*Afterthought #63: Quakers in Politics

As a newly-elected public official, I’m reflecting on the long history of Quakers involved in politics. As Marge Abbott explains in a recent QuakerSpeak episode,

Friends have always been very active in addressing our government and its rule. They had started out in the earliest days having to try and change laws that were affecting them directly. As time went by a century later they were among the most active lobbyists to end slavery, active in women’s suffrage, in temperance movements… many, many places where they were lobbying over the centuries.”

Quakers in the World is another source about Friends’ “long tradition of being active in, and seeking to make a difference to, the world in which they find themselves. In their actions they seek to put Quaker testimonies such as equality, peace and integrity into practice, as best they can.” The site’s overview of Quakers in Politics is good grounding for me as I serve my community as a commissioner for our new Public Hospital District.

alice paul

Suffragist Alice Paul is one of those Quakers who worked diligently for equal rights for women. I don’t expect my entry into politics to be anywhere as demanding as Alice Paul’s efforts, but I look to her as an example of service.



*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

School is Open!

Lucretia Mott Painting by Joseph Kyle
Lucretia Mott Painting by Joseph Kyle

When I tell people I’m a Quaker, they often respond with raised eyebrows and the question, “Really?” Their surprised tone makes me wonder what their image of a Quaker (or Friend) is. If it’s Lucretia Mott they think of, my purple glasses and colorful scarves don’t match up.

And if they’ve heard my gleeful belly laugh, that doesn’t fit with the stereotype of somber Quakers either. In fact, some people believe that “Quaker humor” is an oxymoron.

Matt Glendinning, Head of School at Moses Brown School is doing his part to change the dour Quaker perception. Along with the help of some of his colleagues at the Quaker day school in Providence, RI, Glendinning made a YouTube video to announce the school’s recent closure due to snow. Their remake of the song “Let It Go” from the Disney movie, Frozen, went viral with more than 30 million views as of Feb. 6. Jon Watts, who directs the Quaker YouTube channel QuakerSpeak, delighted in the video’s appeal and saw it as an opportunity to interview Glendinning about that—and Quaker education.

Not long after Quakers arrived in the U.S. from Britain in the late1600s, they started schools in Philadelphia for both boys and girls that supported spiritual, social, and intellectual growth. About 100 years later, an innovative thinker, philanthropist, and entrepreneur named Moses Brown founded the school that Glendinning now directs (and closes when the snow is too fierce). According to the school’s website and Glendinning’s interview, its program is shaped by the values of simplicity, peace, justice, stewardship, and integrity that guided early Friends.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 other Quaker schools around the country offer education that combines academic excellence and spiritual depth. The Friends Council on Education supports Quaker schools to create learning communities centered on equality, diversity, nonviolent conflict resolution, and service. Teachers in Friends’ schools serve as facilitators of the learning process, using dialogue, reflection, and inquiry. Quaker schools also include weekly (or in some cases, daily) Meeting for Worship, an unstructured time of quiet that offers children of all faiths a powerful tool for spiritual growth.

Daily silence is among the practices that my writing friend (and Friend) Gretchen Klopfer Wing most values about her Quaker education. She attended Carolina Friends School (Durham and Chapel Hill, NC) from pre-school in 1965 through high school graduation in 1979. Gretchen’s parents, Martha and Peter Klopfer, were co-founders of the school. When the Klopfers reminisce about the school’s beginnings, they talk about being unable to conceive of sending their children to the segregated schools that existed in Durham at that time. So, they donated a piece of their property for its main campus, and have remained active on the school’s Board of Directors ever since.

“It’s hard to narrow down what I value most about my Quaker education,” Gretchen says. In addition to the practices of daily silence, listening and consensus decision-making, Gretchen also appreciates these elements of her experience at Carolina Friends School:

  • conscience and political awareness are essential components of education
  • community work (CFS has never had custodial staff; students take care of everything)
  • the independence of the curriculum and faculty, allowing for great variety in course offerings (for example, Gretchen took classes in Ornithology and Invertebrate Biology taught by a Ph.D.)
  • emphasis on service, independence, creativity
  • being fully known and valued by all of her teachers, her entire life.

That life-long sense of being known and valued will be in evidence in a few weeks when Gretchen returns to Durham for a visit. On March 10, Durham’s Regulator Bookshop will celebrate Gretchen’s launch of her young adult novel, Headwinds. As Gretchen likes to do for her author events, it will include a dramatic reading, this one featuring students and faculty from CFS Middle School.

