A Progressive Quaker Easter Sermon - By Lucretia Mott

April 20th, 2014

Progressive Friends - A Continuing Series

1849: Lucretia Mott– From “Likeness to Christ” - A sermon delivered at the Cherry Street Meeting in Philadelphia - Ninth Month 30, 1849

It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ. Were this sentiment generally admitted we should not see such tenacious adherence to what men deem the opinions and doctrines of Christ while at the same time in every day practise is exhibited anything but a likeness to Christ.

My reflections in this meeting have been upon the origin, parentage, and character of Jesus. I have thought we might profitably dwell upon the facts connected with his life, his precepts, and his practice in his walks among men. Humble as was his birth, obscure as was his parentage, little known as he seemed to be in his neighborhood and country, he has astonished the world and brought a response from all mankind by the purity of his precepts, the excellence of his example. Wherever that inimitable sermon on the mount is read, let it be translated into any language and spread before the people, there is an acknowledgement of its truth. When we come to judge the sectarian professors of his name by the true test, how widely do their lives differ from his?

Instead of going about doing good as was his wont, instead of being constantly in the exercise of benevolence and love as was his practice, we find the disposition too generally to measure the Christian by his assent to a creed which had not its sign with him nor indeed in his day. Instead of engaging in the exercise of peace, justice, and mercy, how many of the professors are arrayed against him in opposition to those great principles even as were his opposers in his day. Instead of being the bold nonconformist (if I may so speak) that he was, they are adhering to old church usages, and worn-out forms and exhibiting little of a Christ like disposition and character.

Instead of uttering the earnest protests against the spirit of proselytism and sectarianism as did the blessed Jesus–the divine, the holy, the born of God, there is the servile accommodation to this sectarian spirit and an observance of those forms even long after there is any claim of virtue in them; a disposition to use language which shall convey belief that in the inmost heart of many they reject.

Is this honest, is this Christ like? Should Jesus again appear and preach as he did round about Judea and Jerusalem and Galilee, these high professors would be among the first to set him at naught, if not to resort to the extremes which were resorted to in his day. There is no danger of this now, however, because the customs of the age will not bear the bigot out in it, but the spirit is manifest, which led martyrs to the stake, Jesus to the cross, Mary Dyer to the gallows. This spirit is now showing itself in casting out the name one [after] another, as evil, in brother delivering up brother unto sectarian death. We say if Jesus should again appear–He is here; he has appeared, from generation to generation and his spirit is now as manifest, in the humble, the meek, the bold reformers, even among some of obscure parentage.

Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott (1793 - 1880)

His spirit is now going up and down among men seeking their good, and endeavoring to promote the benign and holy principles of peace, justice, and love. And blessing to the merciful, to the peacemaker, to the pure in heart, and the poor in spirit, to the just, the upright, to those who desire righteousness is earnestly proclaimed, by these messengers of the Highest who are now in our midst. These, the preachers of righteousness, are no more acknowledged by the same class of people than was the messiah to the Jews. They are the anointed of God, the inspired preachers and writers and believers of the present time. In the pure example which they exhibit to the nations, they are emphatically the beloved sons of God.

It is, my friends, my mission to declare these things among you at the hazard of shocking many prejudices. The testimony of the chosen servants of the Highest in our day is equally divine inspiration with the inspired teaching of those in former times. . . .

Let us not hesitate to regard the utterance of truth in our age, as of equal value with that which is recorded in the scriptures. None can revere more than I do the truths of the Bible. I have read it perhaps as much as any one present, and, I trust, with profit. It has at times been more to me than my daily food. When an attempt was made some twenty years ago to engraft some church dogmas upon this society, claiming this book for authority, it led me to examine, and compare text with the content. In so doing I became so much interested that I scarcely noted the passage of time.

Even to this day, when I open this volume, so familiar is almost every chapter that I can sometimes scarcely lay it aside from the interest I feel in its beautiful pages.

But I should be recreant to the principle, did I not say, the great error in Christendom is in regarding these scriptures taken as a whole as the plenary inspiration of God, and their authority as supreme. I consider this as Elias Hicks did one of the greatest drawbacks, one of the greatest barriers to human progress that there is in the religious world, for while this volume is held as it is, and, by a resort to it, war, and slavery, wine drinking, and other cruel, oppressive, and degrading evils are sustained, pleading the example of the ancients as authority it serves as a check to human progress, as an obstacle in the way of these great and glorious reformers that are now upon the field.

Well did that servant of God, Elias Hicks, warn the people against an undue veneration of the Bible, or of any human authority, any written record or outward testimony. The tendency of his ministry was to lead the mind to the divine teacher, the sublime ruler, that all would find within themselves, which was above men’s teaching, human records, or outward authorities. Highly as he valued these ancient testimonies, they were not to take the place of the higher law inwardly revealed, which was and should be, the governing principle of our lives.

. . . Let us also not hesitate to declare it, and to speak the truth plainly as it is in Jesus, that we believe the time is come when this undue adherence to outward authorities, or to any forms of baptism or of communion of church or sabbath worship, should give place to more practical goodness among men, more love manifested one unto another in our every day life, doing good and ministering to the wants and interests of our fellow beings the world over. If we fully believe this, should we be most honest, did we so far seek to please men, more than to please God, as to fail to utter in our meetings, and whenever we feel called upon to do so in our conversation . . . and to exhibit by example, by a life of non-conformity, in accordance with these views, that we have faith and confidence in our convictions?

. . . I desire to speak so as to be understood, and trust there are among you ears blessed that they hear, and that these principles shall be received as the Gospel of the blessed son of God. Happy shall they be, who by observing these, shall come to be divested of the traditions and superstitions which have been clinging to them, leading them to erect an altar “to the unknown God.”

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A 25-Minute Radio Interview re: Progressive Friends

April 18th, 2014

Progressive Friends: A Continuing Series

How to sum up the Progressive Friends movement & impact concisely?

How about in 25 minutes?

The Progressive Friends appeared in the 1840s, organized in a half dozen states and their direct impact continued for almost a century. Their longest-lasting group was in Longwood, in Chester County, PA.

I did extensive research on Longwood Progressives at the Chester County Historical Society, in West Chester. During my time there, I was approached by the group’s Director, Ellen Endslow, about being interviewed for a radio program they have on a local station.

That interview runs about 25 minutes (plus a spate of commercials in the middle). It was broadcast in March 2014, and is now online.

Ellen Endslow asked good questions, which I answered as best I could. The outcome is a lively introduction to this important, little-known movement.

I invite you to listen. 
If you’re not familiar with West Chester PA, it includes another “progressive” Quaker landmark, the birthplace of Friend Bayard Rustin.
Bayard Rustin

Rustin was truly a giant of his time, and a fascinating character–ah, but that’s another story.

The interview: is online here

The book, “Angels of Progress,” is available at CreateSpace (dot)com

Plus a Kindle version is downloadable from Amazon

Progressive Friends Origins - Part 1

April 4th, 2014

Progressive Friends - The Most Important Quakers Most Of Us Never Heard Of - A Continuing Series

Where did Progressive Friends come from? How did they get started?

To get at these questions, we have to start by taking down a myth: the myth of the peaceable Quaker liberals of the nineteenth century. They were the ones called Hicksites, who got that name when most American Quaker groups tore themselves into two competing, mutually hostile streams.

The split with their rivals, called Orthodox, was a big traumatic deal: families as well as meetings divided; there were even some actual brawls–pretty shocking stuff by Quaker standards, which may be why most Quaker historians tut-tut and shrink from recounting the blow-by-blow. Then there were lawsuits about property that dragged on for years, and bitterness that lingered for decades.

Which is to say, there’s plenty that’s melodramatic and lurid in that saga– but we’re not going to go over the gory details here. (Read Larry Ingle’s fine book, “Quakers In Conflict” for that.) The split needs to be mentioned in passing, though, because once the dust settled, the conventional accounts of the aftermath tend to focus on the continuing difficulties among the Orthodox– more doctrinal disputes and schisms–while the Hicksites, treated by most historians as incipient mushy liberals, were said to be moving steadily toward letting their members follow their own lights, and thus didn’t sink into new group squabbles.

Howard Brinton, in his Friends for 300 (now 350)Years, undoubtedly the most widely-read one-volume Quaker history of the past few generations, put it most baldly:

“Since the Hicksite, or liberal Friends, had assumed a position which allowed for a wide variety of theological opinion, no further separations occurred among them. They reduced the authority of elders and overseers so they did not continue to lay the same emphasis as did the Orthodox on time-honored Quaker traditions.” (P.232)

Would that it were true!

But Brinton was wrong. Dead wrong.

The Hicksite honeymoon, if there was one, didn’t last very long. By the mid-1830s, less than ten years after their emergence, the Hicksite Quakers faced growing internal discord. A “wide variety of theological opinion” was developing, but it was quite controversial and often subject to sanction, including disownment. And the authority of elders and overseers, not to forget ministers, was dominant, and not reduced until after much turmoil and schism.

Howard and Anna Brinton on
Those are just the facts, for which ample evidence is in my book “Angels of Progress.” And by the early 1840s, these tensions were tearing the Hicksite communities apart.

The Hicksite tensions had both external and internal sources, of which we can only sketch a few here. Externally, the relatively young United States was, already by the 1830s, deep into the conflict over slavery that would ultimately confound all compromise, defeat the best statesmen, lurch from one crisis to another, and finally fall into the abyss of civil war.

Before it did, however, American society would also face a surge of reform efforts taking on many issues besides slavery– women’s rights, drunkenness, war, prisons, and more, each of which produced powerful and contentious activist organizations. Then from another direction came a panoply of challenges to the reigning religious establishments and their dogmas: clergy and scholars who questioned received notions about the Bible; thinkers who undermined venerable theologies; and scientists, above all Darwin, who began subverting the central conceptions of what it meant to be human.

In addition, there was the unsettling impact of the growth of American democracy itself: voting rights, for instance, expanded steadily into the 1830s–still limited to white males, but steadily broadening participation even so. In New York state, for example, the abolition of property tests for most elections tripled the size of the electorate in one stroke. (In Philadelphia, however, heavily Quaker wealthy elites resisted the expansion of voting at every step, to maintain their power.) Plus public schools were beginning to appear, literacy was increasing, and there was plenty to read, including iconoclastic free-thinkers like Thomas Paine.

