That’s the challenge of Ben Pink Dandelion’s 2014 Swarthmore Lecture. Pink Dandelion believes that the Society of Friends is sick, having been infected by modern secularism and individualism. To return to health, the Society needs to re-form, i.e., go back to the basic principles of Quakerism.
Pink Dandelion doesn’t mean that Quakers should abandon the Twenty-first century for the Seventeenth, but he does identify four cardinal principles upon which traditional Quakerism rests. Quakers 1) encounter the Divine directly, 2) use systems of discernment to interpret such encounters, 3) facilitate Divine encounters through silent worship, and 4) lead a particular kind of life grounded in these spiritual experiences.
In modern, liberal Quakerism number one is problematic since there are many liberal Quakers who don’t believe in God at all. There can be no encounter with something that doesn’t exist. For these Friends, number three—silent worship—becomes silent meditation. There is nothing to be worshiped.
Number two—systems of discernment—depends on a collective process in which the individual can rely on others for guidance. Certainly, there are still clearness committees and minutes of the entire meeting relating to an individual concern, but Quakerism has become progressively privatized. According to Pink Dandelion, most Quakers do not expect religion to follow them home after First Day Meeting. They do not really feel accountable to the meeting. No elders will show up at their homes to see whether they are leading a Quaker life. These Friends make their own decisions without interference from their co-religionists. Unfortunately, this kind of individualized religion vitiates the traditional process of discernment.
Number four is also problematic. In a privatized Quakerism, one may pick and choose among the many Testimonies in a Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline. And even individual testimonies are subject to interpretation. For example, Friends are usually advised to lead a simple life, but perhaps owning a Cadillac is simple if it leads to the peace of mind Quakers are supposed to have. And as regards drugs and intoxicating substances, aren’t there good drugs and bad drugs? Don’t some drugs in fact lead to personal integration if taken in moderation? And anyway, what’s wrong with a couple of beers after work or a joint just before bedtime?
In his defense of traditional, conservative Quakerism, Pink Dandelion muses, “Maybe we’ve too much said we love you and what is it you’d like us to be for you rather than saying we love you and this is who we are, and you’re welcome to join if that works for you.”
What is my opinion of Ben Pink Dandelion’s lecture? Well, I agree. However, the divide BPD sees between conservative and liberal Quakerism is a divide that splits my own personality. Part of me is a skeptical, modern materialist; part of me is a somewhat traditional Christian. The Christian part is dominant, but I do feel considerable sympathy for skeptics and non-theists who are drawn to the Society of Friends. Of course, ours is The Religious Society of Friends. Ben Pink Dandelion and I* want to keep the religious basis of Quakerism while welcoming all Seekers after Truth.
BPD ends his lecture on a positive note. He advises us to “inhabit” the four cardinal principles of Quakerism. If we do so, he says, we will be transformed and become agents of transformation for others. For a YouTube video of his Swarthmore lecture, click HERE. For the lecture in book form, click HERE.
*I’m not actually a member of any meeting at the present time.
In the twenty-first century, Quakers are noted for their individuality. Nevertheless, if we review the various Testimonies found in Books of Discipline, a picture emerges of the ideal Quaker: a gentle, soft-spoken person with no detectable racial bias or animus toward those who are less well-off. In fact, feelings of compassion and mercy are stirred whenever our ideal Quaker sees a poor family struggling with basic needs.
Well, I’m obviously not an ideal Quaker. I can, for example, get angry with partisans of Donald Trump, and thoughts of repugnance at the poor sometimes pop into my mind. The latter occurs, for example, when I’m working at Walmart as a cashier and am checking out a large family with unkempt, noisy children who climb onto the conveyor belt. The overweight parents are buying cokes, chips, and candy with the food stamps they’ve gotten from the government. “How gross!” or something like that flashes through my head.
Now, if thoughts are indicative of character, that means I’m a person who sneers at the poor and considers myself superior to them. However, contrary to the Freudian model of the mind, thoughts do not necessarily reflect a person’s basic personality or character. A thought may be only a random, ephemeral phenomenon produced by an accidental firing of synapses in the brain.
However, if I dwell on such a thought and worriedly concentrate on it, I may develop a pattern of thinking such thoughts, i.e., a neurotic obsession-compulsion. Rather than mulling over an unwelcome thought, it’s best to ignore it, to brush it to one side, as it were. With such a technique, thoughts of hatred and disdain lose their power and do not lead to any kind of action.
