Monday, June 24, 2013

"This is the end": theological reflection on a dark comedy about the Last Days

As those of you who follow my blog know, each year I give awards for best films, documentaries and animated features promoting nonviolence and peace. I call this “The Golden Dove Award.” This year I’ve seen a film that makes me wonder if I need to give another award, one I am tentatively calling “The Rubber Ducky Award.”

This award came about because one of my roles as uncle is to accompany my niece and nephews to movies of their choice. This week I went to my niece’s graduation in New Jersey and was asked to go to see “This is the End” by my sixteen-year-old nephew. I love my nephew but our tastes are very different. He loves professional wrestling, violent films and video games, and comedies full of profanity. So I was curious about going to see a film that he was excited about.

“This is the end” is a comedy with an unlikely theme: the end of the world. Its plot revolves around a group of comedian-actors whose lives consist of doing drugs, playing video games, having sex, talking about sex, cracking jokes at each other’s expense, and partying to the max. Two of them go together to a mega party in Beverly Hills in a high tech fortress compound with wall-to-wall art and drugs created by a popular actor I had never heard of. Not being much of a fan of pop culture, I never heard of any of the actors who portrayed themselves in this movie, so I missed a lot of the allusions. The action and humor were so lightning-paced most of the jokes went over my head, but I gather from my nephew’s laughter, something funny was going on. I can testify that most of the humor involved sex and profanity.

When Los Angeles is hit by a mega earthquake, and raging fires, most of the partyers run outside and fall into a bottomless sinkhole that seems to lead directly to hell. (This is later referred to as the "Sinkhole de Mayo." Ha, ha!) A small troop of comics who escape this fate find themselves trapped in their fortified mansion, fearful of the Dantesque inferno outside. There they must learn to get along and to share their limited supplies of food, water, drugs, and a single candy bar. Learning how to share proves a huge test for men who are charming and funny, but who are as immature as kindergartners when it comes to survival skills and moral awareness.

The humor is dark, dark, dark. In one scene, a man desperate to escape from the flames and demons outside the mansion smashes a hole in the door and begs to be let in. As the comedians debate whether or not to allow him to enter, there is ghastly scream and his head goes rolling across the floor, gushing blood. The comedians scream like little girls and begin kicking the head around and then are embarrassed to realize they are playing soccer with it. If this is the kind of humor you find enjoyable, you will love this movie.

As  horror after horror unfold, and the gang of comics react in absurd ways, one of them realizes that what they are experiencing was predicted in the Book of Revelations. This is not a natural disaster, but God’s judgment, he tells his incredulous friends. He recalls seeing people sucked up into heaven in a blue beam of light, and realizes he was witnessing The Rapture. He urges his friends to repent, but they think he’s smoked some bad weed.

It turns out he is right. They are experiencing the Tribulations described in Revelations. One of the troop becomes possessed by a demon, and their safe house ends up engulfed in flames. When they leave, they are confronted by a horrific demon who stands between them and their escape vehicle. One of the troop—a black man who feels badly about some act of violence he committed as a teenager—decides to sacrifice his life for his friends. He makes a ruckus to distract the demon so his friends can escape. As they drive away, they see a  blue light suck their ecstatic friend up into the night sky. He is clearly heavenly bound!

They realize is the only way to escape the Tribulation is to sacrifice their lives for their friends. No easy task for a bunch of narcissistic comedians who find it well-nigh impossible to share a Snickers bar.

As I watched this plot device, I couldn’t help thinking of the Gospel of John, which begins: “The Light shone in the darkness and the darkness couldn’t understand or extinguish it.”

The glimmer of light in this dark comedy—its saving grace, as it were—was friendship. Screwed up as these comedians were, most of them genuinely liked each other and were trying, as best as they could, to be genuine friends.

In the Gospel of John, which the makers of this film seem to have known, Jesus explains the nature of real friendship. He tells his disciples that they are no longer his servants, but his friends, if they follow one simple commandment: “love one other.”

Love is a much misunderstood word, so Jesus explains exactly what he means: “No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for his friends.”

Bingo! That’s the key that helps these self-centered comedians escape from the hell world of the Last Days. One by one they put themselves in harm’s way to save a friend, and are raptured into heaven.

The film doesn’t take itself seriously, so heaven turns out to be a narcissists’ paradise. In this Beverly Hill’s version of heaven, everyone parties and does drugs (presumably with no hang overs or side effects), and everyone can have anything they want. This isn’t exactly what Jesus had in mind, but who really knows? He forgave prostitutes and other ne’er do wells because they “loved much.” Perhaps Jesus would forgive Hollywood actors and let them party for eternity if they are willing to “lay down their lives for their friends.” We won’t know for sure what God has in store for us until we have the courage and faith to follow this challenging commandment. However, the film makes one thing clear: If these drug-addled, narcissistic comedians can do it, there is hope for us!

