What Bible Is She Reading?

September 8, 2015

What Bible is she reading? Or how is she reading her Bible?

So long as Kim Davis is occupying so much of the news cycle for her refusal to issue (or allow to be issued) marriage licenses to same sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky, we should ask these questions.

I’m for allowing a good deal of leeway to people to accommodate their religious beliefs. Quakers have a good deal of relevant experience with this. But in considering such accommodations, we the public should be able to expect some degree of integrity in the beliefs.

Kim Davis describes herself as an Apostolic Christian and attends a Pentecostal church. Her rejection of same sex marriage, she says, is based on Biblical views of marriage.  But if so, why is she prepared to issue marriage licenses to previously married persons — persons who are now divorced?  Jesus is exceptionally clear on this question.  Here is Matthew 5:31-2:

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Mark 10:10-12 and Luke 16:18 say essentially the same thing.

I’m not one who believes that the Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin. (See also here and here.)  And I’m also not one who believes that the Bible is the inerrant and final word of God. But I am prepared to give room to people who do believe the Bible is the inerrant and final word of God.  I’ll argue with them, but I won’t condemn them.

Until, that is, they start picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe.  The Bible is much, much clearer about the question of divorce.

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Character — Is It There? Is It Real?

September 1, 2015

This summer I’ve been reading Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy: The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995), The Lay of the Land (2006), and now four short stories about Bascombe in Let Me Be Frank With You (2014).  In each of these works we see the world through Bascombe’s eyes and only his, the narrative mixing dialogue with others and (more) interior dialogue. Each unfolds over a short period of time, a few hours or a few days.  Very little of importance happens during these stretches of narrative though in each he does reflect on the important moments in his life: his son’s death, his divorce and subsequent relationships, his changes of career, his health crises.

This is justly celebrated fiction often compared to John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom novels.  Bascombe has been described as “one of the most memorable and authentic characters in fiction,” and the novels and stories contain bracing glimpses of recent recent American culture.

These works have held my interest even as I’ve realized I’m not like Bascombe and don’t even much like him.  There is an honesty about Bascombe I admire, but there is precious little generosity in him and few enough moments of kindness towards family, friends or strangers. He lives comfortably (there’s never a moment of financial worry), yet he adds little value to the life of others around him, doesn’t even seem to try much. That isn’t a reason not to appreciate the novels: I’ve been given deep access to someone I don’t much admire.

In “The New Normal,” one of the stories in Let Me Be Frank With You, Ford has Bascombe say to himself

Character, to me, is one more lie of history and the dramatic arts. In my view, we have only what we did yesterday, what we do today, and what we might still do. Plus, whatever we think about all that.  But nothing else — nothing hard or kernel like. I’ve never seen anything resembling it. In fact I’ve seen the opposite: life as teeming and befuddling, followed by the end.

Bascombe is contrasting himself with his first wife, Ann:  “Being an essentialist, Ann believes we all have selves, characters we can’t do anything about (but lie).”

As I read that I thought perhaps this is what truly separates me from Bascombe.  I think he’s being honest that he doesn’t believe in character, but I do, and what’s more, I don’t think I would have continued reading about Bascombe if I didn’t think there was a stable character that held Frank Bascombe together, something that gave him a kind of coherence.

Of course I also believe “character” is a construct.  It’s not an organ in the body; it’s not something tangible to which one can point.  And yet it is a useful way of understanding human beings. Knowing someone well means coming to anticipate how they will act in new situations in the future: what will delight or frighten them, whether they can be trusted (and with what), how deep are the ruts  from their past or whether they are capable of doing something that breaks with what has come before.  With nearly everyone I encounter, I think I find a reasonably stable character. Understanding this helps me sort out how to deal with them.  (It’s astonishing to me that Bascombe doesn’t see the world this way.)

