30 June 2022

A query on queries, part two

Here's a query for you: What did you think about my post on the uses of queries?

So many of you responded, and I appreciated those responses so much, that I thought I'd place those responses here in one handy place, lightly edited, and see where they might lead me. I'm not going to name the authors here, but you can look at the comments below the original post and here on Facebook.

I have mixed feelings about queries offered for open worship. I suspect it helps some and others know enough to set them aside. Often the time allotted for open worship is too brief for effective centering, queries or not.

And some unprogrammed meetings for worship can seem interminable.

I used to print one of the queries in the bulletin each Sunday right underneath open worship.

Sometimes helpful - sometimes not.

Waiting Worship, in a strict, unprogrammed sense, requires the input and faithfulness of all those present. Otherwise, it is mealy and insubstantial. Concluding with queries may well be leading others towards a desired answer. I do see your point. I've always believed that vocal ministry was a discipline, but that notion seems to fly over the heads of many.

I experience a difference between waiting worship, as practiced by early Friends and still practiced in some communities, and “open worship” as practiced in pastoral meetings. Framing a period of “open worship” with programmatic worship feels, in my heart, rather like trying to cage and limit the applecart-overturning aspects of the work of the Spirit, the wind that (as Jesus said) blows where it will. A query at the beginning only adds to my personal feeling that this is what is going on.

Some liberal “unprogrammed” meetings I have visited begin a meeting with a discussion period or a query, and some individual worshipers begin it with the morning news or the previous week’s news. That bothers me in much the same way: it feels like putting Christ’s Spirit in a human harness to attempt to direct the way it goes. 

How we fear to let God freely speak! — and yet He will.

Mind you, this is just me speaking for myself. I fully understand that different practices may be experienced differently by different people.

I am "guilty" of this and will continue the practice because it receives good feedback and as a worshipper who is easily distracted during open worship I appreciate having something concrete to focus on.

It probably depends on how much programming you have chosen to participate in.

I look at queries as possibilities. I consider it optional to consider them as I enter into open worship space. Sometimes it's as simple as, "this is what Matt is considering this week" or one question begins what I consider a "worshipy brainstorm". I try to use mindfulness practices to observe my thoughts and watch where they go, often it gets to stickier spots where I can hear the Divine.

Open worship is a particular gift….

There have been times when the Holy Spirit had entirely different words than the sermon or the query.The main thing is to be open to hear.

Is posing the query something that is itself being moved in the moment by the spirit? 

Sometimes queries seem to be just the right way to conclude a message and enter into Open worship... but no rule on it! :-0

It's a nice gloss but in my now distant experience of Quakerism it doesn't do anything to resolve tempers between people that arise from meeting life.

Sadly after about 35 years at [her Friends church] and watching the cruelty of the elders in driving our pastor to resign, I can't think of the Quaker Church without thinking of nauseating hypocrisy. In fact, I have no church whatsoever now. Someone should write queries that keep a handful of people in the Quaker Church from wielding power and ignoring the voices of the rest of the people and getting away with it. I doubt I will ever darken the door of a Quaker church again.

What would George Fox say?? I am just finishing Janney’s biography of GF, and am impressed again by his encouragement to faith!

Thanks, Johan! Queries as a segue from sermon to open worship have value, especially for those new to open worship. In the Meeting I pastored for many years I sometimes used queries but I also put in the bulletin after the message: “What can you say? (Taken from the old Quaker term, “What canst thou say?”) A time to reflect and respond.”

Have Friends Meetings changed so much that a Query about a historical figure is needed to start a self meditation, a group worship? What happened to seeking Truth in the Light? Or that of God in every person?

In the presence of Christ, it goes against my conscience to reflect upon or oppose a conscience guided and informed through conceptual entities in the form of queries. The formality of queries is secondary or a distraction. Opposing conceptual agents in forms like queries only serves to turn opposing specific formalities into a formality itself which, in turn, diminishes awareness of Christ's presence through engagement in the agency of reflective nature; which is the primary concern. [This is only about a sixth of the original comment; see original post for full text.]

I love that we have queries between the sermon and open worship. When I first attended Camas Friends and saw queries, my heart leapt for joy. It had been many years since I had seen them at my old meeting. For those who are unsure of what to do during open worship it gives them something to think about and in some ways makes it easier to reply. For the more seasoned, it inspires us to dig deeper and let the spirit illuminate where we need growth and also allows us to encourage others. We aren't limited by them, they are simply a helpful guide post.