A textbook case of this process is described in NPR’s Invisibilia podcast. A man known as “S,” very much in love with his wife, was bothered by intrusive thoughts of killing her. He became so anxious over this mental violence as to become a complete recluse. Only when he was treated by a “mindfulness” psychiatrist did he get relief. He still had thoughts of stabbing his wife, but he no longer paid attention to the thoughts. They could harmlessly drift away.
And, in my case, thoughts of hatred toward the poor are more than counter-balanced by thoughts of compassion. I let the disgust evaporate before it can really become bothersome. I concentrate on the thoughts of love and empathy that arise in my mind. Those are the thoughts I choose to define me.
There is the question of unconscious racial bias among white people. If an African American passes me on the right side of a one-lane freeway entrance ramp, I may think, “You Black *#%! That thought, in and of itself, is no proof of racial bias. However, if negative thoughts about African Americans pop up regularly in my mind, if there’s a pattern of such thoughts, or if such thoughts lead to discriminatory actions, that’s evidence for racial prejudice (although it could theoretically be a compulsive obsession like “S” suffered from).
Especially telling are incidents in which, out of fear of African Americans, white persons call the police when they observe people of color performing the ordinary actions of daily life. These bad thoughts leading to bad actions almost certainly result from the racism of the thinkers.
To conclude, thoughts may or may not be indicative of a stable personality trait, may or may not be indicative of racial bias, for example. We must look at how people act to deduce how they are; and, even then, we must be careful about judging another person.
In their book, The Final Days, Woodward and Bernstein record that on the evening before his resignation from the Presidency, Richard Nixon invited Henry Kissinger to join him in the Lincoln Sitting Room. "Henry," he said, "you are not a very orthodox Jew, and I am not an orthodox Quaker, but we need to pray."
For those of us interested in the issue, we may wonder whether Nixon was any kind of Quaker. Certainly, he was reared as a Quaker in a Friends’ evangelical church. His second cousin, Jessamyn West, the famous Quaker author, attended the same church. However, West matured into a more expansive Quakerism that was rooted in the silent, “unprogrammed” style of worship while Nixon largely left Quakerism behind as he pursued political power.
Nevertheless, the young Nixon was a birthright Quaker. In Nixon’s First Cover-up: The Religious Life of a Quaker President, H. Larry Ingle recounts his mother’s claim that young Nixon went to church three times each Sunday and once on Wednesday. Nixon regularly played the piano in these services, including the popular “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” For the Nixon boys there was a scripture lesson every day before breakfast; and, as time went on, Nixon taught Sunday school classes.
In his Senior year at Whittier College, he took a course in which he had to write twelve essays about his faith. These compositions reveal a Nixon who had moved away from biblical literalism and a literal Resurrection. “The important fact, “he wrote, “is that Jesus lived and taught a life so perfect that he continued to live and grow after his death—in the hearts of men.” With such a belief, Richard Nixon was closer to primitive Quakerism than the evangelical religion practiced in East Whittier Friends’ Church.
Nixon never (strong word) spoke of the Inner Light. He did speak of a “Peace at the center” that sounds Quakerish. However, for Nixon, this peace was really his inner conviction that he was acting rightly and could ignore his critics. Nixon’s inner peace was his ego, his personal sense of strength and power. This inward self was the source of his famous statement, “If the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
In the pursuit of power, Nixon could ignore the Quaker testimonies when they were inconvenient for his personal ends. Of course, Quakers do not have to adhere to all the Testimonies of their faith, but someone who doesn’t practice non-violence and truthfulness should certainly feel uncomfortable in the Society of Friends. It is true that Nixon won the Presidency with a pledge to bring peace to Vietnam; but instead of immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam, he continued the war for some five years and even invaded Cambodia in the process. Candidate Nixon was willing to secretly sabotage the Paris peace talks because he feared that progress toward peace would undercut his own campaign for the Presidency. This duplicity may have cost both American and Vietnamese lives and violated both Testimonies mentioned above. Of course, the Watergate scandal was created by Nixon’s elaborate cover-up of the truth.
If we accept Nixon’s membership in East Whittier Friends Church as sufficient, Richard Nixon was a Quaker. However, in all his adult years, Nixon never attended East Whittier or any other Quaker meeting. He never “showed up” at Quaker events; and—according to Mary McKinney—the bare minimum for being a Quaker is to show up and to be as authentic as possible. Unfortunately, Nixon was an inveterate liar who only mentioned Quakerism when it served his political purposes. In fact, he came to rely on Billy Graham and evangelical Protestantism to present himself as a Christian trying to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
In short, the adult Nixon was not a Quaker at all.