Of course I found myself wondering where that word came from, how we came to have that term “character.”  Here’s etymology.com:

character (n.) Look up character at Dictionary.com
mid-14c., carecter, “symbol marked or branded on the body;” mid-15c., “symbol or drawing used in sorcery,” from Old French caratere “feature, character” (13c., Modern French caractère), from Latin character, from Greek kharakter “engraved mark,” also “symbol or imprint on the soul,” also “instrument for marking,” from kharassein “to engrave,” from kharax “pointed stake,” from PIE root *gher- (4) “to scrape, scratch.” Meaning extended in ancient times by metaphor to “a defining quality.”

You remember Eponina, who kept her husband alive in an underground cavern so devotedly and heroically? The force of character she showed in keeping up his spirits would have been used to hide a lover from her husband if they had been living quietly in Rome. Strong characters need strong nourishment. [Stendhal “de l’Amour,” 1822]

Meaning “sum of qualities that define a person” is from 1640s. Sense of “person in a play or novel” is first attested 1660s, in reference to the “defining qualities” he or she is given by the author. Meaning “a person” in the abstract is from 1749; especially “eccentric person” (1773). Colloquial sense of “chap, fellow” is from 1931. The Latin ch- spelling was restored from 1500s. Character actor attested from 1861; character assassination from 1888; character-building (n.) from 1886.

“A defining quality,” yes, but its origin is from something marked on the body, like a branding. That’s interesting. That the meaning “sum of qualities that define a person” dates from the mid 17th century makes the term come into use with the rise of the novel as a literary form.

Here’s the Google Ngram, showing its use declining since before the Civil War. Is Bascombe’s view winning out?


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Peace Moves to Center Stage At the Core of Development at the UN

August 4, 2015

As a member of the governing committee that oversees the work of the Quaker United Nations Office in New York (QUNO-NY), I’ve just received the e-mail below from Andrew Tomlinson, QUNO-NY’s Director. He’s reporting on progress at the UN regarding new UN goals to replace the Millenium Development Goals.  The MDGs were eight goals established in 2000 to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women.

Much of the world made very impressive progress toward realizing the eight goals between 2000 and 2014, but one striking — and unsurprising — conclusion was that countries experiencing violent conflict made relatively little progress.  Andrew’s e-mail focuses on the new goals that the UN is setting and tells us that peace building will be central to the new goals.  This is something that QUNO-NY has been working towards.


From Andrew Tomlinson:

Over the weekend, UN member states agreed the final text for the ‘post-2015’
agenda, a new global development framework that will be formally adopted in
New York in September, a framework that replaces the Millennium Development
Goals with a vision that is far more ambitious in its breadth and universal
applicability. The document, entitled “Transforming our World: the 2030
Agenda for Sustainable Development”  incorporates 17 universal goals and
accompanying targets:

“We resolve, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere, to
combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and
inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and
the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of
the planet and its natural resources.”

One of the key new element in this framework is the inclusion of goals and
targets that address social transformation, and in particular that identify
support for peaceful, just and inclusive societies as a core objective.  The
heart of this approach is in Goal 16 “Promote peaceful and inclusive
societies”, but there are key related elements in other places, including
Goal 10 “Reduce inequality within and among countries”, Goal 5 “Achieve
gender equality” and more. When this process began, more than 3 years ago,
it seemed very unlikely that the peace issues would overcome the strong
political headwinds against their inclusion. As our colleagues at Saferworld
noted today “This is a rare moment when multilateralism has exceeded
expectations and affirmed the right priorities – and should be celebrated” .
Peace is recognized as one of the key areas of the framework (the preamble
lists People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership) and is also a
cross-cutting issue in the complementary document on financing, the Addis
Adaba Action Agenda.

As with any multilateral agreement, the document is the product of a lengthy
process of political negotiating. Perfect it is not, and the details of
implementation, measurement and accountability will take many months to sort
through. Significant issues on the financing side in particular remain
unclear, and the balance between the interests of people, governments and
commercial interests will be continue to be actively contested.

QUNO has been working at the UN for over three years to support the peaceful
and inclusive societies approach within the negotiations and bring attention
to the needs of conflict-affected societies, engaging with member states, UN
officials and civil society as required. The details of this engagement can
be found on the QUNO website
http://www.quno.org/timeline/Peace-and-Development .