With great thanks to those who contributed these responses, I'm still not clear on part of the issue I originally addressed. I asked whether your feelings about queries might be based on temperament or personality, and I think I got implicit answers between the lines of some of your responses. (Yes, different personality types feel differently about queries. It helps that I know some of you personally!)

What I'm less clear on is the situation of those of you who do not find queries helpful. Do you feel limited or coerced by their use, or are you nevertheless ready and willing to set them aside and focus on a perhaps purer concept of waiting on the Holy Spirit while being aware of the ways they can help others? Originally I asked, "Does their very presence inhibit the freedom with which we ought to enter that period of worship?"

The subject of a more traditional Quaker use of queries—in service of teaching, self-examination, and mutual accountability—came up during our Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends annual sessions. Specifically, the subject of queries arose during the meeting of the Faith and Practice Committee.

Canadian Yearly Meeting queries (1969)
Contemporary Quaker practice among many yearly meetings, including most or all in the "liberal" tradition, treads very lightly in matters of doctrine and teaching. In contrast, take a look at the queries in the 1969 edition of Canadian Yearly Meeting's Organization and Procedure in the graphic at right (see this post for background; I apologize for putting an image file here, but it saved a lot of typing). There is plenty of plain, straightforward teaching here, presented in query format, but usually without much doubt about what the right answer is.

If queries are now considered a way of presenting Quaker teaching in a way that seems less limiting or off-putting, we face a new set of challenges. 

First: In principle, I love the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition of public relations based on "attraction rather than promotion" (Tradition Eleven), but for Friends this would be a fatal mistake. For us, "attraction rather than promotion" could easily degenerate into a boutique religion that emphasizes social affinity instead of God's radical hospitality to all. Instead, the work of "public relations" should be a collaboration among very different temperaments and spiritual gifts to invite and welcome all sorts of people. Some of us will be best equipped to attract through language, through clear communication; others through prophetic action; others through the testimony of lives lived in the Light.

Second: would the whole idea of mutual accountability be lost? The queries used by Canadian Yearly Meeting fifty years ago were ratified by time and experience, not by whether they could survive the veto power of anyone who feels unduly challenged by their expectations.

Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends has partly sidestepped the doctrine issue by not requiring applicants for direct membership in the Yearly Meeting to write a statement of belief that would be judged by whether it conforms to our teachings. Instead, we simply invite them to consider whether they wish to be part of a Christ-centered body.

It seems to me that, along with our own testimonies to our experiences with God, sensitively-written queries might well be the best expression of teaching for that approach to membership. These two elements—honest testimony to our experience, and the invitation to look within ourselves and our community through queries—might well serve as the basis of a book of faith and practice for our new yearly meeting.

Nineteen USA Quakers issue an invitation to a national dialogue on the urgent threats to our democracy....

How decentralized government brought Ukraine together.

Meanwhile, in Russia, four months of sanctions.

A protesting shopkeeper in Russia: "My neighbors fully support me."

Duty! Thou Sublime and Mighty Name! (William Schweiker on the January 6 hearings in the USA.)

Witnesses abiding by duties is a surprising turn of events, one that might well save the democracy from the corruption that has seeped into the nation. The appeal to duty is even more surprising in our jaded times when many are ready to find self-interest and pandering behind every human action, especially in politics. Admittedly, public congressional hearings are not the usual haunts of Sightings columnists, at least not this one. Yet the hearings have revealed how the claims of duty have stiffened the wills of many public servants to resist the seductions of power, intimidation, and even threats to life and limb. Important for Sightings, those claims were often rooted in appeals to the US Constitution, the Bible, and the divine.

John Jeremiah Edminster's simplified index to the Digital Quaker Collection.

A classic, "It Hurts Me Too" as performed by the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Warren Haynes.

23 June 2022

Yearly Meeting in Canby, Oregon, USA

Yearly Meeting 2022 sessions, some at Canby Grove and some online.

View from the Philippines (via Zoom).
Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends gathered for our annual sessions last weekend (Friday-Sunday) at Canby, Oregon, and online. Judy and I were among those who were able to participate in person for the first time since 2019; we were also aware of the audiovisual booth where our amazing volunteers worked through all sorts of technical challenges to make this wonderful event available online as well.

