Saturday, April 24, 2010

Honoring Friends Who Care About the Earth on EarthDay

On this the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day I’d like to lift up some Quakers who have played a key role in raising consciousness about environmental concerns among Friends. I will also share a little about my own work editing a book called EarthLight: Spiritual Wisdom for an Ecological Age (

First, I’d like to commend Marshall Massey who gave a passionate and prophetic message about climate change and the environment at Pacific Yearly Meeting’s annual session at Laverne College in Laverne, CA in 1985. Marshall's presence and witness had a galvanizing effect on Friends, and many see this event as the beginning of the Quaker environmental movement in the United States.

Not all Friends were impressed with Marshall’s prophetic words, but many became convinced that environmental concerns should be taken as seriously as the abolition of slavery and nuclear weapons. Together Massey and another Friends Bulletin editor by the name of Bob Schutz helped to launch EarthLight magazine (about which I’ll say more later) as well as the Friends in Unity with Nature Committee, later renamed Quaker EarthCare Witness (QEW).

Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Unity with Nature Committee (UWN) has had its ups and downs over the years. The sizzling summer of 2006, when the reality of global warming finally penetrated the reality-averse American consciousness, was in many ways the Committee’s nadir. Many Friends came to PYM’s 2006 annual session deeply distressed by Al Gore’s documentary “Inconvenient Truth” and were eagerly looking forward to a plenary session focusing on the environmental crisis. Imagine our shock and dismay when the clerk of UWNC proposed that this committee be laid down because interest in the committee had waned and no one wanted to serve as clerk!

Fortunately, Joe Morris, a retired college professor from Santa Monica Meeting, stepped into breach and agreed to take the job that no one else wanted. Over the past year his good sense and tireless efforts have revitalized the Quaker environmental movement in California. He helped to craft a minute on global warming that has become the most widely discussed and seasoned minute that I have seen or heard of during my 20 years as a California Friend. Sixteen meetings have approved versions of this minute, and it was also approved by Pacific Yearly Meeting during a deeply spiritual session. More importantly, Friends are changing their behavior in significant ways. Here are some signs of change:

  • The clerk of Friends Bulletin, Stephen Matchett (San Francisco, CA), refrains from traveling by car and plane; instead, he uses public transportation and a bicycle to make his rounds as an active public Friend.
  • At Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting in 2006, two Western Friends—Carl Magruder (Grass Valley, CA) and Doris Ferm (Bellingham, WA)—gave plenary talks about the environment from a Quaker spiritual perspective.
  • Karen Street (Berkley, CA) has been traveling among Friends, urging them to take seriously the need to curtail greenhouse gases, even if it means supporting the use of nuclear power (which many experts say is needed if we are to avert global scorching).
  • Some Northern California Friends observe a “car-free” First Day, using public transportation instead of driving to Meeting.
  • Strawberry Creek Meeting encourages its members to contribute a dime per mile into the “Dime-o-saur” for every gallon of gasoline they consume while driving or traveling.
    Some Meetings encourage members to use locally grown and organic produce at potlucks.
  • A group of Friends called the “Animal Kinship Committee” are promoting vegetarianism for environmental as well as humane reasons. During a panel discussion at Pacific Yearly Meeting’s annual session, Kate Carpenter (Orange Grove Meeting, Pasadena, CA) explained why meat production is a major source of greenhouse gas. After presenting compelling evidence, she quoted former-ranger-turned-vegetarian Howard Lyman who observed: “A vegan driving a hummer produces less greenhouse gases than an omnivore riding a bicycle.”[1]
  • In 2008 Rolene Walker (San Francisco, CA) did a 6,000-mile “Walk with the Earth” from San Francisco to Santiago, Chile. Environmental as well as other Quaker concerns were highlighted during her trek. For more information see
  • Sandy and Tom Farley (Palo Alto, CA) recently edited a revised edition of EarthCare for Children, a First Day School for Children (available through QEW).
  • The posthumous publication of The Sanctuary of All Life (also known as Cow-ballah) by Quaker environmental “prophet” Jim Corbett has led many Friends to ponder more deeply the religious implications of environmentalism. Corbett’s environmental legacy lives on not only in words but also in deeds, thanks to the Cascabel community. This group of Friends in Arizona was inspired by Corbett’s example and seeks to live in an environmentally and spiritually faithful relationship to the Sonoran desert.
  • Ruah Swennerfeld and Louis Coxe, directors of Quaker EarthCare Witness (QEW), the national Quaker environmental group, walked from Vancouver, BC, to San Diego to raise consciousness about environmental concerns among Western Friends.

When I served as editor of Friends Bulletin, I did my bit by editing and promoting a new book called EarthLight: Spiritual Wisdom for an Ecological Age. This book has had an enormous impact on many Friends and non-Friends here in the West and around the nation.

Since its beginning fifteen years ago, EarthLight magazine has helped Friends and other people of faith to see the moral and spiritual underpinnnings of the environmental movement. The first four issues were edited by Chris Laning, a Friend with a deep commitment to Quaker spirituality as well as to the environmental movement. During her editorship, EarthLight published many outstanding articles by Friends who were trying to understand environmentalism from a Quaker spiritual perspective. Its next editor, Paul Burks, was a Methodist minister deeply influenced by the ecumenical movement and by process theology. EarthLight soon evolved into something more than simply a vehicle for exploring the ecological dimension of Quaker spirituality, however. It became truly interfaith in its outlook. In 1996 the editorship passed to K. Lauren de Boer, who broadened (and deepened) the spiritual perspective of EarthLight even more. Lauren’s ecological perspective was shaped to a great extent by philosopher/paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, cultural historian/“geologian” Thomas Berry and mathematical cosmologist/visionary Brian Swimme—the founders of the “Ecozoic movement
EarthLight magazine published articles by many of the world’s seminal figures in secular and religious thought about the place of humankind in Creation. The EarthLight book embodies what its editors feel is the best of this magazine as well as of Quaker writings on spirituality and ecology during the past 20 years. It includes such notable writers as Johanna Macy, Maya Angelou, Gary Snyder, Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, Thich Nhat Hanh, Keith Helmuth, Rex Ambler, Jim Corbett, Louis Cox and Ruah Swennerfelt, to name only a few.

Up to now, I have not considered myself an environmental activist, but like many other Friends, I have been concerned about the environment for many years. I do what I can to re-cycle, reuse and to reduce my consumption of fossil fuels. But like most Americans, I am still addicted to oil. Or maybe it’s better to say, I’m in a recovery program. It’s called the “spiritual ecology movement.”

Like many addicts, I need all the help that I can to deal with a very serious addiction that not only impacts me but the world I live in and love.

I also know that it’s not enough for me to heal myself of this addiction. I need to work with others to find spiritual and social solutions to this global crisis.

As a recovering fossil fuel addict, I have found EarthLight very helpful. As I have read and meditated on the writings of EarthLight, my appreciation for the sacredness of life and of the earth has deepened and I feel motivated to do more than I have done in the past to help heal the earth. I know now that the earth and I are not separate but one body, as Joanna Macy points out in her essay “The Turning.” If the earth is feverish, and dying, then so am I. What I do to help preserve the earth I do for myself and for those I love.

