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A Much Larger Puzzle

Dear Friends: In its last issue, Western Friend published a letter to grandchildren everywhere talking about the environmental conditions we are leaving to our grandchildren. While I am grateful to WF for publishing that letter, I am concerned about editorial changes that were made that I was not given the opportunity to review before it went to press. The issue I have with these changes is that they misrepresent what I was trying to say in two important ways. First, the final version gives the impression that all our environmental and social problems revolve around the use of fossil fuels. Our overuse of fossil fuels is just one piece of a much larger puzzle that involves how we manage resources, not just which resource we use. Second, the published letter was edited in ways that oversimplified what I was saying about hope and the factors driving us towards what may be an environmental cliff. In addition to being a grandfather, I am also a geologist and a college educator. This means that I often talk with people who feel that environmentalists are misinformed sentimentalists who are naive about science, economics, politics, and human nature. Because some of the people I eventually hope to reach are adults like my students and colleagues, as well as “just plain folks,” it is important to me that the hope and optimism expressed in it takes into account the complex and harsh realities of our situation. Otherwise we grandparents concerned about the world our grandchildren might inherit from us will be discounted as just another gaggle of naive idealists. We cannot afford to be regarded in this way if we are to have any hope of changing our present course.

On Pride (July 2014)

Not the Final Word

Part of my dad’s job with the American Friends Service Committee was to take speakers around to various college campuses, churches, and summer institutes. As a kid, I sometimes went along and got to meet such spiritual giants as peace activist A.J. Muste and civil rights leaders Bayard Rustin and Ralph Abernathy. During spring vacation in 1956, my dad decided to take my brother Paul and me to Montgomery, where the bus boycott was four months old.

On Difference (July 2015)

Quaker Time – A Friendly Logic Puzzle

Plaintown Friends is a small monthly meeting that has spent several recent business meetings laboring over a concern about late arrivals to worship. The meeting struggled for unity. “Late arrivals disrupt the Silence.” “Tardiness is disrespectful to those who are already gathered.” “We should lock the doors after worship has begun.” “It’s all I can do to get my kids out the door in the morning. If we must be prompt, we can’t attend.”

On Puzzles (April 2019)

A Word from the Lost (review)

Nayler – this name brings to mind, if not in much detail, the ride into Bristol and the quotation, “There is a spirit that I feel . . .” David Lewis’s book is a fine remedy for this common shortfall in knowledge about James Nayler. It is a brief but remarkably rich account of a Nayler text, Love to the Lost, and its context. Lewis’s book is a theological exploration of Nayler’s writing and much more – including historical, biographical, and political accounts that bring the religious and personal dimensions of Nayler into meaningful connection.

On Mediation (January 2020)

The Power of Prayer

When I joined Amigas del Señor Methodist-Quaker Monastery in 2006, I enjoyed the simple lifestyle.

On Prayer (March 2024)

Serve The Land

Words transmit ideas. Ideas found in sacred writings lead to ideals, and ideals lead to actions. I began life within faith traditions that venerate the Bible as the source for seeking and understanding God’s will. I’ve found some truth by that approach; but . . . have you ever read the Bible? It can be confusing, a confounding muddle, capable of twisting one’s mind into a tangled mess. And yet, there are also moments when Spirit opens a window on something profound. That’s what happened when I began examining context surrounding one small Hebrew word that’s written “abad” in the English alphabet. This word appears 290 times in the Old Testament, and mostly gets translated into English as “serve.” I came to realize that translations had short-circuited an ancient ideal that we need right now.

On Words (November 2021)