Week 4, The Future of History, gave us time to consider both the darkness and light of our history. The speakers urged us to examine the complexity of our pasts with courage, honesty, and compassion. We were challenged to acknowledge the true costs of our actions and to educate and integrate these truths as a society. Without this process, we cannot begin to imagine the future of our history as a nation, let alone our being as individuals.
This will not be easy. There is no universally known workout routine that promises to strengthen character, increase our ability to be flexible in the face of societal changes towards inclusiveness, develop stamina for problem-solving, and offer the increased capacity required for staying in the process of reimagining our nation.
In her poem Practice, from her book Ledger, Jane Hirshfield offers a poetic observation that resonated with me as I thought of our limitations in exercising our compassion, creativity, and understanding, towards the goal of a stronger tomorrow – mid-poem she writes:
I also do ten push-ups, morning and evening.
From the knees.
They resemble certain forms of religious bowing.
In place of one, two, four, seven,
I count the names of incomprehension: Sanford, Ferguson, Charleston, Aleppo, Sarajevo, Nagasaki.
I never reach: Troy, Ur.
I have done this for years now.
Bystander. Listener. One of the Lucky.
I do not seem to grow stronger.
Though Hirschfield did not see the change desired, she does offer a crack of light when we read “I do not seem to grow stronger”.
The Week 4 speakers gave us much to ponder as they offered varying levels of hope and practice. The golden thread that I found running through every lecture was the word LISTEN.
I wondered further about how unpracticed we have all become at a skill that we focused on every minute, of every day, from our earliest moments of existence. In the womb, there was a time when we first heard our mother’s heartbeat, then the sounds of our family waiting to welcome us; the joys and sorrows of the coming world. We heard the music that would eventually fill our homes and ears, unfiltered by the salty water of our first home.
Our earliest ability to listen gave us the power to learn spoken language if our ears were able to hear, but listening comes through all the senses. Listening is required to hear the messages of touch and taste, it is needed to understand the smells and sights that tell us the stories of who we are and who we are capable of being. Listening is far beyond words.
As we consider how we birth a new nation of inclusion, compassion, and consciousness, perhaps we should start by once again just listening. The answers will come. Just. Listen.
Guest post from our Week 4 Friend of the Week, Stephen Angell. The weekly theme was “The Future of History.” Below, Steve describes some of the talks he attended, and offers a Quaker response. In addition to being our Friend of the Week, Stephen W. Angell also serves as Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion.
The Future of History
The theme of Chautauqua Institution this week was the “future of history.” So, what do Quakers have to say about the future of history? It was my task this week to help our f/Friends figure that out. (Let me just give a shout out to Gary and Kriss Miller, our absolutely wonderful hosts at Quaker House, without whom much or all of this would have been impossible. Thanks, Friends!) Back to the theme: It’s a marvelously mystical yet practical topic, and everybody has a different approach to it.
I’ll start with what others had to say about the theme. The historian Jon Meacham concentrated on the challenges of the current American political system, where the right is currently pursuing different goals than the center and the left. To the extent that the right is contemplating and actively pursuing obstructing the peaceful transfer of power, Meacham observed that much pressure lies on the center and left to work with renewed vigor to preserve the American constitutional system. If all sides in the political spectrum give in and place such constitutional bedrock principles as the peaceful transfer of power as a secondary goal at best, then the American constitutional system that has endured for more than two centuries is in even greater danger than it is now. Meacham spiced up his presentation with conversations with various famous and ordinary people, especially one of his biographical subjects, George H. W. Bush.
Diplomat and college administrator Eliot Cohen explored the current controversy over preservation of statues. Cohen is all for taking down statues of Confederate icons such as Robert E. Lee, relegating such statuary to cemeteries, museums, and battlefields. But he argued for preserving statues of flawed heroes such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and argued that Benedict Arnold deserves a better reputation than he currently has, because at the Battle of Saratoga he saved the cause of American independence, something of more significance than his later attempts to betray the new nation and to undermine its independence.
Historian Barbara Savage, whose presentation was sponsored by the African American Heritage House, talked extensively about the fascinating subject of her forthcoming biography, Merze Tate, a long time, well traveled, well published, brilliant, and all-but-forgotten African-American diplomatic historian who taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Author and director Bill Barclay and a brilliant ensemble of actors and musicians presented a most educational musical about Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint Georges, the “Black Mozart” whose music was all-but-forgotten until very recently. Rediscoveries like these are important! For history to have a rich future, as we all hope that it does, it is of great importance to delve more fully into the riches of the past in order to inform our outlook on the future.