Recent contributions include an article in the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development on peaceand post-2015

and an associated podcast for the Academic Council on the United Nations System http://acuns.org/current-issues-52/?utm_source=E-Update&utm_campaign=f6a7f8d7a6-E_update_August_20148_13_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2860348e31-f6a7f8d7a6-108649229  that was released last week.

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Changing Your Religion

July 21, 2015

There is a Quaker family in Some Luck, Jane Smiley’s novel (first of a trilogy) about an Iowa farm family, but that’s not what drew my interest. Good thing, too, because nothing is said about this family religiously except that they are Quaker and thus a bit apart from others. Walter Langdon, the father in the family that is at the center of the chronicle grew up Methodist but not in any deep way. Rosanna, who he marries when he returns from World War I, grew up Roman Catholic.

This religious difference doesn’t seem much of an issue (she was eager to be out of her parents’ house and on with her life) until she and Walter soon begin having children and the question arises about where they will be baptized. That question freezes Rosanna for a time, but she opts for the Methodist church.

What does draw my interest is Rosanna’s religious journey from that point forward. It is unusual in my experience to read a novel that addresses religious issues unless issues of religion or religious identity are front and center, the main thing. Religious matters aren’t the main thing in Some Luck but they do matter, especially for Rosanna.

She gives birth to six children over a space of two decades, each quite different from the ones before and that sets her wondering. When Mary Elizabeth (the third) dies of an accidental fall, Rosanna finds herself with despair and troubling questions.

If having religious questions in view in a novel is unusual, all the more so is having religious change in view. Rosanna drags her family to a Billy Sunday revival and answers an alter call. That helps her feel cleansed and better able to leave the tragedy behind. She directs her family away from the Methodist church in which her husband grew up and has them begin attending an Assembly of God church. She finds a more active religious experience there that’s helpful to her, but later, with the Depression full upon their lives, she finds the preacher in that church too quick to blame individual behavior for the sad circumstances in which nearly everyone is now enmeshed. She and her family creep out of the church mid sermon one Sunday never apparently to return.

There is nothing especially deep or insightful about this religious journey in Smiley’s novel, but it is striking that I can’t think of a parallel in another novel. I can think of novels where there is turmoil about having given up religion but is there another that sympathetically imagines a person’s leaving one church for another ass one thread in a more complex skein?

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All Hail Max Carter

May 18, 2015

On QuakerQuaker this morning I posted a brief appreciation of Max Carter for his quarter century as Director of Friends Center at Guilford College.

Yes, Max is one of those Carters, one of the stalwart families of Western Yearly Meeting. He avoided Earlham as an undergraduate (he went to Ball State), but received his M.Div. from ESR in 1975. I first met him at Germantown Meeting in the mid-late 1980s. I was a youngish political science professor at Temple University (and a new Friend) and he was completing a Ph.D. in Religion.

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Should We Record Ministers?

May 13, 2015

If we believe that all are called to ministry, should Yearly Meetings specially record some people as ministers?

RecordingWhen a group of meetings were set off from Indiana Yearly Meeting a few years ago and then formed the New Association of Friends, they had the challenge of working out all the arrangements (policies, processes) of a Yearly Meeting (this even if NAoF doesn’t want to consider itself a Yearly Meeting). One of those challenges is the question of whether NAoF wants to record people as ministers. That question has particular resonance because a number of individuals in NAoF had been recorded in Indiana Yearly Meeting or in other bodies.

Friends began recording ministers at the very beginning of our history. Today some Yearly Meetings record ministers and some do not. (FUM YMs generally do; FGC YMs generally do not.) In nearly all cases, whether to record was settled by Yearly Meetings decades ago. I am finding the current discussion in NAoF fascinating: it raises questions that were thrashed out long ago but also some fresh notes.

NAoF appointed a small committee to draft a policy on recording. What they produced broadly follows the lines of current recording processes in FUM YMs but (in my reading) makes the criteria and process less formalistic. As an appendix they also provided an excellent historical overview of recording in the Religious Society of Friends. Now member meetings in NAoF are discussing the draft, and there is also a discussion taking place among NAoF members via e-mail.