As a result, my behavior has also changed in sometimes small, and sometimes dramatic ways. I feel as committed to helping to preserve the earth as I felt committed to helping my mother when she was dying of cancer twenty or so years ago. When I use cloth bags instead of plastic, when I walk or bike instead of drive, when I hang up clothes to dry instead of using a dryer, I feel as if I am doing these actions out of love for the earth, the source of life. And when I contact my legislators to prod them about environmental legislation, I also feel what John Woolman called “a motion of love.” If your loved one were dying, wouldn’t you be motivated to do all you could to make that person healthy again? And if you yourself were sick or dying, wouldn’t wellness be your top priority?

My hope is that the inspired witness of environmentally conscious Friends have will effect the way all of us see the world, and the way we act in the world. And I hope that the re-birth of the Quaker environmental movement here in California will inspire Friends everywhere to do what is necessary to preserve our precious planet.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rachel Corrie and her family: a light shining in the darkness

Today I was privileged to hear Craig and Cindy Corrie, the parents of Rachel Corrie, speak at a breakfast meeting of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP). Rachel Corrie was a 23-year old peace activist from Olympia, WA, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003 when undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect a Palestinian home from demolition. According to eye witnesses, she was standing on a small mound of rubble in plain sight when the bulldozer drove over her. Her parents have established a foundation to carry on her work for peace and justice (See As this website explains: "Since her killing, an enormous amount of solidarity activities have been carried out in her name around the world."

Cindy and Craig are amazingly committed people. They have just returned from Ramallah where they took part in an event celebrating their daughter's memory--a street is being named after her.

They are also suing the Israeli government for either negligence or deliberate murder. The Israeli government's defense is that they were at war, and therefore anything they did is justifiable. The Israelis apparently do not ascribe to the Geneva Convention that makes it a war crime to target civilians and non-combatants even during times of war. Nor is the US following the Leahy Amendment, first introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as an amendment to the 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which prohibits U.S. security assistance to foreign military or security units “against whom exist credible allegations of gross violations of human rights.”

"We are suing not just for our own sake, but for the sake of many Palestinians whose family members have been killed in the same way through house demolitions," explained Cindy. "As Americans, we have the right to sue. But Palestinians do not."

It was very moving to hear what the Corries have witnessed in Gaza--the terrible devastation that the seige of Gaza has caused, and the incredible suffering that the Gazans have experienced. Rachel also documents this suffering in her emails, which you can read online, and in her book.

I was reminded of my own trip to Israeli-Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project in 2004.

I was pleased to learn that the Corries know Leah Green, the founder/director of the Compassionate Listening Project, who did a screening of the film based on the play about Rachel Corrie. Leah had hoped that this event would be an opportunity to hear both sides of the issue, but several pro-Israeli zealots showed up and dominated the event.

It is very hard indeed for people to listen to both sides of this conflict, particularly in the US. Yet such compassionate listening is necessary to build trust and establish a foundation for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

It is also crucial to speak out against the injustices being committed in this region, particularly the violations of human rights and war crimes described in the Goldstone Report.

We need those who are willing to speak out boldly and prophetically, and we also need people willing to listen compassionately and build bridges.

When I came back from my trip to Israel/Palestine in 2004, I dedicated an issue of Friends Bulletin to those who are working for peace in this troubled area. In my editorial I wrote:

“Things are the worst they’ve ever been” is what you often hear when you talk with Israelis and Palestinians these days. As I discovered this fall during my two-week trip to Israel/Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project, the situation on the ground looks pretty hopeless. After four years of senseless bloodshed, over 4,000 people have been killed, many of them children. (Taking into account the difference in population between Israel/Palestine and the USA, it would be as if 120,000 Americans had been killed.) In the face of such violence, it’s tempting to throw up one’s hands in despair and say, “What’s the use? These people have been fighting and killing each other for over 50 years. They will probably be fighting and killing each other for the duration of my lifetime.”

Such pessimism is understandable, but it would be a betrayal of our Quaker faith in Divine and human goodness as well a betrayal of those in Israel/Palestine who are working for peace, justice and reconciliation. That’s why I have included pictures of many of the wonderful people I met in Israel/Palestine and have come to appreciate and admire, people who are taking great risks to be peacemakers. I regard many of them as my friends. Some are Friends. Because the United States and its misguided policies are a big part of the problem in the Middle East, they are counting on us to be a part of the solution. There are things that we can do to help, but we must act quickly..."

Since then, things have continued to worsen. When the Palestinians elected leaders from Hamas in one of the freest and fairest elections in the Middle East, Israel and the United States launched a seige against the people of Gaza. Duly elected Palestinian officials were arrested and thrown into prison by the Israelis. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed and their homes destroyed. When the Gazans retaliated with their ineffectual rockets (which killed only 19 Israelis in ten years), the IDF invaded Gaza killing over 1200 people, half of them women and children. The cost of damage to Gazan schools, hospitals, and homes has been estimated to be in the billions of dollars. And the seige goes on, largely subsized by US foreign aid.
In the wake of such tragedy, it is well to remember the words that Rachel wrote to her parents:
"I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength
and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances – which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will."– Rachel Corrie, in an email to her mother, February 28 2003.

I am glad I had the chance to connect with some of the Palestinian people, as well as Israeli Jews, who are working for peace and justice in this region. These people deserve our support, as does the wonderful work of the Corrie family. As John wrote in his gospel, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not extinguish it...."

I am also grateful to my friends at ICUJP for standing in solidarity with the Corries and others working for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Peace Jam coming this Saturday to USC!

An exciting intergeneration interfaith peace event is coming to the University of So Cal this weekend, and I hope to see you there!

Actor/activist Mike Farrell (of MASH fame) will be a speaker at the April 24th PeaceJam at USC along with Jake Diliberto, former Marine Corporal and member of "Rethinking Afghanistan," and Eisha Mason, KPFK radio commentator and American Friends Service Committee director. There will also be student speakers including Arin Ghosh (UC Riverside), Eileen Gnehm (West LA College, past president of the WLAC Associated Student Organization), and Christina Wilkerson (USC, past president of the WLAC Social Justice Alliance).
An afternoon of peacemaking activities for children, youth, and young adults will take place in the parking lot next to USC United University Church, 817 W 34th St (corner of Hoover and Jefferson), LA 90089. The family program will be from noon-3:00 PM. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

From 3:00-5:00 PM there will be a rally and peace march opposing US war in Afghanistan.

Parking is available at USC lot and at USC Hillel. There will be free refreshments.
Musicians include Stephen Longfellow Fiske, Fidel Sanchez, Crystal Davis, Mitra and the Luminaries.

Susan Stouffer, the coordinator of the USC Peace Center, explains this event.
"Interfaith Communities United for Peace, Justice (ICUJP), the American Friends Service Committee, SCIC, SCCPWR and The Peace Center of United University Church are working together to plan an afternoon of peace activities for children, youth, and adults on Saturday April 24th from noon – 5 in the parking lot of United University Church – at the edge of USC’s campus. We are calling this afternoon of peacemaking activities, a “Peace Jam.” It will consist of peace music, peace poetry, peace games, peace art, cross-cultural sharings, etc."

