Friday, June 24, 2005


I have recently come across the following wonderful tract, originally published by the Friends Tract Association but now possibly out of print. The Tract Association states that people are free to copy and distribute their tracts, so I have decided to do so below. The original can be found at this web site .
by Seth Hinshaw
There is a temptation which we all face from time to time in our conversations. When someone mentions a third party to us, many memories surface about that person. Some of these memories are good memories, and some are not. It is often easy to share these memories, since they are true.

Whenever we discuss a person who is not present, we need to be aware of the danger of detraction. As Children of the Light, we should bear in mind that God does not expect us to repeat everything we know. Even when we are sure that what we are saying is true, it may be detraction to say it.

What Is Detraction?
Many people are willing to share memories about someone else. Sharing a story about another person is not necessarily the same as detraction. If we are sharing incidents which cause the listener to value the third party more, we are free from detraction. When we cross the line and share negative information, we smear the reputation of the other person and have entered into detraction.
Is Detraction Really That Bad?
It is hard to keep a secret. Many times when we talk about someone else, that person will find out. Often the other person will feel betrayed and angry. The friendship has been hurt. We can sense something is wrong but not know how to make things right. The two people then become more alienated from each other. It can be difficult to restore a friendship that has been destroyed by detraction. How can I trust someone who repeats everything or does not know when to keep something in confidence?
Detraction destroys relationships among groups of people as well. During the grievous times of separations among Friends during the nineteenth century, there was one instance in which an entire Yearly Meeting broke off relations with another, simply on the basis of second-hand reports. It took fifty years and much intervisitation between the two yearly meetings before they opened the lines of communication again.

"A whisperer separateth [the best] of friends."
Proverbs 16:28
Keeping Our Tongues From Evil
King David wrote, "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it" Psalm 34:13-14. Most of us know someone who repeats everything, often with a new negative spin on the story. Some people repeat stories about another's shortcomings decades after the person has changed his behavior. If we don't appreciate this habit in other people, we should also be careful not to have it ourselves.

There are people who do not repeat stories about other people. These people are called confidantes because they keep information confidential. Confidantes make good friends because they have discovered the value of friendships. They appreciate people with other gifts and want to learn about life with others rather than alone. Good friends are hard to find.

Religious leaders can fall into the trap of repeating too much negative news. Some of them are remembered for their harsh words and negative attitude rather than for their ability to convey the Good News. We can all forget that in Jesus is Yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of the Father.

Bless, and Curse Not
The Apostle James was concerned with the failure of some early Christians to guard their tongues: "If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain ...
"Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things ... "For every kind of beast ... hath been tamed of mankind; but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be" James 1:26, 3:5-8.

"A wholesome tongue is a tree of life"
Prov. 15:4

A New and Living Way
William Penn wrote that early Friends were changed themselves before they set out to change others. They had a fresh encounter with God and knew they could trust in the Light of Christ for guidance. They also were quick to warn against detraction. When someone discovers that a person claiming to be a disciple of Jesus has been careless in repeating stories, the result is particularly bad. What kind of God would direct His follower to behave like that?

Jesus wants us to step out of the patterns of those living around us. Christians try to follow His example by seeking to have peace with all other people insofar as it is possible. John wrote that we cannot love the LORD if we hate our brother, and that if we walk in the Light as He is in the Light the blood of Jesus will cleanse us and we can have fellowship one with another.

"Every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." Romans 14:12-13

Resolution of Difficulties
Jesus referred to Himself as the Great Physician. He healed thousands of people during His ministry on earth. He wants to heal our relationships with other people and to give us opportunities to heal relationships among others, which Paul called the ministry of reconciliation.

Rather than allowing differences to simmer in our hearts, Christ Jesus gave us directions for finding peace with another person (Matthew 18): "if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone." Rather than spreading unkind news, Jesus wants us to go to that person in the hopes that He can draw the two parties into a closer walk with Him.

Jesus realized that not everyone would be ready to heal the relationship when the one person asked for forgiveness. If this attempt to resolve the difficulty fails, the person should go again and take a third person to observe. If the person still will not hear, Jesus said the person should ask the church for help. The church should send people in an effort to bring healing to the two people and end the troubles.

