~ BRITTANY PETRUZZI
In December 2020, I found out that I had a brain tumor; less than a week later I was in the hospital getting it removed. The doctors said: “Once the pressure is relieved, your vision should resolve itself within six months.” But it did not resolve itself. It’s been a year, and I am blind.
When I could see, I was big on trail-running, and often when I was running full speed down steep hills, Psalm 121 would pop into my head: “He will not allow your foot to stumble.”
After a mystical interlude on the South Ridge of the Chisos Mountains, I hiked back to my car, still exhilarated from the experience. Feeling ecstatic, I started running down the rocky trail. I remember thinking to myself something like, “Amazing how fast I can go, how balanced and sure-footed.”
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I stumbled, literally flying through the air with no part of my body touching the ground. I landed hard on the large trail rocks, skinning and bruising myself badly. I was lucky not to be seriously injured. Still, it was a bad fall and almost seemed like God’s punishment for my overweening pride.
How is it, anyway, that a loving God lets bad things happen to us, whether a fall on a mountain trail or a brain tumor causing blindness. After all, conventional religion conceives of God as all-powerful. A loving, all-powerful God would prevent falls and brain tumors.
I’m not willing to give up the idea of God’s perfect love. So, God must not be all-powerful. Think of God as Being Itself. Being Itself must struggle against Non-Being; and, in that struggle, bad things happen.
I can only hope that Being Itself ultimately triumphs over Non-Being. I can only hope that evil is one day defeated by the power of an Eternal Love. Or, as St. Paul says, “I run toward the goal, so I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize God offers…” (Philippians 3:14 CEV)
~ Richard Russell
I missed out on the “free love” aspect of the counterculture. Although young and single, I was also painfully shy. By my early 40’s I had lost my virginity, but now—at age 76—I mourn the loss of the sexual adventures engaged in by so many of my hippie friends. And yet, I’m glad to have been in a committed, monogamous relationship for some thirty years. These two attitudes are contradictory, of course. Perhaps Quakerism can clarify the confusion. Do Friends have anything to say about marriage and sex outside of marriage?
Well, yes. Friends have a lot to say. Unfortunately, there seem to be as many opinions about sex as there are individual Quakers. And, on a corporate level, this same diversity is the rule. At the risk of being glib, I’d say that Quakers in Friends United Meeting regard monogamy as a moral absolute while Quakers in Friends General Conference entertain the idea that relations outside of marriage may be ethical. New York Yearly Meeting belongs to both organizations and is largely silent when it comes to the specifics of sexual behavior.
So, I guess I have to set Quakerism aside—at least temporarily—in a discussion of ethical non-monogamy. Instead, I’ll turn to the great Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant. One form of Kant’s “categorical imperative” reads, “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.” I think I can legitimately rephrase Kant and say, “Never use another person only for your own selfish ends but seek the good of that other person even if you get some selfish benefit out of the relationship.”
Before considering open marriage in Kantian terms, I should admit that I’m assuming heterosexual relations in order to simplify the discussion. LGBTQ folks can engage in the same kinds of relationships as heterosexuals. They can enter into informal committed partnerships as well as traditional marriages. And those marriages may be “opened up” to sexual intimacies outside of the marriage.
When I talk about relations outside of marriage, I’m not talking about pre-marital sex. I’m thinking of a legal marriage in which the spouses have agreed that each may have sex with other people. To simplify farther, I’m assuming that the extra-marital sexual relationships are not romantic, love relationships. The extra-marital sex is purely for pleasure, while the marriage is a bond of love and commitment that involves, but also transcends, sex.
To simplify further, I’ll only look at the husband and wife plus the husband’s extra-marital partner, presumably, but not necessarily, female. For Immanuel Kant, none of these three people should be using the others exclusively for selfish ends. Of course, it’s fine for anyone in this triad to selfishly enjoy sex with the other person as long as he or she is also trying to satisfy their partner’s physical needs. Everyone wants to give and take sexual pleasure.
There can be no deception or manipulation among these people if their sex is to be ethical. Between the marriage partners, there can only be truthfulness and forthrightness. If the man lies to his wife about a sexual encounter, that’s unethical; that’s cheating. Should he threaten to leave the marriage if the wife doesn’t agree to his extra-curricular activities, that’s manipulation; that’s wrong. Moreover, the extra-marital partner must only be interested in sex for the sake of sex. That partner, a woman we’ll say, can’t be ethical if she’s trying to start a romance and sabotage the marriage. She must only want to have a good time and give a good time.
In short, ethical non-monogamy is very possible. But is it probable? Probably not. Physical sex and emotions tend to go together. In the open marriage just described, the wife is very likely to feel jealous. The husband and his girlfriend are likely to be romantically drawn to each other. If the problems of a conventional, “closed” marriage are difficult, square or cube those difficulties to get a sense of the dilemmas in an open marriage.
Still, a successful open marriage is possible. If the primary relationship—the marriage—is stable, and the spouses are committed to telling the truth, an open marriage could be enriched by extra-marital sex. I can imagine the wife enjoying a husband’s description of the sex he just had with a woman he met at a bar. Naturally, the woman “picked up” would also only be looking for a good time through casual sex.
So, could two Quakers have an open marriage? Well, yes, although I don’t think a Quaker male could pick up a woman by drinking liquor in a bar. Maybe he could have non-alcoholic drinks, and the bar would have to be wholesome or at least “high class.” And I doubt that the Quaker guy could conscientiously engage in dancing. Alternatively, there are service organizations where he might meet a woman, and online dating would be a possibility.
However, there could be a spiritual problem when a Quaker couple tries to open their marriage. If God has ordained marriage or if marriage is considered to be sacred, spirituality may overrule ethics. It might be perfectly ethical for a couple to be non-monogamous, but—on becoming convinced Friends— their new religion might trump morality. What was ethical might now be sinful, not in a moral way, but in the way of disobeying God. In other words, obedience to God might be a higher obligation than obedience to Kant’s categorical imperative.
I have, sometimes half-in-jest, tried to briefly outline an example of ethical non-monogamy in the context of human sexuality and spirituality. For another Quaker perspective on sexuality in its spiritual, ethical, and social dimensions, here is a quote from British Yearly Meeting:
Human sexuality is a divine gift, forming part of the complex union of body, mind and spirit which is our humanity. The sexual expression of a loving relationship can bring delight, joy and fulfillment for many, a life-long faithful relationship gives the opportunity for the greatest personal development and for the experience of sexual love which is spiritual in its quality and deeply mysterious. Others may find fulfilment in different ways. Whatever the moral climate, a sexual relationship is never purely a private matter without consequences for wider human relationships. Its effect on the community, and especially on children, must always be considered. Sexual morality is an area of challenge and opportunity for living our testimonies to truth, nonviolence, equality, integrity and love.
~ Richard Russell
Forgiving someone for a wrong they’ve done to you can be difficult; but it’s important to forgive, not so much for the benefit of the other person, as to free yourself from anger and obsessive thoughts. What may help is the exercise of conscious empathy—trying to understand what in the offender led to the offense, what circumstances in that person’s life made it possible for them to hurt you.
My abusive father will serve as an example. I have forgiven him, my sister has not. The difference between us seems to be that my sister concentrates on what he did to us whereas I have focused on why he did what he did. I don’t mean to claim moral superiority to my sister. She suffered more from his anger and negativity than I did. For example, he once took her up in his private plane and threatened to throw her out of it. Nothing like that ever happened to me. In fact, his worst misdeeds were committed when I was away from home at college. In other words, he deteriorated through the years and was somewhat closer to normal when I was growing up.
Our father’s own childhood was anything but normal. His father apparently went on drunken rampages during which little Marvin would hide outside in the bushes (tumbleweeds?). Rumor has it that gunfire erupted during one of these episodes, possibly because my paternal grandmother was “running around” with other men. Anyway, Marvin’s mother—my grandmother—moved to California and abandoned him, leaving him in the clutches of an unstable man dedicated to whiskey. And I suspect that this unhealthy environment activated in Marvin a latent hostility and depression. Without a bad childhood, the genes that made him angry and depressed might never have been expressed.
Moreover, my father did love us after his fashion. He did not consistently express that love, and he thought he was showing love when he gave us material things, like fancy cars and expensive vacations. But, after considering Marvin’s own abusive childhood, I came to feel compassion for him. Eventually, my own anger at him melted away and was replaced by the forgiveness that Spirit can inspire.
And it did take years for that spirit of forgiveness to win out in me. In other words, forgiving someone is a process that can take a long time. So, my advice to anyone having trouble with forgiveness is, “Try to empathize with the person who hurt you and realize that forgiveness may not come quickly.”
~ Richard Russell
In the opening scenes of the movie Hereafter, Marie Lelay, a famous French anchorwoman, is vacationing somewhere in the Tropics when she’s caught up in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. While trying to stay afloat in the violent flood waters, she’s knocked unconscious and drifts down into the water. As she drowns, her field of vision is filled with a brilliant white light in which shadowy human figures move about. Miraculously, Marie survives and comes to believe that she’s had a vision of the afterlife, a near death experience. And so, she writes a book purporting to prove that there’s a life after death.
Meantime, in San Francisco, George Lonegan is trying to escape his past as a psychic. George can’t keep a girlfriend or live a normal life because of his ability to connect with the spirits of the dead. He decides to get away from it all with a vacation to London.
And in London, a young boy named Marcus has just lost his twin brother Jason in a traffic accident. Unwilling to live without Jason, Marcus begins consulting psychics, all of whom are unable to perform what they promise.
When Marie comes to London to promote her new book, three lives intersect. George and Marcus both happen to hear Marie’s book reading. Marcus recognizes George as a noted psychic; and George, as he touches Marie’s hand, senses her otherworldly experience. Well, to make a long story short, George agrees to do a “reading” for Marcus; and Marie agrees to meet George in a London café. While the future is only hinted at, it appears that Marcus will come to terms with his grief; and George will find love with Marie.
This is an uplifting film; and since it starred Mat Damon and was directed by Clint Eastwood, it should have been a money-making hit. In reality, Hereafter barely broke even at the box office; and critical reviews were decidedly mixed with some reviewers finding the movie slow and unfocused while others felt it was just boring. As for myself, I place Hereafter somewhere on my list of ten best movies.
Of course, my interest in God and the Life Beyond no doubt made me feel positive toward the film, but I also found the psychology of the characters believable and worthy of my attention. Perhaps today’s movie goers have to have action, violence, and special effects before they like a film. I don’t know.
In a 2010 interview on the Today Show, Clint Eastwood expressed his own ideas about the subject of life after death: “I don’t know what I think about it (the afterlife). I probably tend to think, you’re here for the time you’re here, and you should do the best you can for the time you’re here, and appreciate it and move on. That’s rather simplistic, but that’s where I come out.”
One wonders what Eastwood meant by “move on.” Do we move on into oblivion, or do we move on into Eternal Life? I don’t know the answer, but faith tells me there’s something beyond the grave.
~ Richard Russell
One hundred percent of NFL players suffer injuries while playing football. It’s understandable when you consider, for example, receiver and defender covering 40 yards in less than 4 ½ seconds, colliding with each other, and coming to a sudden stop within one or two tenths of a second. Sally Jenkins, Washington Post Sportswriter, paints the above scenario and compares it to running full speed into a wall mirror. The short-term results can be torn ligaments and tendons, even broken bones, not to mention cuts and bruises. Long-term a player is looking at arthritis, joint pain, and reduced mobility.
Particularly serious is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by repeated blows to the head. Ninety-nine percent (in one study) of NFL players examined for CTE showed signs of this degenerative brain disease, which can cause memory loss, depression, and aggressive behavior. Suicide is not uncommon, taking the lives of celebrated players like Aaron Hernandez and Junior Seau. And, of course, there is Damar Hamlin’s recent cardiac arrest during a Monday Night Football game. A normal, unremarkable tackle stopped Hamlin’s heart.
So, there’s no doubt that professional football is violent and dangerous, but it’s also wildly popular and profitable. With our testimony of non-violence, can Friends conscientiously approve of football, or should we work toward its replacement by less problematic sports? Realizing full well that many Friends will disagree with me, I’d argue that Quakers can be NFL fans. How is this possible?
My argument relies on the element of skill in football. While violence does occur during a game, that violence is incidental, i.e., not the purpose of the game. Football’s purpose is to demonstrate athletic and mental skills. The athletic skill could be the ability of a defensive lineman to “shed” the block of his offensive counterpart. It could be a receiver’s ability to suddenly change his pass route while running near full speed. It could be the quarterback’s ability to accurately throw a long pass or quick-release a shorter throw.
And there is the mental dimension. As the quarterback stands behind the line of scrimmage, he must survey the position of the opposing players and decide whether the called play will work or whether he should change the play with an “audible.” Cornerbacks must decide which receivers they will “cover.” Linemen may have to decide who they’ll block or what technique they’ll use. So, in my opinion, football is a skills-oriented sport that satisfies a basic human need: to demonstrate prowess under the stress of athletic competition.
Boxing is quite another matter. Certainly, it requires skill, but the purpose of boxing is to physically hurt or injure an opponent. Violence is not incidental in boxing. The goal is to physically disable your opponent, perhaps through cuts and bruises to the face and body, preferably through a concussion that renders your opponent semi- or completely unconscious. Serious injuries are common in the ring; deaths do occur from time to time. It’s difficult, then, to imagine a Friend disregarding the principle of non-violence and taking pleasure in boxing. On the other hand, I can see Philadelphia Quakers rooting for their Eagles or a Texas Friend hoping that this year will see the Cowboys win a Superbowl.
~ Richard Russell
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