The goal of this event is to encourage young people to work for peace and to urge adults to take action to end the war in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Howard Brinton as a Theologian and Apologist for “Real Quakerism”

Summary: Although Howard Brinton was one of the major theologians and educators of 20th century Quakerism, his contributions to Quaker thought have not been critically evaluated in part because of Quaker aversion to theologizing. This paper surveys the development of Brinton’s life as a Quaker educator/theologian, focusing particularly on his classic work Friends for 300 Years. I argue that Brinton was influenced by Barclay’s Apology and was writing a defense of what he considered “real Quakerism”—unprogrammed worship, and what he saw as the authentic theology of Fox and Barclay, updated in modern language for modern times. Brinton’s concern for theology was broadened and deepened by his participation in the World Council of Churches, which made him (and other Friends) keenly aware of the contemporary theological thought, particularly that of Karl Barth and Reinhold Neibuhr. Finally, Brinton was interested in and supportive of the revival of interest in Quaker theology that took place in the 1950s, particularly the formation the Quaker Theological Discussion Group, which was started in 1957 to raise awareness of theology among Quakers and to help foster constructive dialogue among different branches of Quakerism. Finally, I conclude that while most liberal Quakers are “theologically illiterate” as well as averse to theologizing, Brinton himself was keenly interested in a theological approach that was grounded in spiritual experience and provided a cogent intellectual framework for the modern liberal Quaker faith and practice.

A critical understanding of 20th century Quaker theology would be incomplete without assessing the contribution of Howard Brinton, whose works helped create the theological framework for modern liberal Quakerism. Given the importance and stature of the Brintons, I felt some trepidation about undertaking the daunting task of writing the first book-length biography about them. Fortunately, I had access to Howard Brinton's unpublished autobigraphy, dictated to Yuki Brinton a year before his death in 1973, as well as to the Brinton archives at Haverford College and to his family and friends, who have been very supportive. But the lack of secondary material about the Brintons has made my scholarly efforts extremely challenging. As Ben Pink Dandelion, director of Woodbrooke, has observed, Quakerism, and particular 20th century Quaker theology, is “vastly under-researched.”

Ironically, Brinton, one of the most important Quaker theologians of the 20th century, was never trained as a theologian. When he did his undergraduate work at Haverford College, he majored in mathematics and physics. But he did feel drawn to religion and philosophy. The teacher at Haverford who exerted the most influence on his young impressionable mind was Rufus Jones. It was Jones who led Brinton to pursue his interest in philosophy and to study the works of the German mystic Jacob Boehme (the subject of Brinton's doctoral dissertation). With Jones' encouragement, Brinton went on to earn a degree in philosophy at Harvard University, where he studied with such giants as William James, George Santayana and Josiah Royce. But during the first twenty years of his teaching career, Brinton taught math and physics, albeit with many references to religion and philosophy. As one of his students at Earlham noted, Brinton had a unique approach to teaching physics: “Howard enriched his discussion of Newton’s laws, Faraday’s discoveries, and the predictions of Einstein by making cross references to philosophers and theologians and their concepts.”

It wasn't until Brinton married Anna Cox and earned his Ph. D. in philosophy from Berkeley that he was given the opportunity to teach philosophy and religion at Earlham College. He began this new phase of teaching in 1925, when he was 41 years old.

It wasn't until 1933, when he became director of Pendle Hill, that Brinton had the opportunity to devote himself full-time to teaching Quaker theology. By then he was nearly fifty.
During the next fifteen years, Howard devoted himself full-time to teaching Quakerism as it had never been taught before. Pendle Hill was an experimental school that attempted to apply Quaker principles to education. During this intense period with its very sharp learning curve, Brinton created a whole new approach to Quaker pedagogy as well as well as a framework for Quaker theology.

Brinton's training as a scientist and philosopher shaped the way he thought about theology as well as the way he taught this subject. He saw Quakerism as an “experimental” religion in almost scientific sense; and this approach had a strong appeal to liberal Friends, many of whom shared his scientific background.

Brinton was also influenced by the theological conflicts that were taking place between evangelical/fundamentalist and liberal Friends, which he experienced on a personal level. He came from a “mixed” background—his mother was a Hicksite Friend and his father Orthodox. His wife Anna descended from Joel and Hannah Bean, who were disowned from Iowa Yearly Meeting after it was taken over by evangelicals. Until Brinton became director of Pendle Hill, he taught mainly at schools run by pastoral Friends, whose approach to Quakerism was radically different from his own.

Brinton's theological writings can be divided in three phases. His first important theological writings—Vocal Ministry and Quaker Worship (1928) and Creative Worship (1931)—were written while Brinton was in his forties. As their titles imply, they focus on what Howard considered to be the distinctive core of Quakerism: unprogrammed worship and its philosophical implications. These works also lay the foundation for Howard’s theological perspective, his effort to reconcile Quakerism and science, and to address the urgent spiritual needs of 20th century society.

In his second phase (1943-1952), Brinton took on a more ambitious aim: to educate modern Friends (especially newcomers to Quakerism) in the theory and practice of Quakerism. During this period, he wrote two classic works that are essentially didactic: Guide to Quaker Practice (1943) and Friends for 300 Years (1952). These works arose out of Brinton’s experience as a teacher of Quakerism at Pendle Hill and are intended to help Friends understand the theological basis for unprogrammed worship and to practice their faith based on such worship. These works were written when Howard was in his sixties and at the peak of his powers as a writer and thinker.

In the final phase of Howard’s theological journey, he wrote Friends for 75 Years (1960), Quaker Journals: Varieties of Religious Experiences Among Friends (1972) and The Religious Philosophy of Quakerism (1973).

By far the most important work that Brinton ever wrote was Friends For 300 Years. The time has come—indeed, it is long overdue—for a critical assessment of this enormously influential book. Sales figures confirm this work's enduring popularity, if not Chuck Fager’s observation that “Howard Brinton’s stature as a preeminent Quaker scholar and religious thinker of the twentieth century continues to grow, and rightly so, while other once-prominent names slip further into obscurity.”
[3] Thomas Hamm called Brinton “one of the most influential Friends of the twentieth century.”[4] Yet even though Friends for 300 Years has become a classic, and has sold around 30,000 thousand copies since 1965, and probably nearly that many from 1953-65, there has never been a serious study of this classic work. This lack of a critical assessment is truly astounding, given the fact that most Quakers are highly educated people who are quite critical in matters other than theology. If one were writing a biography of Karl Barth, or Reinhold Niebuhr, or just about any other major figure of Catholic or Protestant theology in the 20th century, one would have to sift through a mountain of articles, studies, doctoral dissertations, and books analyzing and assessing their place in the history of Christian theology.

The only critical assessment of Friends for 300 Years is a book review written in 1953 by L. Hugh Doncaster, who agreed with F.B. Tolles’s laudatory assessment that Brinton’s work is “the closest thing this Quaker generation has produced—or is likely to produce—to Robert Barclay’s great Apology.”