Jesus offers us abundant life and inward communion with Him. Once we encounter His peace, love, and joy, we have an inner drive to share this new life with others. We learn to guard against temptations which tarnish our souls, and we are especially careful in situations which can harm someone else's spiritual life. We have good news to share - that Jesus came to heal us, not to condemn us (John 3:17). We have seen how detraction can separate best friends and how God wants us to learn to use our tongues to bless others. Detraction and holiness are incompatible.
"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath, and anger and clamour, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" Eph. 4:29-32.


Detraction - Copy number 313
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Friday, June 10, 2005

Should Business Meeting Be Unprogrammed?

Vijay recently mentioned that the 15thStreetFreeform google group has been quiet since it was formed. This is the group that was intended, among other things, for open discussion of issues without any implication that the views expressed represent the views of our Meeting.

A few weeks ago, a Friend named Ann Armstrong raised an issue on another list (Quaker-G, maintained by Licia Kuenning and Larry Kuenning) that I think might be of interest here as well. I met Ann and her husband Doug over 30 years ago at a Quaker community (now defunct) called New Swarthmoor, and I know her to be a serious and dedicated Friend. Her question was about whether a meeting for business (which we often call a "meeting for worship with a concern for business") ought to be free of agendas just as a regular meeting for worship is free of pre-planned messages. It seemed like a simple question - which is a sign that it is a good question. But thinking about it raised, for me at least, a lot more questions. With her permission, I am now sharing Ann Armstrong's original question and my response with both the 15thStreetFreeform group and with my own blog, Brooklyn Quaker ( I welcome any further thoughts from others.

Ann wrote:

I am currently clerking Acton Monthly meeting. As I was carefully and prayerfully putting together the agenda for the last business meeting, I selected an excerpt from NEYM Faith and Practice to include at the top of the printed agenda.
This done I realized that to a certain extent preparing an agenda (and adding that excerpt) is a little like preparing a sermon ahead of time, or is it?
My long-winded answer was:
I assume the implication here is that if having an agenda is a little like preparing a sermon in advance then it shouldn't be done or is unQuakerly or is inconsistent with any intention to seek guidance from the Living Christ during the business meeting.

I don't agree. Preparing an agenda in advance is a little like preparing a sermon in advance in that both are prepared. But it is also different, and in more important ways. A sermon is or purports to be a form of vocal ministry, and the classical Quaker view about vocal ministry is that it should only arise from the immediate moving of the Spirit of Christ. An agenda is not in itself ministry, it is a list of items that the Meeting intends to lay before the Lord and consider. An agenda does not even really limit what can be considered once the meeting convenes. It serves only as a reminder of matters that someone thinks require attention. The meeting, if members are so moved, can amend the agenda by adding to it or ubtracting from it. And even once the agenda is adopted the Friends present should be free, if they are moved by God, to raise new issues.

Of course, it could be argued that since the meeting for business is also a meeting for worship it should also be completely "unprogrammed" with no advance thought given to what should be considered. This might seem superficially plausible and logical, but to me it does not feel right - any more than the argument of some early Friends that the times and places to hold public worship should not be scheduled, but left to the Lord's free movings.

I freely concede that preparing an agenda is probably a 'creaturely' activity. I would even go so far as to say that other creaturely activity can properly occur within a business meeting. I think members should be free to use their human faculties of thought and judgement while deliberating in meeting for business - though they should also be open to unexpected motions of the spirit that upset their plans and thoughts.

My reasons for this are as follows:

first - the Creator has given us natural gifts as well as spiritual, and it seems reasonable that both can be drawn upon in doing Him service.

second - in some matters it would almost be a kind of presumption to insist that we won't proceed at all without an explicit command from God. God may expect us to work out some things for ourselves. A Friend in meeting for business may urge a repair to the roof if he sees that there is rain coming through even though the Spirit has not seized him and commanded him to speak about it.

third - the absence of a written agenda that can be presented to the meeting and accepted or rejected would not necessarily result in the lack of any agenda at all, nor in more devout attention to the Lord. It would more likely result in a "hidden" agenda being pushed by some members through eloquence and force of personality, or - in some meetings - in a passive failure to attend to necessary but unpleasant business because no one thought to bring it up.

As for Biblical or other quotations at the start of a meeting: I think these should be used sparingly. If they serve to remind Friends that their business should be rooted in worship then they are helpful. If they in any way seem to "set a mood" or predispose Friends to any particular way of viewing the business they are about to consider, then I think they should be avoided.