Another writing friend, Samantha Updegrave, attended Friends’ Central School, outside Philadelphia, for middle and high school. She graduated in 1995, and several items on her list of what she values about Quaker education echo Gretchen’s. For example, the integration of learning and ethics in the curriculum.

“I think that largely came from strong spiritual traditions and roots that valued the collective and sought to instill personal responsibility and accountability in all our pursuits,” Samantha explains. “I was able to explore some big topics, make mistakes, and take risks. I was pushed and encouraged to think outside of my experience and self. And there was always a strong element of service.”

Samantha’s service provided valuable learning. “My senior project included volunteering at the Delaware County AIDS Alliance, a photography internship at the Philadelphia Weekly, and a 40+ page research paper examining the mother-daughter relationships in Jamaica Kincaid’s books as a metaphor for the colonizer and colonized. And I was 17!”

It’s no surprise that Gretchen and Samantha would have liked those opportunities for their own children, but they both encountered a roadblock. “Neither of our boys had the chance to attend a Friends school for the simple reason that there was none in Tacoma [WA],” Gretchen says, having settled in the Pacific Northwest after college. “They had a good public education, but they’ve always been a little jealous of mine.”

Samantha, who lives in Seattle, feels the same. “I wish Friends schools were more prevalent on the West coast. My son, who is 5 now and in a K/1 class, is in a school with similar values. They use anti-bias curriculum and focus on social justice.” And, at Samantha’s son’s school, just as at Friends’ Central, “They consider the whole kid in their teaching – academics and social-emotional well-being.”

I desired a Friends school for my children for all of the reasons Gretchen and Samantha appreciate the ones they attended. I, too, live in the Pacific Northwest, though, and when my twin son and daughter started kindergarten in 1986, there were no Quaker schools nearby. San Francisco Friends School didn’t open its doors to elementary students until 2002. And when my kids started high school in 1996, the closest secondary school was Wellsprings Friends School, nearly 400 miles away in Eugene, OR.

Both Gretchen and Samantha had some quibbles with their education. Gretchen found “…in sports, an emphasis on participation at the expense of honing skills, to the point that I never really learned to play any ball sports.” For Samantha, who transferred to Friends Central in seventh grade, the biggest struggle was to fit in academically. “I always had the impression that I was very behind. The kids already knew so much because they’d been encouraged to learn, and I’d come from this discipline-based public school…I wish I’d had more concrete support to get my confidence up to par with the kids around me.”

Neither of these Quaker school alumnae mentioned objections that some Friends raise about private schools, such as how private schools might negatively impact public schools. During early exploration of starting Carolina Friends School, the Klopfers encountered concern “…that an integrated independent school might interfere with the need for public schools’ becoming integrated themselves.” More recently, Larry Ingle raised questions in his Friends Journal article “Class Privilege and Schools Among Modern Friends” about how private (and expensive) Quaker education contributes to class privilege.Quaker school administrators, teachers, and boards, as well as parents, undoubtedly wrestle with these and other challenging questions.

Nice to know that the crew at Moses Brown maintains a sense of humor, though. If you’re ready for a good belly laugh, watch their now-famous snow day announcement. Who says Quakers aren’t funny?

Afterthought #33 QuakerQuaker – A Resource for 21st Century Friends

Early Quakers had their journals to record their spiritual life and journeys. Today, many Friends do the same through blogs, sharing how they live Quaker ideals in this time. For nearly ten years, Martin Kelley has been sifting through hundreds of websites to come up with a daily curated list of the best of the Quaker web. The result is QuakerQuaker, a website and a community of Friends exploring Quaker witness, ministry and beliefs through blogs, photos, videos and news of gatherings.

QuakerQuaker’s primary audience is Friends and seekers from all traditions who want to explore classic Quaker understandings of theology and practice as well as what challenges and inspiration these pose for Spirit-led twenty-first century Friends. There you’ll find posts, links, and websites that reflect the great diversity of Quakers today.
QuakerQuaker is 100% reader-supported.  If you believe, as I do, that this kind of outreach and conversation is important, send a few bucks their way at the Quaker Tip Jar.

“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, comments overheard, maybe even bumper stickers.