Judy and I are presently in California, so that I can participate in a Parkinson's research study (a blind study, so I have no idea whether I'm seen as a potential patient or in a control group). We are also using this chance to visit Friends of Berkeley Friends Church, and I have almost no time left for writing this blog post, so I'll be brief tonight. I just wanted to give you a few personal highlights from our Sierra-Cascades weekend.

Maybe the best overall summary of our sessions can be found in our Epistle. You will find evidence in this document of the hope and energy of our sessions. You will also see that we did not avoid reality: after many months of COVID-enforced cautions and separations, as well as other factors, our numbers are diminished and several of our committees are below-strength or in hibernation. On the other hand, one of those quiescent committees has rallied with new determination: the Faith and Practice Committee plans to meet regularly and to ask each of us to write our own stories, if we are willing, about our experiences of God.

A committee I serve on myself, the Nurture of Ministry Committee, asked for agenda time to make a presentation on the state of our Yearly Meeting. In other yearly meetings, our committee might be called the committee for the recording of ministers, helping to encourage the emergence of ministers, helping them and their congregations gain clarity on recognizing their gifts of public ministry, and making recommendations to record those gifts. We want to work on nurturing all ministry among our Friends community, including those Friends who are direct members of SCYMF (not members by virtue of membership in one of our constituent churches).

Our committee's plenary presentation was entitled, "The Ministry of Nurturing a New Yearly Meeting." It's been clear to us over these past couple of years that, while our Yearly Meeting's lists of events, concerns, affiliations, and so on have been impressive, we have in reality running on near-empty. As our committee member Ruthie Tippin said, we have an impressive skeleton with an impressive coat of many colors, but there is not enough flesh on our bones, and we need to experience God writing on our hearts. Faith Marsalli spoke also. She recalls,

I [Faith] encouraged folks to share with each other their ideas during the weekend.

  • Why do we organize ourselves and gather as a yearly meeting? (Why do we do what we do? Does it have value?)
  • How do you want to be nurtured?
  • How do you want our yearly meeting to be nurtured?
  • How do you feel led to contribute to the nurture of the yearly meeting?

Anna Baker spoke directly about "the challenge Covid has been to our meetings. I spoke of how many meetings lost attenders.... We need to give our meetings grace and healing to build up again."

I [Johan] mentioned that one of the early queries that the earliest yearly meetings asked their constituent meetings was, "How does Truth prosper among you?" Where are we thriving, and where are we suffering, and how are we helping meet each other's needs? Our Yearly Meeting has a number of churches that are not thriving for one reason or another, and too often we scramble to improvise responses, and simply don't respond adequately. As examples of possible ways we might improve our capacity to nurture our new Yearly Meeting:

  • Release a Friend to be a pastor at large for a season--not a superintendent to run our administrative affairs, but someone who helps us organize to help Truth prosper among our churches in difficulties, and circulates among us, along with all others called or gifted for the ministry of intervisitation.
  • Have all our elders (or equivalents) of all our churches meet together once a year, as our pastors already do. Having a Yearly Meeting of Elders, or of Ministry and Counsel, is an established practice among some other yearly meetings; why not see if we can pool our experiences and pray together, and overcome some of the isolation we have already diagnosed among our churches?
These two ideas are not necessarily solutions, but maybe they will provoke other ideas that are worth considering in our ministry of nurture of our young Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends. Tell us your leadings.

That's it for this evening. I hope to be back next week with my more usual format.

Taj Mahal is scheduled for this coming July 4 weekend at the Waterfront Blues Festival. Judy and I first heard him at a free concert in Boston's Government Center in the late 1970's. It's about time to hear him live once again....

16 June 2022

Amtrak to Washington, DC: October 1973

Rideau Canal, Ottawa (with Dunton Tower, where I 
studied Russian, in background).
Carleton University's Loeb Building, where my political
science classes were held.
A sampling of the stamps in my 1973 diary.

"Would you believe I am on a train to Washington?" That's how I began my diary entry on Monday, October 22, 1973.

Two days earlier, October 20, the diary entry that I wrote in my dorm room at Carleton University, Ottawa, had gone on at length about the "Saturday Night Massacre," when U.S. president Richard Nixon forced the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, hired by the Department of Justice to investigate the Watergate scandal.