All these stresses were present and spreading in the insular Hicksite world. By the early 1830s, a small but vocal and growing band of renegades were visibly drawn to one, or more often, many of these suspect issues and causes. We’ll meet some of them next time.

Angels of Progress is available at Amazon and at Createspace
and at

Say Hello to Progressive Friends!

April 4th, 2014

Progressive Friends - The Most Important Quakers Most Of Us Never Heard Of

Sometimes it can feel like a stretch, but there are at least a few of us who still believe the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, has some useful contribution to make in the world. If this faith is not entirely in vain, that makes the group’s history potentially useful too: where it came from, how it has persisted, what it has and has not accomplished, and what that tale might suggest about its potential.

My new book, “Angels of Progress,” undertakes to bring together and make visible a piece of Quaker history that has been almost completely neglected and forgotten, but which had much to do with shaping an important sector of the movement, particularly its liberal wing, since about 1850, and into the twenty-first century. As I write, this influence seems to be continuing, though invisibly.

It is the history of the Progressive Friends, told here through a selection of documents. It has been over a century since most of these writings have been seen outside the reading rooms of a few research archives; and several of them have not previously been circulated at all.

It’s because of their obscurity that I decided to compile a broad selection, to offer a substantial array of evidence for the movement’s existence, trajectory, and impact. A companion volume, Remaking Friends, which I’m working on now, will put this history into a (shorter) narrative form.

Why have the Progressive Friends been so completely forgotten? In large part, this was their own doing. They were not institution-builders; indeed their whole ethos was anti-institutional, at least as far as traditional churches were concerned. They did not keep membership lists; they built only a handful of buildings, of which but one is still standing. Yet they did plead their case: preaching, lecturing, writing. Progressives published articles, some produced tracts; occasionally their messages were taken down and preserved. A handful of the key figures published books, but not about the movement itself.

Why not? They were devoted to their cause – or rather causes – more than keeping track, or making names for themselves. This is admirably modest, but hell for historians. What causes? Antislavery. Women’s rights. Temperance. Peace. Reforming a hidebound, insular Quaker establishment. Among others.

And beyond the specific burning issues was their conviction that everything was aimed forward, into making a better future: “progress.” Acting in accord with the “Divine Law of Progress” mattered more than filling archives or writing books about it.

Besides which, history in the early Progressives’ day seemed to move with breakneck speed: first toward civil war, then enduring its torment and trauma, through the tumultuous postwar years of Reconstruction into decades of what many call the (first) Gilded Age. Many issues and struggles of that era resonate strongly with those of our own. So the story of Progressive Friends has many useful messages for Friends today. More on all this next time.

(“Angels of Progress” is available at here and here

Superman in Shannon - A Story From Ireland

March 17th, 2014

Shannon, Ireland - Spring 2008

Ed Connolly lifted the binoculars to his eyes, and leaned against the airport fence.

“I did a lot of this in Sinai,” he said. “Kosovo too.” He moved an inch to the right, so the lenses fit between the heavy fencing.

He was watching a medium size jet taxi toward the refueling dock. Through the smaller binoculars he’d loaned me, I could see the words “Evergreen International” painted on its side.

“Can you read the numbers?” Ed asked.

I squinted. The binoculars seemed to shake and tremble in my hands, jerking the plane’s image up and down, no matter how hard I tried not to move. “I can make out the N,” I said, “and then, let’s see . . .”

I held my breath. For a brief moment, the lenses obeyed, and the numbers came into focus.

“Yes!” I shouted. “It’s N-2-2-4-6-E-V.” The lenses were jiggling again by the time I got all the numbers out, and the motion started to make me feel dizzy. I glanced away from the plane, at Ed.

He already had the cellphone at his ear, talking to his friend Thomas. “Can you check them now?” he said, then listened. His dark brows were furrowed under salt-and-pepper hair.

PLanespotting-Shannon Airport Ireland

He turned in my direction, started to speak, but was stopped by something he heard. “Yes?” he said to Thomas. “That’s it! I knew it. Thanks.”

“What?” I asked.

“Just what we figured,” Ed said. “That plane is CIA. Probably carrying cargo for one of its secret prisons. I think it’s been here before. Come on.” He headed for his car.

The Shannon International airport is in southwest Ireland, on the edge of the Shannon Estuary, a broad riverbed that meets the Atlantic a few dozen kilometers away.

I had read that early transatlantic airliners called Flying Boats used to splash down gracefully on these waters after their long haul across the ocean from America. I wanted to hear more about that, and other local history. In fact, we were supposed to be headed for lunch and a good long, get-acquainted chat. I especially wanted him to help me sort out some of the unpronounceable-looking Irish-language names that were under the English on all the Irish road signs.

But Ed couldn’t leave the airport without doing a bit of plane-spotting first. He’d been doing that ever since the Iraq war started, he said, and couldn’t stop today.

And now Ed Connolly, who was as proud an Irishman as you’d want to meet, wasn’t interested in talking about history, or Gaelic signs. As we got to his car another large jet skimmed down to the runway beyond us. Puffs of white smoke squirted from its wheels as they scraped the runway.

I craned my neck to follow it, but Ed shook his head. “It’s just another Ryanair passenger run, like the one you came in on,” he said. “We’ve got other business.”

Irish Road Signs - 1

“I guess so,” I said, watching an airport police car pulling to a stop a few yards from us. “We sure do.”

Of course, Ed was parked illegally. He’d pulled over at this spot to get a better view of the taxiing Evergreen plane. I knew he’d been arrested several times here, protesting CIA flights in and out of Shannon.

Watching the uniformed cop climbing out of the patrol car made me nervous; I wasn’t in Ireland to cause trouble. My mission was to give a talk about working for peace, at the Limerick Friends Meeting, and maybe do a little sightseeing. Talking, looking, taking it easy for a day or two. That was all. Getting arrested, especially as a foreigner, was not on the schedule.

But Ed was completely unintimidated by the officer’s approach. In fact, he walked right up to him and launched into a speech.

“Officer, that aircraft is violating Ireland’s neutrality,” he said. “It’s carrying supplies and personnel for the illegal and immoral US war in Iraq. And it’s probably taking weapons and cargo to support the torture of thousands of innocent people. Either that or a bunch of American soldiers on one of their secret missions. This is a human rights complaint,” he said. “I insist you board and search the plane at once, and seize any unauthorized persons and unlawful war materiel.”

The policeman was obviously familiar with Ed. He put up his hands, waved away the paper, and took a few steps backward, as if he was the one in trouble, while Ed continued to browbeat him.

Within a minute Ed was jabbing a finger, now at the officer and now toward the CIA airplane, and saying something about international treaties and the shameful corruption of Irish politicians who let this illegal, blood-soaked traffic continue.

“All right, Mr Connolly, all right then,” the policeman said helplessly. I could see that he knew Ed’s charges were probably correct – and that Ed knew the Shannon Airport police were not about to do anything about them.

“Just could you just move your vehicle now,” the cop added, “so’s it won’t be disrupting any traffic. Please, Mr. Connolly?”

“Okay, okay,” Ed said, yielding just a bit to the matter of local public safety. We were finished there anyway. He walked to the back of his weathered Toyota.

“But you go search that plane,” he called after the retreating police car, and popped the trunk, to put away the big binoculars. I came up to hand him mine.

Glancing into the trunk, I saw what looked like a costume of some sort, dark green, with a round hat on top. “What’s this?” I wondered.

“My army uniform,” Ed said. “Just back from the cleaners.” He slammed down the lid and we moved to the front seats. “Wore it for twenty-two years,” he said, peering up into the rear-view mirror and backing the car onto the roadway.

“Really?” I was curious. “Where did you serve?”

He snorted. “Where didn’t we? The Irish army sent peacekeepers to Lebanon, East Timor, even Cambodia.” He shook his head. “I was called back just last year, to go to Chad, in Africa.”

Now he squinted down the roadway ahead. “They call it peacekeeping,” he said, “but don’t kid yourself, it’s dangerous. You have to be able to think fast and improvise.”

His cell phone beeped. “I lost some good men out there,” he finished, putting the phone to his ear.

“Yes, Thomas,” he barked. Then he stepped on the brake, stopping the car dead in the center of the road to concentrate. “When?” A different kind of urgency crept into his tone.

“In the hotel? Now? Why do you need me? All right. Be right there.” He flipped the phone shut.

“What’s this?” I wondered.

“At the airport hotel,” he said, pulling the Toyota into a U-turn. “We have an immigration issue to look into.”

We sped past the police car, back on its routine rounds, toward the main terminal and the motel just behind it. “We get a lot of undocumented people in here,” he said, “and some of them are escaping from some pretty bad places. Thomas and I work with Amnesty International to get them refuge here.”

“Is that what the call was about?”

He nodded. “Yes, but this one is something a bit different.” He grinned at me. “I think you’ll be interested in it.”

Shannon, although it is an international crossroads, is not that big an airport. Its hotel was more like a medium sized motel you might drive past in any middling American town. It had two wings of two levels of rooms, with restaurant and bar in the middle. Maybe there was a pool and an exercise spa, but I didn’t see them.

Ed jerked to a stop in the motel lot and then was out of the car almost on the run. He headed through the lounge, up the stairway and down the hall to its right, in the west wing. I had to hustle to keep up with him.

Near the end of the hallway, at room 223, he knocked quietly on the door, three times, then after a pause, three times more. The door opened.

I followed him in, and saw nothing more exotic than a young couple: the man was thin, his hair cut so short that his scalp gleamed. The woman was a brunette with a pretty face, marred by circles of fear around her eyes.

“Are you Thomas?” the youth asked Ed.

“Close enough,” Ed said. “Thomas will be here shortly. He’s on his way, and asked me to stay with you til he arrives.”

The youth sat down on the bed. The woman followed and huddled against him.

“Tell me about it,” Ed said.

“I’m Roman Jackson,” the youth said. “Sergeant Jackson, United States Army. I did two tours in Iraq. Can’t go back there again.”

The woman looked up. “I won’t let him,” she said. Her voice was quiet, but there was steel in it.

“And you are?” Ed asked.

“Cynthia,” she said. “We’re married.”

Jackson smiled a little at this. “Yeah,” he said, “as of a week ago. Outside Ramstein.”

He kept talking. Ramstein is a big U.S. base in the German Rhineland. Many U.S. soldiers are sent there for a two-week break in their Iraq combat tours.