It is tempting to dismiss movies like “This is the end” as a waste of time (and I certainly wouldn’t recommend seeing it unless you have a beloved teenage nephew who wants to see it). But as a Quaker and a Christian, I try to see “that of God” in every one and in every act of creation. There is a lot of trash and filth and darkness in “The is the end,” but there is also a glimmer of light. The film clearly shows that self-sacrificial love is the key that unlocks the door to heaven. Given this premise, which I totally endorse, I am willing to give “This is the end” my newest award, the Rubber Ducky, for a film that has at least one redeeming feature.











Monday, June 17, 2013

Seeing the Light through a Prism....Reflections on the Quaker Testimonies

 I was intrigued that the June/July issue of Friends Journal contains four articles reflecting on and questioning the formulation of Quaker testimonies that Howard Brinton developed in the 1940s, which has come to be known as SPICE (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality).
In his article "Categorically Not the Testimonies," Eric Moon points out that "testimonies are something Quakers do, not something we talk about." Yet like many Friends, including me, he spends a lot of time talking about the Testimonies! What he says is thoughtful and valuable, however, and I agree with him that "when we codify, make creed, and canonize a few words, we limit our vision, as well as the possibility of God's work through us." It is far better, Eric says, that we share our stories about our experiences, inward and outward, with Spirit than to focus on the Testimonies as if they were Quaker dogmas.
   In "Reviving the Testimonies," Michael Levi also expresses concern that the Testimonies have been turned into a dogma or creed, setting up a "false authority" that gets in the way of revelation. He also recommends that Friends share stories about how Spirit is at work in our lives.
  In "Reclaiming Our Divine Birthright," Patricia Barber shares her personal story about how she tried to put on Quakerism like a new dress, and how unsatisfying this approach was. She didn't really understand Quakerism until she had a direct and transforming experience of the Divine.
  Jacob Stone, on the other hand, sees value in the Testimonies since they give us something to think about. In "On Authority, a New Apologia," he argues it is important that Quakerism become a "moral system that transcends theological divisions and encourages us all to define and live a universal morality." Jacob takes a humanist perspective and believes that Quakers should be able to analyze their beliefs logically and in the light of modern science and philosophy.
This discussion is extremely important. I think Howard Brinton would have been appalled (as I often am) that many Friends have come to see his formulation of the Testimonies almost as a creed or dogma, rather than as a way of explaining how God is at work within and among us. Brinton utterly rejected creedalism in all its forms. For him, true religion sprang from a direct experience of the Divine, not statements about the Divine. For Howard, as for early Friends, the Testimonies are not about what we believe, or even what we do, they are about what Spirit is doing through us.

In Friends for 300 Years, Chapter 4, Brinton explained the origin of Social Concerns by using the image of Divine Light streaming down from above, entering a meeting, and scattering into four “testimonies,” almost like light refracted through a prism becoming a rainbow.

I love this fluid, dynamic image, especially after having seen a retrospective of the work of James Turrell, an artist who grew up in a Quaker family in Pasadena and uses light as a medium of art. As Turrell’s work discloses, physical light is mysterious energy, transforming everything, yet often taken for granted. The same is true of Divine Light. When the invisible, yet omnipresent Divine Light is refracted through the silent, centered worship of a meeting or an individual, it becomes visible through action.

One reason many Friends have lost touch with the Inward Light and rely instead on external Testimonies is that we have become too conventionally educated and “heady.” There is nothing wrong with relying on reason or on authority to some extent, according to Brinton, but they are not enough. We need the guidance of something greater and deeper than human means, something that Friends called the “Inward Light.”

I resonate with how Patricia Barber described the transforming power of the Inward Light in her life—the “divine birthright”—that enabled her to “live under the cross” and experience “abundant life.”

Her words reminded me of the traditional Christian meaning of testimony, i.e. “witnessing to the work of Jesus Christ within a person’s life” (Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quaker), edited by Margery Post Abbott et al.) This meaning of testimony is one embraced by Evangelical Friends and is worth re-framing, as Michael Levi does, for liberal Friends.
How can I testify (i.e. provide evidence) that Spirit is at work in my life, in specific ways? How am I being stretched beyond my natural abilities and inclinations to love my neighbor, care for creation, reconcile conflicts, and promote justice?
If we ask this question honestly, as individuals and as a Meeting, and if we are willing to seek and submit to the guidance of the Inward Light, we may yet reclaim the spiritual power to which the lives of early Friends abundantly and radiantly testified.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What you can do to end torture at Gitmo and elsewhere

Gitmo Is Killing Me
Published: April 14, 2013


ONE man here weighs just 77 pounds – another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at
Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.