Comparing Friends for 300 Years to Barclay’s Apology is the highest praise that a Quaker could bestow since Barclay’s work, written in the 17th century, could be considered the summa theologica of Quakerdom. While many contemporary Quaker theologians would dispute whether Brinton's work deserves such an accolade, Brinton himself makes it clear that Friends for Three Hundred Years was intended to be an “apology,” or a formal defense, of what he viewed as “real Quakerism”--unprogrammed worship grounded in a mix of modernist and Conservative/Wilburite theology. Brinton cites as the two most important sources for his work George Fox's pastoral epistles and Barclay's Apology.

Published in Latin in 1676, and in English in 1678, Barclay's Apology was a systematic defense of Quakerism against its various opponents, from the Calvinists to the Socinians. Unlike many Quaker polemicists, Barclay provided a learned and well-reasoned treatment of key theological issues such the Inward Light, scripture, Man's fallen condition, justification, perfection, ministry, worship, baptism, communion and Quakerism's relationship to society and government. In his introduction to Friends for 300 Years, Brinton says that Barclay's Apology “affords the most complete interpretation we have of Quakerism as thought about.”

Friends for 300 Years defends unprogrammed Quakerism against contemporary non-Quaker opponents, such as Neo-Calvinism and fundamentalism, and also against forms of Quakerism (such as evangelicalism) that Brinton felt had distorted George Fox's original message and mission. Brinton deals with many of the same issues as Barclay: the authority of scripture, conscience vs. the Light Within, the role of reason, the universality of the Light, Christology (the Eternal Christ and the historic Jesus), Man's Responsibility for Good and Evil, Perfectionism, the Fall of Man, and the Relation between the Divine and Human. Unike Barclay, Brinton addresses the contentious issue of the Atonement, which had been one cause of the division between American Friends in the nineteenth century. Brinton, like Barclay, both defends and explains Quaker doctrines logically and clearly so that Friends could understand the rational basis of their faith and enter into a theological discussion/debate with other Christians.

Brinton understood perhaps better than any of his contemporaries the need to educate Friends about theology. The paucity of critical reflection about Quaker religious thought on the part of many modern Friends can partly be explained by Quakerism’s long-standing aversion to theologizing. For this reason, explained Brinton with more than a trace of irony, he used the word “Christian thought” rather than “Christian theology” in the title of an essay published in 1959 because “while many Friends shy away from theology, we do not, or least we do not profess to, shy away from thought.”

Brinton cites as a positive development the establishment of the Quaker Theological Discussion Group, which began in 1957. The first issue of Quaker Religious Thought (Spring, 1959) contains an essay by Brinton entitled “The Quaker Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” This essay is followed by responses from three leading Quaker thinkers of this period: Lewis Benson, Thomas S. Brown, and Charles F. Thomas. Brinton is given the chance to respond to his critics and have the last word. More will be said about this exchange later.

The aversion to theology among unprogrammed Friends stems in part from the pain caused by the Hicksite-Orthodox separation and by the other schisms of the 19th century, but its persistence to the present day is puzzling. As Brinton makes clear on numerous occasions, Robert Barclay and William Penn were deeply involved in the theological and philosophical debates of their times, while George Fox had a passionate concern for theological matters despite a lack of formal training.

But these Friends and their successors were suspicious of theologizing not based upon a direct, immediate and felt experience of Spirit. Today many unprogrammed Friends confuse theology with a creed (the former are religious reflections by individuals within a religious group, while the latter is a requirement for membership in the group). Creeds help to bring cohesion to a religious group, but they can also create an “us” vs. “them” attitude that liberal Friends find repellent. Theological debate may be divisive, but it may also foster understanding and respect if those who disagree agree to disagree agreeably.

Friends often lacked the training to engage in meaningful theological dialogue. Because seminary training was not a requirement for Quaker ministry during its first hundred and fifty years, and was indeed seen as suspect, many early Friends were ignorant of the theological trends of their day. Even Brinton confessed that because his training was in science and philosophy, he sometimes felt disadvantaged when discussing theology at ecumenical gatherings.
Quaker aversion toward theology shifted somewhat in the latter part of the nineteenth century when Friends adopted the system of paid pastors, who required some form of training in theology and the Bible. Quaker schools like Earlham, Guilford, Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore offered courses in religion and some outstanding Quaker scholars emerged, like Rufus Jones and Henry Cadbury. But for the most part, recorded ministers in unprogrammed Meetings had little or no formal training in religion or systematic theology. It wasn’t until 1960 that Earlham School of Religion opened its doors.

Brinton’s work at Pendle Hill in the 1930s and 1940s was a ground-breaking attempt to help educate unprogrammed Friends who felt called to ministry, or to live their Quaker faith authentically. During this period Brinton became aware of how important it was to provide guidance for these eager but inexperienced newcomers to Quakerism. With this group in mind, Brinton wrote a Guide to Quaker Practice (1945), which ended up having a broad appeal. As he explained in his introduction, “This Guide [was] originally written largely with new Friends’ meetings in mind, but also met a considerable need in older meetings. It has been found to be useful not only as an aid to the instruction of new members but also as a reminder to older members of the character and significance of certain practices which at first sight may seem based only on tradition and custom.”
[7] Brinton’s purpose was to encourage Friends to reflect more deeply about the theological underpinnings of Quaker practices and procedures.
Brinton along with other Friends were obliged to think more deeply about theology after the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. To take part meaningfully in this ecumenical dialogue, Friends were obliged to articulate and defend their beliefs within the context of Christian theology. When Howard Brinton went to this gathering as a representative of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, he become keenly aware of the importance of theologians like Karl Barth and Reinhold Neibuhr. This awakening to contemporary theology had a profound influence on Friends for 300 Years.

Following the World Council, occasional articles about contemporary theological trends began appearing in the Friend Intelligencer—most notably, by William H. Marwick, a Scottish Friend,
[9] and by William Hordern, a professor of philosophy and religion at Swarthmore College.[10]
But the aversion to theology among unprogrammed Friends continued and articles analyzing contemporary theological ideas (Quaker or otherwise) rarely appeared in the successor to the Friends Intelligencer, Friends Journal. Even though Friends Journal calls itself a magazine of Quaker life and thought, it probably should be called a magazine of Quaker life and experience since it seldom, if ever, addresses theological issues. Quaker theological discussion has been mainly confined to specialized publications with limited readership, such as QRT and Quaker Theology (founded by Chuck Fager in 1999 as a progressive alternative to QRT).

With this Quaker aversion to theologizing in mind, Brinton tried to make Friends for 300 Years seem like an historical study rather than what it actually was—a defense of what he considered “real Quakerism.” (In his autobiography, Brinton confessed that he took copies of Friend for 300 Years to the Third World Friends Conference in Oxford so that Friends would know what “real Quakerism” was.) Many Friends, when exposed to Friends for 300 Years for the first time, imagine they are reading an objective account of Quaker history and thought. This was never Brinton’s intention. He had a very clear theological agenda in mind—to defend the principles of unprogrammed worship and “traditional” Quakerism, as he understood it.