“It’s closer to Iraq than the US mainland,” Cynthia put in, “and they figure the soldiers won’t go AWOL from there, because it’s a foreign country.”

But it turned out that Cynthia knew some German, and had been saving money. “When I got word that Roman was headed there, I took a flight a week ahead and met him. I knew how he was feeling.” She shrugged. “This war is stupid,” she said, “it’s not worth dying for. It was time to get out.”

Their plan was simple: Roman had four days of leave. They rented a car, drove from Germany across France, and took the Eurostar train from Paris to London. There they caught a cheap Ryanair flight, and were in Shannon before anyone in Ramstein noticed Roman was gone.

“And now — what?” Ed asked.

“Ireland’s a neutral country,” Jackson said. “We figure they’ll let us stay here as refugees.”

Cynthia shrugged again. “It was worth a shot,” she said, trying to seem light-hearted. It didn’t succeed; she sounded scared, if determined.

I was about to make a cynical wisecrack about Irish “neutrality,” when more quiet knocks came at the door.

Ed opened it. “Thomas,” he said.

Thomas turned out to be a tall gangly fellow with a bushy black beard and sparkling eyes. His face looked designed for smiles, but his expression was dead-serious. “Ed,” he said, “we’ve got a problem. There are two American MPs here. They’re going through the hotel. I think they’re looking for –” he pointed. “Them. Or at least him.”

Cynthia clutched at her husband, holding him tighter. “He’s not going back,” she said.

Ed was peering with narrowed eyes, first at them, then me, then Thomas. Thomas began to speak, but Ed held up a hand. “Thinking,” he said.

We were all silent for what seemed like a long time, but was probably not more than ten or fifteen seconds.

“All right, then,” Ed said finally. He turned first to the couple. “Sergeant Jackson, you and your wife stay here. Thomas, you and our guest here,” he pointed at me, “your job is to find those MPs and slow them down. I’m going for help.”

Another Irish Road Sign

With that he strode out of the room, and we heard his feet clattering quickly down the stairwell at the end of the hall. I stood there for a moment, uncertain what to do.

Then Thomas grabbed my arm. “Come on,” he said, “let’s get busy.” He hurried into the hall.

He walked quickly back toward the lounge, stopping to look down the hallways of each wing as we got to the central stairway. When he glanced to the east at the bottom, he stopped me with an elbow to my ribs.

Peering over his shoulder, I saw two uniformed men coming down the hall toward us, pausing to knock on room doors as they came. Thomas hesitated a moment, then straightened his shoulders and walked up to them.

“Excuse me, lads,” he said, with a more pronounced Irish accent than before, “but I think the bloke you’re looking for is in the gym. Either there or up in his room – Number 203, I believe he said.”

“Excuse me?” said one of the MPs, who was half a head taller than the other.

Thomas smirked at him. “Now then,” he said with a chuckle, “there’s no secrets ‘round here. I heard you were lookin’ for some Yank. He’s been here a couple o’ days, he has. Got a gal with him; a fair lass she is too.”

“What was that number?” the taller MP said. I saw a nametape with “Sampson” on it above his shirt pocket.

“203,” I spoke up. “Or was it 201, Thomas? Anyway, he was in the gym a few minutes ago.”

MP Sampson was scowling at me. “You an American?” he said, noting my accent.

“Yep,” I said, “I’m Thomas’s cousin. Come back here every year to visit the ancestral sod. I have many O’Briens in my lineage, and there are lots of them around here. In fact, Bunratty castle not far from here is an old O’Brien stronghold. Have you been there?”

MP Sampson shook his head, then turned to his partner. “You check the gym, Clark, and I’ll go up to the room. Call me on the cell if you spot him.”

He brushed past me, while the other MP strode toward the stairs at the far end of the east wing.

“‘Well, ‘cousin’,” said Thomas, “how about you and me get another Guinness in the lounge?”

We did head for the lounge, but not to drink, taking up posts outside the door where we could watch the hallways. And before long the MP named Clark came hurrying back, talking on his cell. We stepped inside the lounge, just out of sight, as he went past.

“Sir,” I heard him say, “the gym is closed for repairs. I think we’re being flim-flammed. Second floor west? Right.”

“We better get back up there,” Thomas whispered, and we were soon clambering up the steps at the far end of the hallway.

But the MP s were ahead of us. Just as we came into the hallway they were knocking on 223, and the door swung open.

I saw Cynthia peeking through a crack. But the MP pushed her aside and went in. We crept forward, but didn’t know what to do.

“Sergeant Roman Jackson,” the MP said sternly, “I have a warrant here for your arrest, for unauthorized absence and attempted desertion.” There was a rustle of paper. Then he said, “Surrender your passport, Jackson, and you too, Mrs. Jackson. Clark, get the restraining cuffs on him, and then go prepare the vehicle. Bring it to the side entrance.”

I heard Clark say “Yes Sir,” but then someone was brushing past me, shoving Thomas and me roughly aside.

“Excuse me, Lieutenant,” said a loud voice, “I’ll take those if you don’t mind. And Sergeant Clark, I suggest you stay right there.”

What the– ? I pushed in behind Thomas, just as the MP said, “Who the hell are you?”

“Commandant Connolly, Irish Army.” It was Ed, in his dark-green uniform. But he also had a white leather belt across his chest, attached to a large holster, from which a pistol butt protruded. One of his hands was on the belt, right next to the pistol. In the other he held the two American passports.

Neither of the MPs, I now noticed, had a weapon.

Ed glanced at the passports, then stuffed them into a breast pocket and retrieved a sheet of paper. “Thank you for locating this man Jackson, er, Lieutenant - -”

“Sampson,” the MP said.

“Very good, Sampson. We’ve had a notice from Ramstein via Interpol about this fugitive, and instructions to take him in.”

Now Thomas spoke up.”But wait a minute,” he protested, “you can’t - -”

Ed rounded on him, eyes flashing. “That’s enough from you right there,” he shouted, “you and your damned interfering Amnesty do-gooders. Another word from you and I’ll run you in as well. This is a military matter.”

He glared at Jackson. “As for you, young man, Ireland may be small and neutral. But we have a real army here, and we know the meaning of duty and discipline. We want nothing to do with deserters and malingerers.

“That’s right,” Sampson murmured approvingly.

At this Jackson slumped, and Cynthia began to cry.

Ed faced the MP lieutenant again, and handed him a card. “Sampson,” he said, “my instructions are to convey this man to the Curragh Camp stockade, for initial processing. That shouldn’t take more than twenty-four hours, and then we’ll be ready to turn him over to your men.”

“Curragh Camp,” said Sampson. “Where’s that?”

“Not far,” Ed said, and picked up a phone book on the bedside table. He shoved it at Thomas. “There’s detailed road maps in there, so why don’t you make yourself useful for once, and show him where it is.”

Thomas looked resentful, but started paging through the book. Sampson looked over his shoulder.

“The rest of you come along,” Ed commanded. “You too,” he said to me. “I want a word.”

Once in the hallway, he pushed us toward the stairs, and hurried down.

“What’s going on?” Roman asked.”

“Just shut up and move!” Ed muttered.

His Toyota was there, illegally parked as usual, with the engine idling. The four of us filled it up, and he sped out of the parking lot, down the airport road, then veered to the right at the first intersection.

My eyes widened when I saw the “One way - - Do Not Enter” sign, but it was only for a block or two, then he turned left and abruptly pulled into an empty lot surrounded by trees.

As soon as we stopped, Ed tossed his hat in the back. “What is this?” Roman asked. “Was that uniform a fake?”

“Never,” Ed snapped. “It’s as real as Ireland’s neutrality is supposed to be. All,” he added, “except this.”

He pulled out the pistol, pointed it at the windshield, and pulled the trigger.

Cynthia started to scream, but all we heard was a tinny click.

“Plastic,” Ed shrugged and tossed it in the back too. “Real guns are too dangerous for grown men to play with.”

Twenty minutes later, we were on the N18 highway past Ennis, headed northwest. “As soon as we get to Galway,” Ed was saying, “we’ll file your applications for asylum. That will put a stop to Lieutenant Sampson’s mischief.

“Do you think the government will let us stay?” Cynthia asked.

“There’s a fair chance,” Ed said. “Thomas and his Amnesty friends have had good luck. But if they don’t, we’ll find you another place, in the European Union, or one of the other neutral countries.”

His cell phone was beeping. “Thomas!” Ed said, “you were magnificent.” He laughed. “And did you fix up our American friends there?” Another chuckle, and he said, “Good work. We’ll meet you in Galway, at the usual,” and shut the phone.

He gave Roman and Cynthia a smile. “I think your Lieutenant Sampson is in for a disappointment,” he said. “It seems Thomas has given him directions, by a long and winding road, to the County Clare Central Landfill.”

“But,” I objected, “won’t he figure that out?”

“Not for awhile,” Ed said. “You see, all the signs there are in Irish.”

- - - -
Copyright (c) by Chuck Fager
Irish Mystery Flowers

A Plan For World Holocaust Disguised as a “Green” Revolution

September 26th, 2013

Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, by Aric Mcbay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen. Seven Stories Press, 560 pages.

In early August 2012, a large Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California was hit by an explosion and fire, disrupting production of as much as 240,000 barrels a day.

About two weeks later, at the huge Amuay refinery in Venezuela, an explosion and fire killed more than forty people, and shut down the processing of over 600,000 barrels of oil a day.

Venezuelan officials claimed that the refinery was back in operation by early September, pumping out forty percent of the previous total, with more expected as repairs continue. In California, however, industry experts said it could be months before the Chevron refinery resumes full production. By early October, gasoline prices in California were breaking records, in many places topping $5 per gallon.
Deep Green Resistance - Cover

Supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, then locked in a tight race for re-election, suggested that sabotage might be involved in the Amuas blast, and pointed at the U.S. Special Forces troops operating from neighboring Colombia as prime suspects.

Maybe. But I want to point at another set of suspects: the Oil Industry Destruction Team, not from the American Special forces, but from the Deep Green Resistance (DGR). To wit: “In this scenario, well-organized underground militants would make coordinated attacks on energy infrastructure around the world. These would take whatever tactical form militants could muster – actions against pipelines, power lines, tankers, and refineries . . . .” (439)

Actually, I made up the “Oil Industry Destruction Team.” But not the Deep Green Resistance – or their desire to blow up the oil industry’s key installations. Further, while the DGR saboteurs would consider five dollar gasoline a modest success, but only be a small step on their path. That’s because their larger objective, spelled out several times in these pages, is this: “We want, in no uncertain terms, to bring down civilization.”

