Unlike Catholics, Quakers do not confess their sins to a priest. In fact, George Fox taught that it was possible to live in “that righteousness and holiness that Adam was in before he fell; to be pure and clean, without sin, as he was.” Yet, like Catholics, Fox recognized that people do sin and must repent in order to arrive at the state of sinlessness. He simply did not believe in the necessity of a priest and formal confession in order to be absolved of sin. He was more optimistic than Catholics about the possibility of remaining sinless, but neither Fox nor the Catholic Church teach that humankind is inherently sinful.
What sin really means is “separation from God.” That separation, of course, leads to individual sins like theft, lies, or adultery; but the root of such individual sins is the fact that we live in two orders: the temporal and the eternal. As creatures with fleshly bodies in the material world, we can never completely overcome the instinctual life that leads to moral problems—nor should we despise our bodies or scorn this material world. But we are also spirit, living for spiritual ends and eternal verities. There is a conflict between the temporal and the spiritual. We are caught “in the middle.”
Unlike Fox, I don’t believe in any permanent resolution of the tension between the two realms. I do think it’s necessary for individual Friends to “confess” the ways in which they’ve fallen short of God’s will. A practical way of doing this is simply to answer the Queries in New York Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice honestly and completely. Then, Friends should pray for the Holy Spirit to help them in removing any defects from their spiritual lives. I’m not suggesting that Quakers should be wracked by guilt and inflict some painful penance upon themselves—only that Friends seek to live more fully in the Light.
But what about those of you who don’t believe in God or the Holy Spirit? Well, you can undertake a psychological inventory and ask how you may be more in accord with whatever spirituality or philosophy you live by. And as you search your heart, you may find that new strength is mysteriously given you and that you are better able to live a deeply spiritual life.
~ Richard Russell
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was
given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power
is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more
gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
The quote above is taken from 2 Corinthians 12. What is the thorn that Paul is referring to? No telling! But I like to think that it was the epilepsy which probably caused Paul’s famous vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus.
I, too, have a thorn in the flesh. Of course, I’m a Christian Quaker, but my psyche is divided between Christian spirituality and the secular spirit of this age. In spite of calling Jesus “Lord” and believing in His (mystical) Resurrection, I am tormented by the thorn of atheistic rationalism. Sometimes I DON’T believe.
Like Paul, I’ve prayed that this messenger of Satan be taken away from me, that my faith be strengthened, that my doubts disappear. However, true faith necessarily contains doubt. When there is “no” doubt within a person’s faith, the doubt is usually just suppressed and frequently makes the faith fanatical. My doubts, my weakness, save me from being arrogant about my faith. I really can’t presume my spiritual superiority to Buddhists, Moslems, Atheists, or New Age adherents. I have to accept people of any and every healthy spiritual persuasion.
And this fact makes it possible for me to flourish in a liberal Quaker meeting where people of diverse spiritualities find their spiritual home.
~ Richard Russell
Billy Graham became great friends with Lyndon Johnson; but, in 1966, after a Christmas time visit to Viet Nam, Graham told reporters that the war in Viet Nam—Johnson’s War—was “complicated, confusing, and frustrating.” Later, he went so far as to say that he wasn’t sure he’d have gotten involved in Viet Nam, but it wasn’t “all President Johnson’s fault.”
In 1968, Graham preached nearly 25 times in the war-torn country, sometimes on the same stage as Bob Hope. And Billy changed his tune. Perhaps wanting to say what Johnson wanted to hear, he told reporters that morale was “unbelievably high” among American soldiers. “The war is won militarily,” said Graham.
Of course, 1968 was also the year that Johnson announced he would not be running for a second term as President. The Democratic Party nominated Hubert Humphrey for President, and Humphrey’s Republican opponent—Richard Nixon—won the election.
Billy Graham and Richard Nixon went way back. They had first met in 1952 in the Senate dining room, and Graham had supported Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. During his presidency, Nixon frequently talked to Graham. In fact, Nixon gave a standing order to put Graham through to the White House whenever Billy phoned Nixon.