When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.

I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.

Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.

During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.

It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.

When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.

The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.

I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day. Where is my government? I will submit to any “security measures” they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary.

I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free. I am now 35. All I want is to see my family again and to start a family of my own.

The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.

I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the Legal Charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call. A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 15, 2013, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Gitmo Is Killing Me

I have included Samir Moqbel's moving testimony so that you can have a feeling sense of what it's like to be a prisoner at Gitmo, one of numerous sites supported by the US where cruel and inhumane detention takes place. Over 5,000 inmates here in California are being held in solitary confinement in conditions tantamount to torture under the UN Convention Against Torture.

June is "torture awareness month" because the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) entered into force on June 26, 1987. The US is a signatory of this treaty but as you know, has committed or supported torture on numerous occasions. This has been proven in a 600-page, bipartisan report recently released by the Constitution Project. See You can order a free copy of this report from its website.
Here are three things we can do to end torture:

1) Contact Senator Dianne Feinstein and let her know that you support the release of the Senate Investigative Committee report on torture (see sample letter below). Also thank her for going to Guantanamo and calling for its closure. See

2) Send a letter to a prisoner at Guantanamo. This is a way to let them know they are not forgotten, and that you care. I am grateful to Friend Janet Riley for informing about this campaign. See

3) Show a video on torture and/or indefinite detention by the National Religious Campaign against Torture.

Here's a letter that I personally delivered to Senator Feinstein's office, signed by Friends from Santa Monica and Orange Grove Meeting. I was part of a delegation of ten LA religious leaders organized by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.

Dear Senator Feinstein,
We want to commend you for conducting the Intelligence Committee investigation into the use of torture, and for your leadership in efforts to end torture. We are writing on behalf of Quakers who have taken a strong stand against torture, such as the “Quaker Initiative to End Torture” ( and Pacific Yearly Meeting, which issued a statement calling for an end to torture and to bring to justice those who have authorized torture in violation of international law (see below). Quaker organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation have taken part in national religious campaigns to end torture.
We urge the Senate Committee to release the results of its investigation to the public. Americans have a right to know the facts. Public officials who authorized torture need to be held accountable.
Our nation loses its moral credibility as a defender of human rights if it refuses to acknowledge its role in practicing torture. As the bipartisan study by the Constitution Project makes clear, the US “engaged in the practice of torture” and “the nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contribution to the spread of torture.”
There is no justification for torture—either legal, practical, or moral. We need to dispel the myth that torture provides critical information that helps keep Americans safe. Most experts agree that information gained through torture is unreliable. Furthermore, the use of torture incites hatred against Americans and is a recruiting tool for terrorists.
As people of faith, we affirm that torture is morally wrong and never justified. It is also a violation of international law.
Bringing the facts about US-sponsored torture to light could help ensure that it does not happen again, either abroad or in the United States, where inmates are being held in conditions of solitary confinement tantamount to torture.
As Pacific Yearly Meeting affirmed in a minute approved in 2011: “As Friends [Quakers], we stand firmly opposed to torture committed by anyone in any setting. We support the work of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture ( as well as of Quakers’ Initiative to End Torture ( We urge elected officials to bring to justice those who have authorized torture in violation of international law. We urge our governments to stop preventing the victims of torture from seeking redress and just compensation in our courts. We are also deeply concerned that cruel and inhumane punishment such as involuntary long-term solitary confinement are taking place in prisons in California and throughout the USA and the world. Finally, we support the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), which can help prevent torture and abuse by requiring a ratifying country to establish National Preventative Mechanisms (NPMs) to monitor the treatment of prisoners. In addition to the NPMs, OPCAT allows for international oversight of places of confinement to ensure that torture and other abuses are not occurring.”
Please continue your leadership against torture and vote to release the results of the Intelligence Committee investigation.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Life and Legacy of the Brintons: Resources and Links

I am thrilled that in a couple of weeks, my biography of the Brintons, which I began thirteen years ago, will finally be published by FGC Quakerbridge. Entitled "Howard and Anna Brinton: Reinventors of Quakerism in the Twentieth Century," this is the first book-length biography of this influential Quaker couple.
Beginning July 1, I will also be giving a workshop on the Brintons at the Friends General Conference gathering in Colorado. I am excited about the opportunity to share what I have learned about the Brintons with Friends, and also with the world (through this blog and my book). I am also very pleased that Jill will be joining me and be part of this amazing gathering of Friends from across the continent.
For those who want to learn more about Howard and Anna Brinton, I recommend these topics and links:

1.          Letting One's Life Speak. How did the Brintons exemplify Quaker values and also face the challenges of 20th century Quakerism: conflicts between Orthodox and Hicksite, liberal and Christ-centered, East Coast and West Coast Friends. What do the Brintons tell us about the challenges we are facing as Quakers today? The importance of biography and of family/community for Friends. For the story of how Howard's memoir was written, see

"Growing up in Brinton Country":

2.          Translucent teachers of the Light”: the Brintons as Quaker Educators. How did the Brintons influence Quaker educational ideas through their long involvement at Pendle Hill? What was the role of Anna as well as Howard in this educational experiment?

3.          The philosophical/theological basis of Quakerism and the “invention” of our modern Quaker testimonies (Simplicity, Peace/Harmony, Integrity, Community, Equality). Howard Brinton not only studied religion with Rufus Jones at Haverford, he also studied philosophy at Harvard with Henry James, George Santayana, Josiah Royce, and was deeply influenced by Barclay and Fox. We will examine the theological ideas and agenda of Friends for 300 Years, and also how Brinton “invented” the modern Quaker testimonies we call SPICE. See and
     See  also "Howard Brinton and the World Council of Churches"
4.          Science and Quakerism. Trained as a physicist at Columbia and Berkeley, Brinton taught physics at Earlham College and was interested in an “experimental” approach to religion based on the methodology of science. His interests ranged from the German mystic Jacob Boehme to modern evolutionary theologians like Teilhard de Chardin. How has the scientific method and ideas influenced modern Quakerism? See

Enthusiasm for Life”: Anna's career and contribution to Quakerism. See

5.          The Peace Testimony. The Brintons met while volunteering for the AFSC during World War II and maintained a keen interest in peacemaking and the AFSC throughout their lives. We will explore how Brinton’s writings and Spirit-led activism helped shape a Quaker understanding of the spiritual basis for Quaker peacemaking. See

I also want to recommend a recent article by Chuck Fager, who responded to a review copy of my book  with some very probing questions about the Brinton legacy. See

For those who would like to do a study of Brinton's theology, I have put together this study guide:

Quaker Beliefs According to Howard Brinton:

What do the Inward Light and your spiritual experience reveal to you?

Quakers do not have a creed, but hopefully we do think about our religious experiences from time to time. That is what theology is all about—reflecting on and sharing our thoughts about what we experience in times of worship and practicing our faith.

In Friends for 300 Years, Brinton makes it clear that what unites Friends is not our theology but what Robert Barclay calls our “secret want” to find “something beyond words which might satisfy [our] weary souls” (p. 39).

Today you will have an opportunity to share what you believe, and to learn what others believe, and especially to learn something about what early Friends believed, according to Howard Brinton. Here are some questions that Brinton addresses in Friends for 300 Years.

•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?

For Brinton’s response to these questions, see Friends for 300 Years, Chapter III, “The Light Within as Thought About.” Here are some quotations from this very important, though often overlooked, chapter:
Scripture and the Holy Spirit. “For the Protestants, the Scriptures were primary and the Holy Spirit secondary as an aid to their understanding. The Bible was the word of God. Nothing could be added to it or subtracted from it by any further revelation of religious truth. For the Quakes the Light Within or the Spirit was primary and the Scriptures a word of God, that is, secondary, confirming and clarifying the revelations of the Light Within”(Brinton, p. 40).
Conscience and the Light Within. “The Light Within is not to be identified with conscience. Conscience is not the Light in its fullness but “the measure of Light given us.” The Light illumines conscience and seeks to transform an impure conscience into its own pure likeness” (p.43).
Reason and Religious Truth. “A great deal is said in Quaker writings about the inability of reason to reach religious truths unless the Light, or the Scriptures or other writings inspired by the Light, furnish it with the right premises on which to work. The same is true in science. Scientific truths are not produced by reason alone, but by reason operating on physical facts ascertained through experience” (p. 45).
Universalism. “No Quaker belief aroused more opposition than the doctrine that the Light of Christ had been given to all men everywhere, since the beginning of the human race. This concept was especially repugnant to Protestants who believed that only the elect would be saved” (p. 45).