The next day, Sunday, I made the impulsive decision to take the Montreal-D.C. train down to Washington, to (as my diary says) "see for myself what is going on there."

(Tuesday, October 23.) "I arrived in Washington shortly before 2 p.m.... I went to the Capitol and walked into the Rotunda. At the Capitol I heard, from a group of people clustered around a television reporter, that Nixon had agreed today to give up the tapes. I'm sitting now in front of the White House. Horns beep as cars driving along Pennsylvania Avenue pass the pickets at the curb. At the corner is a booth selling 'Impeach Nixon' stickers & where you can sign a petition to Congress. The weather is beautiful."

I spent the night at a friend's residence at the University of Maryland. The last line in Tuesday's entry, squeezed in with tiny letters, reminds me that the Watergate drama was far from the only thing on the world's minds: "New Israel-Egypt cease-fire."

Before I boarded Amtrak's Montrealer the very next day, my friend and I toured the Supreme Court, which played such a crucial role in the Watergate epic, and were able to visit the storied courtroom itself. But the most haunting experience of those brief hours in Washington was that first visit to the White House fence. There I found an amazing assortment of people from all over the country who had been drawn to that exact spot, as I had, by a compulsion that none of us could put exact words to. We felt that the fate of the Republic was at stake, and we simply could not stay away.

Does it make sense to draw comparisons between public reactions to the Watergate story and to today's January 6 hearings? Politically speaking, our Republic now finds itself in even more danger than in the Nixon era, facing a messy tangle of authoritarianism, false populism, and christian nationalism, all made more dangerous by a cynical passivity that too often says (in the words of a relative of mine) "What's the use? You can't believe anybody" (except, of course, Trump). Even so, millions of people seem to be paying close attention to the January 6 hearings, just as we waited five decades ago for each new Watergate development.

Where is today's equivalent of the White House fence? What will draw us there?

I appreciated today's thoughtful report in the Washington Post about people's reactions to the January 6 hearings. One particular story jumped out at me: (link in original article)

Even if the hearings do change some Trump voters' minds, they cannot save the country from a treacherous, even violent, reckoning, said Kathleen Betsko Yale, a retired actress and playwright in Buffalo.

Yale has been glued to the hearings. As an immigrant who grew up in Coventry, England, during World War II, she finds too many echoes of the rise of authoritarianism in Europe.

I try to be hopeful," she said, "but I think we've reached a tipping point and we're going to have to go through some dark times before we come to our senses. Fascism is always about turning people against each other, and that’s what we see in the hearings."

Yale expects that her great-grandchildren will emerge from a time of American darkness, "but at 83, I doubt I will see that. What we need is reconciliation, but I have people in my own family who are on the other side and we can't talk about it. We try to get along without going there."

To be honest, back in 1972, there were practically no mentions of Watergate in my diary. The very first note was extremely oblique: I mentioned calling a high school friend in Evanston on June 29; we talked about Martha Mitchell, but I didn't note any details. This was a week after her famous phone call to Helen Thomas.

That fall I left the USA for university in Canada, and much of my diary covers these changes in my own life. However, shortly after arriving in Ottawa, I began subscribing to the Christian Science Monitor (imagine, a daily newspaper by postal mail, which arrived reliably in one day). Most of my early 1973 diary entries were about Viet Nam (I got my conscientious objector notification on January 15, noted with two exclamation marks!!), but as the year wore on, Watergate got more and more of my attention.

David Brooks on the future of the American right. The article is a few months old but hasn't gone stale, especially in view of what Kathleen Yale said in the Washington Post interview above.

Pope Francis on Ukraine: nonviolence, not surrender.

Meanwhile, Patriarch Kirill apparently demotes Metropolitan Hilarion (but nobody is explaining exactly why).

On Russia's projected recession (interesting reading in view of the USA's own situation these days).

Pacific Northwest Quaker Women reconnect with each other for the common good, July 29-30 on Zoom.

When Nancy Thomas gets mad, it's not pretty. (PS: I would get mad, too!)

"Becoming the Quakers the World Needs."

Junior Wells and Buddy Guy in Switzerland, 1974.

09 June 2022

A query on queries

Yesterday, I attended a meeting where the subject of "queries" came up. One Friend said, "I don't like it when our waiting worship [that is, Quaker worship in silence, waiting upon the Holy Spirit] is introduced by queries."

