Afterthought #30 – NOT Like the Oatmeal

Worldwide, approximately 359,000 adults are members of the Religious Society of Friends. There are fewer than 100,000 of us Quakers in the United States—about a third of the number of Missouri Synod Lutherans in Illinois  (where I sang in the choir all through high school).

So. It’s no wonder people don’t know much about Quakerism or what Quakers are like today.

The weekly QuakerSpeak videos are trying to correct that with short conversations with contemporary Friends.  A recent one features Guilford College professor Max Carter responding to the frequent question: Are Quakers Amish? In less than five minutes, Max clearly describes the major differences between the two religions and in the process tells a lot about what Quakerism is.

Friends General Conference answers Frequently Asked Questions About Quakers, too, to help clear up some of the confusion about our small community. 
One of my favorite responses, though, is this 
t-shirt that a Friend from Seattle recently made. 
Cool, huh?

“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.

Awaiting The Flying Burgowski

It’s been a lot of years since I was pregnant and awaiting the birth of a baby (which ended up being, well, two babies, when I was surprised with twins).  And I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), so I’m out of practice with this waiting-for-something-to-be-born business. I had a taste of it five years ago when I published my first book, Hands at Work, and I’m feeling it again as I wait for the “birth” of a friend’s new book—Gretchen Wing’s young adult/middle grade novel, The Flying BurgowskiBook One of the Flying Burgowski Trilogy.

Gretchen describes her novel as “magical realism for kids,” and that category fits. Literary critic Patrick Kennedy defines this genre as “…a manner of writing that combines precise historical, social, and psychological observations (the material of traditional ‘realism’) with elements of fantasy, surreal descriptions, and dreamlike touches.”  Magical realism is associated with Latin American authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Isabel Allende. And then there’s J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, which happens to be the literary obsession of Jocelyn Burgowski, the main character in Gretchen’s book.
When Jocelyn discovers on her fourteenth birthday that she can fly, this superpower opens a whole new messy horizon. She struggles to keep her flying a secret while rescuing her troubled mother, two challenging tasks for a teen living on a small, remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Throughout the book, Jocelyn wrestles with a dilemma: must she give up her powers to save her mom, or can she use them to heal the damage of her mother’s own secret?
The Flying Burgowski offers a rich cast of characters, vivid settings, and dramatic scenes to explore real-world “horrors” like substance dependency, sexual assault, racism, and homophobia.Books are the safest place for kids to process their thoughts about these issues,” Gretchen says, and she handles them delicately—just right for the adolescent readers she hopes to reach.
Gretchen Wing, author
A high school English and history teacher for twenty years, Gretchen understands her audience well. She used to push her students to find their voices through writing, and to pay attention to the voices of others through reading. In The Flying Burgowski, Gretchen has applied that same passion to Jocelyn’s story, that of a girl who needs empowerment and finds it, not in magic as she hopes, but in herself.
I first met Gretchen at the local bakery and struck up a conversation about the Carolina Friends Schoolt-shirt she was wearing.  Turns out, she not only attended the Quaker school in North Carolina, but her folks, Martha and Peter Klopfer, are the school’s co-founders. Now, Gretchen and I are in a writing group that meets weekly. Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed getting to know her,­ her writing, and how Quaker testimonies permeate her creative work. I wrote about her Musical Essays in October 2013, soon after she was interviewed on Northern Spirit Radio’s Song of the Soul.
Any day I’m expecting a “birth announcement” from Gretchen. Until then, I’m calling on a little magical realism to help the time pass quickly as I wait for The Flying Burgowski – and her siblings – to arrive. 