Or, as in the section on “Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy”: “Goal 1: To disrupt and dismantle industrial civilization; to thereby remove the ability of the powerful to exploit the marginalized and destroy the planet.”

In this “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” the energy infrastructure–oil, gas, coal– will provide a central set of targets. The plan is to mount enough attacks on enough critical points in the grid and associated networks that the whole network crumbles: “The overall thrust . . .would be to use selective attacks to accelerate collapse in a deliberate way, like shoving a rickety building.” (433)

But wait a second. What about all the people – scores of millions in the U.S. alone– who depend on this infrastructure for their very lives?

Good question. It is posed explicitly in the book: “If we dismantle civilization, won’t that kill millions of people in cities?” A reader asks, on page 422. “What about them?”

Ah, yes. Well, you see: they’re part of the problem. So they, and the farms that sustain them, have to go. In a target list of “All activities that destroy living communities must cease, forever,” coauthor Lierre Keith notes that: “It includes agriculture and it includes life in cities.” (194) But all those urban dwellers are not actually innocent, you see. Co-author Derrick Jensen pronounces the verdict:

“No matter what you do, your hands will be blood red. If you participate in the global economy, your hands are blood red because the global economy is murdering humans and nonhumans the planet over.” (422)

Yet even though they’re guilty, we shouldn’t think our authors are unmindful of the human cost of this sudden, forced collapse. We are assured that they agonize over the “wrenching ethical decisions” such attacks will raise:

“If there are people between us and our targets, they are not soldiers. We can say [and they do say–CF] that civilization is a war against the living world, but that does not answer the moral dilemma of putting living beings at risk. I [co-author Lierre Keith] have no answer, only an emergency the size of land, sea and sky. . . . No one who does not feel the burden of the moral risks of serious action should be making these decisions. Extremism has its own addictive thrills; violence feeds masculinity too easily, and the human heart is quite capable of justifying atrocity. And I know that decisions have to be made, life and death decisions, the decisions of the desperate.” (497, 499)

So, for instance, if the Amuas explosion was the result of DGR sabotage, the perpetrators evidently figured that the 40-plus people it killed were an acceptable cost in terms of “collateral damage.” And in the full on campaign of “Decisive Ecological Warfare” as envisaged by these authors (425ff), the casualty toll would amount to 40 with several zeroes added. Several.

Oops– did I forget to mention that I picked up Deep Green Resistance on the book table of a strongly green-oriented Quaker Yearly Meeting in the summer of 2012? The topic and authors were entirely new to me; but once open, I couldn’t shut the book. I bought it and read it from cover to cover.

As a writer, I’m something of a fanatic about freedom of the press and freedom to read. So I would not propose banning books. Nevertheless, as I stood at the book table, turning the pages in a state amounting to shock, I wondered how a Quaker bookstore manager would feel about helping disseminate the ideas and plans that Deep Green Resistance laid out.

I wondered because, to be strictly accurate, I had encountered many of the ideas in it before – not in a Quaker setting, but in my day job, witnessing for peace near a large U.S. military base which hosts many of the most secretive and ruthless killer units of our war machine. These units excel in exactly the skills, such as clandestine sabotage, that these authors recommend and say they are working to attract and, pardon the expression, refine in the service of destroying industrial civilization.

I’ve browsed at many book tables at many Quaker gatherings, but I can’t recall seeing such a manifesto and textbook on one of them before. It is jarring to find, across from the gentle John Woolman’s Journal, Thomas Kelly’s Testament of Devotion, and tracts extolling pacifism, a book which favorably referenced the Special Forces Guerrilla Warfare handbook, the Sabotage Manual of the pre-CIA OSS.

This book hails the IRA terror campaigns, along with the French Resistance and the Algerian rebels, as models of action on a widely-shared Quaker “concern,” and dispassionately analyzes the proper uses of assassination, and the necessity to “eliminate” (i.e., murder) informants, infiltrators, or those who leave the underground groups with critical identifying information.

In military terms, especially in the clandestine units, none of this is unusual; DGR’s authors have done this part of their homework well. For Quakers – well, not so much. (I hope.)

Yet if you look past the surface of Quaker history, there are analogues. Who else has read of Abraham Lincoln writing to Eliza Gurney in 1864, as the Civil War raged:

“Your people – the Friends – have had, and are having, a very great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn and some the other.”

And it was so: many young male Friends chose the “horn” of joining the Union army, where they saw and took part in unspeakable violence.

Or what of the Quaker magistrates who ruled Rhode island in 1675, when an Indian terror war engulfed the colony, and most of eastern New England? How were they to uphold their peace testimony while discharging their official duties to protect the citizens at large? In that case, they did two things: they passed the first Conscientious Objection law for their brethren of “tender conscience” as to bearing arms; then they went to war, joining the campaign which ended the war and destroyed much of what was left of Indian culture in their region.

In both these cases (as later in World Wars One and Two), many Friends came to believe that an imminent emergency on their very doorstep required a response which included violence– not just the force of self-defense, but the organized violence of warfare.

So let me not retreat into naivete: dealing with actual wars up close has often been difficult for otherwise dedicated Friends. Thus the question becomes: are we in such an emergency situation now, with regard to the environment? And if so, is guerrilla war aimed at destroying civilization the proper and faithful response?

In DGR, the authors’ answers, of course, are Yes, and Yes. They make their case forcefully, in detail, and with a seemingly well-organized, coherent argument. I have to hand it to them: they take the tenor and content of much doomsday ecological rhetoric, and follow the logic out to the end, or at least, one end.

At points they almost had me nodding in agreement that it might indeed be better if nine-tenths of the world’s humans would hurry up and perish in the wake of these guerrilla/saviors’ intended infrastructure destruction, so the survivors could flourish quietly in the scattered, feminist-oriented, elder-governed hunter-gatherer villages that they project (26), following the new religion that Lierre Keith says we must invent to replace the irredeemably sexist traditional faiths she mentions, and especially the hopelessly misogynist Abrahamic religions. (160)

Almost nodding? Forgive me; that was an exaggeration for stylistic effect. Once I read through the entirely of their plans and saw where they were headed, my reaction was similar to others mentioned dismissively in passing: they were talking a “Pol Pot-styled genocide,” but on a much larger scale; which they acknowledged that “the authors of this book are often accused of suggesting.” (225)

The accusation has considerable merit. If they could, these self-appointed world saviors are prepared to kill off 95 percent of humanity to impose their vision of how the remnant ought to live: they insist that “we face a decision, individually and as a resistance movement. Because a small number of people could directly target that [industrial] infrastructure; a few more, willing to persist, could potentially bring it down.” (110)

Co-author Aric McBay puts it this way:

“A drop in the human population is inevitable, and fewer people will die if collapse happens sooner. .. . Therefore, those of us who care about the future of the planet have to dismantle the industrial energy infrastructure as rapidly as possible. We’ll all have to deal with the social consequences as best we can. Besides, rapid collapse is ultimately good for humans – even if there’s a partial die-off – because at least some people survive.” (439)

And Lierre Keith gets coy: “The authors of this book have been accused of suggesting genocide: meanwhile, the genocide is happening now.” (502)

Does this make sense? Consider: life is a terminal condition; over time, the fatality rate is one hundred percent. But if we’re all going to die eventually, does that make it okay for somebody to intentionally kill you, or me, or our children, now, to achieve some anticipated future benefit?

Such early, induced deaths do happen, of course; normally, we call them murders. When they happen on an industrial scale, it’s genocide. And urging the elimination of ninety to ninety-five percent of human life by intentional action qualifies as genocide squared in my book.

But, they promise, their genocide will be better than “ours,” that is, the planetary damage inflicted by the current system. And besides, remember that they promise to feel bad over the “wrenching ethical decisions” involved in their program. Indeed.

I had to get past the mind-boggling scale of this scheme, which wasn’t easy, before I could respond to the underlying chain of reasoning. Once I could, however, many features of it were familiar. So familiar, they were almost hackneyed. I’ve lived through similar arguments, and their calamitous consequences, at least twice in my adult life.

First of all, a key premise of their program is that nothing less will or can be “effective;” all else is mere talk or escapism. And to give them their due, they present often incisive critiques of many other approaches to the environmental damage of our present course. Yet the record of their violence-based approach is not subjected to the same scrutiny.

But it needs to be: Guerrilla insurgencies often fail, with great and pointless loss of life. And where others have initially succeeded (as, for instance, in Zimbabwe, Algeria or, dare I say it, Pol Pot’s Cambodia), they have often produced new dictatorships as destructive and repressive as (or worse than) anything that went before.

The authors’ response is that, no matter how flawed their plan might be, the present course is unimaginably worse, and its future bound to be even more destructive.

But here another question comes into view: they claim to know the future, at least of the present trajectory. But do they?

Here, one can be definite: no, they don’t. Nobody does, after all. And the limits of the DGR authors’ prescience are shown by the fact that when they venture into actual prediction, they run smack into the Harold Camping problem. (Camping, one will recall, was the radio preacher who put up billboards nationwide announcing Judgment Day and the End of Time in May or October of 2011.) Here, they cite a confident prediction that by “2012″ there will be “an epidemic of permanent blackouts [that] spreads worldwide . . . .”(42)

End of the World Billboard

Well, 2011 is over with as this is written, and 2012 too; and while both saw their share of natural disasters, Judgment Day has yet to arrive, and the lights are still going on in most places that have electricity. More unsettling, this year the U.S. appears to be on its way to producing more energy rather than less. So like preacher Camping, the DGR Endtimes scenarios deserve to be taken with a grain, or maybe a shaker, of salt.

Next, there is the problem of the vanguard. People, the authors declare, cannot be counted on to do the right thing, either in society generally, and certainly not regarding the planet.

“The vast majority of the population will do nothing,” declares Keith, “unless they are led, cajoled, or forced.” (26) Only the latter option will now serve, they have decided, and thus they are also ready to shoulder the unwelcome burden of coercion. Not that the authors plan to blow up the refineries and power grid themselves, you understand; but they expect to inspire and attract those cadres who will actually “shove the rickety building” of industrial civilization, and the billions of us living in it, over the cliff.