Well, what do Quakers have to say about all this?
I come to that subject having authored or co-authored ten books on Quaker and other histories: The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies (Oxford University Press, 2013); Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights (Quaker Press of FGC, 2011); The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism (Cambridge University Press, 2018); Indiana Trainwreck: Divisions in Indiana Quaker Communities over Inclusion of Homosexuals, Church Authority, Christ, and the Bible (Quaker Theology Press, 2019), among others.
In Black Fire, my co-authors, Hal Weaver and Paul Kriese, and I attempted to bring to life some Black Quakers who had been all-but-forgotten or who have not received the attention they deserve, such as Bayard Rustin, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Barrington Dunbar, Mahalah Ashley Dickerson, Jean Toomer, Helen Morgan Books, and many more. Recovery of vital parts of our past is important for Quakers, too.
The number of Quakers in their ancestral homelands of Britain and North America have been declining in recent decades, while the number of Quakers in the global South have been growing. We need to hear more of the stories of Quakers in the global South. The Cambridge Companion to Quakerism gives a good overview of these phenomena. But we also need to hear more Quaker voices from the global South. One work that makes a modest start in this direction is the history of some of the Quakers in Bolivia recently assembled by a bi-national team: See Nancy J. Thomas, A Long Walk, a Gradual Ascent: The Story of the Bolivian Friends Church in its Context of Conflict (Wipf and Stock, 2019).
Much of Quakerism today is characterized by theological diversity. How to cope with that diversity, and the conflict that often results from it, is explored in Indiana Trainwreck: Divisions in Indiana Quaker Communities over Inclusion of Homosexuals, Church Authority, Christ, and the Bible. This explores one of several divisions that have occurred among primarily pastoral Quakers in the 2010s. Chuck Fager, Jade Souza and I have brought out a series of three books on what we call “The Separation Generation,” of which Indiana Trainwreck was the first. My own view: separation is the middle option. If Friends of varying theological persuasions can find a way to really listen to one another and to continue to work together fruitfully, that is the best. Outright fighting and name-calling is the worst. Separation is preferable to that.
Like many of the speakers this week, I emphasized going back to the well of history, and continuing to explore the vision and insight of Quakers in the past, especially the first generation of Friends. Like many others, I have toured the 1652 country in the North of England where Quakers first became a vital movement. With Ben Dandelion, I have climbed Pendle Hill, as Quaker founder George Fox and his traveling companion Richard Farnworth did in 1652. From the chilly summit of Pendle Hill, one can see quite far. In 1652, from those heights, in the midst of many convincements of people becoming Friends, Fox saw “a great people to be gathered.” Might we be able to see the same? My bet is that we can, and we will.
It was a sunny day and a gentle breeze that provided the backdrop for Victoria Loorz to remind those of us sitting in the Hall of Philosophy of the importance of staying in conversation with nature. In the Interfaith series for this Wild week 2 of the Chautauqua season, Loorz brought up ways in which inaccurate interpretations of the Bible can alter one’s perception of not only their place in the world but the world’s place as well. Other speakers echoed the same sentiment during the week, beckoning us back into an existence where human connection, collaboration, and conversation with the natural world are the rule, rather than the exception.
We humans are unique creatures. We are filled with wonder yet selfishly controlling. We are born with a drive to create yet we are dangerously destructive. We have expanded an almost unimaginable intelligence yet we are incredibly ignorant. We can be wholly capable of solving problems of enormous magnitude at the same time we are burying our heads in the sand.
While pondering this post, breathtaking images from the edges of creation were coming back to NASA via the James Webb telescope. These awe-inspiring images instantly made me feel tiny and weightless. There is relief in the weightlessness, relief in feeling very small. There is laser clarity that ours is not the only point of view. So I wonder. What if somewhere, in a faraway spot in this seemingly eternal darkness, there is one teeny tiny dot that represents our sun. And just maybe, somewhere in a far-off universe, there is a child, pointing up at our star, and wondering what is happening where we live. What are we doing to keep our light shining.
The Webb Telescope photos serve as a reminder of the limits of our universal value. It also gives us permission to savor the amazing gift of being part of this web of existence. It urges us to treasure our place in this beautiful, wild, and wonderful universe. It offers us the opportunity to de-center ourselves as the sole focus of the Creator. If we are called to see that of God in all, then the all includes caring about and for every piece of this wondrous existence in our corner of eternity.
