -- and a country in turmoil

"Happy New Year!" Elektrostal's 2020 holiday tree on Lenin Square, with Kristall ice hockey arena in background. Source.
(Elektrostal was my home from 2007 to 2017.)
The hour of Christmas nears. I want so much to listen to the music of the season, and to enjoy our Christmas tree and its ornaments, gathered over the four decades of our marriage. But there's a discordant static in the air, generated by the friction and distress of a country in turmoil, a president unresponsive to alarm signals on all sides in favor of his obsession to remain in power, a Congress at a loss for what to do next. Maybe we could ignore all this noise, if our circumstances were happy and isolated enough that our neighbors' health and economic distress made no difference, and we could therefore wrap our gifts and play our happy Christmas music in ignorant bliss.

I doubt that simple happy bliss is your lot today, or you would not have read even this far. I'm grateful that I have some help in describing this strange moment: Elizabeth Spiers, who claims not to be religious as an adult, but grew up Southern Baptist, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that carves up responsibility for our plight with surgical theological precision: "Mike Pence and the GOP are waging the real war on Christmas."

In case the paywall keeps you from reading this whole article, let me summarize some main points.

Her starting point was a Turning Point USA event two days ago at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, at which public Christian vice president Mike Pence was a speaker. While exhorting his audience to keep up the fight for Trump's second term (interrupted by chants of "Four more years! -- four more years!"), he warned of the dangers of what "the Democrats and the radical left want to do...." Now, nobody expects to get a fair and accurate account of Democratic policies and plans from someone like Pence, but these words struck her as revelatory: "They want to make rich people poorer, and poor people more comfortable."

(I'd like to add what Pence says his side does want: to make everyone richer because "a rising tide lifts all boats." Have we actually seen this happen during these last years, when the increasing gulf between our richest and our poorest, already growing at an accelerated pace, has gained speed in COVID times?)

Spiers reveals the assumptions behind the implication that the poor must not be made more comfortable -- 

In the modern Republican version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the Tiny Tim situation is unfortunate, but private insurance shouldn’t be obligated to cover his preexisting condition, and we certainly can’t give Mom and Dad unemployment just because they lost their jobs — they’ll have no incentive to find new work! After all, it would be grossly unfair to ask Ebenezer Scrooge, a self-made man, to pay a bit more in taxes.

Republicans don’t have to state the case for this callousness overtly because it’s articulated over and over again in policy. In Dickens, Scrooge tells the men soliciting donations for the poor that the poor can go to the workhouse or prison, and if they can’t, they can just die, and reduce the surplus population. If that sounds overly cruel, it’s worth examining GOP policies that try to force people who can’t work to do so, throw people who haven’t been found guilty of a crime into prison because they can’t afford bail or leave them to die for lack of health care. At least Scrooge is honest about his morally abhorrent end goals. Democrats want a War on Poverty; Republicans want a war on the poor. [Links in original.]

Spiers pinpoints the irony: the "war on the poor" is being waged in part by evangelical Christians, the very people whose Gospel requires aid and comfort to those who suffer -- and not just those deemed worthy of help by those with the capacity to help but held captive by their love of wealth. Jesus is quite clear that he is helped -- or rejected -- whenever we help or reject someone in distress. In the feasts of loaves and fishes, there was no means test.

Gospel values, it turns out, make sense as policy values as well. In Spiers's words,

The problem with poverty is not, as the GOP would have it, systemic laziness and bad judgment on the part of the poor. It is the condition itself, which is not conducive to human prosperity and certainly not a de facto crucible in which character is forged. Without any kind of economic safety net, poverty often perpetuates itself no matter how hard the poor struggle to alleviate it. Class mobility via the market is nearly impossible when basic needs aren’t met. Even when people can participate in the labor market — and not everyone can — they need to be able to eat and take care of themselves first. In this context, making the poor more comfortable isn’t just the morally correct position; it’s the only sustainable policy prescription for long-term mitigation of poverty.

Elizabeth Spiers allows that there are many nuances and alternatives in working out exactly what would make up a "sustainable policy prescription" -- but they don't include patronizing and self-serving platitudes claiming that helping poor people does them a disservice.