Eternal Christ” and the “historic Jesus.” Brinton distinguishes between the “Eternal Christ” and the “historic Jesus.” Brinton saw Jesus and both human and divine. Jesus was one with God because his will was in harmony with God’s will. The Light shone completely in Jesus. He was the “supreme revelation of God in human term” (p. 50).
The Atonement. “The Quakers did not apply to the sacrifice of Christ the Old Testament concept of a blood sacrifice offered to appease an angry God….” Rather, Christ’s sacrifice was to “bridge the gap between the divine and the human, overcoming the isolation and estrangement of the human individual. This would be an at-one-ment, a uniting of that which had been separated”  (p. 53).
Man’s Responsibility for Good and Evil. “On two important religious doctrines the Quakers differed from their Protestant opponents and were closer to the Catholics. They believed that righteousness could not be imputed to man by God unless man was actually righteous, while the Protestants believed that God, because of the sacrifice of Christ, could impute Christ’s righteousness to man even though he continued to sin. The Quakers also believed that perfection and freedom from sin was possible in this world, while the Protestants believed that all men, even the saints, continue to sin in ‘thought, word and deed’” (p. 55). “This brings us to the heart of Quaker theology as it grew out of actual experience. Man finds himself in the twilight zone of reason, poised between two worlds, an upper world of Light, and a loser world of Darkness, a Spiritual world which is superhuman and a material world which is subhuman. He is free to center his life in one of the three: he can live by the Light, he can live by human reason, or he can live at the mercy of his sensual cravings. His body is animal, his mind rational and the Light Within him is divine. He is never without all three, though the three are so intimately related it is impossible to distinguish between them sharply. Much depends on their relationship. The Light of Truth should be a guide to reason and reason should help instinct in a properly ordered life. This is a simple empirical theology, but it seems up much of early Quaker thought” (p. 63).
Perfectionism. “The Quakers believed that the process of redemption and regeneration might go so far as sometimes to free man completely from sin and leave him at least temporarily in a state of perfection. It is easy to misunderstand this doctrine. Perfection not only permits growth, it requires growth. Did not Christ grow in wisdom and stature (Like 2:52)? As Barclay says, a perfect boy can become a perfect man and he is not a perfect boy unless he is on the way to becoming a man.” (p. 59).


"Translucent Teachers of the Light": Howard and Anna Brinton as Quaker educators

Howard and Anna Brinton are best known as Quaker educators, or as Dan Wilson called them somewhat grandiloquently, “translucent teachers and ministers of the Light.”[1] For sixteen years, during the 1930s and 40s, they served as co-directors and teachers at Pendle Hill, the Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia. After retiring, they lived on campus and continued to teach there for the rest of their lives, where they modeled what it meant to teach in the manner of Friends.

Before coming to Pendle Hill, a unique experiment in Quaker education, the Brintons both had highly successful careers in academia. Howard studied at Haverford, Columbia, Harvard and received his doctorate from Berkeley. He served as an interim president of Guilford College and taught at Pickering, Mills College and Earlham. Anna’s achievements were equally, if not more impressive. She earned her doctorate in Classics from Stanford at age thirty, served as department head at Mills, an elite women’s college in northern California, and taught with Howard at Earlham. But something about conventional education did not satisfy the Brintons. They were looking for something different, something that would enable them to put their Quaker faith into practice.

 Howard and Anna taught at Woodbrooke in England and were intrigued by this alternative Quaker institution of higher education. When he heard of an opening at Pendle Hill, Howard decided to leave Mills College in 1934 to serve as a temporary director and lecturer at this fledging Quaker school that was part seminary, part intentional community, and part think tank.

“To persons as long identified with the standardized academic field as ourselves,” wrote Howard, “an institution which does not readily fit into the American educational mechanism might seem problematical if not quixotic.”[2]

Modeled after Woodbrooke, Pendle Hill was birthed at a difficult time (1929), but with great expectations for its future. Its first director was Henry Hodgkin (1877-1933), a Quaker missionary to China, peace activist, and one of the founders of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. A convert to the “Social Gospel,” Hodgkin was deeply concerned with the social issues of his time as well as with the spread of authentic Christian principles. Summoned to the United States by American Friends, he left China at age 58 and became Pendle Hill’s first director in 1930. In two years he placed his personal stamp on what he called a “haven of rest, a school of the prophets, a laboratory of ideas, a fellowship of cooperation.” Because of ill health, he didn’t last long in his position, however. He died on March 26, 1933, in a Dublin, Ireland, nursing home.[3] But he left behind a legacy of fearless inquiry into social issues. The results of one of Pendle Hill’s first courses taught by Henry Hodgkin was published as Seeing Ourselves Through Russia; a book for private and group study (New York: R. Long and R.R. Smith, 1932).