Graham supported Nixon’s Vietnamization of the War. In fact, he had suggested just such a strategy before Nixon announced it as public policy. This was a way for the U.S. to withdraw its forces while the South Vietnamese took on the burden of fighting their own war. When, in May of 1970, Vietnamese and American forces invaded Cambodia, Nixon suddenly seemed to be widening the War instead of winding it down. Massive protests ensued, and Billy Graham felt the need to help his old friend politically.
Billy invited Nixon to speak at his Crusade in Knoxville, Tennessee. He called the Cambodia invasion “a courageous act” and referred to Nixon as “our President.” The Nixon campaign later ran ads showing Graham and Nixon together. Billy had become deeply involved in partisan politics—not that this was anything new for him. He had even once predicted that the religious right was destined to be a powerful political force.
After winning a second term in 1972, Nixon was politically ascendant until the Watergate scandal erupted. Prior to the election, five Nixon campaign operatives had broken into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building. Nixon subsequently attempted to cover up his administration’s involvement in the affair and was forced to resign when that cover-up was exposed by audio tapes of presidential conversations.
At first, Graham refused to read the transcript of the tapes. He couldn’t believe that Nixon was personally involved in Watergate. Nixon had always presented himself as a conservative, moral person. And Billy had believed him. When he did finally read the transcripts, Graham said, “I just vomited.” The Watergate tapes were “profoundly disturbing and disappointing.” For a time, Billy Graham retired from public life and spent considerable time walking in the North Carolina woods, trying to work through the implications of his misplaced faith in the disgraced President.
After Watergate, he focused his evangelism on Europe. Graham was surprised to find that Catholics in Poland accepted him and his message. His perspective broadened, and his new ecumenicalism—unpopular among the religious right—caused him to become less adamant in his preaching to Eastern Europeans. This was when Graham decided that “all those Chinese babies” were not necessarily condemned to Hell.
In a 1997 interview with evangelist Robert Schuller, Graham said:
I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ ... [God] is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.
Thus, in 1979 Graham refused to join Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority, explaining,
I'm for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left. I haven't been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future.
Toward the end of his long life, Billy’s sister asked how he wanted to be remembered at his funeral. After a long pause, Billy Graham answered, “He tried to do what he should.”
(Sources include Wikipedia, the PBS film Billy Graham, and William Martin’s Billy and Lyndon from the November 1991 Texas Monthly.)
~ Richard Russell
Ryan Holiday writes:
People take their most precious resource for granted. They guard their property, they’re stingy with their money and then they just fritter away the only truly non-renewable resource they have–their time! And fritter away other people’s too!
The only explanation is that we’re just too close to it. We were born into a world where people act like they’ll live forever. We entered a workplace culture where people attended stupid, time-consuming meetings–multiple times per day–and never gave it a second’s thought. So we have failed to question it, failed to rebel against it, failed to resist the tyranny and the injustice and the incomprehensible buffoonery of the age we live in.
I certainly think that Old Chatham committee meetings are timely and appropriate, but many Quaker meetings aren’t—or if timely, there are so many of them that the mind is boggled by a seemingly infinite number of educational and protest opportunities.
Of course, Friends should be well-informed and should participate in activities designed to improve the human condition; but, in order to make life manageable and somewhat peaceful, it’s necessary to say “no” to many requests for our time. One vision of Hell would be an eternal, boring committee meeting while Heaven would be various Quakers and people of faith gathered around the throne of God.
~ Richard Russell
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
In her September 17 Sunday Musings from her Cottage blog, Diana Butler Bass wrote:
The news about immigrants being lured from a shelter in San Antonio by the governor of Florida and shipped off to Massachusetts as a kind of political stunt is a profoundly cruel use of distressed people for political purposes. And the mirth and amusement that this episode inspired among self-declared “Christian” politicians has been nauseating.
While most Americans understand that the immigration system is strained — and we may not agree how to fix it — there is no disagreement about the centrality of hospitality as a moral practice of biblical faith. Beginning with Abraham and Sarah through Jesus and early Christian communities to the Prophet Muhammed, welcoming the stranger is fundamental and necessary to faithfulness to God.