Brinton’s major contribution to Quaker thought was to present Quakerism not as a system of beliefs, but as a methodology. “The endeavor of this book is not to produce a history of Quakerism,” wrote Brinton in his introduction, “but, by means of historical illustrations, to examine a method.” For this reason, Friends for 300 Years is not organized chronologically, but thematically, beginning with what Brinton regarded as the most important practice of Quakerism: the experience of worship. The first chapter, entitled “To Wait Upon the Lord,” describes the how Quakerism arose from silent, unprogrammed worship leading to a direct, mystical encounter with the Divine. Subsequent chapters deal with aspects of that experience (“The Light Within as Experienced” and “The Light Within as Thought About”). Four chapters are devoted to how Quakers practice their faith—meeting for worship, decision-making, vocal ministry, and witness in the world. There is a chapter on Quaker history (including the various separations), followed by a final chapter: “Quaker Thought and the Present.”

It is notable that Brinton focuses on what Quakers experience and do, rather than on what they believe. In contrast, Wilmer Cooper’s introduction to Quakerism, A Living Faith, is divided into chapters concerned with doctrines, e.g. Quaker View of God, Quaker Understanding of Christ, etc. Patricia Williams uses a framework similar to Brinton’s but begins with theology rather than with religious experience. John Punshon adopts a chronological approach, as does Ben Pink Dandelion.

Brinton’s decision to focus on methodology rather than on doctrine was in keeping with his scientific outlook and training. Throughout the book, Brinton uses metaphors from science that make it appealing to those trained in this discipline.

At the same time, Brinton quotes liberally from early Quaker writers whose rich biblical language conveys the passion and power of their religious experiences. In this way, theology (theory) and history (practice) are combined.

Although Brinton focused on the practice of Quakerism, he also dealt with crucial issues of Christian doctrine in the chapter called “The Light Within as Thought About.” Brinton made it clear at the beginning of this chapter that what unified early Friends was not a common set of beliefs, but a common religious experience that sprung from unprogrammed worship. Even though Brinton privileged this experience over theory, he also saw the importance of “consistent system of ideas.” With this in mind, Brinton was the first to present a systematic Quaker theology for the 20th century. He addressed many of the controversial questions that divided Friends from other Christians, and often divided Friends from each other.

·Is the Bible the ultimate source of authority, or the Inward Light, or both?
·What is the difference between conscience and the Inward Light?
·What role does reason play in Quakerism?
·Is the Light universal? Is there a Christian basis for universalism?
·How do Friends feel about the historical Jesus? What is the Universal Christ?
·What is the Quaker view of the atonement? How has this shaped Quaker attitudes and actions?
·What did Quakers believe about Good and Evil and human responsibility? What about the Fall of Man? Original sin?
·What did Quakers believe about human perfectibility? How do Friends feel about the relation between the Divine and the human?

In addressing these questions, Brinton explored historical precedents and explained their relevance to today's world.

Another important innovation in Brinton’s book was his attempt to address the key theological issues of his day, particularly the neo-Calvinist theology of Karl Barth. Like Barth and the Neo-Calvinists, Brinton recognized the limitations of liberal optimism and saw some validity in Calvin’s dark view of human nature, but he felt that the Neo-Calvinists had gone too far. As L. Hugh Doncaster noted, Brintons suggested that “Quaker historians of this century were influenced, perhaps overinfluenced, by Hegelian idealism; and that now we are facing the challenge of neo-Calvinism. Between these two stands Barclay, ‘pessimistic regarding… ‘natural’ man’s present condition, but optimistic in regard to man’s capacity for regeneration and union with God even in this life.”

Brinton staunchly defended Rufus Jones’s view that Quakerism is essentially a mystical religion which differed dramatically from the Puritanism of its day. This view has been challenged by Hugh Barbour and other Quaker historians, who Brinton felt went too far in their assertions. Brinton also saw the evangelical and holiness movement as fundamentally at odds with “real Quakerism.” This view has also been challenged by evangelical Friends, most recently by Carole Spenser in her book Holiness: the Soul of Quakerism. Certainly, one of the weaknesses of Brinton's argument was his reluctance to acknowledge that his view of Quakerism is a minority position. Pastoral and Evangelical Friends were at the forefront of missionary efforts to spread Quakerism in the 19th and 20th century, and today only 25% of the world's Quakers are unprogrammed Friends.. As Margaret Bacon pointed out, “it is no longer acceptable, as it perhaps was fifty years ago, to write the history of the Society of Friends from the point of view of one's own affiliation.”

Even though Brinton espoused a liberal, modernist viewpoint, he was open to dialogue with those from other branches of Quakerism. He was part of the modern revival of theological discussion among Quaker academics and became involved with the Quaker Theological Discussion Group at its very inception. In the very first issue of Quaker Religious Thought, Brinton's essay on the “Holy Spirit” was published, along with responses from notable Quaker theologians. This exchange among Friends is worth summarizing to give a flavor of the theological views of this period.

Lewis Benson, a Friend who was passionately Christocentric and later founded the New Foundation movement, argued that Brinton overemphasized the “Hellenic” as opposed to Hebrew-Christian side of Quakerism (the Universal Christ Spirit rather than the historic, incarnate Jesus) and did not acknowledge the Trinitarian views of early Friends. Benson, an expert on Fox’s writings, cited passages from Fox’s work acknowledging the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Brinton responds that while Fox occasionally used this traditional formula, most early Friends did not. Penn and Barclay often referred to the Spirit and to Christ in universalist terms. Brinton saw a need for both the universal/impersonal and the particular/personal, and denied that the universal is necessarily “abstract.” According to Brinton, experiencing Spirit as a universal, ineffable presence can be as deeply felt as experiencing Spirit as “I-thou.”
Thomas Brown pointed out “the dangers inherent in religion based only on the Spirit within.” According to Brown, those who rely only on the “Spirit within” run the risk of pride and “idolatry.” Brown also argued for a Trinitarian viewpoint, citing Tillich that the “unity between ultimacy and the concreteness in the living God.” Brinton responded that early Friends had safeguards against spiritual pride: they relied on group discernment and scripture as a way to test the leadings of the Inward Light. In this respect, they were unlike the Ranters and anarchists of today. Finally, Brinton agreed that the Trinity is a “time-honored and suggestive symbol,” but argued that God should not be limited to only three ways of presenting himself to human beings. Why not two, or four, or an infinite number?

Speaking on behalf of pastoral Friends, Charles Thomas argued that there is no reason why the Holy Spirit cannot communicate through pre-arranged worship, as in a sermon. Brinton responded that while it is possible for the Holy Spirit to communicate through this means, prepared talks on religious matters are best presented before or after a Quaker meeting for worship. The distinctive characteristic of Quaker worship is that it offers a unique opportunity for the Holy Spirit to manifest itself spontaneously and without human contrivance. As Brinton noted, “A Quaker meeting is a group search for Truth and seedbed in which individual insights may mature and develop. Such a group exercise of worship is a peculiar and difficult undertaking which may fail more often than it succeeds but three centuries of Quaker practice have proved its power and worth.”