Moreover, they are confident that, despite the inevitable and regrettable “collateral damage,” their violence will be different, and better than that of the status quo. Keith, a determined feminist, is particularly confident of this, insisting that

“violence is a broad category of action; it can be wielded destructively or wisely. . . .We can build a resistance movement and a supporting culture in which atrocities are always unacceptable; in which penalties for committing them are swift and severe; in which violence is not glorified as a concept but instead understood as a specific set of actions that we may have to take up, but that we will also set down to return to our communities . . . .We need our combatants to be of impeccable character for our public image, for the efficacy of our underground cells, and for the new society we’re trying to build. . . . .Only people with a distaste for violence should be allowed to use it.” (83)

Well, good luck with that. After my years of watching U.S. combat forces returning from the current wars, I’ve seen too many reduced to a state in which suicides outnumber combat deaths, rapes and domestic violence are rampant, along with drug abuse and alcoholism. So count me as deeply skeptical about developing a new, civilized variety of violence.

And when it comes to their scenario for “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” the forecasts, while well-informed at one level, follow a path that is all-too familiar, and disastrous.

Consider the recent case of Iraq: we were confidently told that Saddam Hussein was as bad as Hitler or worse; that he certainly had WMDs and was ready to use them against us; that all nonviolent responses to his regime were hopeless or naive; that dissenters from the plan to remove him were uninformed, foolish, and/or terrorist sympathizers; that while there would be some unavoidable civilian casualties, these would be strictly minimized and the airstrikes surgical; that our troops would be greeted with cheers as liberators; that the good we would accomplish would far outweigh any harm done; and the war would be cheap, and quickly pay for itself.

How did it turn out? US officials and combat commanders actually knew very little about Hussein or Iraq; they completely misjudged the internal balance of forces in the country, and unleashed terrible waves of internecine bloodletting (which continue, almost ten years later); the war produced millions of refugees; the planners grossly under-estimated the war’s cost, both in blood and treasure; and grossly over-estimated the US forces’ ability to direct events. They lost control of the violence, and saw their idealistic pronouncements descend into the moral sewers of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and black site torture prisons.

And after them all have come the killer drones.

The U.S. lost the Iraq war. Thirty-five years earlier, after a decade of fighting similar in many respects, it had likewise lost the Vietnam war. It will soon lose the Afghanistan war as well.

All of which brings a new and decidedly colder light to the bedrock issue of “effectiveness.” The authors insist that nothing less than an eco-war, spread across an area vastly larger than Iraq can “effectively” end human damage to the environment. They will end the damage with a new kind of feminist-informed, genteel violence, that will bring down civilization while somehow minimizing harm to the innocent. The short-term human cost, they inconsistently admit (but shrug off) will be huge; but the few survivors will thank these revolutionaries in the end.

And how do they know this? What do they know of war, real war, beyond what they have read? There is no indication of direct experience among any of the three.

So let me be plain: DGR’s plan is fantasy. Dangerous fantasy. And folly. But a potentially seductive folly, particularly in certain corners of our society. The authors appear to be aiming their thick volume squarely at younger readers, particularly those clustered around hippie enclaves and liberal college towns. Plus some self-styled, poorly-informed ethnic activists.

In their recounting of how the warfare will go down, they list as centers of resistance Asheville, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; Burlington, Vermont; Eugene, Oregon; Madison, Wisconsin; Berkeley; Lawrence, Kansas; Northampton, Massachusetts; and Ithaca, new York: hip college towns all, with only one in the Ivy League. In midsummer of 2012, a DGR roadshow traveled north from Florida to Washington DC, stopping at several college towns and activist collectives, where they shared a summary of the book. The tour team was five young people, who faithfully called for the development of underground groups to bring down civilization, for our own good.

Can anything be salvaged from this DGR Bible? Perhaps. To the extent that it contributes to the growth of what it calls “a culture of resistance” to environmental degradation, there could be some positive potential.

Such “cultures of resistance” need not be part of mass death cults such as DGR envisions. Quakerism has, in time of persecution and war, sometimes performed similar functions. This history has not escaped our authors’ notice: they mention Quakers several times as examples of such a resistance culture.

The attention is flattering, but caution is called for. Environmental concern is widespread among Friends today; but I urge us to clearly distinguish this concern from the genocidal pretensions and rhetoric of the DGR approach. There are practical as well as religious reasons for this: DGR’s dreams of “shoving the rickety building” of industrial civilization into collapse by sabotage and violence are not only unhinged, they are also a recipe for legal trouble, both for participants and their fellow travelers.

Co-author Keith refers to the “Green Scare” (170), a series of federal indictments and trials of environmental underground activists in the western states for arson and other crimes involving animal farms, horticultural facilities, housing developments, and other targets. The authors expect more government crackdowns, and I believe they’re right to do so.

Nevertheless, I predict this book will have a long shelf life, and a spreading influence. Parts of it could make a valuable study guide even for many who can see through and set aside the grandiose illusions of their planned eco-armageddon. This would include the preponderance of liberal Friends, who subscribe to one or another of the ecological transformation schemes described and challenged in its pages. The work of understanding this version, sifting out what’s valuable in its critiques, and understanding its limits, already glimmering in the flames of the Chevron and Amuay refineries, will be a useful and enlightening exercise.

Maybe that’s why the book was on a Quaker yearly meeting’s book table.


Reprinted From “Quaker Theology” #21 —

A**holes & Rabble Rousers: Comments for Jon Watts

May 11th, 2013

Some thoughts on Quaker musician Jon Watts and his interview in the Fifth Month issue of Friends Journal . . . .

John Watts & FJ quotes marked as JW; Chuck Fager’s comments marked CF . . . .

JW: I went through Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s camping program and Young Friends program, and I also regularly attended the Friends General Conference summer gatherings. The attitude that I picked up in these programs taught me to mostly reject popular Christian theology (Jesus as Savior; the afterlife; anything resembling mainstream Christianity, really).

Jon Watts

CF: I get that, and the general indictment is completely correct. But at least as far as the camps are concerned, that’s not all there is to it. I’m in the second generation of watching-shepherding my progeny go through the BYM camping program, and my conclusion is that it has more Quake-ish impact than one might think. It seems to tie many who have Quaker backgrounds to the Society in ways that last, tho they may also take a lot of time to sort out. Same goes for Friends Music Camp, which has a similar “no-Christianity-please-we’re-Friends” ethos, yet turns out fiercely loyal alumni.

All four of my kids went thru such camps, and now two grandkids. It’s left lasting marks on all of them; and two of my four kids have stayed with the RSOF explicitly; the other two have let me do my best to Quakerize their kids. I call that a good investment in Quaker formation, tho incomplete.

JW: After graduating from the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford College, I had more of an understanding of the fundamental role of Christianity in shaping Quaker practice and so less of a knee-jerk rejection of anything Christian. I came to feel a bit under-tooled or misled by the Quaker institutions that had brought me up. I still share and respect a certain level of skepticism but generally feel that by rejecting Christianity altogether, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

When I asked God what to do with the angst and rebelliousness I was feeling against the Liberal Quakerism that had raised me, I was given the song “Friend Speaks My Mind.” It is an anthem for Liberal FGC Quakerism—a love song, really.

CF: Again, without minimizing the “under-tooling” you were subjected to, I feel a need to point out that there is a “minority stream” in recent Quaker thought that has been grappling with this “baby-bathwater” thing for a good while. I’m an example of it, with a paper-trail going back more than 30 years. There are others. It’s been a disappointment for me that your generation, so far as I can discover, has not seriously engaged with this substantial body of work. I wouldn’t mind at all to see it critically examined, pointing up where it may fall short.

The lack of engagement here is not for me a sign of “rebelliousness and angst,” tho. Quite the contrary. It shows you all are in this respect almost fully socialized into and accommodated to this “under-tooling” Quaker culture. That’s because one of its most salient features is a rock-hard anti-intellectualism about religion, especially its own. That’s strange, given the level of multi-degreed folks among us. But it’s true. And the Guilford QLSP, for all its many virtues, doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in this attitude/culture.

The few YAFS who are making the trek to the Dandelion doctoral program in the UK may become the exceptions, but those who prove the rule. Not that everyone needs to become a major scholar of Quakerism. But when so many ignore the stacks of relevant writing and thinking on the shelves (and the net), and then complain that no one is helping them sort out their (and our) plight — well, frankly that looks more like slackerism to me than productive religious seeking and witness. Just sayin’.

JW: FRIENDS JOURNAL: How did that conversation [About your “Dance party” video] go? Were there any techniques you found to transform a conversation?

JON: I think this is a great question for modern Friends: how are we dialoguing on the Internet about our faith? When you read the comments on YouTube, you’ll often find that they dissolve into bitter bickering. Quakers aren’t really the exception online.

CF: You’re right, but my experience with Facebook, the other major platform, is more positive. Yes there are flame ups, clashing stereotypes, wandering threads, some messes and too many cute cat photos (of which I’ve uploaded my share). But I’ve also had many good conversations there across lines of both theology and generation with thoughtful Friends, not only in the US but as far away as Australia. And some have involved actual information exchange, not just “I FEEL this” or “I FEEL that.”

I don’t know where all this talk is going. It’s not a “program” started by some well-meaning “ministry” (thank god). But it feels good and promising. So I resonate to your comment that

JW: I’m trying to be patient with it, because I think that we should be dialoguing between branches. We have something to learn from one another.

CF: You add, correctly, that

JW: Quakerism has always been a microcosm of the wider culture, which is currently bitterly divided between religious folks and secular humanists. So imagine how powerful Quakerism could be for modeling a loving conversation between those who deeply believe in Christianity and those who have been deeply hurt by it or feel dismissive of it! This is God’s invitation to us: to be witnesses to abundant love by letting it flow in the most difficult circumstances— when our house is divided.

CF: Yet I think this diagnosis, while good as far as it goes, is significantly incomplete. Our culture is also divided in another way that I think crucial: between those who remember, and those who are accepting of the amnesia that our media culture invisibly enforces. (An example: this morning’s paper has a piece by a columnist who told some buddies about plans to go to Normandy in France for a commemoration of the US invasion there during World War Two. His buddies didn’t know what he was talking about. Many other examples could be cited.) This is evident every day among my Quaker contacts.