Book Review: “Miracle Motors—A Pert Near True Story"

Some people go to the woods or the mountains to encounter the Divine. They seek the quiet to listen for the “still, small voice.” Peggy Senger Morrison, though, has some of her best conversations with God while driving a Kawasaki motorcycle named Rosie. She writes about them and other adventures in her new book, Miracle Motors – A Pert Near True Story.
This is a story of an unmediated relationship with God, writes Peggy, a Quaker preacher, teacher, and trauma healer. She’s also a storyteller who took some cues from a Cowboy Poet who spoke in Quaker meeting from time to time.
When he spoke, he stuck to the point and spoke what God put on his heart, and then sat down. He did tell stories—good ones. One time, after meeting, I asked him if the rather fantastical story he had told was true. His answer was, “Pert near.” I laughed and asked him to explain…
“Pert near true is a story that has so much truth to it, that it doesn’t really matter whether it happened or not.”
The Cowboy Poet’s philosophy helped Peggy see the “Quaker thing about truthfulness” in a new way, and …solved so many problems for her as a storyteller.
Miracle Motors started as a motorcycle travelogue nearly fifteen years ago; now it’s a collection of stories loaded with truth.  Peggy writes: It may be disguised as a memoir, but it is really a post-modern narrative theology. It is everything that I know by direct experience with God.  It has more in common with the journals of the first Quakers and the confessions of old Catholics than it does with the systematic theologies of modern scholars. It also has more motorcycles.
You feel like you’re winding along highways and back roads in Oregon and California with Peggy (and Rosie) as she unfolds story after story of her childhood in Chicago, earning a degree in counseling with a minor in pastoral ministry, her trip to a Holiness Women’s Clergy convention in Texas, and her early years as a Quaker minister. Peggy also writes plenty about Quakerism, the Bible, Jesus, and how all of these inform her actions.
But while Peggy is a preacher, I never felt “preached at.” Rather, her stories—like this one about her conversation with a truck-driver—made me think, and smile.
“So, watcha do when you aren’t ridin?”
“I’m a Quaker preacher.” This always stops them for a moment…
“So, what are y’all about?”
“Oh, you know, the standard Jesus stuff—being good to folks even when they aren’t good to you, taking care of the poor, keeping it simple, telling it like it is, not letting anything get between you and God.”
That has to be one of the most succinct descriptions of the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, and equality.
Peggy’s adventures on the open road are rich in metaphors for life’s unexpected turns. One of those for her came with her first meeting of an African Quaker named David Niyonzima, a trauma healer in the Central African nation of Burundi.
While we were talking, I had a bit of a God moment, a clear but quiet voice ringing up from down inside me someplace… Quakers call this voice The Present Christ. It’s okay with me if you think we are delusional.  So the Voice said, “Do whatever this man asks of you.”
What David asked of Peggy was to teach him about trauma healing… and ultimately to travel to Burundi to help with his work there to train others in this approach. In 2003, Peggy left for the first of three trips to Central Africa, and the second half of the book includes stories of her experiences there.  More than a few involve motorcycles.
It will be no surprise to readers that Peggy returned from Africa, with, as she says, fresh eyes.
I came back with a passion for healing and for finding ways of escape through the barriers, obstacle courses, and mine fields that we use to keep people apart.
Those fresh eyes looked deeply at the schisms within Quakerism and the vision she and her partner, Alivia, shared for this faith:  something truly Quaker, and truly inclusive, and deeply Christ-centered. An oasis community where people could rest and recharge for whatever good work they did the rest of the time. Maybe even a church, not one that existed for its own sake, but one whose only purpose was to make some room for Mercy and Goodness.”
The closing chapters of Peggy’s memoir wind back and forth between another trip to Africa in 2010 and bike rides in the Western U.S., including a few stories about Freedom Friends Church that she and Alivia started in Salem, OR. Peggy finds parallels between group motorcycle rides and pastoral leadership.
Quaker pastors tend to ride sweep. The group itself sets the pace, the pastor watches and listens, to lend aid to anyone who falls or breaks down. A pastor should carry a tool kit.
Whether you’re a Quaker in the unprogrammed or the pastoral tradition, or someone seeking in other ways, Peggy’s “pert near true” stories will take you along on her spiritual journey. They’re also good ones to keep in your spiritual tool kit.
Miracle Motors is available through independent booksellers or online at unction.org.