This is a conversation worth others following. Here are three contributions (from among many) in that discussion.

One person writes: My main concern is that we find a way forward for the New Association that both honors our past while giving us the flexibility and creativity we need to envision a new future together. … My hope would be that we not conflate recording of gifts with the professional requirements of [pastoral ministry and chaplaincy], but instead be free to celebrate and record the wide variety of gifts evident among us. If there is a member of my meeting with a gift of music ministry, for instance, that should count just as much as a gift for pastoral ministry and should in no way require an MDiv or a background check. Perhaps the answer is in distinguishing between the professional requirements of particular gifts and the recording of gifts generally. How can we together develop a process that satisfies both needs? I believe that we can, and that we will have a better process for it.

Another writes: It might be useful to point out that those who have been to seminary, or who have professional aspirations related to ministry, approach this question differently than those of us who are simply part of the priesthood of all believers. Some (or many) of those who are or wish to be chaplains and pastors are asking for a process that supports their work in a world that requires credentials. The rest of us have much less at stake, personally.

For me, personally, I don’t mind if we engage in some level of affirmation and credentialing as a way of showing collective support, particularly where it allows a ready interface with the outside world (e.g., if recording permits someone to solemnize marriage under state law). Although it creates two classes of people in an otherwise egalitarian framework, I’m willing to hold my nose and support it because I value people who make such a commitment and want to support their work.

As a musician, I don’t need encouragement of my “gift” from the meeting through any formal recognition. In fact, I would prefer that I not receive special recognition: my music itself is my gift to my meeting, something that I give freely without a desire for recognition. To be “rewarded” with recognition in a formal way turns my gift of music into a transaction with the meeting, which undermines the very act of giving. I suspect the same is true for many others who volunteer their time and talents in many other ways. A minute of appreciation is more recognition than any of us seek. Recognizing gifts feels like a slippery slope: Which gifts do we recognize? Who do we exclude by not recognizing all gifts? Why make unnecessary distinctions?

My recommendation: do what we have to do to interface with the outside world, but keep things as simple and real as possible by avoiding too much recognition.

A third writes: I agree … that the document leans heavily towards the requirements for particular categories of gifts. My concern is that we are reducing the Testimony of Equality to the lowest common denominator. …

I have an MDiv and am a Recorded Quaker Minister in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, recorded by [another] Yearly Meeting. I don’t think the MDiv is problematic, and neither does it smack of privilege. I was a pastor in Indiana Yearly Meeting and the MDiv prepared me for that. It has been my experience since earning my MDiv that people are consistently reminding me that I am no better than them, consistently reminding me that it does not automatically make me a minister, consistently reminding that God speaks to them as well….and I have consistently devalued my education in efforts to make others feel better and to prove that I understand the testimony of equality.

An MDiv is not intended to automatically make someone a minister. That is the job of God and our communities of Faith. An MDiv does not mean that one hears or evens obeys the will of our Teacher. An MDiv has never been (especially among Quakers) something that has granted someone privilege. It DOES mean that I know how to exegete scripture, teach scripture, put together a sermon, understand the conundrums of particular theologies, and a variety of other things. Scripture is complicated, theology is messy, and history all too often repeats itself.

As a life long Friend, I have come against the Quaker mistrust of formal theological education often. I don’t even know what an indulgence looks like, let alone sell them. We don’t have physical sacraments, so naturally, I am not privileged in administering them. The Roman Catholics aren’t selling indulgences anymore and many of my friends who are ordained in other Christian denominations are well aware that they are equal to everyone sitting in their pews. We must be careful that our rejection of “ordination” does not carry with it inherent put downs of our other sisters and brothers in Christ. I sacrificed much to get my MDiv. I am proud that I accomplished this and have gained this knowledge. The Testimony of Equality does not require that I dismiss it. An MDiv is not the only place this education occurs. I do know several individuals who have read extensively, studied on their own, and applied their learning.

In my understanding of the Testimony of Equality, the meaning is that we are all equal, NOT that we are all equal in all things. Please do not hire me as your piano player. Please do not have me teach Sunday school to kids under that age of 16. Neither does the Testimony of Equality mean that we are all treated the same. We don’t treat people the same in our own lives, and that does not make those people any less equal. We don’t need to tear down one in order to uplift the other. The Testimony of Equality is also messy.