Marley's ghost; source.
She ends her column by an observation that she might not call "evangelistic," but I do. It is a call to "repent and believe the Good News," but she puts it in the context of Charles Dickens. She points out that Ebenezer Scrooge, after all, did repent and change. Are Republicans (and all of us, for that matter!) willing to do the same? 

One further point, beyond what Spiers wrote.... Another argument that Christian conservatives often use to insulate themselves from pitching in more generously to the cause of poverty reduction is that there is nothing biblical about the government aiding poor people. The Bible assigns that task to the family of faith.

It's true that the Bible asks us to be obedient to the rulers (except when they contradict God, or when God counsels disobedience), but the Bible is also utterly realistic about what rulers will demand of us, and the corruption that can ensue. Now, thanks to a revolution, we citizens of the USA have become our own rulers, with a charter (the U.S. Constitution) that makes "the general Welfare" part of our common mission as a nation. When private philanthropy cannot reach the scale necessary to comfort the poor who somehow haven't earned the Republican Party's compassion, isn't it our democratic right and duty to fulfill our common mission through governmental mechanisms of our choice and that are accountable to us?

To sharpen the point further, we are in the midst of a pandemic, our legislature has already approved emergency assistance at the very moment it needs to be in place for people whose health, or housing, or food security, might be in danger. (Apparently, our wannabe Caesar is choosing to play politics with this aid; so far he has refused to sign the bill.) Is there a biblical precedent for government assistance in crisis? The first example that comes to mind is Joseph organizing Egypt's emergency storehouses, Genesis 41:46-56.

At any rate, let's put more effort into searching for good answers to this question of our national obligation to comfort the poor, and less effort into dodging it under cover of "biblical" piety. After all, few spectacles are more harmful to the reputation of the Gospel than celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace while refusing to see him appearing among us here and now.

A PS to last week's coverage of the conflict at Earlham School of Religion: Chuck Fager tells us what he's found out. Since then, there has been an online worship-sharing among those who are concerned about these developments, to be followed this coming Monday by a strategic follow-up meeting.

Hamilton Nolan: Merry Christmas, Americans.

Margaret Fraser spirals around: "Ministry kind of creeps up on you, and it’s only by looking back that we see pieces that complete a picture."

Molly Olmstead: The USA's most famous nun, Helen Prejean, confronts death. (Part of slate.com's series on the 80 most influential Americans over 80.)

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, in Germany for treatment for Novichok poisoning, has published a video in which he apparently pranks one of the members of the team that poisoned him with intent to kill. The video (subtitles available) -- note the number of viewers. Some of the fallout in the Russian Internet. On the one hand, this whole episode is an amazing gift (just in time for Christmas) for all those who slog away in the struggle against authoritarianism. On the other hand, what additional risks might Navalny now face upon his return home?

More from Navalny (in Russian) ... the pluses and minuses of contemporary medicine, from one who has experienced both.

Justo L. González reviews how his self-understanding as a minister, theologian, and historian has changed over his decades of service. (I reprinted one of his articles here. In that article, he comments on the "teach a man to fish" dictum which Elizabeth Spiers also mentions.)

Camas Friends Church presents our Virtual Choir:

17 December 2020

Earlham College, ESR, and Anna Karenina

Matt Hisrich is at far left. Source.
Yesterday, I innocently opened my Facebook feed and was startled to read that the dean of Earlham School of Religion, Matt Hisrich, had been asked to vacate his office immediately, and his ESR e-mail address had been canceled.

In the "world," this kind of surgical removal implies that any delay in the employee's departure would harm the institution, but no such explanation was given. Matt's direct supervisor, Anne Houtman (president of Earlham College and ESR) was, instead, apparently reacting to a memo that Matt Hisrich had circulated among the Board of Advisors members concerning "the state of Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion." She was not happy about this memo, as she wrote to that Board:

Matt never once expressed to me the concerns he shared with you, even when I gave him ample opportunity to do so. His “reflections” are filled with misinformation and misinterpretation, and reflect more than anything a deep misunderstanding of ESR’s fiscal situation, its relationship to Earlham, and more broadly the state of higher education in the United States at this time. This is not the first time Matt has behaved unprofessionally in our work together, but I have previously attributed this to his inexperience. It is an unfortunate way to choose to end a working relationship.