The first issue of Quaker Religious Thought offered a fascinating theological exchange—unlike anything recorded before in a Friends’ publication. It was the beginning of what would prove a lively ongoing dialogue among Friends of different theological perspectives.

Brinton and QRT went in divergent directions, however. Brinton went on to publish articles about theology in Friends Journal, a popular Quaker publication with a wide readership among unprogrammed Friends. QRL became a journal read mainly by academics, although in its early years its circulation climbed to nearly 1,000 readers (a large number for the Religious Society of Friends). Despite the best efforts of this group, most liberal Friends remain theologically illiterate. Chuck Fager has claimed, with some justification, that contemporary Quakers live in an age of theological amnesia. Certainly Brinton tried his best to cure, or at least alleviate, this condition.

[1] Introduction to Quakerism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
[2] J. Theodore Peters, “Remembering Howard Brinton,” Quaker Life, Dec. 1973, p. 30.

[3] Quaker Theology, Issue 7, 2002.
[4] The Quakers in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003, p. 67.
[5] The Bulletin of the Friends Historical Association, Vol. 41. Autumn, 1952, #2, p. 138.
[6] Friends for 350 Years, p. xv.
[7] Guide to Quaker Practice, p. 5.
[8] See my article “Howard Brinton and the World Council of Churches,” being considered for publication by Quaker Theology.
[9] “Some Current Trends in Theology” by William H. Marwick, Friends Intelligencer, Tenth Month, 11, 1952, p. 583.
[10] “Modern Trends in Theology,” Friends Intelligencer, Fifth Month, 2, 1952, p. 249.

[11] Friends for 350 Years, p. viii.
[12] Quaker Religious Thought, ibid, p. 24.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"The Most Remarkable Couple Since George Fox Married Margaret Fell...."

This is the first chapter of my book about Howard and Anna Brinton, described by Quaker historian Thomas Hamm as "the most remarkable couple since George Fox married Margaret Fell."

During their nearly fifty years of marriage, Howard and Anna Brinton exemplified what it meant to be a committed Quaker couple—teaching, writing, traveling and working for peace while raising a family of four children. For sixteen years, they were directors and teachers at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There they wrote numerous articles, pamphlets, and books about the Quaker faith and practice that “reinvented” Quakerism for the twentieth century. Howard Brinton’s book Friends for 300 Years became a classic and was reissued in 2002 with commentary by the Quaker historian Margaret Bacon. Many of Howard’s pamphlets are still used to teach the basics of Quakerism in First Day and Quakerism 101 classes. With his solid grounding in science and philosophy, Howard created a theological framework for modern liberal Quakerism that has been challenged by scholars, but has never been replaced by anything of comparable stature or usefulness. 1

Book-length biographical studies have been written about most of the other “giants” of early and mid twentieth century American Quakerism—Rufus Jones, Henry Cadbury, Douglas Steere, Thomas Kelly, and Clarence Pickett2. A biography of this extraordinary couple is long overdue and will, I hope, help to illuminate not only their lives but also the development of Quaker life and thought in the twentieth century.

The Brintons were “bi-coastal Friends” who helped form the Pacific Coast Association, which later became Pacific Yearly Meeting. Anna Cox Brinton (1887-1969) was born and raised in San Jose, California. Her grandfather, Joel Bean, started the College Park Association of Friends, an independent Quaker organization that was the precursor of Pacific Yearly Meeting. (For this reason, Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends are sometimes called “Beanites.”) Howard Haines Brinton (1884-1973) came from a well-established Quaker family in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and became deeply involved in Western Quakerism through his marriage to Anna.

Throughout their lives, they nurtured and supported the expansion of the “independent” Quaker movement in the Western USA.3 Phillip Wells, a physician who became active with Friends in the 1920s and served as an editor of Friends Bulletin, wrote: “Howard Brinton has often been spoken of affectionately as the father of Pacific Yearly Meeting…the presence and writings of Howard Brinton have been a unifying and inspiring presence for Friends everywhere, but particularly for the Pacific Coast region.”

Unlike most of the major 20th century Quaker scholars, who tended to stay put at one or two institutions, like Haverford or Harvard, the Brintons ranged widely and experienced the full spectrum of Quakerism theologically and geographically.4 Howard taught at Friends Select School in Philadelphia, Olney Friends School in Ohio, Pickering College in Canada, and Guilford College in North Carolina. Together Howard and Anna taught at Mills College in California, Earlham College in Indiana, Woodbrooke in England, and finally settled at Pendle Hill, where they lived from 1936 until they died. In the course of their careers, the Brintons had first-hand experience with the amazing diversity of Quakerism. Both were ecumenical in outlook: Howard attended the first meeting of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam, and Anna took part in the first session of the National Council of Churches. As Henry Cadbury noted, “This scholarly couple has exercised profound influence on the education and outreach, including ecumenical contacts, of Quakerism.”5

In the course of their careers, Anna and Howard traveled around the world, visiting Asia as well as Europe, and spent a year leading Quaker educational institutes in Japan for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). They both deeply appreciated Asian culture and saw affinities between Buddhism and Quakerism.

Howard and Anna had a passionate concern not only for Quaker theology, but also for Quaker history. These two subjects were not separate in their minds, as Edwin B. Bronner makes clear: “In 1961, [Howard] was named president of the Friends Historical Association, and, after three years in that office, he was succeeded by his wife Anna….Howard used history to explain Quakerism, he selected historical facts from the past to support the interpretation of Quakerism that he accepted for himself, namely as a mystical religious movement….” To help explain and defend their views of Quaker history and thought, Howard and Anna collaborated on many historical studies, including a work on Quaker journals.

After their retirement, they continued to live at Pendle Hill in a modest cottage called Matsudo. As Dan Wilson, former Pendle Hill director, noted, “During his nearly forty years at Pendle Hill, Howard Brinton came to be known by seekers from around the world as a teacher of the religion he lived.” Wilson added significantly: “I believe Pendle Hill has been his living autobiography.”
They were actively involved in the AFSC from its early years after WW I through the 1960s. While they are best known as Quaker educatorsor as Dan Wilson called them somewhat grandiloquently, “translucent teachers and ministers of the Light”6peace activism was a key element in their lives. Howard Brinton’s writing on the historical basis of the Quaker Peace Testimony has become a classic. His views on the theological and spiritual underpinnings of Quaker social activism have also been profoundly influential. Through their work at Pendle Hill and the American Friends Service Committee, the Brintons did a great deal to nurture the peace movement and helped to educate a generation of activists.7

The fact of their being a couple—a pair of gifted Friends with distinct personalities and a common mission—was an important aspect of their ministry. Horace Alexander (a British Quaker best known for supporting the independence movement in India) observed that when Alfred Neave Brayshaw returned to England from a visit to Friends in North America in the 1920s, he told his Friends at Woodbrooke: “I have found a wonderful couple of Friends in America. It is a real case of ‘William-and-Mary.’ You must get them to Woodbrooke for a year.” Alexander adds: “Even though they sometimes travelled separately, the names Howard and Anna are for their friends still inseparably linked.”8 As this biography of the Brintons reveals, Howard and Anna were in many ways (as Quaker historian Thomas Hamm noted) “the most remarkable Quaker couple since George Fox married Margaret Fell.”9

The analogy is apt and striking, but needs some clarification. George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, was a charismatic visionary. Howard was also a visionary, an exponent of what he saw as “real Quakerism.” Margaret Fell was the wife of a prominent judge who became Fox’s follower, and then his wife, after her husband died. Margaret was not only a supportive wife, but also an outspoken defender of her faith. She wrote an aptly titled “manifesto of women’s liberation” called Women’s Speaking Justified.10 Anna Brinton needed no justification for speaking out, nor was she ever any man’s follower. But like Margaret, she felt called to Quaker ministry and had organizational skills that helped her husband to succeed in his calling. George and Margaret, like Howard and Anna, were an impressive team.

