While waiting for Friends General Conference (FGC) Central Meeting and the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee session to begin this weekend, I've been trekking to Philly to spend time at the Quakerbook store at FGC and explored the latest in Quaker publishing. Here are some of the treasures I uncovered. They are listed in order of preference:
1) Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices (QUIP: FGC Press, Philadelphia PA, 2010). pp. 354, $17.50. This is the second book by Young Friends. that Quakers United in Publishing (QUIP) has sponsored. The first tilted towards unprogrammed, liberal Friends, but the current volume (a big, sprawling tome of 350+ pages) is much more inclusive. I've never seen any book that captures so vividly the amazing diversity and energy of the world-wide Quaker community--Evangelical, liberal, Christ-centered, non-theist, post-modernist--with a global reach that embraces Latin America, Africa and India as well as North America and the UK. The quality of writing is very uneven, but even poorly written entries are revealing and enhance one's understanding of contemporary Quakerism. Some of the entries are in Spanish (with English translations), since huge numbers of Evangelical Quakers reside in Latin America, and especially in Bolivia. This book is a delightful read--well worth time spent dipping into and also exploring in depth.
2) Quakers and the Search for Peace. Edited by Sharon Hoover. Friends Publishing Corp.: Philadelphia, PA: 2010. pp. 155. $16.00. This is a compilation of some of the best articles on peace that have appeared in Friends Journal over the past 50 years, although focusing on the more recent. Its themes include: Seeking Peace in Home and School, Seeking Peace in the Community, Seeking Peace in Prisons, Seeking Peace in Wartime, and Seeking Peace through an Artistic Lens. What is impressive about this collection is its broad range and its recognition that the Peace Testimony isn't just about opposing war, it's about manifesting peace and justice in every aspect of our lives. It begins with practical articles for parents, including what to do about ROTC or when your daughter wants to march in a Veterans' Day parade with the Bluebirds. It includes such nitty-gritty challenges, such as how do you, as a Quaker, respond to a mugging? There are articles on war tax resistance, AVP work in prisons, conscientious objection, and even using art and poetry to create visions of peace. I was pleased to see my piece on interfaith peacemaking included in this multifaceted collection of testimonies by Friends who are seeking to live "in the life and spirit that takes away the occasion of war."
3) Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader. Edited by Elizabeth A. Oppenheimer. 2009. pp. 273. $19.95. For those who prefer books to the internet, this is an excellent intro to Quaker blogging (for those totally unfamiliar with the internet: a blog is a web journal, a personal op ed, similar to a column in a newspaper). This compendium is also useful for those who haven't had time to keep up with Quaker blogs and are curious about what's been happening in the Quaker blogosphere over the past few years. The voices of Quaker bloggers like Liz Oppenheimer, Marin Kelley, Peggy Parson, Peterson Toscano et al carry a vibrancy and freshness that is sometimes lacking in the more carefully vetted print versions of Quakerism. Blogs tend to be short, personal, and pithy, and sometimes irreverent. Take the opening of Peterson Toscano's essay on ministry called the "M Word": "No, this is not a reference to a TV show about meterosexual men. The M word as in Ministry." A great way for a stand up comic to talk about discovering that comedy can be a form of ministry. The section on "Convergent Friends" helps clarify this much discussed term describing an internet-inspired "movement" of Conservative and liberal Friends who have been meeting virtually and face-to-face to have dialogue and build connections. Ranters, pagans, non-theists, and Christ-centered Friends of all flavors share their stories in real time via blogs. Like Spirit Rising, this is essential reading for anyone interested in the vitality and diversity of contemporary Quakerism.
4) If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus. Phillip Gulley, author of If Grace Is True. Phil Gulley is a Quaker pastor from the Indiana who loves the teachings of Jesus so much he is willing to point out the shortcomings of those who profess to be his followers. (He doesn't spare himself.) Gulley writes with gentle humor, common sense and keen insight, calling for Christians to be faithful to Jesus' gospel of love and forgiveness. His open and affirming approach to Christianity has made him unpopular with the conservatives in Friends United Meeting; He even received hate mail from Friends when he wrote a book claiming that God would "save" everyone--gays, straights, even non-believers--through the power of Infinite Love and Goodness. Gulley is a delight to read since he has a wonderful gift for storytelling and anecdotes (he has published many popular books in which he writes about his midwestern Quaker church with the same wry humor that Garrison Keillor uses to describe the happenings of Lake Woebegon, Minnesota). In 2010 Gulley was invited by Quaker Universalist Fellowship to give the Elizabeth Watson Lecture at the Friends General Conference gatheringr--a sign that what Gulley has to say is truly universal. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand what liberal, self-critical, universalist Christianity is all about.