It was 8:45 in the morning when we stepped out into the crispness that is uniquely Chautauquan at this time of year. Gretchen and I walked to the daily Peace gathering. On the way, I noticed an odd piece of hardware, a slotted washer laying in the street. I am a maker of things. I especially like to collect detritus and imagine how it came to be found. A few blocks later and a length of rusty hanger strap was added to my stash; a world of possibility came into view.
Soon we joined the voices in prayer, clasped hands, and completed our short time together by singing Let There Be Peace On Earth. I felt like a “Who down in Whoville” praying that we too might be on the brink of experiencing the benefit of expanding hearts in a world too full of Grinches.
Starting the season with the topic What is America’s Role in the World, was a heavy lift. We are in crisis. We are juggling a lot right now: climate change, the hearings about January 6th, a serious gun violence issue, ongoing Covid concerns, and a SCOTUS decision to irrevocably change the rights of all those for whom pregnancy is a possibility. The ink was barely dry on the Court’s decision as I walked toward the amphitheater to welcome the start of the season. I yearned for possible solutions from minds much wiser than mine.
The national struggle is real. Now, more than ever, I hear people discussing their exit strategies; an exodus from the country that claims to be the city on the hill, the beacon of hope; the model of what it means to be exceptional. Each day I have wrestled with this question: What might this country look like if this were true? What would it be like if we were exceptional? While this doesn’t make for an easy night’s sleep, it certainly has made for a week of deep contemplation and rich conversation.
Stay open, I cautioned. Look around, I reminded. Answers are everywhere. Later Gretchen offered a closed fist saying, “I have a gift for you.” I held out my hand where she dropped a key; a key with a story, a key that once had unlocked something. Then my husband brought me what looked to be a pad from a piece of furniture that he found in the street; lost while moving in, or perhaps, moving out. And when I arrived back at Quaker House, Bhante had left an avocado pit for me in the sink. Three gifts in one day, three people who had understood things important to me. Each had a lesson; a key that opened a door to the unknown, a felt pad that added a layer of protection against the damage done by constant friction and the ever-intriguing gifts of the avocado pit. Avo pits can be sprouted and grown into a producing tree. They can also be boiled to yield the loveliest peachy-pink brew that successfully dyes fabric or can be distilled into ink. The rich color staining all that it touches.
I kept the washer and the key in my pocket all week and listened for what they might have to share, but it is the avocado pit that informed me the most. America itself is this seed, this pit, with so much beauty and so much potential packed inside. If we are willing to truly be exceptional then we will face and wrestle with our truest past, grow into our fullest potential so that we can provide for future generations and like the avocado pit, mark the places where we make contact with exceptional beauty.
2022 marks our return to a full complement of activities and few restrictions. The excitement is palpable. The Quaker house Steering Committee is delighted to welcome our new Friends in Residence, Kriss and Gary Miller. See their page here. Kriss will be blogging in this space each week.
This was a beautiful week. We packed up last Sunday just like Chautauqua-goers have always done, compacting daily lives into just the bare necessities to get through the summer. We arrived to a lovely welcome from Chautauqua Friends that have, after only a few days, already become part of our family of friends. The house was waiting, anxious to breathe again, as we all are after shedding the outer covering that got us through the dreariness of winter; a winter that has lasted for years. We are all so very anxious to be together again, and even more, just to be together.
The past few years have been challenging. The distance has cost each of us something yet it has also offered us a deeper appreciation of what it means to gather together in community. Appreciation was the feeling today on Bestor Plaza. A lone fiddler whose instrument called out to welcome a drummer, their notes joining to invite a viola. Instrument after instrument called out to create the symphony of community that has longed to be again together. And just as the players came to play, the listeners came to listen, and finally, from the corners of the plaza, the children came to dance.
So it is that we begin to be together once more. And just like everything else we experience at Chautauqua, the founders called us to take that togetherness out into the world once we leave this place. May we build outside this institution the unity we find inside. And may we always remember to look to the Light to guide our way.
Blog by Ron Petersen, QHCHQ Steering Committee member
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
So opens T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land”. As I begin work on the blog entry I agreed to do for this website, April has not quite arrived, and some spring rain to stir our dull roots seems like an appealing alternative to the current half-foot of snow and temperatures in the teens. I had planned to visit our home at 28 Ames because being at CI would help bring focus to this post, but it looks like that will have to wait another day or two.