This pervasive amnesia is a key to our present plight: on one side, it leaves us at the mercy of the false, oppressive narratives of the Establishment and its media. On the other, it deprives us of access to the alternative stories of our tradition, which can challenge and undermine the Official Story. That happens, though, above all via the retrieval and claiming of memory, in our case especially that of our Quaker subculture.

This amnesia runs the spectrum from left to right, Christian and secular, but I’m most concerned with its impact on the RSOF in its various manifestations.

The struggle against this amnesia, and for our Quaker memory, proceeds on many fronts. And it takes WORK. I’m grateful for your efforts in this direction (Solomon Eccles, I’m looking at you!), and hope they continue.

But good grief, here’s the silliest question in the interview:

JW: FRIENDS JOURNAL: Should we be avoiding the Internet?

CF: WTF?? They might as well say, “the air is polluted, so should Friends stop breathing?” Your response that Friends need to get into it as “content producers” (an ugly phrase that; but we’re stuck with it, I expect) is right on, with the precedent of early Friends exploiting (I use that term without shame here) the new medium of printing backing you up.

I’m much more ambivalent about your additional comment that,

JW: Those of us with ministries on the Internet aren’t acknowledged by our meetings. We’re left to our own devices as individuals: no support, no accountability.
This is dire indeed . . . .

CF: I’m not so sure it’s dire. Maybe we need to have a conversation about this.

When I look at RSOF history, I see the era of the most “support and accountability” (late 1600s to about 1865) as being an era largely characterized by stifling, smothering, enforced conformity. (I’m not alone in this. Geoffrey Kaiser, in the latest version of his huge wall chart history, speaks frankly of the “Quaker police state”. Rufus Jones said much the same thing, more elliptically.) Yes, there were some good things — antislavery, women ministers; but the list is a lot shorter than one might think. and culturally, I don’t hesitate to say it was mostly a desert.

Finally there was a rebellion (several, actually), and things Quaker got interesting again. But the uprisings also ushered in the era of “ministry-on-your-own,” which we’re still in. That has its drawbacks too (especially financial); but that’s my take on the whole era of what some call “Quietism,” and I’m sticking to it. So personally I’m very uneasy about efforts to reconstruct these old arrangements, even piecemeal.

JW: FRIENDS JOURNAL: But what does [Solomon] Eccles’s story have to say to us today?
Reply: My whole generation right now is asking: “Why Quakerism? What does Quakerism have to offer me?” I think it’s the wrong question. You’re going to the get the most out of something that recognizes your gifts as vital. That’s when you’re going to feel the most full of Spirit.

CF: My experience is somewhat different. In my Bible study, I note that many of the most important spirit-filled and eloquent voices there (prophets especially) were not “recognized and nurtured” by their communities in any formal ways. Quite the opposite. They said what they had to say, often doing so with great art, because the Spirit left them no option, and in the face of stiff opposition from their key audiences, especially those in authority. That’s not just dusty history. Much of my life experience and observation reinforce these models, I regret to report.

But then again, it’s true that they were “held accountable.” Yeah, sure: jail, attempted murder and exile for Jeremiah; Isaiah supposedly killed; Amos banished. And don’t get me started on that guy from Galilee, whose complaint in Matthew 23:29-39 about the prophets’ experience with “accountability” was soon enough followed by a repeat of it.

Jeremiah - saved from drowning in mud
Support & accountability, biblical style: Jeremiah the prophet, rescued from being drowned in mud for his messages

And I just had a flash: I wonder if what your lot isn’t yearning for is a warm-fuzzy Camp Catoctin setting for what is basically a sacrificial, cross-carrying vocation. There may be days where you’ll get that good feeling; but overall, they don’t compute. They’re karmically mismatched, one might say. Too much campfire, not enough Bible and Christianity.

This affects my response to your rousing conclusion:

JW: So I say: “Prophets! Activists! Visionaries! Come back! Warriors and assholes and rabble-rousers! Abrasive, contrarian punks! Come back! Quakerism needs you!” 

CF: You’re quite right; bring them on. But those “assholes and rabble-rousers” who come back and expect to be met with flowers (or joints) and offers of gigs with regular paychecks to do these things — well, they’re in for a serious round of disappointments. Even in better times, there were mighty few such slots that I ever heard of. Those who carved out a viable niche did the carving pretty much by themselves. BTDT.

JW: Many people in my generation feel that we’ve inherited a Quakerism that we’re not satisfied with. We have all this analysis about what’s wrong with it. I think it’s good for us to analyze and even sometimes to complain about it, but at some point we need to take ownership and move Quakerism into territory that feels more vital for us. . . .

CF: A-fucking-men. Here’s what I’ve decided is one of the key markers for adulthood, especially among Friends: when one quits blaming us geezers for things not being the way you want them.

I mean, hey — so I got a little busy trying to cope with four major wars and three recessions plus one actual depression in my adult lifetime, not to mention my own stumbling effort to grow up, while raising a family, trying to pay the bills, and learn how to be a writer. Okay, so maybe in the process there were a few things that got shorted — like remaking Quakerism to you-all’s specifications, which BTW you didn’t give us til a few years ago. You want ownership? Come and get it. Seems like thee and me are in agreement on this; hope the idea spreads.

JW: There are many Quakers who have vital things to say about Quakerism and who risk confronting the empire that surrounds and permeates us. I want everyone to have access to these incredible resources, and I’m tired of waiting for someone else to do it.

CF: Now you’re talking (singing). What about a punk/hip-hop Quaker video opera that features Jim Corbett starting the Sanctuary movement in the 80s; Elizabeth Watson insisting on being a minister when everyone told her women couldn’t do that; Bill Kreidler creating a ministry from addiction and AIDS and rediscovering the saints, which was so rich that his life couldn’t hold it all; and Tom Fox . . . .

Maybe your new project is a kind of equivalent to that. Good luck with it.

Bogus Baloney On Quaker “Growth” From FWCC and Friends Journal

May 3rd, 2013

In its May issue, Friends Journal published a sloppy, unprofessional article on Quaker membership trends that does a major disservice to its readers and Friends generally. (Not online when this was posted.)

Here are key quotes from the article, which is an interview with FWCC US staff:

In North America, FWCC has reported a decrease of about 10,000 over the past five years. . . . Why do you think the Society of Friends is growing in other parts of the world but not in the United States? And are there growing segments of Friends in the United States?

[FWCC]: The growth is the result of an active effort of evangelical Friends to share the good news.

My comment: The above statement contains damaging inaccuracies.

Where US Quakerism is losing numbers most rapidly is precisely among the pastoral/evangelical branches which are dedicated to “sharing” their “good news.” In fact, the record shows convincingly that if US Friends want to “grow,” they should sedulously avoid “evangelism,” because the results over decades demonstrate it to be a counterproductive waste of time and money.

One brief example will illustrate this point: Baltimore and North Carolina (FUM) Yearly Meetings are “next door neighbors” on the mid-Atlantic coast. Baltimore is liberal, unprogrammed, and has been growing steadily for many years. In sharp contrast, North Carolina (NCYM), which is pastoral and evangelical, has been declining rapidly for years. (Sources are below.)

Here’s a thumbnail: Between 1996 and 2006, NCYM shrank from 11562 members to 7019, a decline of 39%. It also lost 10 churches.

Meanwhile, between 1991 and 2011 Baltimore YM grew from 4047 to 4708 members, an increase of 16%, and started ten new meetings.

This comparison is not exact, but the trends are clear: North Carolina is in deep, deep trouble, and it’s not alone in this plight. (You can read a more recent summary of its dire state in the YM’s own words here. ) Baltimore, while hardly perfect, is neither endangered nor even shrinking. Such reports of its approaching demise are not merely exaggerated; they are false. Nor is it alone.

Yet BYM is not involved in “evangelism”; and its “outreach” is meager. Still it grows. Why? How? Those are good questions, which deserve more attention than can be given them here.

It’s also worth noting here that the Quaker bodies which are losing ground the fastest in the US include those which have been most resistant to affirming LGBT Friends, and most supportive of the political crusades of the Religious Right, including support for the recent wars. So why liberal bodies whose “good news” is welcoming to gays, challenging to the war machine, and seeks constructive alternatives to rightwing culture war campaigns should be imitating these groups escapes me, especially when such efforts don’t even work on their own terms.

So it is sad to see the FJ article’s purported good news about “growing segments of Friends in the United States” completely bypassing the documented, encouraging facts about YMs like Baltimore that have steadily expanded. Instead it focuses on the reported appearance of some scattered Hispanic oriented evangelical congregations in the US (about which, however, it has no data whatever), and “the continued growth of small Christian-Quaker worship groups. Some of them have been more visible online and others are more locally focused.”

They have also been special interests of both the FWCC staffer and the FJ interviewer. But like the Hispanic groups, what evidence is offered about an actual “upsurge” in the number and weight of these gatherings?

Well, actually none.

As the FWCC staffer concedes: “I don’t think there’s been any concerted effort to collect statistics on these.”

So all we really know is that these two people like them. Based on the shoddy use of data on offer here, this is not exactly a convincing case, and the obvious bias (ignoring YMs with solidly measurable track records to boost a scattered, undocumented coterie) is tendentious to say the least. Perhaps they will get back to us about them when there is some authentic data gathered; if there ever is.

One last but important point concerns the international numbers on the new FWCC map. The FJ interviewer asks “Why do you think the Society of Friends is growing in other parts of the world . . .?” But in truth, it’s not easy to know where such growth is real or only apparent. FWCC accepts the numbers sent in.

But count me skeptical: in poor countries, population and demographic statistics are notoriously unreliable. Among the reasons in many places are deeply rooted patterns of corruption at many levels. In Kenya, particularly, there has been plenty of corruption in Kenyan Quaker circles too, and their numbers should be regarded with great reserve, even disbelief. (Here’s an informed observer’s discussion of this probleml )
Furthermore, I’ve had in depth conversations with educated Kenya Quakers, of good reputation and wide acquaintance in church circles, who reported that the Friends church there is actually in considerable trouble, sapped by corruption and internal quarrels, and losing very many younger members to rival sects. I can’t fully verify these reports, but they are as credible as untested numbers from official sources widely known to be unreliable; to me, more so. (After all, something similar is happening among many US evangelical churches.) By contrast, the impressions of visitors from the US who attend short conferences, don’t speak local languages, and are guided around by officials with agendas, are just that, impressions.