The letter from Anne Houtman to the Board contains no specifics of Hisrich's unprofessionalism or misunderstandings, so I have written to her to get some specifics or some context. I promised her I would publish her answers. Matt Hisrich had been affirmed as interim dean, and then dean, by two previous Earlham presidents, who obviously didn't see his understanding of the Earlham-ESR relationship as fatally flawed.

As for Hisrich's analysis of ESR's situation, he had (in a mild form, suitable for general audiences) summarized some of them in a post on the ESR Web site last June -- after Earlham decided to take half of ESR's designated endowment funds and transfer them to Earlham's unrestricted endowment. I remembering having an uneasy feeling at the time, and that feeling has just been confirmed. 

As for choosing "to end a working relationship," from all appearances this was not Matt Hisrich's choice at all. He had already submitted his resignation to take effect at the end of this year, making that announcement in an upbeat way, despite what we now know is a background of misgivings about the decisions made by Earlham's president and trustees. In any case, he communicated his most recent analysis to a group of insiders, the Board of Advisors, without a hint of personal disrespect. Apparently that was enough to earn immediate dismissal.

So that's how my day began yesterday. As the day wore on, one of the ESR Advisors sent me the text of an open letter to ESR alumni and Earlham's trustees, and I was invited to co-sign it, which I did. The letter is a valuable overview of recent Earlham-ESR history. I've known Margaret Hawthorn (the author) for many years, and have a similar testimony to hers concerning the importance of ESR in my life. I also was part of the committee that helped Earlham president Doug Bennett in the search that led to Jay Marshall's appointment as dean, and I agree with her assessment of Marshall's crucial role. Margaret Hawthorn's letter does not touch on yesterday's sad developments, but her (our) recommendations to the trustees would correct the dysfunctions that Matt Hisrich's apparently offensive memo identifies.

Here is the text of the open letter, followed by a link to a form that would allow you to co-sign the letter.

16 Mountain Road
Rindge, NH 03461

December 15, 2020

Dear Alumni and Friends of ESR,

My time as a student at Earlham School of Religion (ESR) was life changing. Like others blessed to have attended the seminary that calls itself a Quaker crossroads, I am intensely loyal and grateful to the school for my time there.

ESR is the only Quaker seminary in the United States. A good percentage of students, faculty, administrative staff, and trustees are Friends. Quaker spiritual practices for conducting business have traditionally been used by faculty and student bodies. The Religious Society of Friends in the US benefits from and relies on having a Quaker graduate level education available.

Last week I was shocked to receive an email from Anne Houtman, president of Earlham College (EC), announcing Matt Hisrich’s resignation as dean of ESR, effective at the end of this year. Matt and I graduated together in 2008. I only shared one class with him, but that was enough for me to appreciate his keen intellect and excellent people skills.

Although the brief announcement of Matt’s departure doesn’t mention it, in the years after he completed his Mdiv Matt went on to earn a doctorate in management at the University of Maryland University College. Matt brought a unique combination of spiritual gifts and pragmatic skills to his roles as dean of ESR and vice president of EC. Like many ESR alums who have known him, I was delighted when he stepped in as acting dean, and then moved into the permanent position a year later. I knew ESR was in good hands.

During his tenure as dean of ESR Jay Marshall did a commendable job of stewarding its finances, while Earlham struggled. Granted, it’s been a rough couple decades for small, independent colleges, but that doesn’t entirely account for Earlham’s money problems today.

In June 2020 EC’s president and the board of trustees abruptly de-designated roughly half of ESR’s $49 million endowment, appropriating it to help right Earlham’s deteriorating financial situation. At the same time, the president required Matt to reduce ESR’s budget by 20 percent without cutting salaries.

Matt made the excruciating decision to eliminate two administrative jobs created in response to the changing needs of twenty-first century graduate students. The positions of Director of Student and Alumni Engagement (DSAE) and Director of Community Development positions went on the chopping block. This, although the DSAE job was specifically part of ESR’s 2018 Five-Year Strategic Plan. Prior to the de-designation the seminary had more than sufficient funds to support those vital development positions.