One evening when I was about eleven, my siblings and I waited in a car outside a restaurant. Kids on bikes circled us, calling us "Jew...Jew". Hunh? Their ignorance--we weren't Jews--mitigated the threat, but somehow even as a child I knew that yelling back "We're not Jews, you jerks!" was not the right response. I was a little scared, too.
More recently, my best friend in Lanesborough for ten years at that point (she has since moved) was an observant Jew and daughter of Holocaust survivors. I can't remember the context, but at a social occasion, she referred to myself and another friend with a similar surname, as “the Germans". Hunh? I spoke up--I've never been to Germany and my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors came to this country in 1750. I don't identify as German. I was an "innocent" Quaker!
The kids on bikes scattered when my mother appeared. My friend and I remained very close. But these two incidents are linked in my mind. Am I Jewish or German, both, or neither?
We’ve all heard of glossolalia, “speaking in tongues” during moments of religious ecstasy. What seems to us nonsensical gibberish has spiritual meaning to the speaker. More important, I’d argue, is “listening in tongues,” especially during unprogrammed meetings of liberal Quakers. I say liberal Quakers because our meetings attract people with startlingly different belief systems. One liberal Quaker may be a quite traditional Christian, another may be Unitarian. There are Quakers who identify as Moslems or Buddhists, others who practice Paganism or Zoroastrianism. And then there are the atheists, agnostics, and humanists who belong to the Religious Society of Friends.
When someone with a quite different orientation than our own speaks in meeting, there’s often a tendency to discount, even ignore, what that person says. But if we listen in tongues, we will do the hard work of trying to empathize with and understand the speaker. We will try to discern the ideas and emotions that lie behind the words. We will not let words become barriers between people who appear to be different but may in fact be rather similar in attitude.
So, if someone says, “Jesus is Lord,” we will not let the idea of a powerful, male lord so offend our sensibility as to close heart and mind. Perhaps we are both followers of Jesus. Even if we are humanists, we may appreciate the way of life advocated by Jesus. Or consider the person who is a “born-again Christian.” We may have had mystical or spiritual experiences that allow us to comprehend the feeling of being spiritually reborn.
Although listening in tongues may involve listening for large ideas, we are primarily listening for emotions and aspirations. If Christian, we may aspire to love others in much the same way as non-theists who advocate for social justice. We must listen for the love that lies behind the words. And sometimes the emotion behind words is fear. When we understand that Fundamentalist Christians are so literal minded because of fear, because of anxiety that changing a single belief will destroy one’s entire faith, we may feel less threatened by that aggressive version of Christianity.
In this divided country, listening in tongues may allow liberal-minded people to better understand hard-core supporters of Donald Trump. Behind their racism and intolerance is fear—fear that they will be displaced as African Americans and Hispanic immigrants take their jobs and undermine their way of life. With this understanding, we may be in a better place psychologically as we try to dialog with an intransigent group of people.
In the strictest sense, listening in tongues only means seeking to understand the other. When we try to re-frame what is said so that it fits better with our beliefs, we are doing something that goes beyond listening. So, for example, if someone tells us they are a “born-again” Christian, we may not accept the constellation of meanings that usually attach to the phrase. We may feel that, yes, we have been born again spiritually and then simply substitute our meaning of “born-again” for the “born-again” that implies biblical literalism and a faith in Jesus as one’s personal Savior. We may reframe a speaker’s words, so they are less threatening to our identity and worldview. We may be listening to protect our ego, not really to empathize with the other person.
Of course, listening in tongues (even if the phrase is unfamiliar) is essential to our meetings. Without this practice we would dissolve into dissension and fragmentation. That is, in fact, an unfortunate aspect of Quaker history—at least in America, where Quakers have splintered into many different groups. A hopeful development is that many meetings are now united either to Friends General Conference or Friends United Meeting. Many Monthly Meetings belong to both FGC and FUM. And the Friends World Committee for Consultation tries to communicate with all branches of Quakerism.
Robin Mohr, an executive secretary of FWCC, thinks of “listening in tongues” as a kind of bilingualism. For her take on the subject, click HERE.
I recently posted a poem about a mystical experience of mine some forty years ago in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend. The poem dramatizes and romanticizes the actual event, but it was for me a powerful manifestation of what I call God. And that was it. No other grand spiritual experience in the four succeeding decades. In fact, I am a little irritated with God for only appearing that one time. Then again, maybe I should consider myself fortunate. After all, there are many people—many Friends, in fact—who have never experienced an earth-shattering revelation of The Eternal.