The Brintons were a “marriage of East and West” not only geographically, but temperamentally. The granddaughter of Joel Bean, Anna embodied the independent, inventive, and creative spirit of Western Quakers. Howard, on the other hand, came from an Eastern Quaker family with roots dating back to William Penn. Grounded in the deep traditions of East Coast Quakerism, and inspired by Anna and West Coast Friends, Howard sought to move Friends beyond traditionalism into a vital connection with the living Spirit and with modern ideas.
I was drawn to write this book about the Brintons in part because for twelve years I edited Friends Bulletin, the official magazine of Western unprogrammed Quakers. (“Unprogrammed” refers to Quakers who worship without a pre-arranged liturgy or paid pastor.) This magazine was started in 1929 when Anna Brinton “first had the happy idea” of producing a quarterly newsletter for the College Park Association of Friends (which later evolved into the Pacific Coast Association and Pacific Yearly Meeting). When I finished editing a book to commemorate the 70th anniversary of this publication, and to chronicle the history of Friends in the Western United States, I discovered that Howard Brinton had dictated his Autobiography to Yuki Takahashi Brinton (his second wife) during the last year of his life when he was blind and therefore unable to read or write. As I perused Brinton’s Autobiography, which no historian had researched, I realized it was a trove of information about a major figure of twentieth century Quakerism whose personal life is not widely known.

“Though Howard Brinton wrote about mysticism with the authority of direct knowledge, there are in his books no accounts of his own experience,” observed Elizabeth Gray Vining. “He was reticent about himself. But in his later years he did say to Dan Wilson that he should have revealed himself more.”

Howard understood that sharing one’s personal experiences as a Friend is a crucial aspect of Quaker practice. “Because Quakerism is primarily a religion based on inner personal experience rather than on creed or ritual,” wrote Howard, “the religious autobiography, usually called a ‘Journal,’ has been the most characteristic form of Quaker writing.”11 For this reason, Howard took an intense interest in Quaker journals, a form of autobiographical writing that he saw as an essential feature of Quaker life and thought.

When Howard turned seventy five in 1959, he was asked to share his lifetime of experience among Friends at a Philadelphia Yearly Meeting gathering. His talk, called Seventy-Five Years of Friends, was autobiographical, but it focused on his religious experiences, not his personal life.
Howard’s personal life is described in his unpublished Autobiography, which I have used as a basis for this study. I tell the story of his marriage to Yuki, and of how Howard’s Autobiography came to be written. I also recount Yuki’s life story, which she shared with me during her final years.

Anna never wrote a journal or memoir but a few years before her death in 1969, she allowed herself to be interviewed by Eleanor Price Mather, who wrote Anna Brinton: A Study in Quaker Character (Pendle Hill Pamphlet # 176: 1971). This anecdotal account of Anna’s life is entertaining and insightful, but somewhat limited and does not attempt to place Anna’s contributions into an historical context, as I try to do.

The Brintons were intensely serious about their religious faith, but they did not take themselves seriously. One of the most appealing features of their lives was their keen sense of humor and fun, which does not always appear in their writings. As Dan Wilson wrote, Howard “could laugh and play heartily, as evidenced particularly at Hallowe’en parties, Pendle Hill log nights, and with his grandchildren.” Anna was also famous for her wit and humor. No biography of the Brintons could omit this quality, which helped to make them effective teachers as well as beloved Friends. Even during the most solemn moments, Howard could see the absurd, as is made clear by this story told by Douglas Steere:

Howard and Anna Brinton entertained many distinguished people in their
Upmeads residence with its fireplace framed with panels of old Chinese and
Japanese Zen patriarchs who looked down searchingly upon the guests. I once
confronted those patriarch in Upmeads when I brought over Daisetz Suzuki, the
great Zen writer, to see Howard. There, before those fierce beetle-browed
figures on the panels, Howard, whose own eyebrows came out like shelves of
thatch over his eyes, asked Dr. Suzuki (whose brows quite matched Howard’s and
those on the panels), “Dr. Suzuki, is it true that Zen Buddhists believe that
there is some connection between sanctity and the size of a man’s eyebrows?”
Daizetz Suzuki took in the situation and with a faint curl of a smile coming
over his face, replied courteously, “So they say,” after which we all roared
with laughter.

Anna had the reputation of being a no-nonsense administrator (“The Spirit of Organization that kills” is how Gerald Heard once described her, somewhat unkindly), but she also had a whimsical and humorous side, especially when it came to children. One of my favorite Anna Brinton stories involves an incident that took place when a group of Pendle Hill students met for outdoor worship. One of the students, Frances McAllister, had a young child who kept disturbing the group by chasing butterflies. Frances was embarrassed by her child’s behavior and went to Anna afterwards to apologize. Anna smiled and reassured Frances with an unforgettable line: “Does thee not know, Friend, that chasing butterflies is a form of worship?”

I have been preparing to write this book for nearly nine years. I began my research in 2001 when I was given a copy of Howard’ unpublished Autobiography by his daughter, Cathy Cary, and was told that no historian had researched it. In 2003 I received a Gest fellowship to do research in the Brinton archives at Haverford College. I spent many pleasant hours interviewing the Brinton family and am grateful for their assistance. I have also interviewed many people who knew the Brintons personally and were happy to share stories about this remarkable couple. This led to my publishing a Pendle Hill pamphlet entitled Living the Peace Testimony: The Legacy of Howard and Anna Brinton (2004). In 2008 I received a Cadbury fellowship so that I could spend a year at Pendle Hill writing a biography of the Brintons. As my wife and I prepared to make our cross-country trek from California to Pendle Hill—we had even quit our jobs and sold our home—we learned that my wife had cancer. This devastating news forced us to forgo our plans and spend the year in Santa Monica while she underwent chemotherapy. Because I didn’t have access to many of the resources I needed, and much of my time had to be devoted to care giving, I almost gave up my hope of completing this project. But in the spring of 2009, I decided to re-read some of Howard’s writings in order to prepare for a short course about the Brintons I was supposed to teach at Pendle Hill, and my enthusiasm returned. Supported by my wife, who read the manuscript while awaiting her admittance to the City of Hope, I felt inspired once more to write about a couple who in many ways epitomize what 20th century Quakerism was all about. When Kathleen died suddenly of cancer in May 2009, I was determined to complete this book and dedicate it to her memory. She was (and still is) my inspiration.
Writing about the Brintons has been a way for me to explore my relationship to a faith that has enriched my life and deepened my spiritual awareness beyond what words can tell. Writing this book has truly been what Quakers call a “leading of the Spirit.”