Also in June, other administrative jobs performed independently within ESR and its partner, Bethany Theological Seminary (Bethany), were brought under the direct supervision of college administrators, which hasn’t benefited the seminaries. All of this placed Matt in an untenable situation. He was repeatedly stymied in his efforts to act in the best interest of the seminary before then, and has been since.

Another dean can be hired, but it will be difficult to find one with the knowledge of - and passion for - ESR that Matt brought. Should a candidate turn up with Matt’s qualifications, their hands will be equally tied. As long as ESR is financially held responsible to help bail out EC, its future is at risk no matter who assumes leadership.

Two great features about ESR have been its sister relationship with Bethany, right next door on the Earlham campus, and aspects of its relationship with EC. The two seminaries working side by side are able to maintain their unique theological perspectives while offering a richer course selection than either could separately. Similarly, students from the seminaries and the college have benefited by having access back and forth to certain professors and courses, libraries, and to cultural events on campus.

However, good boundaries are necessary for these three entities to work well together. Bethany is already affected by the placement of services shared exclusively by the two seminaries under supervision of college administrators. The primary relationship is between the two seminaries, but further changes in ESR’s status with the college will continue to spill over onto Bethany.

Ultimately, this is not just about the loss of one staff person. It is about accumulated losses over the past several months. It is about concern for the ongoing characters of Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion. It is about striving for the integrity Quakers value deeply, however short we fall.

Recently, Earlham’s president said, “ESR is the jewel in Earlham’s crown,” making an unfortunate reference to the crown jewel of England. Subjected to British colonialism, India was that crown jewel. By the time British rule ended in 1947, many of India’s resources and once-thriving businesses had been pillaged. If anything, ESR is a treasure to be shared, not squandered.

Please join me in calling on the president and the board of trustees of Earlham College to take the following steps:
  1. Return the de-designated endowment funds Earlham’s board had previously designated to ensure ESR’s financial stability;
  2. Return direct reporting of ESR administrative faculty to the dean of ESR;
  3. Restore the autonomy necessary for ESR to fulfill its distinct and board-approved mission and strategic plan.
I encourage you to either write your own letter or sign on to this one to be forwarded to Earlham’s trustees.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Margaret Hawthorn
ESR M.Div 2008

Co-signed: (as of today, December 17)

Micah Bales
ESR Board of Advisors Member
ESR M.Div 2009
Pastor, Berkeley Friends Church

Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn
ESR Board of Advisors Member
ESR M.Div 1991

Susan Kaul
ESR Board of Advisors Member
ESR M.Div 2007

Jaimie Mudd
Quaker Pastor

Windy Cooler
Quaker Public Minister, Baltimore Yearly Meeting

Michael Sherman
ESR Graduate
Pastor, Muncie Friends Church
Clerk, New Association of Friends

Andy Stanton-Henry
ESR, M.Div 2018

Ruth Cutcher
Current ESR student

John Jeremiah Edminster
M.Div., ESR, 2019.
Custodian, Quaker Bible Index

Nikki Holland
ESR MDiv 2020,
Director of FUM's Ministries in Belize

Anthony Kirk
ESR Graduate
Pastor of Klamath Falls Friends Church, Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting

Thomas Baker-Swann
Writer and ESR student graduating May 2021 in the MATW

Faith Kelley
Pastor, Berkeley Friends Church

Sarah Gillooly
ESR M.Div Student
Adelphi Friends Meeting, Adelphi, MD

Michael Jay
ESR M.Div 2013
Pastor, Raysville Friends

Leigh Tolton
Pastor, West Elkton Friends

Joe Tolton
ESR 2010
Pastor, West Elkton Friends

Daniel Mudd

L. Callid Keefe-Perry
Traveling Minister, Fresh Pond Monthly Meeting
New England Yearly Meeting Lecturer in Practical Theology
Boston University School of Theology
Earlham GPE Alum 2007

Johan Maurer
Retired Friends pastor, administrator, and missionary
Former ESR advisory board member

Caroline Morris
ESR M.Div 2020

Jason Kalis
ESR M.Div. student
Grand Rapids Friends Meeting (LEYM)

Christine Ashley
MAPST student '21

Joshua Brown
Pastor, Springfield Friends Meeting

Follow this link to co-sign the letter and this link to see latest version of letter and list of signatures.