On the other hand, mysticism does not depend on sudden, life-changing revelations. We do not have to experience a flash of light from Heaven as did Paul on the road to Damascus. Rather, we may experience gentler, fleeting moments that are mystical and “from God.” Perhaps we may not even recognize such experiences as transcendent. Perhaps we may even protest that we are logical, skeptical people who have no use for mysticism. Yet the experiences are there.
Many such moments are evoked by some transient experience of nature like the smell of rain in a breeze or the rustling of dry leaves across the ground. But we could be inside the house, transfixed by dust motes in a sun beam or by a beloved pet in our lap.
Music is also a prime source of transcendent moments. For me, that’s the culmination of a crescendo in the first movement of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. For an acquaintance of mine, that’s the perfect pitch of a note she plays on her violin. For the Sufi branch of Islam, music is, in fact, the primary way to approach the Divine.
Even sports can give us a glimpse of The Eternal. Gary Shaw in his book, Meat on the Hoof, recalls a pass play from a touch football game with friends:
…I began to feel some inexplicable postponement of time…. This
changeless spell brought an acute sense of temporalness and the
feeling of inevitably fading with the dusk. Yet just as acute was the
sense that this present intimately belonged to both past and future.
This time and our movements were one. As I released the ball with
giving length and completeness of my arm, I could see the beginning
of its easy soft arc.
When his friend catches the ball, Shaw remarks, “I knew we had connected.”
Connection is, of course, the whole point of Meeting for Worship. We want to connect with Spirit or God and through that connection to feel a spiritual oneness among ourselves. Sometimes not much feeling or connection is apparent, but sometimes—in a gathered meeting—that feeling engulfs everyone. Less obvious, but no less important, are the mystical moments that come to us as we individually wait in silence. There may be Friends who deny being mystics, but I doubt that there are many Friends who haven’t experienced a “silent word” of Spirit spoken to them personally. God does not have to thunder from a mountaintop when speaking to those in worship.
I’ve been blogging on a weekly schedule but am beginning to feel a little self-imposed deadline pressure. So, I may begin skipping a week here and there to preserve my leisurely, retired lifestyle.
Anyhow, several years ago I took Beliefnet’s online quiz purporting to identify what kind of religion a person is. According to Belief-O-Matic, I was a Unitarian. I was aghast. I had been to several Unitarian services and disliked what I experienced at them. Anyway, I was pleased when I recently re-took the quiz and was scored as a liberal Quaker.
According to Beliefnet, I am 100% Liberal Quaker, 98% Unitarian Universalist (Hmmm?), 76% Liberal Christian Protestant, 67% Orthodox Quaker (FUM?), 45% Conservative Christian Protestant (Fundamentalist?), 43% Atheist (interesting), and 13% Roman Catholic (surprising). I guess the 13% score explains why I stopped being Catholic several years ago. I remember having to use “doublethink” to repeat the Nicene Creed at Mass, and I’ve never felt a truly Catholic reverence for the Virgin Mary or the Saints. I had less trouble with the idea of the Real Presence of Christ in the Host. After all, Quakers (some anyhow) believe in God’s omnipresence.
I also took the “What Kind of Christian Are You?” quiz. The results show me to be a “Brian McLaren Christian.” McLaren sees Christianity, not as a set of beliefs, but as a way of living. That way is the way of love, of coming to know God by recognizing and loving God in others. I may have trouble loving others at times, but I certainly recognize the validity of the concept (more about this later).
Besides McLaren, I’m supposed to be enamored of N.T. Wright. I have heard of Wright; but after an internet survey of his work, I must say that he and I have serious differences in our Christian faith. Wright believes in a literal Resurrection of Jesus whereas I think that the disciples had a mystical experience of Jesus’ presence which was later mythologized into a literal, historical resurrection. Wright also believes that the soul survives after death, a view to which I am sympathetic. However, I have no sense of certainty about the afterlife. I agree with another member of Old Chatham meeting who has stated that, “At death, we return to God, but I don’t know what that means.” Many Quakers will also agree with Wright’s statement that “Jesus is present, he is real, he can be talked to—and he will talk back.” To be on the safe side, I would say that God or Spirit talks. However, if the historical Jesus has, in some sense, returned to God, we may well feel His Presence in our meetings.