She was referring to a practice that that I've found in many programmed Quaker meetings, where the sermon may be given ahead of the silent portion of the worship, and that sermon may conclude with queries that Friends are free (but not required) to consider in the silence.

From a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:15-19.
From a sermon on Ephesians 1:13-19.
From a sermon on Mark 12:13-17.
From a sermon on being shrewd and innocent.
Luke 16:1-13; Matthew 10:16Matthew 5:48;
Matthew 19:21; Romans 12:2; Luke 10:25-29.
Some speakers' sermon queries are shorter than mine.

I often use queries this way myself.

Queries were introduced as a practice early in Quaker history, as a set of standing questions that would be directed, perhaps annually, to constituent congregations by the quarterly and yearly meeting. As Jan Hoffman writes in The Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers)

The earliest queries were sent to monthly meetings in the 17th century: "What ministering Friends have died in the past year?" and "How does Truth prosper among you?" New queries have been added, both to collect further information and to sharpen reflection on particular topics. Currently, queries are seen by both individual Friends and meetings or churches as a means of engaging their hearts, minds, and spirits in an examination of their spiritual condition. Only rarely today are written responses to the yearly meeting expected.

(At least three yearly meetings I've visited continue to ask local meetings to respond to queries annually; many others at least expect annual reports from local meetings and churches.)

So ... this practice of ending a sermon with queries for Friends to consider during the silence is a new variation of an old tradition. One important deviation: instead of drawing on a standing list of queries, perhaps seeking the query that most closely relates to the theme of the sermon, this form of query is written particularly for the occasion. As you can see from my examples, they ostensibly serve to encourage reflection on the sermon, but they may also be a way of making the sermon's central points more memorable. As with traditional queries, this new type sometimes includes rhetorical questions that imply a right answer. This may seem manipulative, and maybe that's so, but traditional queries also had a teaching function.

My friend explained why she opposed the use of queries as a transition from sermon to the open worship period: her ideal of waiting worship was that it was entirely a matter of surrendering to the Holy Spirit, not cluttering the matter with anyone's agenda, however fine that agenda might be.

I take this objection seriously, but I wonder whether there is still room for the practice if it seems helpful to some. Therefore, I am asking whether you have experience with this use of queries, and whether you feel it is helpful on balance. Do you think it might depend on temperament, that for some on the Myers-Briggs chart (for example) it might be more helpful than for others? Is there a way of making clear that such post-sermon or pre-open worship queries are entirely optional, or does their very presence inhibit the freedom with which we ought to enter that period of worship?

Also: do you know of other uses to which queries have been put?

(I'm serious about wanting to know how you feel about this. Please respond in this post's comment section or on Facebook or Twitter—whatever is most convenient for you.)

Part two.

These changes in how Friends adapt or reinterpret the old Quaker practice of queries remind me of a couple of other terms that contemporary Friends have reinterpreted for present-day needs.

Threshing meetings, as I noted a couple of years ago, are now a way of seasoning a matter of church business before it is presented for decision at a meeting for business. Originally, the term referred to an evangelistic meeting directed at a "promiscuous" (mixed) audience, including people not (yet) convinced by the Quaker message.

Clearness committees, or meetings for clearness, are another practice whose roots go far back in Quaker history, but were originally intended as part of the congregation's process for approving a new membership or a marriage. As Patricia Loring explains in that same dictionary I mentioned above, "... a primary purpose was to ensure that individuals were clear of other entanglements and able to live up to their commitments." Now meetings for clearness are often used to help a meeting/church or group or individual come to a well-grounded decision about almost any major step in life, from planting a new church to taking a new job or moving to another part of the world.

In my own yearly meeting, meetings for clearness are part of the process for recognizing and recording public ministers among us.

When I became a Friend, my first membership was in Ottawa Monthly Meeting, Canadian Yearly Meeting. Their book of discipline puts their "Advices and Queries" into one unified list. Ohio Yearly Meeting is one of those that expects written responses to their queries from local meetings.

Adria Gulizia on antiracism and the Lamb's War[Link below is Adria's.]

This call to the Lamb’s War, which spoke to me so profoundly, demands the highest discipline and the most absolute humility as we follow the Living God. Internally, we stand in the Light, allowing God’s secret power to weaken the evil within us and raise up the good, to paraphrase Friend Robert Barclay. Externally, we work tirelessly for the good of our communities, while loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, and praying for those who abuse us.