New Kids on the Literary Block

Over the past two weeks, I’ve transferred a little magazine from my backpack to nightstand to kitchen table to desktop.  Its corners are curling, and its white cover is smudged, sure signs of well-appreciated reading material. Each time I pick it up, I’m glad I’ve subscribed to this new literary magazine,  The First Day
Published by Jana and Mike Llewellyn of First Day Press, The First Day is a quarterly print magazine that features in-depth articles, essays, and creative writing related to the arts, culture, and faith. Although The First Day is guided by Quaker principles and values, it strives to offer stories of hope, inspiration, journey, and discovery for people of all spiritual traditions and beliefs.
The inaugural issue does just that. Its pages are full of thought-provoking essays such as Chuck Fager’s personal look at racism in “Playing the Lottery,” and Kody Gabriel Hersh’s essay, “Queer Lessons for Spiritual Life.” There’s also fiction by Elizabeth Spencer and Quaker minister J. Brent Bill, and a dozen poems.
One of the issue’s highlights for me was interviews with writers Tracy Chevalier and Amy Brill.  Both authors have written novels with Quaker women as the main characters (Chevalier’s is The Last Runaway and Brill’s is titled The Movement of Stars), and the interviewers explore with the writers the books’ spiritual themes. Another delight was reviews of two television shows, Orange Is the New Black and Breaking Bad.  Even though I haven’t watched either program, I’ve heard plenty of buzz about both and appreciated the reviewers’ examination of the moral questions the shows raise.
In her introduction to this premier issue of The First Day, Jana writes of the uncertainty she and Mike felt of whether they would receive “well-written and poignant submissions.”  It’s clear from Volume 1, Issue 1, that there are plenty of writers out there who, as Jana found, “…show the deeper truths beneath stories of personal journey.”
While this slim volume supplies reading to occupy me for many hours, I don’t have to wait for Issue 2 for more offerings like these.  I’ve also subscribed to the press’s The First Day Blog for regular online posts about a wide range of personal spiritual experiences.

Jana and Mike Llewellyn bring considerable experience in writing, editing, and publishing to this endeavor, and it shows.  As a result of the couple’s faithfulness to a call to merge faith, culture, and creativity, people of all faith traditions, as well as those seeking a spiritual home, will find a welcome refuge at The First Day.

Friendly Water

This morning when I filled my electric teakettle with tap water, I didn’t think of that liquid as anything but friendly.  I know, though, that in many places, what pours from faucets, sits in reservoirs, or pools in streams is full of harmful organisms; for 900 million people around the world, the water they drink, cook, and wash with is unfriendly.  A few Quakers from Olympia, WA, are trying to change that through an organization called Friendly Water for the World.
The nonprofit’s mission is straightforward: to expand access to low-cost clean water technologies and information about health and sanitation to people in need of them. The organization grew out of collaboration between theologically diverse Quaker congregations in two Washington communities—Olympic View Friends Church in Tacoma and Olympia Friends Meeting, Olympia. Although Friendly Water for the World is committed to Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, it is non-denominational and welcomes individuals from other faiths and traditions. Its approach involves partnerships among individuals and communities, working and learning together.
And work and learn they do, in Kenya, Burundi, India, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Uganda, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Honduras, and Haiti.  The learning begins in North America, with week-long workshops teaching volunteers how to build and teach others construction techniques for BioSand Water Filters.  This simple, affordable technology uses local sand and gravel in a small container suitable for people’s homes. For about $50, a household can have a system that lasts 30 years.
Courtesy – Center for
Affordable Water and
Sanitation Technology
Here’s how it works. Contaminated water (from any source, including rivers, wells, and rainwater) is poured into the top of the biosand filter at least once daily. Water slowly drips through a diffuser and flows down through the sand and gravel. Treated water flows by gravity out of the outlet tube. Disease-causing organisms (95-99% of them) are removed through biological and physical processes that take place in the sand, resulting in 12-18 liters of filtered drinking water per hour.  To add to the filter’s effectiveness, Friendly Water also works with local leaders to promote personal and community sanitation practices to assure filtered water isn’t contaminated before use.
As I pour water over my freshly ground coffee, I’m aware of how privileged I am to do so with such ease. I’m grateful to all the folks helping to make this a more friendly process in many places around the world.