Other religious figures whom I am supposed to like include Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, Tim Keller, and Eugene Peterson. Bell questions the concept of Hell although he does not outright reject the idea. Tickle had a near death experience that convinced her of God’s existence. Keller is a born-again Christian who criticizes the alliance between evangelical Christians and Republicans. Eugene Peterson advocated a relational Christianity and translated the Bible into modern, colloquial language. My actual religious-figure favorites are Marcus Borg, Paul Tillich, Isaac Penington, and—well—Jesus of Nazareth.
The quiz also predicted six magazines that I would likely subscribe to, none of which I take. Of those mentioned, I have leafed through a few issues of Sojourners, and I’m continually being asked to subscribe to The Atlantic because I click on Atlantic articles in my Google News feed. In fact, I may as well right now follow the Beliefnet prediction and subscribe to the Kindle edition of The Atlantic. Done! (But as of March 4, I haven’t read any of my first Kindle issue!)
My test results also say, “Your Christian history is rooted in St. Francis, who leads (through Gandhi) to Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. You emphasize social justice as an element of God’s Kingdom.” Well, yes and no. I do like St. Francis’ love of animals and often see “That of God” in my two dachshunds. Certainly, I approve of the non-violence preached by Gandhi and King. I also approve of Mother Teresa, who—despite being a Catholic saint—experienced excruciating doubts as to God’s existence. I, too, sometimes find my faith wavering; but I’ve always been able to affirm, “Jesus is Lord.”
Like Jesus, I’m a big Kingdom of God fan; but—as much as I desire social justice and admire those who work for it—I’m not really a social justice activist. I’ve only done social justice things in a desultory and imperfect way, preferring reflection to action (thinking is usually safer than doing). And while the Kingdom of God contains an important focus on social justice, its Ruler gives us two more general commandments. We are to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and our neighbor as ourselves.
I could follow those commandments by driving to Colorado and chaining myself to the fence around a Minutemen missile silo; or, more conveniently, I could try to work through my anger at Donald Trump supporters and remember that they are beloved members of God’s Kingdom. Social justice projects are worthy of our time and effort, but we can also serve The Kingdom just by loving our family, friends, and even our “enemies.”
Of course, no quiz can really measure one’s spirituality. I call myself a
Quaker by virtue of my spiritual attitudes and beliefs. However, I also have the
evidence of a New Jersey Friend’s verbal baptism of me. Moreover, a Hawaii
Friend has confirmed that I am a Quaker—in spirit, at least. (Zoom was the
connection for New Jersey—Hawaii—and me here in Texas.) One of these days
I’ll join a meeting and receive a letter of acceptance, which I’ll frame and mount
on a wall. Then I’ll have written, official, incontestable proof that I really am a
Quaker. I won’t have to rely on Belief-O-Matic.
For those who are interested in the entertaining (but less than reliable)
Beliefnet quizzes, they are listed HERE.
The poem below, written in Spanish with an explanatory English translation, describes a “mystical experience” that I had some forty years ago. The event in question—a hiking trip in Big Bend National Park—was not as dramatic as the poem; but it did change my life. I became a spiritual seeker and eventually ended up with the Quakers, eventually here in Old Chatham Monthly Meeting.
Subía in el guijarro del sendero
I climbed over the trail gravel
mientras el sudor corría por la nariz
while sweat ran down my nose
Y saltaba a la boca salada.
and sprang into my salty mouth.
Oía los zumbidos explosivos
I heard sudden explosions of sound
cuando los bichos volaban cerca del oído
when insects hummed and flew near my ear
Y sentía el ritmo de la cantimplora
and I felt the rhythm of the canteen
meciéndose a mi lado.
swinging at my side.
A veces me paraba para recobrar el aliento
Sometimes I stopped to catch my breath
pero seguía trepando a paso lento
but I kept climbing slowly
Y por fin llegué a la cima de los Chisos.
and arrived at last on the Chisos summit.
Un viento me azotaba y me hipnotizaba
A wind whipped and hypnotized me
con su música celestial.
with its celestial music.
De mi risco alto las montañas se marchaban
From my place on high the mountains marched away
en fila parda
in khaki files
Y las nubes ensombrecían la tierra
And clouds shadowed the earth
con manchas de azul.
with splotches of blue.
Un halcón solitario giraba,
A solitary hawk circled
Y me invadía la paz profunda,
And a profound peace subdued me--
inesperada, tan deseada.
a peace hoped for, a peace desired.
Hubo silencio y gozo.
There was silence and joy.
Hubo tranquilidad y luz.
There was calm and light.
El cuerpo se esfumó.
My body vanished like smoke.
El peso se levantó.