Which brings me to antiracism.

Right Sharing of World Resources and Friends World Committee for Consultation are collaborating to study the possibility of adding Guatemala as a location for Right Sharing partnerships.

The current home page of Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) includes links to videos of their recent annual meeting, including the bloggers' workshop and other workshops and plenary sessions.

The Quaker Religious Education Collaborative has announced its June Conversation Circles: Experiments in Meeting for Worship: Plain, Virtual and Blended. Choose between June 21 at noon Eastern time or June 23 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

When the temper of the times turns against "thoughts and prayers," what do we gain? What do we lose?

Champion Jack Dupree plays his first composition, "Alberta."


champion jack dupree from ray on Vimeo

02 June 2022

My father's guns


My father, Harald Maurer, died on Thursday, March 9, 1995. I was in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, when I got the news the next day. A few days later, I was in Zion, Illinois, visiting the funeral directors chosen by my mother from the Yellow Pages, and learned that she had directed them to bury my father without ceremony in a cemetery about ten miles away. There was a Veterans Administration-associated cemetery only five miles away, but my mother did not want his grave to be that close.

(More about my father in last week's post.)

I had no chance to influence these arrangements, or I might have been able to correct the information on his death certificate and the marker on his grave. His name was Harald, not Harold. The "Korea" on his marker might refer to the "police action" that was going on at the time of his service, but he was in U.S. military intelligence in Germany during his service, not in Korea. He was born in Ullensvang, Norway, not in Bergen. Well, at least the dates are correct.

When I collected my father's effects from the Decedent Affairs Office at the VA hospital where he lived his last year, and then died, and the few remaining items of his at my mother's apartment, I realized that these things would be my sole inheritance from him. He loved electronic gadgets, apparently; I brought home a collection of calculators, a pocket-sized shortwave radio, a digital dictionary, a shirt-pocket cassette recorder, and even a pocket-sized television. After my mother died, I also inherited her father's collection of Japanese art, but I have no idea what happened to the Japanese swords that enchanted me when I was a child. Were they sold for liquor? I never found out what happened to the family trust from which I had been disinherited when I left home.

There is one more item of my father's that I haven't mentioned—the jewel of my father's miniature treasures, his .25 caliber Beretta. I had never seen this handgun before, and actually I had never seen any handgun that was such a beautiful piece of machinery.

I was actually fascinated and a bit disturbed by my own admiration for this thing that was intended to fire lethal projectiles. The first thing I did was to walk over to the Zion police department and ask whether there was any program for collecting loose handguns from the public. The officer at the desk laughed and said no, and suggested that if I didn't want the gun, I should sell it. Just like that.

The gun came with a box of ammunition, and Judy decreed, reasonably, that if I kept the Beretta, I had to store it far away from the ammunition. I hid the gun at home, and the ammunition in a closet at my office. I told a colleague at work about the gun, and he offered me $175 for it. Without doing any research, I accepted the proposed amount and said goodbye to this beautiful and troubling souvenir of my father.

There is one ritual I now wish I had done before selling the gun, but at the time I didn't really want to display it to my children. We had never had to deal with the issue of toy weapons in our home, and I didn't want to give an occasion for gun culture to enter in. But the regret is real, and it links to some of my favorite memories of my father.

In my growing-up years, my father owned two semi-automatic pistols. One was an old Luger that he had brought home from Germany after his military service there. I don't remember the other one, even though I've spent too much of today looking at pictures of handguns, and videos of handgun maintenance, hoping I'd recognize it. In any case, my memories concern his annual practice of disassembling,  cleaning, and lubricating the guns.

Ellen and I were welcome to sit and watch him do this. The scene looked somewhat like this picture, although the picture here shows us assembling a science kit. Step by step, he removed the magazines, disengaged the various catches and removed the actions, carefully cleaned the barrels and the individual parts with soft cloth and solvents and lubricants that smelled divine to me—these remain the scents that I most strongly associate with my father. I remember how carefully he laid out the parts of the guns on a special tablecloth only used for this purpose, and I can still recall the sharp snapping sounds when the pieces fit together again correctly. 

While doing this annual ritual, he spoke to us about never pointing a gun at anyone, even as a joke, even an unloaded gun, even a toy gun. The only other category of object he and my mother ever talked about with such reverence was books. Interestingly, our house was totally filled with books, but I never discovered where my father stored his guns.