Pendle Hill can be seen as part of the pacifist effort to form alternative schools and cooperative living models that would challenge the mainstream culture of violence of militarism. As Appelbaum explains:

A number of educational experiments with close connection to pacifism also fed into the cooperative-living movement. Brookwood Labor College, founded in 1919 in Katonah, New York, aimed to apply “Christian principles to the use of property, community living, and education.” Under the leadership of A.J. Muste [who later taught at Pendle Hill], from 1921 to 1933, it specialized in the training of labor leaders. Pacifists such as John Nevin Sayre and Sarah Cleghorn, as well as many lesser lights, taught at Brookwood, and members of similar schools were subsequently established.[4]

When Howard came to Pendle Hill, the acting director was Richard Gregg, author of Training for Peace, and one of the leading pacifist theorists of this period. Gregg saw pacifism as a “way of life” rooted in practices that included discussion, folk music, meditation, simple cooperative living, and service.
When Howard became acting director of Pendle Hill, he shared many of Gregg’s concerns, some of which are reflected in his inaugural lecture, “A Religious Solution to the Social Problem” (PH #2, 1934). “This was an attempt to bring into one the two principal interests at Pendle Hill, religion and social reform,” recalled Howard. “I have followed this ever since.”[5]

In this work Howard diagnosed the chief problem of his day as the inability of the individual to find a healthy relationship with his community. People are drawn either to excessive individualism (which glorifies the individual, isolates us from our community, and leaves us feeling spiritually empty and isolated) or to secular totalitarianism (which binds us to group consciousness and makes us prey to social control). In Howard’s view, people in modern secular society have lost their feeling of genuine connection with their community because they have lost a sense of something greater than the individual self. As a result, people lack a sense of inner worth and seek to find meaning and purpose in their lives by joining a secular cause, such as Communism or Fascism, that lead to alienation or war. Such causes end up stifling rather than fulfilling the individual’s deepest needs. The other extreme is renunciation of the world—going off to live in a monastery.

Howard proposes a third alternative, a “religiously integrated” community of individuals who are bound together by a common experience of unity, and yet respect each other’s individuality. In Howard’s view, the goal of Pendle Hill was to create this kind of “religiously integrated group.” Such a group would model how human beings could get along together by simplifying their lives and living together cooperatively.

More will be said later about Howard’s views on society and social relations, but for now one picture expresses more than thousands of words. In an annual Christmas letter dated December 1939, beautifully drawn by Anna, Howard explained social development and “what makes men live together peaceably” with a light touch of humor.  Rhyming couplets explain the six stages of society: tribalism, liberalism, anarchism, utopianism, super-humanism, and “on earth as in heaven.” Each stage is illustrated with a geometric design showing how human beings relate to each other on both a horizontal and vertical plane. At the bottom of the picture are Anna’s drawings of various family members, each with his favorite pet. Anna is shown feeding her chickens, Mary and Martha; Howard is shown holding two rabbits and gazing fondly towards his family. This letter illustrates how the Brintons managed to integrate teaching, family life and the mission of Pendle Hill into a delightful and instructive whole.

Anna was no doubt a factor in Pendle Hill’s decision to hire Howard as director. When she arrived just before Christmas in 1934, she made a very strong initial impression, as this Log entry makes clear (with some Quaker humor):

Anna Cox Brinton arrived today from California with three children; established the family at Pendle Hill, visited two sets of grandmothers and cousins, changed the children from California wardrobes to Pennsylvania ones, obtaining two extra coats apiece just by momentum, prepared a Christmas entertainment with festivities and gifts for filling stockings for all the Pendle Hillers left behind, wrote a paper on the ‘Illustrated Editions of Horace,’ and packed her suitcase for Toronto.[6]

Anna proved to be a very effective teacher and had the ability to get along with a wide variety of people, including a rather stodgy and conservative Friend named Henry Bartlett, who has originally opposed the idea of forming Pendle Hill, but was willing to co-teach a class with Anna.

Anna attracted students from Westtown, her alma mater, and gave talks on Chinese art that were well received. She became friends with a local Quaker art teacher named George Whitney and his wife Janet, who wrote biographies of Elizabeth Fry and other notable women.

When Anna and her family left Pendle Hill, the community sent her off with a humorous ballad expressing its affection:

Over valleys, over mountains
            With her clan came Clementine,
Came to wake us, stir and shake us,
            Make us all snap into line.
Chinese art and Chinese idols,
            Buddhist sculpture and design
Would have floored us or have bored us,
            Save as taught by Clementine.