That a church on Martha’s Vineyard sheltered unexpected arrivals, “angels unaware,” as guests worthy of dignified treatment, is a testimony to goodness and generosity, a vision of the world as God intends it to be — practicing hospitality toward strangers.
Matthew 25:34-36 represents Jesus’ notion of hospitality -- the practice of welcoming those whom Jesus calls “the least of these” into the heart of community. Outsiders are brought inside the circle of protection and care as usual social relationships are disrupted or reversed. Jesus overturns our conventional idea of hospitality as a reciprocal exchange and depicts it as an act of extravagant grace: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors…But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:12-13).
We tend to equate hospitality with parties and social gatherings, or gracious resorts and expensive restaurants. To us, hospitality is an industry not a practice, one that summons Martha Stewart to mind more quickly than Jesus Christ. But ancient Christians considered hospitality a virtue, an expression of the love of neighbor that was fundamental to being a person of the Way.
While some contemporary Christians think of morality mostly as sexuality, our ancestors insisted that Jesus’ ethics were based upon welcoming the stranger.
I have no doubt that if the governor of Texas were to send undocumented immigrants to Albany, N.Y., Old Chatham Friends would join efforts to help them. I assume that Texas Governor Greg Abbott is unaware of the existence of Old Chatham. Otherwise, we might find a bus load of immigrants in our area.
~ submitted by Richard Russell
Graham was the greatest evangelist of the Twentieth Century, “America’s Pastor,” the antithesis of liberal Quakerism with his belief that the only way to Heaven was a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But in the latter part of his life, Graham changed his mind. He had thought that “all those Chinese babies” were going to Hell. Now, he didn’t think so. He told Kenneth Woodward, “My job is to do the preaching and God’s job is to do the saving.”
There were other changes as well. When Graham started out as an evangelistic preacher, his fellow fundamentalist Christians thought the world was evil. There was no point in participating in worldly politics. It was best to lead a pure, Christian life, separated from the corruption of political power and double-dealing. But when Graham associated with Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon, he opened the door for his fellow fundamentalists to flood into the political arena. He paved the way for Jerry Falwell and the “Moral Majority.” He was the originator of a phenomenon that now divides our country between the religious right and the more secular left. Yet in the last twenty or so years of his life, Graham distanced himself from politics and returned to the idea that faith and politics should not be bedfellows.
Graham’s first mass revival in 1949 in Los Angeles was an unqualified success, attracting perhaps 350,000 people. People were afraid of world-wide Communism, and Billy used that fear to convert people to Christianity, which—according to him—was the only spiritual force that could stop the spread of the godless menace. Of course, the key to the triumph of the 1949 “Crusade” was the news coverage and publicity that William Randolph Hearst gave it.
In any case, Billy Graham was motivated by that success to seek out public figures and celebrities who could support his evangelism and satisfy his own ego. He practically begged Harry Truman for a meeting and eventually got twenty minutes with the President. Truman, however, was uncomfortable with Billy grabbing his shoulder during prayer and positively enraged when Graham later divulged details of the meeting to the press.
Billy continued his journey into the modern world by embracing its technology. He followed his radio program, Hour of Decision, with a presence on television and even started his own movie studio, Worldwide Pictures. Some fundamentalists were suspicious of technology, believing that TV and movies were a highway to Hell. Not so, Billy Graham, who became a media celebrity.
And Graham continued to seek out American Presidents, both to publicize his Gospel message and to bolster his own image. He became fast friends with Dwight D. Eisenhower, who shared Graham’s idea that Americans needed Christian spirituality in the Cold War against Communism.
It was during Eisenhower’s presidency that “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. “In God we trust” became the official motto of the United States. Eisenhower and Graham popularized the idea of America as a “Christian nation,” even though the U.S. Constitution enshrines the idea of separation of church and state. Eisenhower and Graham turned that idea on its head and laid the foundations of a new religious nationalism, with which we have to contend today.