On Friday, April first I stopped at CI for a visit. It was a typical spring day in Western New York, cold and blustery with on and off rain. The work to convert the back corner of the property into a patio appears to be about half done and the rear stairs are gone, perhaps we can come up with and improved design to replace them.
The railroad tie that used to mark the end of the driveway was laying across our planting in the front yard, so I moved it off the plants and rested it on some stones for now. There is a band of orange surveyors’ tape around that huge tree across the street, so I think maybe they are planning to remove it. It’s probably older than the institution by at least a century. I took a walk and didn’t find a lot of signs of spring, but there was a lot of activity around Bestor Plaza. I was surprised by how little contracting activity was going on, maybe April 1st is a contractor’s holiday!
I walked down to the Belltower and checked out the planting work around there. Not much activity yet but I think the native restoration work will succeed. The lake was clear of ice but there was a strong wind out of the north and the shore was being pounded with waves running almost a foot high.
I’ve taken some time to peruse the schedule and activities for the CI 2022 season, and it looks to be an exciting blending of what affects us collectively and opportunities to reflect on our personal experiences and how we are shaped by the world. Week two explores reconnecting with the natural world and should provide an opportunity to acknowledge this very direct path to knowing the Divine. Most of the weekly themes tie directly to how we, as Quakers, experience our lives in this culture and how we are being called to act and interact with it. Hopefully at Quaker House, we will be be able to provide our guests with access to these dialogues and also opportunities to explore more deeply.
Like so many aspects of our lives, the process that drives our work at 28 Ames seems to be rooted in that blend of memory and desire Eliot alludes to. We all have long histories with CI, as residents, visitors, attenders of the summer Meeting for worship, volunteers, advisers, contractors, the list is long, and now, with one challenging season behind us we have newer and more focused memories to help us find our way forward.
Our very first year, was a process of continuous learning. This year offers much the same, but at a slower pace. Last year I served as House Manager and Registrar. During the 2022 season, I will serve again as the Registrar while looking forward to being at the house frequently to offer spiritual hospitality. The part of my roles that I love best is truly meeting each guest in a space of spiritual hospitality. The first conversation with potential guests comes in all kinds of ways, from text messages to persons who came by Quaker House last season, and want to come back for more. And once they arrive, what a revelation! I remember deep conversations around the kitchen table; a crowd of people surrounding the front garden, intently listening; the waiting stillness of worship; and laughter and watercolors pouring off the second floor porch like ministry.
I also remember some poignant moments, like sitting around the kitchen table, listening to men in leadership in Homeboys Industries, telling stories of their life experiences. And one guest, early in the season, texting me, asking if I could find a stopper for the old clawfoot tub in the bathroom. She explained, “it’s not for me–it’s for the friend I came with. She’s a frontline healthcare worker, and she’s just exhausted from the pandemic. A soaking bath would really help her to relax.”
And there was the time when I was home alone, in the kitchen in the back of the house, and I thought I saw someone on the porch. When I went to look, I met a woman with such sadness. I invited her in. She told me that her husband had just died. He was a Quaker; and they both had loved coming to Chautauqua. So she wanted to just sit in Quaker House and savor all the good memories. With her permission, I sat with her; and the worship went deep. Grief is not heard until someone is listening. This year we continue to explore different ways of being present and connecting with guests, Chautauquans and visitors. The richness, the juiciness, of meeting face-to-face is a blessing. In person, it is possible, as one guest put it, ‘to meet in the eyes’. Each week is like a feast set out. All are welcome! Come as you are! Take what you need, be it a much-needed restorative sabbatical, a week of spiritual community, or satisfying your need to know more or be inspired; welcome into a spaciousness that nourishes exploration, delight, creativity and untracking from well-worn patterns. As Rumi wrote This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be cleaning you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Taken from Selected Poems by Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks (Penguin Classics, 2004).
Blog post by Mary Finn, Steering Committee member Posted Feb2, 2022
I love being a Quaker, and being at Chautauqua, and doing historical research. All three passions came into unity when I learned that a major Quaker organization, the Friends General Conference (FGC), had been established at Chautauqua in 1900. FGC has been described as “The most influential center of American Liberal Quakerism in the 20th century.”