Incidentally, this topic seems to me related to the question of what a clerk's job is in the meeting for business. According to Rosemary Moore in "The Light in Their Consciences" early clerks in the 17th century simply took notes on what happened in the meeting. It was only in the 18th century that clerks acquired as well the function of helping meetings arrive at the sense of the meeting in the way that I think most Friends expect clerks to do today. It seems to me that this was a useful development.

In a later e-mail, after reading various responses to her question (including but not limited to the one I wrote)Ann Armstrong told me:
I don't expect to give up preparing agendas in writing before each business meeting."I may continue to select readings to print at the top of the agenda page, but I will not automatically read those excepts during the opening worship!
"Sounds like a sensible solution to me. What do other Friends think?

Rich Accetta-Evans

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Voice From My Personal Past

Within the last few days I have been rooting through some old and musty piles of papers. Among them I found the January 13, 1969, issue of "Suppression", an underground periodical published in and around the State University of Albany campus. It contains an article by a young man I remember rather fondly, though it amuses me now to see how seriously he took himself and how important he thought his thoughts and actions were. He, of course, was the younger me - known in that innocent time as "Dick Evans". I've decided to republish that article from 1969 - written one week before I turned in my draft cards to the U.S. attorney and became a draft resister - right here in my blog. I may follow up in a few days with some commentary and information about context and about what happened next.

Why I'm Breaking Off From Selective Servitude
by Dick Evans
Henry Thoreau wrote in 1849 that “under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison…the only house in a slave state where the free man can abide with honor.” It happens that I cannot quite agree with this statement. But because the American government today is imprisoning many unjustly, because we still have what is in many ways a “slave state”, and because something in Thoreau’s attitude rings true for me, I have chosen to begin with his words in my explanation of why I am willing to go to prison.
The man who has been drafted is a slave of the state. He is serving it involuntarily, directing his life for two or more years according to the dictates and directives of “superior” officers. He is not free to choose his own job, to quit and go home, to live where he wants, do what he wants, or in any way shape his personal life-style in accordance with a privately worked out system of values. He can even find himself murdering “enemies” he really has nothing against.
No matter that a selected few, myself included, are exempted from military service by the law itself because they are pacifists. No matter that countless others are deferred while they serve the “national interest” in other ways. No matter that the rich, the educated and the powerful find ways out. The brutal fact is that America is enslaving her sons in order to fight a dirty and dishonorable war.
We have an opportunity, I think, not only to wash our hands of this system and this war, not only to work covertly for peace and freedom, but also to speak openly and declare the truth as we see it. Washing one’s hands is easy, any old deferment will do. Real, as opposed to symbolic, anti-draft work is more dangerous, but it is best carried out in secret (underground) and is relatively secure. But speaking the truth in the open, being honest and hopefully unafraid, telling it like it is with our lives as well as our words, is the kind of thing that leads to prison.
Albany could post an honor roll of resisters: Brooks Smith, Steve Trimm, Stanley Bennett, John Beauvais, and Dan Morrison. All of them are good men: honest, brave and gentle people who will probably be sent to Allenwood, Danbury, Lewisburg or Petersburg. Their lives and acts are shattering the myth that America can have her war and freedom, too. They are saying that the draft is a prison, that the draft is slavery, that the draft is illegitimate, and that they – the sons of America’s middle and working classes – are therefore using their lives as a counter-friction against the draft machine.
So going to prison has its postive side. The shocking audacity of doing so deliberately is enough to open many heads and raise many doubts. Through its association with resisters the movement acquires an aura of seriousness not easily laughed off by the man in the street. When Steve Trimm is arrested and I turn in my draft cards and leave my civilian service job, the very illegality of these actions should lend a paradoxical kind of legitimacy to my whole anti-war position. In the months after that I will speak and write and agitate, trying for as wide an audience as possible.
Draft counseling is still important. Demonstrations are still important. The creation of an underground railway for deserters and draft-dodgers is still important. But there is a real need for bravery and open resistance that says “I will not be a slave, and I will not be ashamed to be free.” This need, in my overweaning pride, I am hesitatingly joining with others to fill.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Advices 18, 19, and 20 of the Elders at Balby