Billy did not have much of a relationship with John F. Kennedy, of whose Catholicism he was suspicious. Weren’t Catholics supposed to obey the Pope in all things, spiritual and political? After Kennedy’s assassination, however, Graham resumed his role as spiritual adviser to the President, this time with Lyndon Baines Johnson. Graham spent perhaps twenty nights at the White House, at Camp David, and on the LBJ Ranch.
It was a very real, personal friendship although of course LBJ understood the political advantages of a well-publicized relationship with Graham, the per-eminent protestant evangelist of the day. And—apparently—Johnson had a truly religious motivation as well. Recalled Graham, “a number of times I had prayer with him in his bedroom at the White House, usually early in the morning. He would get out of bed and get on his knees while I prayed. I never had very many people do that.”
Well, in Part II of this mini biography of Graham, I’ll examine his relationship with Richard Nixon and the softening of Graham’s own religious fundamentalism. I’ve consulted the internet to confirm some basic facts about Billy Graham, but this Part I is based on the PBS documentary, Billy Graham. For the section on Graham and LBJ, I used William Martin’s article, Billy and Lyndon, from the November 1991 issue of Texas Monthly.
~ Richard Russell
The quotes below are from Jonathan Lockwood Huie’s September 9 inspirational message:
Be Satisfied With Enough,
Work Enough (but not too much),
and Play Enough (but not too much).
Balance Service and Play, Both are Essential.
Take some time in a quiet place to contemplate
the balance between being of service -
both to this generation and to generations yet unborn -
and renewing your vitality with play and celebration.
Without play, one becomes old and dry.
Without service, life becomes meaningless.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.
It isn't enough to talk about peace.
One must believe in it.
And it isn't enough to believe in it.
One must work at it.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
He who can give thanks for little
will always find he has enough.
We can do anything we want to
if we stick to it long enough.
- Helen Keller
~ submitted by Richard Russell
In the early 70’s, I drove a taxicab in order to eke out a living. The cab company employed a bevy of young men and women, mostly former students at the University of Texas. Many of these cabbies were ex-hippies who had progressed from marijuana and alcohol to shooting up speed—methamphetamine. I roomed with one of them, and he convinced me to try the drug.
Within two seconds of the syringe plunger being pushed down, I felt an indescribable euphoria. Reality literally buzzed with ecstasy, and no convincing was necessary for me to continue using the drug. Fortunately, I stopped after a relatively short time. Someone had told me that each “hit” of speed killed ten thousand brain cells. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I didn’t want to risk my brain for a momentary pleasure, however intense.
Certainly, long-term use of meth does damage the brain, which may actually shrink in volume as neurons are destroyed. Verbal ability, concentration, memory, and physical coordination are affected, and there’s some evidence that users are prone to Parkinson’s Disease. The circulatory system and major organs are harmed. And the meth addict’s teeth fall out because of a persistent dryness of mouth. At the Walmart where I presently work, I see many such people every day.
All this is serious enough, but sudden meth deaths from stroke or heart attack do occur. These days methamphetamine is frequently laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Thus, in recent years methamphetamine-related deaths have skyrocketed. Drug dealers don’t really care if their customers die from a contaminated product. There’s always someone else to replace them.
According to the Pew Research Center, between 2015 and 2019 arrests for meth possession increased 59%, methamphetamine substance abuse disorder rose by 37%, and overdose deaths involving meth more than doubled. Some states are hit harder by the epidemic than others. In Texas, for example, the methamphetamine death rate increased by 115% while New York saw a 225% increase, and New Jersey registered an eye-popping 733% surge.
Law enforcement activities have been ineffective in stopping the spread of the drug. Arresting and jailing people doesn’t deter others from using methamphetamine, which—as I well know—lifts the user from boredom and depression to the heights of ecstatic pleasure. Who worries about being caught with meth when it promises heaven on earth, at least temporarily?
The only way to curb methamphetamine substance abuse is through a public health approach to the problem. But what is the public health approach? Well, the Biden-Harris public health plan has eight prongs, among which are prevention programs in schools and training for law enforcement personnel. The schools chosen for programs would be in areas of high poverty, low education, low employment, and high meth use. The training for police officers would teach them how to assist people experiencing a methamphetamine-induced health crisis. Other prongs have to do with strengthening and coordinating both national and international law enforcement efforts. However, the most interesting approaches are in the areas of treatment and harm reduction.