Summoned hither, summoned thither,
            She could never quite decline,
And her speeches (which were peaches)
            Numbered nine and ninety-nine.

Now those days are gone forever,
            We are left to wail and pine,
Must she leave us, sadly grieve us,
             Our beloved Clementine.

The Brinton clan left Pendle Hill, but not forever. Soon afterwards Howard was asked to be director of studies, and Anna director of administration. They were to begin in the fall of 1936.

Upon their arrival at Pendle Hill, they were pleased to learn that the Board of Managers had made plans to build them a new home. When Anna saw the plans, however, she “radically altered them to resemble [their] home at Mills College.”[7] She named the house “Upmeads” from a medieval fantasy novel by William Morris entitled The Well at the World’s End. Little known or read today, this work was much beloved by C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Howard quotes the passage that inspired Anna:

They had but little world’s wealth save and except good meat and drink, and enough or too much thereof; house-room of the best, fair friends to be merry with and maidens to kiss, and these also as good as might be, freedom withal to come and go as they would; the heavens above them; the earth to bear them up, and the meadows and acres, the woods and fair streams, and the little hills of Upmeads for that was the name of their country.

Life at Pendle Hill was not as idyllic as this beautiful passage implies. At this time Pendle Hill was a struggling institution with only a handful of students. It took tremendous faith and courage for Howard and Anna to leave the comforts of their tenured academic life at Mills College and move to Pendle Hill. Living conditions at Pendle Hill were relatively primitive. Funds were scarce and future prospects uncertain. The directors not only had to teach, they also had to raise funds, recruit students and faculty, and even do chores, like cooking, changing the beds, taking care of the plumbing and making repairs. Students also participated in these tasks as part of their educational and spiritual discipline since at Pendle Hill there was not supposed to be a sharp line drawn between students and staff.

While Upmeads was being built, the Brintons lived in various small apartments at Main House and “The Barn,” a stable that had been converted, thanks to the frugal Quaker spirit, into living quarters, a place of worship, and offices.

 After moving into their new house, Howard set to work cleaning up the grounds, preparing a lawn and planting a number of trees.

“Some still stand,” recalled Howard proudly. “I also constructed a new road by building it up with ashes. This road is still in use.”[8]

Howard loved handy work and one of his first acts upon moving to a new house was to set up a tool shop in the basement of Upmeads so he could repair furniture and other objects.

“The Pendle Hill chairs were frequently breaking down [so] I was [often] busy repairing them,” Howard recalled. “I also built a stone fireplace for cooking outdoors.” Just so no one would doubt who built it, he added, “A stone on it was marked 1932. This came from an older place.”[9]

According to Howard, his “largest and most important accomplishment at Pendle Hill was to institute a method of tutoring the students individually.” At that time, most colleges and universities in the United States used the lecture mode of instruction and a course of study that was standardized—or as Howard would say, “mechanized.” Howard adopted a system similar to the practice at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England, where each student has an individual tutor. Howard used the tutorial method as well as the lecture mode. Students met individually with Howard each week, and were expected to write a term paper.

“At the beginning of my interviews many students would declare that they had no special interest about which they could write,” recalled Howard. “But I assumed that everyone has some special interest which can be discovered. It might appear at first like a passing fancy. . . . Every person needs some ideas around which his life can be integrated and given meaning and purpose.” The job of the teacher, in Howard’s view, was to help students discover that idea.

Howard spent two days a week conducting these interviews, but he also observed boundaries. If students wanted to talk about personal problems, he sent them to Dora Wilson, who had the ability and the calling to deal with such issues.

Howard was proud of the fact that students often produced memorable works, many of which did not fit into the traditional academic mold.

“One term paper developed into a novel which was published,” recalled Howard. “A brilliant Japanese girl read a paper on Zen. She said she didn’t want to have it preserved because she wanted to be like a fish that did not leave any path behind in the water. Some papers were collections of poems. Some were dramatic and could be acted. Others appeared only as pottery, weaving and drawing.”

These productions were shared with the community, often with tea and other refreshments.