5) Heaven in the Midst of Hell: A Quaker Chaplain's View of the War in Iraq. Stories and Photographs by Commander Sheri Snively, D. Min., CHC, USNR. Raven Oaks Press: San Diego, CA, 2010. pp. 269, with many full-color illustrations. $26.95. Sheri Snively is a Quaker chaplain who loves American soldiers (her "daddy" was a military man) and feels deep compassion for the Iraqi people who are the victims of war. She describes what it's like to be at the bedside of an American soldier whose spine has been irreparably damaged and will live the rest of his life as a paraplegic. She shares her anguish in trying to console an Iraqi mother, one of whose sons has been killed, and another critically wounded. Sitting with this grieving mother who beats her chest and cries out "Allah, allah," Snively feels "helpless and horrified." When the mother's second son Mohammad dies, Snively asks: "Does anyone notice or care? A few did.... He shouldn't have to die in vain.... But what does that mean?" Asking questions like this is as close as Snively comes to questioning the war in Iraq. She focuses instead on the poignant moments, especially those in which soldiers show their humanity (like sticking chocolate in the pockets in Mohammad's sister). Snively's theology is upbeat and positive; she understands Jesus as a healer, but not as a prophet. Her book is full of evocative snapshots and moving vignettes that remind us that even in the midst of war's horrors, there are good people and blessed moments. Those looking for a critique of war, or any sense of outrage at war's stupidities and horrors, will be disappointed by this book. Snively seems to regard war as a natural disaster or an act of God, like an earthquake or tsunami, rather than as a man-made catastrophe deserving of critical reflection. Towards the end of this book, Snively describes going to an anti-war rally wearing her "Camp Ar-Ramadi Iraq 2006' sweatshirt because she was "proud to have been there.... and not afraid to let people know." She sees her as a kind of peace activist, and she is welcomed by the protestors. She joins some of them for dinner and tells them war stories, and they listen sympathetically. I'm sure they felt as I do. It is good to know that kind, compassionate people like Sheri Snively are serving as chaplains. It would be even better if our troops came home and there was no longer any need for people like her to give comfort to those whose hopes and dreams have been shattered by the hellish horrors of war. (See also http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/a-pacifist-chaplains-soul-searching-tour-of-war/)
6) Interfaith Dialogue at the Grass Roots, ed. by Rebecca Kratz Mays. Ecumenical Press: Philadelphia, PA., 2008. pp 131. $15.00. Rebecca Mays is a Quaker teacher and editor who ran the publications program at Pendle Hill for many years and has given workshops on spirituality with a Marcia Praeger, a Jewish renewal rabbi. This fine collection of essays on grassroots interfaith work was put together as a special issue for The Journal of Ecumenical Studies and explores interreligious dialogue/conversation from an Abrahamic perspective, i.e. Jewish, Christian and Muslim. I highly recommend this book as a thoughtful and helpful introduction to interfaith dialogue from both a practical and theological standpoint.
6) The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change--and When to Let Go. Eileen Flanagan. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin: NY, 2009, rpt. in paperback 2010. pp. 272. $19.95. Flanagn writes Quaker self-help books that are popular and highly readable. This book is based on the Serenity Prayer ("Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can change, and wisdom to know the difference"); and it comes with this blurb from the Dalai Lama: "The Wisdom to Know the Difference is about being able to change. What is important is that we can change and transform ourselves into better, happier people." Who can argue with the Dalai Lama, or an author who can convince him to write a blurb on her behalf? I'm actually very pleased that a Quaker author can write a book so readable it can find a niche in this highly competitive market. Flanagan doesn't hide her Quakerism, either. She uses queries and discusses clearness committees and pervades her book with Quaker values, while at the same time affirming the truth in other faiths, from Roman Catholicism to Buddhism. I am glad to join the Dalai Lama in recommending this book to people of all faiths, not just my own little circle of Friends.
7) A Lasting Gift: The Journal and Selected Writings of Sandra L. Cronk, edited by Martha Paxson Grundy, forward by Parker J. Palmer. FGC: Philadelphia, 2009. Sandra Cronk. A sensitive, thoughtful seeker and teacher, Sondra Cronk taught at Pendle Hill for many years and wrote two slender pamphlets: "Peace Be with You: A Study of the Spiritual Basis of the Friends Peace Testimony" and "Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community" (PH Pamphlet 297). Despite poor health, which caused her much physical and mental pain, Sandra lived a rich spiritual life, earned a doctorate in divinity from the University of Chicago, and made an important contribution to Quaker spirituality. Among other things, she helped to launch the School of the Spirit, a program that helps Friends to deepen their spiritual lives and become spiritual directors. This book charts Sondra's life, with passages from her notebooks and other writings. For those interested in deepening their spiritual lives, this is an invaluable resource. As Deborah Shaw writes, "[Cronk's] hard-won wisdom speaks to us, through the testimony of a life centered in prayer and lived in Christ."
8) Imaginary Friends: Representing Quakers in American Culture (1650-1950). James Emmett Ryan. The University of Wisconsin Press: Madison, 2009. pp. 285, with illustrations. $26.95. This erudite tome explores with subtlety and depth the diverse ways that Quakers have been portrayed in books, art, and movies. I would highly recommend this book to scholars, but the general reader will probably find most of it too dense to be enjoyable. This is regrettable since there is enough material here to make a fascinating book, if it were written in a more readable style.