My father never told us why he was so adamant about gun safety, but there's something I remember about both of my grandfathers. Both of them were in direct contact with war; both refused to romanticize it. My father's father was a lieutenant in the Norwegian resistance, but there he sometimes found himself talking young Norwegian hotheads out of anti-Nazi terrorism because of the awful consequences for innocent civilians. My mother's family was on the receiving end of U.S. bombs, in Kobe and Osaka, Japan.

One of the most distressing aspects of our polarized, lie-filled political culture is the charge that people like me want to take guns away from the gun zealots. I asked my own dear Trump-supporting relative whether she realized that her political heroes told lies about me: "If the Dems win, they'll take away your guns." I have absolutely no desire to infringe the right to keep and bear arms; I've even advocated giving guns to citizens! I just want to reduce to an absolute minimum any chance that they will be pointed at human beings. My gun-owning father's warnings still echo in my mind.

If free speech hits its limit if someone yells "fire" in a crowded theater, then gun freedom has a limit as well: it should prevent someone going into a church or school or hospital or grocery store with a lethal weapon and a deadly chip on their shoulder. And when that does happen again, as it will, I want to see a chain of registrations from manufacturer, to seller, to buyer, that gives law enforcement a chance to find out where the safeguards broke down. I want to infringe the rights of gun worshippers to normalize gun exhibitionism as a political signal.

Extremists usually have an advantage in any political struggle—they are ready to devote maximum effort to their passion, with minimum regard for fairness, while moderates just want to get along. It's time for those who cherish fairness to show some passion, too. Here's what is happening to me: I'm tired of being lied about.

How do Friends relate to military veterans, and to the varied effects of war? (Personal note: World War II killed 52 million people ... and formed my family across enemy lines.) (Thanks to Jim Fussell/Facebook for the link.)

Alisa Ruddell and the missing Mother of God (fascinating review of Beth Allison Barr's The Making of Biblical Womanhood).

Claire Flourish looks at Britain Yearly Meeting 2022, and her own participation. It's a tender description that doesn't require any comment from me.

Derek Lamson updates his Web site ... and note the free download!

Maggie Bell and Albert Collins, "Stormy Monday."

26 May 2022

When grief just won't come, part two

(left) Harald with Ellen and me, 1961; (right) Harald at his Skokie Park District office, 1978.

My father Harald Maurer and I were reunited in a vivid dream last night.

In my dream, he and I were standing on a street corner in Evanston, Illinois, having a very normal, peaceful conversation. Looking down the length of this residential street, we could see the skyscrapers of Chicago in the distance. Pointing at them, I said, "You know how I go on those four-hour-long walks sometimes? That's where I go."

(Actually, I oftens took long walks, but not that long and not to Chicago. It would take four hours to walk one-way from our home in Evanston, the one in my dream, to get to downtown Chicago. And the city's skyscrapers couldn't be seen from our street.)

My dream went on to other scenes, more contemporary, and my father wasn't in those scenes. However, just before I woke up, I saw him again at that same corner, and I walked back to him. As the dream faded and I woke up, I had the strong impression that, during those in-between scenes he had died, and at the end of my dream he was returning from the dead to say goodbye.

Today, my mind—maybe yours, too—has been in Uvalde, Texas; also in Ukraine and Russia; also with the Southern Baptists. (See links below.) But as I sat down to write this evening, I felt a strong desire to write about my father.

If you've been visiting this blog for a while, you've met several members of my family, and they don't always appear in the best light. Four years ago I wrote about how grief for my dead parents just doesn't seem to come; something is plugged up. I've described, occasionally and vaguely, what it was like to grow up in an household full of emotional minefields, where any references to religion or mortality were strictly forbidden, where my mother's racism was given frequent expression, where discipline could be completely absent one day and enforced with beatings the next, and how things became even more chaotic when my sister Ellen began running away from home. Grief for Ellen, when she was shot and killed on the southwestern edge of Chicago, came instantly; after all, in our crazy home, we were partners in survival.

My memories of growing up are dominated by my mother, who was certainly an addict but probably also suffering from mental illness. Her racism may have originated in her school years; during at least some of the Hitler years, the Nazi party was an active partner of the German school she attended in her home town of Kobe, Japan. I mostly coped with this stuff silently, but Ellen rebelled openly, and the resulting family drama became a frequent theme in the diary I started keeping as a high school freshman in 1968.