“This process of teaching through term papers lasted more than twenty years,” Howard observed. “It was gradually given up by my successors, though occasionally term papers were still written and read to the Pendle Hill community.”[10]

Anna made an important contribution to the academic life of Pendle Hill through her persuasive skills. A prominent Quaker named T. Wistar Brown bequeathed an endowment to Haverford to establish a graduate school of religion. This school lasted from around 1925-35, but was laid down in part (Howard believes) because Haverford did not wish to grant degrees to women in this department. When it was decided to discontinue this graduate school, a large meeting took place at Haverford Meetinghouse to discern what to do with this bequest. During this meeting it was proposed that Pendle Hill might carry on the work that T. Wistar Brown had wished to promote. The idea didn’t gain much favor, so Anna decided to visit President Comfort of Haverford and see if she could persuade him to let Pendle Hill continue the work of the T. Wistar Brown School. Her idea was to let students live at Pendle Hill and take some of their classes at Haverford College. President Comfort liked this idea, so Anna traveled about mostly to Quaker colleges looking for likely candidates. Of the students she found, Haverford selected four.[11]

“In this way Pendle Hill secured each year four first-class students,” recalled Howard. “They prepared good term papers and acted as pace setters for the other Pendle Hill students. Although these four studied at Haverford, they were very loyal and cooperative members of the Pendle Hill community. They felt more attachment to Pendle Hill than to Haverford. When they returned to the area for visits, they usually visited Pendle Hill rather than Haverford.”[12]

Even though academic work was important, at least to Howard and Anna, Pendle Hill was conceived not as an academic institution, but rather as a spiritual community that “seeks to heal the inward confusion that is so great a part of the world’s outward confusion.”[13] It had qualities of a monastery, graduate school, think tank, and settlement house. While its primary purpose was to nurture contemplation and study, Howard noted that “members are encouraged to undertake regular field work, often in connection with some local agency, provided this does not interfere with their main objective in coming to Pendle Hill.” Opportunities for such field work were readily available in nearby Chester, a working class community with its share of needy indigents.[14]

Situated in a tranquil rural setting, Pendle Hill became in many ways the Mecca of the American Quaker world. During the 1940s and 50s, Clarence Pickett, the executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, lived in a neighboring house built by the AFSC for its director. American Friends Service Committee volunteers and staff frequently came to Pendle Hill for training and debriefing. [15] There was also a steady stream of lecturers, visitors, and conference attendees at Pendle Hill then as there are today.[16]

Pendle Hill endeavored to help students balance social activism with inward spiritual development, a goal of Quakerism since its earliest days. Activists would come to Pendle Hill for spiritual rest and relaxation, sometimes turning to pottery or gardening as a way of centering down. People going through life crises would go to Pendle Hill and find new direction and purpose for their lives. The goal was to help people to find inner peace and to become involved in social betterment.

Howard quotes the familiar line of William Penn to explain Pendle Hill involvement in progressive political causes, such as the labor movement: “True godliness does not turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.” Classes were offered in such “radical” subjects as labor relations and cooperative ventures, led by activist scholars such as Howard Haines Turner. The International Ladies Garments Workers also met on the Pendle Hill campus.

The focus of study during the Brintons’ second year as directors at Pendle Hill (1937-1938) was on “two major inquiries: A) The Function of Religion in Social Change and (B) The Problem of War and its Solution.” According to Howard, “these two subjects represent the inner and outer aspects of a single problem; how can a better social order be attained without resort to violence?”[17]

These questions became increasingly urgent as the world edged closer and closer towards a second global war. For more about the Brintons as teachers and practitioners of pacifism, see See




[1] 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.
[2] Brinton, “Why We Came to Pendle Hill,” The Friend, 5/20/1937.
[3] Tall (six-foot-five), athletic offspring of an old Quaker family in Northeast England, Hodgkin began his career as an evangelical Friend. A turning point in Hodgkin’s life came when he made friends with the Kaiser’s chaplain at the onset of World War I and they swore eternal friendship. When Hodgkin wrote a paper defending pacifism for a Lambeth conference of Christians and I was rejected, he decided to form a group called the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1914. Thus began his career as peace activist. For a good brief biography of Hodgkin, see Kenworthy’s Living in the Light.
[4] Appelbaum, p. 148.
[5] Autobiography, p. 62.
[6] Pendle Hill: A Quaker Experiment in Education and Community by Eleanor Price Mather. Pendle Hill: Wallingford, PA, 1980, p.21.
[7] Autobiography, p. 80.
[8] Autobiography, p. 81-82.
[9] Autobiography, p. 82.
[10] Autobiography, pp. 83-84.
[11] Autobiography, p. 85-86.
[12] Autobiography, p. 85.
[13] The Pendle Hill Idea, PH Pamphlet #55, 1951, centerfold.
[14] Ibid, p 17.
[15] Henry Cadbury said, “For my own part, I always regarded the Service Committee and Pendle Hill as the obverse and reverse of the same good currency of American Quakerism” (Ibid, p. 47).
[16] Ibid, p 17.
[17] Pendle Hill Bulletin, Number 13, January 1937.