Its weight lifted away.
No hubo pecado.
There was no sin.
No hubo culpa.
There was no blame.
No hubo ansiedad.
There was no fear.
Y todo nada,
And all nothing,
Y yo todo,
And all me,
Y yo nada,
And me nothing,
Y yo todo nada,
And me all nothing,
Y todo uno,
And all one,
Todo el océano de luz.
All the ocean of light.
De repente el ave zambullió
Suddenly the bird dove
en busca de su presa.
in search of its prey.
Mientras se caía, una ráfaga del viento
While it fell, a gust of wind
me apuñaló violento.
violently knifed through me.
Me desperté y regresé.
I woke up and returned.
Acepté el peso del cuerpo.
I accepted the weight of the body.
Abracé el dolor del alma.
I embraced the pain of the soul.
Mareado, descansé un rato.
Dizzy, I rested a little.
Rendido, empecé el descenso,
Exhausted, I began the descent,
el retorno terrenal.
the return to earth.
Tarde llegué al pie de los Chisos
I arrived late at the foot of the Chisos,
Que tenían los picos iluminados
peaks shining bright
por los rayos del sol.
in the rays of the sun.
Y la tranquilidad del la naturaleza
And nature’s tranquility
Me llenaba y me pacificó.
filled me and won my soul.
That’s the title of a book of jokes by Chuck Fager. While the jokes are all ostensibly about Quakers, many of them are generic. Often the word “Quaker” could easily be replaced by “Baptist,” “Catholic,” or some non-religious identifier. Still, most of the humor does depend upon a specifically Quaker context.
The book is not really “hilarious,” however. The humor is very gentle, usually ironic or satiric. If you want belly laughs, this is not the book for you. In fact, I originally intended to make this a negative review; but, as I re-read the book after initially skimming the material, I found myself rather enjoying it.
The text is divided into nine chapters as follows:
Meeting for Worship, Business, and Other Friendly Amusement
Commerce, Politics, and Suchlike Worldly Distractions
Inner Faith and Interfaith
Testimonies, Old and New, Real, and Imaginary
Quaker Children, and Other Peculiar People
A Friends’ Miscellany Including Some Verse
Golden Oldies—The Top 30 (Or So) Classic Quaker Chuckles
Quakers, Sex, and Marriage: The Naked Truth?
Here are two entries somewhat representative of the humor:
Hast thee heard about the new Twelve-Step group for Friends who talk too much and too often in Meeting for worship? It’s called On-Anon. And on. And on.
(A Wilburite Friend argued) …with a Quaker pastor over the merits of programmed versus unprogrammed worship, but to no avail. When both had talked themselves out, the Wilburite concluded in a tolerant tone, “Well, Friend, I guess we are both trying to worship the Lord—thee in thy way, and I in His.”
The book costs $9.95 in paperback or $4.99 at Amazon’s Kindle bookstore.
The “Look Inside” feature at the link above contains almost 15% of the whole
and should be the deciding factor as to whether one wants to buy the other 85%.
Many in Old Chatham Meeting are probably already familiar with Friendly Persuasion, a 1956 movie based on Jessamyn West’s book of (almost) the same name. Starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, and Anthony Perkins, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards. Nevertheless, Friendly Persuasion is no great work of art, suffering from melodrama and a broad humor that sometimes verges on slapstick.
That’s not to say that the movie isn’t entertaining; and it’s especially interesting for Friends who are curious about the lifestyle of rural, 19th Century Quakers. Set in the lush countryside of Indiana (the San Fernando Valley), this picturesque film is complemented by Dmitri Tiomkin’s musical score and the song “Thee I Love.” And while the film is syrupy sweet and overemotional, I admit that I personally enjoyed those qualities. Relevant enough to hold the attention of adults, Persuasion is also an ideal children’s film. Kids will enjoy Little Jess’s battle with Samantha the Goose and his rivalry with an older sister. Teens who are not jaded by our consumer culture will be charmed by the tender romance between Mattie and a dashing cavalry officer.
The main motif of the film deals with Quaker pacifism in the time of the Civil War, when Rebel raiders were attacking peaceful Indiana farmers. Will Jess the father or Josh the elder son defend the family with arms? Will the mother, Eliza, remain uncorrupted by the violence erupting around her? Will principle or expediency prevail? And what role will love play in all this chaos?
Whatever its shortcomings, I highly recommend Friendly Persuasion, which is rated a respectable 7.3 by IMDb. The film may be rented from Amazon Prime for a mere $2.99.
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