It would seem to me that the Recording of Gifts would come with categories of gifts, all equal, but having different requirements. As mentioned before, the Recording of Music Ministry would not need a background check. Things like jail chaplaincy, pastors, and Children’s Ministry would. There is a public face to some of our ministries and the wider public relies on and trusts that we will vet accordingly. We are not just Recorded for the Society of Friends, but for Society period. It would be a sad day if we just ministered to those that belong to our own group.

I also think, that a document outlining the Recording process needs to include portions that address the possibility of a Recorded Minister/Pastor abusing someone, or misappropriating funds. We would like to think that those things will not happen, but historically they have. What would the process be if those things were discovered and brought to the attention of the Recording Committee? A restoration process is also a good thing. How will we care for those Recorded Ministers who are struggling? How will we support them back to health?

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My Family

May 8, 2015

Today would have been my Dad’s 96th birthday. This past Saturday, my older son Tommy married Randall Johnston in Little Rock, Arkansas. These are just the two most prominent reasons I’m thinking about my family today.

“Family” has an odd etymological history. It has a Latin root, but familia refers to the servants of a household. The Romans would have used domus (think “domestic”) to refer to parents with their children.  No matter. Today we use the term to refer to the connected network of parents and children, sometimes meaning a smaller group of those living together, sometimes meaning a more multi-generational sprawling group. This picture puts my family in dramatic focus for me:

Bennett Evans plus clan 15.5.3There are twenty-seven of us here in a photo taken at Tommy and Randall’s wedding: three generations of Bennetts and Evans and those to whom we’ve made connections. (My Mom, Roberta Evans, had one brother, Sam. Both Sam and Roberta had three children.) I’m here with my wife Ellen and our sons Tommy and Robbie. My first wife, Dulany (Tommy’s mother) is here, too, along with her sister Kathy and Kathy’s husband Karl. My sister Nancy is here with her partner, Jim; Nancy’s daughter Lindsay, son-in-law Jeremy, and their daughters Lydia and Eliza. (Missing — they left too early to be in this photo) are Nancy’s daughter Karen, son-in-law Steve, and their daughter Emily Grace.) My sister Kate is here with her husband Wayne and their daughter Julia. My cousin Anne Evans is here, though her husband Steve is not. My cousin Tom Evans is here though not his wife Cyndi. Tom’s son Elijah is here with his wife Megan, and Tom’s daughter Sarrah is here with her husband Ali and their sons Idris and Naim.  Joining us as family for the first time are Randall, her mother Marcela and her sister Blair.

(Also not here: Tom and Anne’s sister Deb, her husband Wayne, their children Chad and Jan; Dulany and Kathy’s brother Joe; Nancy’s first husband George; Jim’s first wife: all deceased. Plus Tom’s first wife and Kate’s first husband; Jim’s children, spouses and their children; Wayne’s daughters, spouses and their children; Marcela’s brother Glen, his wife and children. I can’t begin to account for various spouses’ brothers and sisters, their partners and children. And also not here: my Bennett cousins. Dad’s brother John’s wife, children, grandchildren: we’ve drifted away from them even as the Bennett-Evans connection has strengthened.)

There are three generations pictured here. Of the parents of the oldest generation here, only Ellen’s mother Anne and Dulany’s mother Ginny are still alive.

In the 1960s, such an Evans-Bennett photo would have pictured a group all of who lived in Rochester, Norristown or Bloomsburg (PA). Now we live sprawled across the U.S.: Topsham and Portland, Maine, D.C., New Jersey, central Pennsylvania, Rochester, New Orleans, Little Rock, Portland Oregon, Providence (RI). It takes a celebration such as the Tommy-Randall wedding to bring us together.

A particular joy for all of us this weekend (along with the wedding activities) was watching the youngest children play together: Robbie, Lydia and Eliza, Idris and Naim, and Emily Grace. When they are older, what will such a photo look like?

It is good to be among family.

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