Kenya is important here, because its reputed membership is by far the world’s largest — 146,000 on the new FWCC map, twice as large as the US Quaker numbers. That is, it may be the largest; who really knows?

About other countries I will not speak, for lack of information. But I would suggest an assertively challenging stance toward the meme that evangelical Quakerism is burgeoning around the world, while the fey liberals of North America are dying out. Much of the purported evidence for this from overseas is quite shaky; and as we have seen, applying this “analysis” to the US is just plain bogus.
The FWCC interview reminds US liberal Quakers that “some humility and openness to learning is a good thing.” Which indeed they are. At the same time, I contend they (we) have little to be apologetic or defensive about either.

So contrary to the FJ interview’s thrust, I would urge liberal Friends not to be dismayed or disheartened by such unsupported refrains as the “dying US Quakerism” claptrap. Stand up and talk back to it. Do not let it rain on your peaceful, spiritually progressive parade.

And don’t fall for bogus scaremongering.

Meantime, Quaker officials and “journalists” who spread such dubious and tendentious “information” should clean up their act. It undermines your credibility. Friends deserve better and more professional performance from you.

The FWCC map is here:

The BYM data is from the 1991 and 2011 BYM Yearbooks.
The NCYM-FUM data is from their 1996 and 2006 Yearbooks.

The Road To Columbine: A True Story

April 24th, 2013

One day in my junior year of high school, I discovered that my stomach muscles were unusually strong. Here’s how I found this out:

Jamie, whose locker was a couple down from mine, came into the locker room, grabbed me by the shirt, slammed me up against my locker, and punched me in the stomach.

I don’t think Jamie was angry at me when he did that, at least not especially so. He just felt like punching somebody, and there I was.

I had been punched in the gut once or twice before, and a couple other times had been hit there accidentally. The effect was always the same: it doubled me over in agony, unable to breathe for a moment or two. We called it, “having the wind knocked out of you.”

It was very scary the first time, until I realized I wasn’t going to suffocate, and every time it was painful.

But what happened that day was completely new, and it wasn’t clear who was more shocked by it, Jamie or me.

Somehow I knew what was coming when he grabbed me, and in the split second as he was shoving me against the locker door, managed to tense up my stomach muscles. When the punch came, his big fist bounced off my hardened belly.

“Jesus Christ,” Jamie said. “What’s this?” He frowned thoughtfully behind his thick glasses, and then, deciding to take a scientific, experimental tack, calmly punched me a second time, harder.

My head and back thumped against the steel door, but his fist again bounced off my belly. My stomach hurt, of course, but I could still breathe, and stand. Jamie had not knocked the wind out of me. He shrugged and turned away. I had, in a limited but important sense, defeated him, at least for the moment.

Who knows how my stomach muscles got so hard? I wasn’t athletic, and had done no sit-ups or other special exercises. But I realized at once that if it could get that hard again, my sore belly could be an important survival tool.

Jamie and I were cadets at St. Joseph’s, a Catholic military boarding school in western Kansas. It was 1959. At St. Joseph’s we went to church three times on Sunday, and twice every other day. We wore ROTC uniforms and marched wherever we went outside the building. Despite all this, I liked it there. Why I liked it is a long story, having mainly to do with being from a large Catholic, military family and wanting to get away from home. St. Joseph’s was also Catholic and military; but it was far away from home, and that was enough for me.

Chuck Fager at St. Joseph's Military Academy - Hays, Kansas 1959
Here I am in my SJMA uniform, 1958 in Hays, Kansas, a beardless youth.

Or at least, it would have been if I could figure out how to keep away from Jamie. He was no taller than me, but weighed about twice as much, most of which was muscle. Rough-looking, with pimples and thick glasses, he was well-muscled, and he swaggered. He claimed to be a black belt in karate, and to have been in all kinds of rumbles and fights back home. I could believe this, although I also knew he bragged a lot.

But what really surprised me was that he also insisted he was an Eagle Scout. Maybe he was just bragging about that too; but I didn’t doubt it then. I just puzzled over how he had fooled the scout leaders. How did he get them to see him as a person of upright character and all the other nice guy stuff that supposedly goes into achieving that highest scouting rank?

Anyway, Eagle Scout or no, Jamie was a bully. More than a bully, really. That year I had begun reading some psychology books, and soon decided he was more like a psychopath, or maybe a sociopath, the kind of person who would kill somebody and never give it a second thought. He talked that way, and treated me and others that way too.

Actually, I didn’t think he might kill me, because he didn’t take me seriously enough. The gut punches were, for him, just fooling around. Even so, except for when I had to be at my locker, I gave him a wide berth, and he mostly ignored me.

My buddy Leroy was a different matter. Leroy’s locker was a couple down from mine, farther away from Jamie’s. He and I were buddies for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones was that we were among the few non-Catholic cadets at St. Joseph’s. This was no big deal for Leroy–he had been raised Protestant and never gave it much thought. But it was a big deal for me, especially because it was very new: my family was Catholic, and one reason I had been sent to St. Joseph’s was because there was no Catholic school near where my family lived.

But that year, besides reading psychology, I had also been plowing through some philosophy books, and soon realized I didn’t believe all this Catholic stuff they had taught me since before I started school. I decided I was probably an atheist, or at the least an agnostic.

I wasn’t ashamed of my new lack of faith; in fact, I often debated with other students about God, Jesus, miracles, hell, all that stuff. The arguments were fun, but at the same time, this was very much a minority outlook at St. Joseph’s. So I was anxious to find some comrades, somebody, anybody I could speak plainly with, and Leroy was one of the main ones.

Leroy was tall, with a handsome face and dark hair which he frequently slicked back with a pocket comb, which was a cool thing to do in those days. And like Jamie, he bragged a lot. He bragged about what a Romeo he was. He bragged about being a musician. And he also bragged about being tough, a fighter.

Maybe he was a Romeo; you could never be sure about that at our isolated all-boy’s school; and he was something of a musician, playing the saxophone quite seriously. But as far as being a fighter–well, that was mostly in his head. The fact was that Leroy was rail thin, and when he took off his shirt, there were huge patches of scar tissue all over his skinny chest. He had been severely burned as a child, and skin had been taken for grafts on his face and neck. I think the aftermath of those burns had also kept him physically weak.

Just the same, Leroy talked as if he was a veteran of all sorts of physical combat, in which he had kicked butt left and right. And he often swore he’d beat up anybody who tried to mess with him right here at St. Joseph’s. But the truth was that if it came to a fight, I could probably have beaten him myself, and I was no fighter.

None of this bothered me, because we were buddies; and it didn’t seem to bother most other cadets either, because it was easy to see that Leroy lacked the equipment to back up his bluster.

But everything about Leroy seemed to irritate Jamie. I often thought about this. Was it Leroy’s smooth-skinned good looks, at least above his shoulders, that made Jamie jealous? Or maybe his bragging just brought out Jamie’s meanest streak.

Whatever it was – I only know what I saw: The more Leroy talked, the more ticked off Jamie got. And it didn’t take long to figure out that this meant trouble.

But Jamie and his big fists were not all I thought about then. As the year at St. Joseph’s unfolded, I learned many things, and had my share of fun. Much of this was shared with Leroy, because our outsider status increasingly threw us together.

For one thing, while girls were mostly distant figures, they weren’t completely out of reach. In town there was a Girls Catholic High School, where the students all wore identical billowing blue dresses, and as time passed we each developed crushes on one or another of them. I admired a girl named Sue Ellen, mostly from afar.

Leroy did better. Because St. Joseph’s didn’t have a band, he was allowed to go into town regularly to play in the local high school band. There he found a girl named Joann, and actually managed to have a few dates with her. He swore they also did some serious making out – but I wasn’t so sure about that.

Then there was music. For Christmas my parents sent me a small portable record player, and I managed to get a single earphone connected to it. On it I played some big classical LP records I bought at a local supermarket for ninety-nine cents. The earphone was tiny, and clipped over one ear. The sound was very tinny. But to me, tinny Mozart in one ear, was better than no Mozart at all. (I would stand by that view today.)

Leroy put up with my Mozart and Beethoven, but never quit trying to convince me that modern jazz, especially the music of Stan Kenton, was the greatest stuff ever written. I heard him out, but stuck stubbornly to my classical convictions.

By the time the snow melted and the leaves were returning, Leroy and I often took long walks in our limited free time, across the dark plowed fields next to the school grounds to the wooded creek beyond it, talking as always about all sorts of things. We chattered and argued about music, girls, and even religion, because I kept reading new books that raised new problems with various beliefs I had earlier taken for granted.

Before long we also talked about how all this reading was getting me in trouble with the priests who ran the school. They could put up with a few quiet Protestants around, but somebody like me, who had loudly abandoned their Catholic faith, was a real problem. In fact, we soon heard out that one of the cadets I had argued with had reported me to Father Thomas More, the Director of Student Life. I think my unbelieving notions scared him, as if they were a kind of virus and might be catching. And maybe he was right. In any case, the goal of St. Joseph’s was to turn out good Catholics, not good atheists, and that’s what I thought I was becoming. So one of these days, I announced, the priests would be coming after me.

Leroy said he’d stand with me when they did, and he was as good as his word. One Friday afternoon we had to see Father Thomas More to get permission to go into town after class. Fr. T-More (as we called him), turned us down flat. Leroy’s grades, he said, were not good enough.

We knew there was more to it; for one thing, my grades were excellent It was Leroy who lit the fuse: “Was there anything else, Father?” he asked.

“Yes!” Father T-More almost shouted. He turned to face me, eyes blazing, and said they were disgusted by my disloyal debates with other cadets.

“It takes more humility than that to get into heaven, Fager,” he cried, and then preached at me for what felt like an hour.

I stood still, staring back at him the whole time, saying nothing, denying nothing. This was an important moment in my life: confronting the Church which had raised me, and declaring my independence of it, even if only by my silence. And Leroy stood there beside me, echoing my quiet defiance the whole time. It’s not a small thing to stand with a friend who’s being told he’s going to hell, and I was grateful for that.

But what would happen next, I wanted to know. Soon a rumor circulated that they were planning to expel me from the school. Would they really do that? I still wanted to come back the next year and graduate from St. Joseph’s; I had more independence there than at home, and didn’t want to give that up. I had even ordered a school ring, gold with a red garnet stone. Would the priests send me packing, and tell my parents their son was a vocal atheist? What would my mother, who was very religious, do to me if they did?