The ‘History’ page on this website provides an introduction to this confluence of Quakers and Chautauqua and notes that little research has been published on the origins of the Friends General Conference, or on the relationship between Chautauqua Institution and Quakerism. Why did Bishop Vincent invite Quakers to hold their 1900 Conference at Chautauqua? Who were the Friends who accepted his invite?
There is no lack of historical resources available to answer these questions. Pulling out the threads of underlying assumptions these two groups held in common, however, is especially challenging given the complexity of these organizations and the setting in which they met—the post-Civil War, pre-intensely industrializing, newly-emerging Darwinian decades—1870 to 1900. But the shared concerns of Chautauqua Institution and the Liberal Quakers who founded FGC are there and I am intrigued by the connection of both groups to progressive/liberal ideals that increasingly came to the fore in the late 19th c.
Given the sophistication and worldliness of the FGC’s founding Friends, I was surprised by Friends’ referring to their gathering at Chautauqua as an ‘innovation.’ All previous Conferences had been held on the campus of Friends’ Colleges or Boarding Schools or Friends’ Centers, all of which were in the midst of ‘Friendly neighborhoods.’ Friends coming to mingle with Chautauquans was said to be an innovation that had caused some ‘temerity’.
Friends expressed the hope that they would not be judged by any severe standard, saying “we are a ‘plain’ people, and are met to discuss ‘plain’ matters, in a ‘plain’ way.” These Liberal Friends, however, had given up the Quietism of their predecessors and the symbols of plainness in dress and speech that had marked Quaker distinctiveness. They did not see themselves as Peculiar, but the hesitancy of ‘coming out’ so to speak, was still there.
The opening remarks by Chautauqua Institutions’ Vice-President Wilson Day assured Friends they would not “be looked at askance, or watched with a critical eye” because of their shared ties of universal friendship. The quietness of Chautauqua was emphasized as being in keeping with Quaker worship, “silence being the best form of worship,” and the ‘catholicity’ of Chautauqua meant everyone was free to worship as they wished.
But there might have been some hesitancy as well on the part of some Chautauquans who were not quite sure who these Friends were. The Drift of the Day column in the Assembly Herald however, reported on the first day of the Conference that, “The Friends are a good-looking, sensible, intellectual lot of people, just like other Chautauquans.” The hesitancy of the Friends relieved, they settled into what seemed like a typical Chautauqua experience, in a ‘strange’ but by no means unfriendly environment.
Friends announced that their meetings were open to all; hundreds of Chautauquans attended the opening session. On Day Two the program on the Friends’ Union of Philanthropic Labor was especially full of interest and the Amphitheater was filled by 10:00 am.
According to the Assembly Herald, “Friends have captured Chautauqua by their intense earnestness and enthusiasm and the practical Christianity as seen in their everyday lives…when this conference comes to a close Chautauquans will have learned many admirable things concerning the Society of Friends. From the expressions of the Friends, it is certain that they are finding more and more to admire in Chautauqua.”
The published Proceedings of the 1900 Conference at Chautauqua hoped to convey “the spiritual and intellectual uplift both given and received by our people mingling with the people at Chautauqua.”
An old folk song says that the “world is always turning toward the morning.” As I sit here in wintery Chautauqua, I think about how the world is always turning toward the summer season.
Here on the Chautauqua grounds, I’m in my cozy winterized condo having just checked on our family summer cottage. Its porch is covered with its winter tent. The Quaker House has its winter tent on as well. Both are locked up tight, electricity is off, and pipes are drained.
This is the Chautauqua of snow, Christmas lights, a boat-dock free lake shore, covered organ pipes in the Amp, and year-round residents walking around in scarves and boots. The bookstore, library, post office, and cafe are open, but on winter hours. Quiet and serene compared to the hustle and bustle of the summer.
Chautauqua is about renewal. Renewal in all seasons. In the summer, we experience renewal through learning, growing, connecting, and activity. In the winter, Chautauqua is about rest, quiet preparation, and anticipation. Restful renewal that prepares us for the active renewal of the summer season.
Quaker House too is at rest. We rest, plan, anticipate. We look forward to new and returning faces, new themes and programs, new conversations and connections, new opportunities for spiritual, intellectual, and social renewal at the intersection of the Quaker House and Chautauqua Institution.
It’s never too early to start planning for the next Chautauqua season. Themes have been announced, programs are being prepared, and Quaker House registration for guest rooms is OPEN. We are beginning to plan, and we hope you are, too.
For now, we are happy to rest. At the same time, we are happy that the world is always turning toward the Chautauqua summer season.