In these memories, my father is often in the background. That may be why he hasn't taken up much space in my writing. (This post is intended to even things out a bit.) Amiable and mild-mannered, he was quite a contrast to my mother. I remember his constant advice to us kids: don't irritate your mom! However, of my two parents, he might have been the bigger influence on my future: his undergraduate education was in political science, specializing in international relations. He had an LL.B./J.D. degree but never practiced law; he worked instead in insurance. The year Ellen died—1970—was the year his last insurance job ended. I know no details, but it can't be a coincidence: how would you hold on to a job when you're constantly looking for your runaway daughter, or dealing with the police in connection with her, or—as on March 28, 1970—summoned to the county morgue to identify her body?

From 1970 to 1978, his resume reads as follows:

TRANSLATIONS AND RESEARCH, Independent. Illustrative examples of activity, in part freelance and in part through the Berlitz School of Languages and other agencies, are: translations of articles in Norwegian, Swedish and Danish publications into English; other general, legal, or technical translation work, case research and correspondence for companies and individuals; lessons in the Norwegian language. 

I was asked to leave home a day or two before my high school graduation in 1971, and a year later I was on my way to university in Ottawa, Canada, so I can't comment on how accurate this work history is. I do know that he was coping with an increasingly erratic spouse, one who (for example) in 1977 posted a swastika on their lawn during the Nazi parade controversy in Skokie. Right around then, my father and I succeeded in bundling my mother off to an inpatient alcoholism clinic. (At the intake interview, my mother told the clinician that Germans handle alcohol much better than Americans. It was a priceless moment when he contradicted her in German.) This was the one of the few occasions when my father and I formed a strong alliance in the face of a crisis.

It was also around this time that my father confronted his own addiction, and sobered up to the point that he could again be on the job market. He worked as safety coordinator for the Skokie Park District for two years, and then worked for Catholic Charities as a senior citizens' job developer for the rest of his life, until his career was ended by the last stages of cancer.

His low point may have come the summer after I left home. I was at my job as cook and dishwasher at Andy's Hamburgers on Green Bay Road in Evanston, when my father walked in. I wasn't sure how to react; after all, he had so recently put me out on the street. Or, rather, he had not intervened when my mother put me out on the street. In any event, at the restaurant I could not begin to read his face. To my surprise, he handed me his watch and asked me what I would be willing to pay for it. I was making a dollar fifty an hour and was only paying $12 a week for my room, so I had some money, and (much to my boss's disapproval) I gave it to him. I find it very hard to imagine what things must have been like at home, for him to face me in that situation.

My father's baptism certificate. He was born Lutheran
in 1930, died Eastern Orthodox in 1995.
There must have been some major high points toward the end of his working life, because he loved his job at Catholic Charities, and the people he met there gave him crucial support as the end of his life came near. At his memorial meeting, one of his clients took me aside and said, "Listen, I hope you know that your father was a great man." Actually, up to then I didn't know it, but those words did find a place in my heart.

Thanks to that dream last night, grief seems to be a bit closer.

Related: My father's guns.

My mother's obituary.

Why evangelicals should like CRT.

My posts about Ellen.

A letter from Timothy Noah: Dear victims of the next school shooting.

Hunting’s decline made it harder to succeed with reasoned gun control arguments that protected the sport. It also caused the overall number of gun-owning households to shrink. Which, counterintuitively, increased political resistance to gun control.


Since the Columbine High massacre in 1999, at least 185 children have been killed in school shootings, according to The Washington Post. How many more children will die before things change? It’s my duty to inform you, future victims, that 185 isn’t going to be enough. Your blood will have to be spilled as well.

(In Russian) How Putin made his decision to go to war.

Darya Dergacheva: Russians find ways to protest the war.

Meanwhile, Russian children are pressed into service as propagandists. (We remember a similar campaign in a Wilmington, Ohio, school during Operation Desert Storm.)

Russell Moore: This is the Southern Baptist apocalypse. Anne Marie Miller responds to the report (video).

Rebecca Ankeny on Jesus and His Bible: part one, part two, part three, part four.

Terry Gilliam visits a favorite movie store in Paris and talks about ... movies.

Blues from the UK. Cadillac Kings, "Beer Drinkin' Woman" (not in honor of anyone in particular).