18.-That Christian moderation be used towards all men: that they who obey not the word, may be won by those that in the word dwell, to guide in an holy life and godly conversation.
Comment: I take it that "all men" here refers to "all people", in keeping with the general usage of the time. It's interesting that this advice to use "Christian moderation" is not primarily advice on how to treat other Christians. It's advice on how to treat "they who obey not the word" i.e. either non-Christians or unfaithful Christians. So we should use moderation even toward the immoderate. Who are we tempted to think of as deserving harsh treatment because we don't think they obey the word of God? George Bush? Osama Bin Laden? Michael Jackson? You have your own list of such people. The advice of the elders at Balby is that we should use moderation toward them all. The reason given is so that these people who do not obey the word may be "won" by those who dwell in the word. (Actually, some texts say "won with" rather than "won by", but I prefer the ones that say "won by" because it seems to me to make more sense). Leaving aside the far from trivial question of whether either you or I can be truly said to "dwell in the word", the assumption here is that if we do then our goal will be to "win" others to do the same. Not to win over them, but to win them over.
19.- That the Elders made by the holy Ghost feed the flock of God, taking the oversight thereof willingly, not by constraint, but of a willing mind; neither as lords over God's heritage, but as examples to the flock of Christ.
Comment: There is no comment here on how the community will know who the elders are who are "made by the holy Ghost". Presumably the elders at Balby themselves would be included, but I - for one - hope that they were recognized and named as such by other Friends, not just by themselves and not originally by themselves. There is a clear assumption that there are elders in the Christian community: Friends who have a gift for offering wise counsel. These Friends are to "feed the flock" - that is, nurture the growth of all in the Meeting community. They are to exercise their gifts willingly. The responsibility of eldership should not be shirked. At the same time, the role of elder is not the role of a boss or director. It has more to do with setting a good example than with giving good instructions.
20.- That the younger submit themselves to the elder, - yea all be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.
Comment: It isn't obvious to me that chronologically younger people should automatically "submit" to those who are chronologically older, but it does seem more plausible to me now than it did twenty years ago ;) In any case, spiritual maturity rather than chronological age may be what is meant here. The saving grace of this particular advice, in my opinion, is that after beginning with submission of younger to elder, it quickly goes on to say "yea all be subject to one another". So the eldest of the elders and weightiest of the weighty must stand ready to recognize the gifts, talents, leadings and insights of the greenest new attender who just walked through the door. And parents must be willing to learn from their children. It seems like a good prescription for healthy spiritual community


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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Advices 15, 16, and 17 of the Elders at Balby

I here resume commenting on the advices of the elders at Balby. You can view the entire text of these advices by clicking this link.
15.That all Friends that have callings and trades, do labour in the thing that is good, in faithfulness and uprightness, and keep to their yea and nay in all their communications: and that all who are indebted to the world, endeavour to discharge the same, that nothing they may owe to any man but love one to another.

Comment: This is the sort of advice that only seems profound when you contemplate trying to live by it. The part about trying to discharge one's debts is the one that has been most challenging to me (not that I've entirely succeeded in keeping to yea and nay or being faithful and upright, but I speak comparitively). To the extent that we can live by such advice, and support one another in doing so as well, we can begin to deserve the reputation for integrity and character that Friends still seem to enjoy.
16.-That no-one speak evil of another, neither judge one against another; but rather judge this, that none put a stumbling-block or occasion to fall in his brother's way.

Comment: I'm afraid many of us fall far short of this advice. It sounds so obvious and even trivial. But we easily neglect it and thereby do great harm to ourselves, one another, and our religious community.
17.-That none be busy bodies in others' matters, but each one to bear another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ; that they be sincere and without offence, and that all things that are honest, be done without murmuring, and disputing, that you may be blameless and harmless. the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, amongst whom they may shine as lights in the world.

Comment: Like I said...


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Florence Accetta

I mentioned on this blog several weeks that my wife Janet's mother, Florence, was very ill and I asked for prayers. Since that time I have decided not to give any updates on her condition, which changed quite radically from day to day. It somehow seemed a much too private and intimate ordeal to be discussing in detail in front of just anyone who might stray across this blog.

On May 31, after a struggle that was deeply painful for her and for her family and friends, Florence Accetta died in Carmel Richmond Health Care and Rehabilitation Center on Staten Island at the age of 84. She had, among other things, a malignant brain tumor. I am grateful to have known her, to have spent some extra time with her very near the end, and to know that a still better life awaits her than the life she lived on earth.

My wife Janet, my son Nick, and I are no doubt still in need of prayer.

- - Rich

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