As I wrote this book, I was aware that even though I have been a Quaker for nearly twenty-five years, I am still an outsider in many ways. I was not raised a Quaker, nor did I attend Quaker schools. I had to learn about Quaker history and culture through a slow process of trial-and-error (mostly error). What comforts me is the knowledge that the Brintons were very supportive of convinced Friends like me. They nurtured fledging Friends in Pacific Yearly Meeting and they did their best to clarify the “secrets” of Quakerism with their students at Pendle Hill, many of whom were newcomers to the Religious Society of Friends. The Brintons had little patience with “birthright Friends who thought they knew [what Quakerism is all about] but did not.”12

I have quoted extensively from Howard’s Autobiography and other writings to give a flavor of what the man and his conversation were like; and I have also tried to do the same for Anna, although fewer records remain of her oral reminiscences. Howard frequently admitted his shortcomings in his Autobiography, and Anna could also be self-critical. I believe that no biography can be useful unless its subject is presented warts and all. Howard and Anna would have appreciated honesty more than hagiography. As Howard observed in his study of Quaker Journals,

When a manuscript [of a Friend’s autobiography/journal] was found by the family, it was usually turned over to a committee of the meeting for editing. This was often disastrous. Sometimes the editors, from too much caution, would eliminate references to persons then living, or other interesting parts of the Journal.13

To avoid such a “disaster,” I have preserved as much as I could of what Howard and Anna said in their own words, while correcting errors of fact owing to lapses of memory. I have also provided a critical context so their comments and views can be evaluated from perspectives other than their own. My hope is that readers will come to appreciate how these two Friends lived their faith, and how their efforts to be authentic Quakers in the twentieth century can help us to deepen our connection with the Spirit in our era.

1 In 2002 Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years (written to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quakerism) was the third best-selling book in the Pendle Hill bookstore, a major Quaker book distributor. Over 1,000 copies of this Quaker classic were sold yearly. Two other Brinton works are among Pendle Hill’s top twenty best-selling publications. No other 20th century Quaker author circulates so widely, at least in Quaker circles. Friends For 300 Years has recently been reprinted, with an historical update and notes by Margaret Hope Bacon, under the title Friends for 350 Years (Pendle Hill: Wallingford, 2002).
2 Elizabeth Gray Vining, Friend of Life: A Biography of Rufus M. Jones (1959); Margaret Hope Bacon, Let This Life Speak: The Legacy of Henry Joel Cadbury (1987); Lawrence McK. Miller, Witness for Humanity: A Biography of Clarence E. Pickett (1999); Richard Kelly, Thomas Kelly, a Biography, Harper and Row, 1966; and E. Glen Hinson, Love at the Heart of Things: A Biography of Douglas V. Steere (1998).
3 See A Western Quaker Reader, edited by Anthony Manousos. Friends Bulletin: Whittier, CA. 2000.
4 Rufus Jones spent most of his career teaching at Haverford. Henry Cadbury taught at Haverford Bryn Mawr, and Harvard.. Douglas Steere taught at Haverford for most of his career, with a one-year stint at Union Seminary. In his all too short career, Thomas Kelly, like Howard Brinton, taught at a variety of schools and places, including Wilmington College, Pickering College, the University of Hawaii, Hartford Theological Seminary and Haverford.
5 Friends Journal, December 15, 1969, p. 708.
6 Living in the Light: Some Quaker Pioneers of the 20th Century, Volume 1, in the U.S.A. Leonard S. Kenworthy, Editor. FGC, Kennett Square, PA, 1984, p. 41.
7 See Living the Peace Testimony: The Legacy of Howard and Anna Brinton by Anthony Manousos. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 372. Wallingford, PA: 2004.
8 Horace Alexander, The Friend, November 14, 1969, p 1397.
9 Thomas Hamm, Earlham College: A History 1847-1997. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997, p. 139.
10 Robert J. Leach, Women Ministers: A Quaker Contribution. Pendle Hill Pamphlet #227, 1979, p. 8.
11 Brinton, Quaker Journals: Varieties of Religious Experience Among Friends. Pendle Hill, 1972, p. ix.
12 Manousos, A Western Quaker Reader, Friends Bulletin: Whittier, CA, 2000, p. 90.
13 Brinton, Quaker Journals: Varieties of Religious Experiences Among Friends. Pendle Hill: 1972, p. xi.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What does it mean to be a person of peace?

We are having a discussion about peace at the Culver City Interfaith Alliance and several people expressed the concern: what do I do if I am attacked? Don't I have the right to defend myself? I shared the following thoughts about self-defense and the martial arts from a little book called That Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba, trans. by John Stevens. According to the intro,

Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) was history's greatest martial artist. Even as an old man of eighty, Morihei could disarm any foe, down any number of attackers, and pin down an opponent with a single finger. Although invincible as a warrior, Morihei was above all a man of peace who detested fighting, war, and any kind of violence. His was was Aikido, which can be translated as "The Art of Peace."

There is much in this book that I can resonate with as a Quaker. He writes:
Foster and polish
The warrior spirit
While serving in the world;
Illuminate the path
According to your inner light.

Your spirit
is the true shield.

Opponents confront us continually,
but actually
there is no opponent there.Enter deeply into an attack and neutralize it as you
draw that misdirected force into your own sphere.

The Art of Peace is a
form of prayer that generates light and heat. Forget about your little self,
detach yourself from objects, and you radiate light and warmth. Light is wisdom;
warmth is compassion.

As this little book of wisdom makes clear, there are many ways to defend
oneself and one's loved ones without killing or maiming one's opponent, if we
are open to the inner light and to the Way. If we spent as much time training in
these nonviolent techniques as we spend watching movies that make us fearful, or
practicing how to shoot guns that usually end up killing the wrong person by
accident or getting stolen by criminals, we would feel and be a lot safer. True
security doesn't come from a weapon; it comes from being truly centered in the
Way that shows us how to respond to threats appropriately and nonviolently.

Guns and violence give us only illusory security. The only way to achieve peace is to be at peace with oneself

My friend Doris sent me this quotation in response (I would prefer inclusive language, i.e. "person of peace"):

A man of peace is not a pacifist, a man of peace is simply a pool of silence.
He pulsates a new kind of energy into the world, he sings a new song. He lives
in a totally new way his very way oflife is that of grace, that of prayer, that
of compassion. Whomsoever he touches, he creates more love-energy.

The man of peace is creative. He is not against war, because to be
against anything is to be at war. He is not against war, he simply understands
why war exists. And out of that understanding he becomes peaceful. Only when
there are many people who are pools of peace, silence, understanding, will the
war disappear.--OSHO. Zen: The Path of Paradox, Vol II"