You're probably familiar with Tolstoy's pronouncement about happy and unhappy families, from Anna Karenina:

All happy families are similar to each other. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Actually, if you substitute "colleges" for "families," the situation is probably reversed. All happy colleges, in the USA's current economic, political, and public health context, are probably unique, whereas unhappy colleges have many features in common -- the frightening and repelling prospect of higher education debt, increased skepticism about the value of their product for happiness, spiraling costs of competition in amenities, cycles of costcutting that lead to reliance on mercilessly exploited adjunct faculty, ... and all that was going on before the pandemic.

However, the case of Earlham and ESR has its unique aspects. Judged by numbers of students, ESR is a tiny division of the larger organization, but legacy has given it an outsized importance, both for the denominations it was founded to serve (Quakers in all our variety) and for the integrity of Earlham's identity as a whole. It cannot be treated as a modular profit center whose assets and goodwill can be lightly disposed of. By its very nature, it serves a community that can rarely afford to carry its share of ESR's costs. That has been the heart of ESR's case to Quaker donors: help us raise and nurture Friends' future leadership for the good of all of us.

This commitment breaks down if donors and the larger Quaker community stop trusting that their support is in fact carrying out that part of ESR's mission. This is why Margaret Hawthorn's message to Earlham's trustees is so important.

Of course, it goes both ways: if Earlham keeps its promise to cherish ESR and its traditional funding model, will the community continue to give the necessary support?

Chuck Fager has his eyes on Earlham and Guilford and their financial situations: May 12. June 15.

Save Guilford College: the Web site.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Alyssa Fowers describe higher education's economic plight in the USA before and after the pandemic hit.

Kenyan Quaker Miriam Were, internationally known leader in public health and medical education, receives Japan's Order of the Rising Sun. I was her chauffeur back in 1987, when Friends World Committee for Consultation's Section of the Americas celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a huge intervisitation project bringing distinguished Friends to local meetings and churches all over North America. I drove Miriam to several diverse locations in Indiana and Ohio. I still remember some of the stories she told me on those travels.

Liz Theoharis applies "vaccine thinking" to all of American life.

Remembering Dorothy Day: a Youtube recording of the lively panel discussion, cosponsored by the Dorothy Day Guild and America Media, that commemorated the the 40th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Dorothy Day.

Blues dessert! Christone "Kingfish" Ingram's amazing version of "The Thrill Is Gone."

10 December 2020

Howard Segars

A few days ago, one of our friends on Facebook posted a picture taken at our wedding. Three of our wedding guests were posed in the center of the frame -- and, with a pang, I noticed another familiar figure off to the side -- Howard Segars.

Howard Segars and Judy Maurer
That led me to search out our wedding album, hoping for a better view of Howard -- and here he is, talking with newlywed Judy outside the Friends Meeting at Cambridge meetinghouse, August 9, 1980.

Here on my blog, back in May 2010, I was musing about the passing of time, and went on to say:

I also think about people who are no longer with us. The Internet has completely changed our expectations about access to information -- but not all information becomes automatically accessible. I've become accustomed to being able to supplement a letter about some subject with hyperlinks to more information, but, honestly, when Gordon Browne died, it was a shock to find how little there was online to link to, in comparison to the floods of data available about people alive today who are unlikely to do 10% of what Gordon did for the world. Maybe it's time to revive and enhance the old Quaker tradition of the memorial minute, with encouragement to make them available online somehow.

Just to name one example: I really miss Howard Segars of Beacon Hill Meeting, and I wish there were more about him online.

I was at our home in Russia when I wrote those words. Now I'm back in the USA, with my paper archives right next to me. On a hunch, I went through my "S" folder -- and to my delight I found several letters and cards from Howard. Just as significant, in view of my wish from ten years ago, I found a memorial minute for him:



Howard DeFriese Segars of Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the 21st day of Six Month 1985 at the age of 38. He joined Friends Meeting at Cambridge Fourth Month 1972 and supported it with his gifts and efforts through the years. He also supported Beacon Hill Friends Meeting in its early days when only a handful gathered as a worship group. In 1980 when Beacon Hill became a monthly meeting, Howard became its first clerk as well as a founding member.