Leroy and I talked about this a lot on our walks. And he had an idea: “Don’t be a chicken about it,” he challenged. “Walk right in there and ask them. You’re not afraid of the priests, are you?”

Well in a way, yes; but in another way, no. So one afternoon I took his advice and went into the office of Father Augustus, the school’s President, and put it to him straight.

Father Augustus smiled kindly at me. “Oh no,” he said reassuringly, “nothing like that has been proposed. We haven’t even talked about such things.”

The main building at St. Joseph's Military Academy, Hays Kansas, circa 1959.

The main building at St. Joseph’s, circa 1959. It wasn’t quite this grey, but it’s an old picture. The president’s office was just to the left of the main door in the center.

That made me feel better, and I was happy to go back to my tinny Mozart, and friendly arguments with Leroy about jazz versus classical, if God existed or not, and whether he really did make out with his girlfriend in town. We talked, and walked.

As the weeks went on, we also talked a lot about Jamie. The current of antagonism between him and Leroy was rising, as surely as the creek after the spring rains. The tension level when they were both in the locker room was palpable. What were we going to do about that? What could we do? What could I do?

Jamie had tried his belly-busting punches on me a couple more times, probably just to see what would happen. Once he even called over a couple other big guys from a few locker rows away, to take their turns at this abdominal novelty. All the punches hurt, but none of them could knock the wind out of me; I still can’t imagine why. But I had had enough. After that, the next time Jamie grabbed me, I mustered all my courage and pushed him away.

“Stop it!” I shouted. “If you’re gonna beat me up, then go ahead and do it. You know I couldn’t stop you. But otherwise, leave me alone!”

To my surprise, after that he did. At least somewhat. He still threatened me, and bragged about all his fighting, but he mostly kept his hands off. After all, like I said, I wasn’t important enough to beat up seriously.

I wish the same could have been said of Leroy. But it couldn’t. This was as much Leroy’s doing as anyone’s, though. He taunted Jamie from his locker, called him ugly and stupid, and said he wasn’t afraid, he’d take Jamie on anytime.

Leroy made the mistake of baiting him one afternoon as I was coming in, and Jamie went for him. They only scuffled for a few seconds, thank god, before some other guys pulled them apart and I pushed Jamie back. He could have tossed me aside, but there were others crowding around.

Behind me, Leroy was shouting and cursing: “Put me down, damn it! I’ll clobber him! I’ll kill him! Put me down!” I turned and saw that one of the basketball players had grabbed Leroy and was holding him about six inches off the floor, his fists and feet flailing the air like angry matchsticks. He was that lightweight. If it had been any other time, I would have burst out laughing, he looked so ridiculous.

But Jamie shoved past me, and pointed a thick finger between the shoulders of the other guys between him and Leroy. “I’ll tell you who’ll kill who, you punk” he bellowed. Then he pulled his hand back, made a fist, and smashed it loudly into a locker door, shaking the whole row and leaving a dent in the metal. “Like that.” He backed away and stalked out of the locker room.

The basketball player let Leroy down, and the other guys wandered off.

I was shaking. “Leroy,” I whispered, “let’s get out of here.”

We headed down the hall and out the door, going as far as we were allowed, to the plowed field, toward the creek. As we walked, a couple of things became clear to me: one was that Jamie wasn’t kidding. He would want his revenge on Leroy, and it would be a bloody one. Another was that when the time came, I had to stand with him, just as he had stood with me in my face-off with Father T-More.

But how could I do that so it made a difference? Jamie could flatten Leroy with one fist and me with the other; and where would that leave either of us?

Still feeling shaky, I spotted something in the grass by the creek. It was a length of two by four lumber, about two and a half feet long. It was damp from laying out there in the dew and rain, and that made it heavy. A notch had been cut out of one end, giving my hand a good grip on it, and it swung with a real heft to it.

I whacked it against a tree a few times. The blows were solid, tearing big gashes in the tree’s bark, and making my palm and fingers hurt. But I didn’t drop it. In fact, with each blow I felt stronger and swung harder, and harder at the tree.

And then, like an electric shock, an idea came to me.

This two by four was not just a piece of wood. It was an equalizer. Looking down at it, I stopped shaking. It could solve our problem with Jamie: In my mind’s eye I could see how it would go down, as clearly as if it was actually happening:

I would walk into the locker room, and find Jamie attacking Leroy. Really beating him up, smashing that smooth face he hated so much, or maybe choking him. Leroy would be gasping and bleeding, maybe flailing around, maybe unconscious.

As usual, Jamie would hardly notice me, walking over to open my locker as if I was utterly oblivious to what was going on a few feet away.

But then I’d turn around, step quietly behind Jamie and raise the two by four high over my head–maybe holding it with both hands.

There would be only one chance, I figured. One blow. One heavy stroke across the back of Jamie’s skull, swinging with all the concentrated force of a year’s accumulated rage. I could almost feel the bone give way under the board, the way the tree bark had split and flown off in sappy chunks.
I turned from this vision to Leroy, there by the creek, and told him very calmly what I planned to do. He believed me too, even though he still thought he could take care of himself.

With that settled, all we had to do was smuggle this weapon into the building. He went ahead of me, to signal from the hall doorway when the coast was clear.

The two by four was too long to fit under my shirt, but its weathered color was close to the khaki of my uniform, so I just walked quickly down the mostly deserted hall, swinging it in time with my right leg. In a couple of long moments, it was in my locker, hidden by an old uniform shirt.

After that it was only a matter of waiting and watching. Each time I came into the locker room and saw Jamie, the palms of my hands began to tingle, as if they were ready to close around the hidden lumber. But I felt calm about it, and kept up my usual careful deference toward him, and I don’t think he ever suspected a thing.

At this point, it would be satisfying to say things worked out as I expected, that my knotty pine equalizer made the difference, saved the day in a final, maybe fatal confrontation. And there were days when I felt that moment was coming close.

But it never happened. The year ended in anticlimax: Jamie’s folks came and got him a day or two early, or Leroy’s parents came to get him; I don’t remember which anymore. Either way, that ultimate, climactic showdown was headed off more or less accidentally, by disinterested forces beyond our control. Or maybe it was the grace of that God I didn’t believe in.

Anyway, a few weeks later, back with my family, my mother called me to the kitchen table, where she put an envelope in front of me.

I opened it. It was a letter, from Father Augustus. It said that because of my vocal unbelief, I would not be allowed to return to St. Joseph’s the next year. Having me around was too hazardous to the other cadets’ spiritual welfare.

“Well?” Mother asked grimly. “What about this?”

I looked at the letter again, then at her, and took a deep breath. Finally I said, “It’s true.”

She didn’t give up, of course. But that battle was lost; I was done with the Catholic church.

A few weeks later, a small package came in the mail. In it was my St. Joseph’s school ring.
At first I thought I should send it back. But looking at the red and gold, I began to wonder about many things connected with the year at St. Joseph’s, things I still wonder about:

What ever happened to Leroy, or Jamie, neither of whom I ever saw again? Would my belly muscles still stand up to one of his punches; it’s been a long time. Did the priests go through our lockers that summer and find my two by four? If so, what did they make of it?

I also wonder, if that final crisis had come, what would have happened after I swung that two by four? Or, more recently, what if the weapon hidden in my locker hadn’t been a two by four, but a forty four, a gun? Would this story be written from a prison cell? Would it be written at all?

These are questions to which there can be no answers. But there are three things I do know.

The first is that I meant what I said to Leroy about what I would do with that piece of wood. I can still see myself swinging it in the locker room, almost as if it really happened.

The second thing is that as I looked at the red and gold band and wondered all this, the ring took on an entirely different, and much more important set of meanings than it had had when I ordered it. I put it on, and have been wearing it ever since.

The third thing–but this came later–is that I’m not an atheist anymore.

My St. Joseph's Military Academy ring.
My St. Joseph’s ring, in April 2013. It’s stayed on my finger for 54 years, and counting.

Copyright © by Chuck Fager — All rights reserved.

Spring CIA Torture Cleanup In NC April 20, 2013

April 23rd, 2013

In Spring a (not so) young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of . . . cleaning up the legacy of torture taxi flights from North Carolina. On April 20, 2013, that meant heading out to Smithfield, where a CIA front company called Aero Contractors is barricaded at the Johnston county Airport behind high fences and heavy security. There I gathered with a dozen or so other steadfast activists, and we went to work. Here are some photos, with explanatory captions.

Allyuson & The Adopt-a-Highway Sign

This is Allyson Caison, whose brilliant brainchild it was to have our NC Stop Torture Now group adopt the highway in front of Aero Contractors in Smithfield. Aero is a CIA front company that has long been involved in the “torture taxi” business, as disclosed by numerous investigations.

The Motley Anti-Torture Crew gathers
And here’s some of the crew that gathered to make good on our pledge, from left: Christina Cowger, Steve Newsom, Directo or Quaker House in Fayetteville NC, and Peggy Misch of Carrboro.

Aero Contractors, Smithfield NC, company sign

And here’s Aero’s company sign, in a photo snapped several years ago, which is now well-concealed by several high fences and this woods.

NC Torture map
This map shows where Smithfield is in North Carolina.

Stop Torture Now Cleanup  Crew at Aero Contractors in Smithfield NC
Here are some of the crew that gathered for the cleanup, from left: Christina Cowger, Steve Newsom (Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville NC), and Peggy Misch of Carrboro NC.

More of the Torture Trash cleanup Crew at Aero Contractors in Smithfield NC
And More of the crew: at center is Lynn Newsom, Co-Director of Quaker House

Getting Into the Weeds to Clean Up Torture in NC
Getting Into The Weeds to Get The Trash. There was plenty.

A Trunk Full of Torture Trash outside Aero Contractors in Smithfield NC
This is just part of the haul — the crew filled something like 20 bags full.

Three Strong Backs to Clean Up Torture in North Carolina

Even Your Humble Scribe got a bagfull.
Even Your Humble Scribe Got a Bag Full . . .

NC Stop Torture Now Sign - Smithfield NC
There’s more trash to clean up. And as yet, there’s been no accountability for the “War On Terror” torture program that was the ultimate goal of this cleanup effort. So as the sign indicates, we’ll be back.
For more on Aero Contractors and its torture flights, go here and here and here.