Harm reduction largely consists of providing meth users with fentanyl test strips, new syringes, and naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid intoxication. Supervised safe injection sites, like those recently established in New York City, can also prevent overdoses. The treatment aspect involves making it easier for meth users to access the drug abuse programs offered by rehabilitation centers. The Biden-Harris plan also emphasizes “contingency management” as a preferred intervention.
Contingency management is, essentially, paying meth users to stay off the drug. If urine tests show that someone has not used methamphetamine for a certain period prior to testing, that person is given a monetary reward. To be effective, the reward must be in the $400—$500 range. That amount of money can be criticized as too expensive, but the countervailing argument is simply this: contingency management works! (Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which helps patients identify the triggers of their drug use, is also beneficial.)
So, do Friends have a particular viewpoint applicable to the meth epidemic? Yes, we most certainly do! Consider this query from New York Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice: “Have we confronted our own decisions about our use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and do we encourage others to do likewise? Have we considered the cost in human suffering that might result from such use?”
Of course, there may not be universal agreement among Friends as to the “how” of solving the methamphetamine drug problem, but I feel reasonably certain that almost all Quakers would advocate for a public health approach as opposed to a “nail and jail” non-solution.
~ Richard Russell
We’re all familiar with the words “deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer. However, the original Greek uses the phrase “τοῦ πονηροῦ,” best translated as “the Evil One.” So, Jesus is praying that we be delivered, not from evil events or motives, but from Satan himself, the Devil.
How to understand in modern terms Jesus’ personification of evil? Well, if God is defined as “Being Itself,” the Devil is a symbol of “Non-Being,” against which God struggles. Jesus is assuring us that, no matter what reverses God suffers in time and history, God—the “Ground of Being”—will ultimately triumph over Non-Being both in history and in our individual lives.
But how can that be? Were the six million Jews murdered by Hitler saved from the Evil One? Only, I’d argue, if there is a Heaven, the biblical symbol for Eternal Life. But what is Eternal Life? Is it a state of being in which our individual consciousness is preserved and flourishes?
I would answer, “Yes.” Of course, that answer raises another problem. Our modern, secular viewpoint is materialist. Modern humankind recognizes as real only that which we can see with our eyes or our scientific instruments. The idea of a spiritual realm in which we live an Eternal Life is commonly considered nonsense designed to allay our fear of death. And I feel the force of that atheistic idea. I myself am drawn to that rationalist argument.
Yet my spiritual side tells me that we must trust God. God—Being Itself—will take our finite, human being into Itself after we die. My ultimate take-away from the Lord’s Prayer? God will defeat the Evil One.
~ Richard Russell
Lincoln was president during the greatest challenge to democracy that our
country has ever faced. In 1858, two years before the outbreak of the Civil War,
"A house divided against itself cannot stand." ‘I believe this
government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half
free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect
the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.”
And so it is today. I certainly expect these United States to continue existing and even to be a major player on the world stage, but our nation will either become more democratic or frankly authoritarian. It will become all one thing or all the other.
In the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections and the 2024 presidential election, American democracy itself is the underlying issue. Surely, Friends will be working for what Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom.” Surely, we will struggle—non-violently—to emancipate ourselves from the fear of a democratic dissolution.
~ Richard Russell
This blog was set up to post content of interest to Old Chatham Quaker members and attenders. Posts related to one's own personal spiritual journey, reports based on interviews with others, and reflections on Quaker-related topics are welcome. Posts by individuals are personal expressions and do not necessarily reflect those of the Meeting as a whole.
Guidelines for posting on website blog:
Submit to member of Communications committee; committee has editorial oversight over all content posted on the Meeting website.
Be respectful of the nature of vocal ministry given in Meeting for Worship or other settings and any private conversations about spiritual matters.
Cite source of any image or other external content submitted.