Many members of the Beacon Hill community recall that it was Howard who greeted them at their first meeting, and because of his outreach, they felt moved to return. Howard’s many letters to members, attenders, and other friends reflected his sensitivity to others and his desire to minister to their needs. His eloquent vocal ministry reflected his vast knowledge of the Bible, the early church and liturgical calendars of other faiths, his awareness of God’s presence, and his intense concern with suffering caused by injustice. Howard considered no task in Meeting above, below or beyond him, from dishwashing to care of children to struggling through Meeting for Business with such difficult issues as sanctuary for Central American refugees.

Among his contributions to New England Yearly Meeting were his memberships on the Permanent Board, New England Friends Home Committee, and the New England Friends Home Long Range Planning Committee. Howard Segars was one of the first to challenge New England Yearly Meeting to recognize contributions of gay men and lesbians and to welcome them openly into the mainstream of the Society.

He served Beacon Hill Friends House on the Program Committee, in the Quaker Studies Program, and through his counsel to staff during stressful times. He was also active with Friends General Conference.

Howard was deeply committed to issues of justice. As a teenager in Alabama during the civil rights struggle in the early 1960s, he chose to walk rather than ride the segregated buses. He worked as a VISTA volunteer in 1968 before finishing his degree in classics at Brown University. Studying clinical psychology at Boston University, he specialized in the care of the elderly and later lectured nationally on abuse of the elderly. Howard reminded us that all major religions teach us to care for our elderly.

He was instrumental in the formation of health and counseling services in Boston for gay men and lesbians. It is a sad irony that he died of AIDS, a disease that has so far afflicted mostly gay men. Despite declining health during the last two years of his life, he was available by beeper 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to the elderly that served through Guardianship Services; he was lecturing around the country until a month before his death; and he was an active participant in the Quaker Studies Program. He continued to live fully.

We know of no one who more passionately followed the admonition of Isaiah to “seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” He suffered the rejection of the disabled. He suffered the rejection of a gay man. He suffered the isolation of the outsider. He suffered the misunderstanding frequently felt by people who champion unpopular causes. Howard used the experience of his own pain to identify with and respond to the pain of others.

We rejoice in having had his strong presence among us and we feel intensely the palpable absence of his leaving. We grieve over our loss. We will miss Howard’s laughter and his spirituality.

  Committee: James Anthony, Don Galbreath, Lolly Ockerstrom, Erica Voolich

Easter 1982
Howard was a master storyteller, with stories (true or not, we didn't always know!) that were both hilarious and profound. He had a lot of material to work with -- his own experiences of life and service, his education in classics and psychology, his association with Quakers and with the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and most endearingly, with our own little Beacon Hill Friends community. 

We left Boston in 1980; on March 2, 1981, he wrote to us,

Meeting has grown since your departure and there have been a few First Days when folk have sat on the floor and the stairs! It's nothing short of amazing to me. The memory of tiny meetings for worship is still fairly recent and the change has been quite dramatic. I am learning, slowly, the art of clerking. Ministry and Counsel and business meetings have worked hard on the "busy" details and the work shows. Both of you gave much and your sharing has helped get Beacon Hill where it is today.

A short version of his memorial minute was published in Friends Journal in November 1985. I hope I've introduced Howard to more people through this post -- and if you already knew him, maybe you've had a chance to relive some good memories. Maybe you were even one of those who -- like Judy and me -- remember his warm greeting upon your first visit to Beacon Hill Friends Meeting.

Friends World Committee for Consultation is seeking the next general secretary for its World Office in London. Details here. (In case you missed it, there's a link on this page to Gretchen Castle's letter to Friends.)

In Russia, as elsewhere, sometimes it takes determination to remember. The case of Vera Ermolaeva.

Upcoming Scholar-Activist Encounter, December 17, features Weldon Nisley and Tom Boomershine. Cosponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice, andthe Network for Biblical Storytellers International. 

Peterson Toscano on using the Zoom platform more effectively and creatively.

C.S. Lewis on "trumpery," via Nancy Thomas.

Remembering Little Charlie Baty.... Here's another collaboration with Anson Funderburgh and Mark Hummel: