Extrovert or Introvert?
Which are you? You probably know, but this Color Test can confirm (or contradict) your intuition. There’s considerable research evidence to support the validity and reliability of the test. I took it twice, choosing somewhat different colors each time, but ended up with the same score: half extrovert, half introvert.
This result confirms my feeling that, although I was an introvert and painfully shy forty years ago, I’ve steadily progressed toward the extrovert end of the spectrum. This drawn-out change possibly explains why, many years ago, I was interested in Quakerism but only recently joined the Society. In the past, I was too withdrawn and fearful to join; but, as my extroversion has increased, I’ve finally acquired the courage to become a member.
Perhaps, for you too, this test will explain some aspect of your Quakerism.
~ Richard Russell
My becoming a Quaker was serendipitous—that is, I accidentally found something good. Rewriting a definition of serendipity from yourdictionary.com , I propose that serendipity may be a combination of random events, individually beneficial or good, which—perceived to be related as time passes—produce a wonderful (more than good) outcome. (Bev Thompson will recognize a trace of Alfred North Whitehead in this definition.)
In fact, let’s rewrite the statement like this: serendipity is a combination of random events, individually revealing God, which—seen as related in the perspective of time—produce a mystical but actual outcome in the world.
Whew! Are you still reading? So, my Quakerness is a combination of accidental (but revelatory) events through the years. For example, many years ago, I accidentally pulled from a library shelf Jessamyn West’s A Quaker Reader. I casually turned to a section of the book with quotes from Isaac Penington. I found myself thinking, “This is it. This is the path.” At the time I did not, however, explore Quakerism further since my native skepticism quickly reasserted itself. Nevertheless, a seed had been planted.
Much later, bored by my job as a route vendor, I began looking for some hobby or activity that would make life a little more interesting. I decided to start studying Spanish. Soon I was spending all my leisure time on the project; and after several years, including a stay in South America, I had developed a very real fluency in the language. In learning Spanish, I met the Catholic culture of the Spanish-speaking peoples. Catholicism vanquished skepticism, and I converted. In the process, I considered Quakerism but was too shy to penetrate the aloofness of the Quakers in the local meeting.
As more time passed, I discovered my religiosity to be quite heretical and un-Catholic. I drifted away from the Church. About three years ago, again during a period of boredom, I happened upon the spiritual e-retreats of Friends General Conference. After taking just about all those courses, I began thinking in earnest about becoming a Friend.
Unfortunately, there were no meetings near me in North Texas. An FGC internet acquaintance suggested I look at New York Yearly Meeting, which had recently adopted a route to membership that bypassed monthly meetings. The pandemic struck. More and more meetings went online as a result. Since I was interested in NYYM, I decided to investigate the websites of New York monthly meetings. I made a list of a half-dozen New York meetings that allowed people to join online without e-mailing in advance for a Zoom link.
Strictly by chance, I chose Old Chatham Monthly Meeting as my first experiment. I was warmly welcomed by Jens Braun during the afterthoughts in the spirit of worship. I began attending regularly online and soon discovered the OCMM worship group. I applied for membership, and the rest is history.
So, this was the series of events: a library book, the study of Spanish, conversion to Catholicism, FGC e-retreats, NYYM’s membership option, the pandemic, and barging into an online meeting of Old Chatham Quakers. None of these events was pre-determined or anything but random from my perspective. But God was present in all the above happenings. And being accepted by Old Chatham Quakers was the serendipitous result.
~ Richard Russell
God Is In The Details
I was talking to a friend recently and he used the turn of phrase "the devil is in the details" when we were talking about contracts and agreements. How it is possible to get snagged on a small thing if you're not paying attention; like an increase in interest if you miss just one payment for example.
I said that I preferred the phrase "God is in the details." I like it because it invokes the intelligence that is all around us in everything great and small. Consider the wings of a hummingbird. Imagine for a moment the level of intelligence and detail that makes this creature possible.
The word WONDER comes to mind. Devil in the details only invokes fear. Haven't we had enough of that? What would it be like if in all our thoughts, actions and interactions we operate from the context that God is in the details and we just come from a place of wonder.
How can we do that?
Slowing down is a place to start. For 150,000 years modern humans have been here. For thousands of those years literally nothing changed. If you were to look at a high speed film of the first 149.000 years it would be a monotony of sameness. There was a natural pace to life that flowed with the rhythm of the days and seasons. Since the "enlightenment" things have been getting faster and faster. With the advent of radio and TV the cycle revved up. When we got the hand held communicator with all the apps the pace of life is now changing literally second to second.
Quaker Meeting is the one place in my life where I have been able to carve out this quiet time. I want more limits and sadly I fail regularly in this area.
When do we slow down? How can we approach God -- in the details -- if we don't notice them? If we don't see them. My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, asks the question "how to be idle and blessed?" We naturally discover this when we step off the work wheel for a while. We notice that the clouds are not still, but are moving ever so slightly when we look into the sky for no particular reason.
This slowing down is not just a luxury for those with time, but is essential.
God is in each of us. We are part of the details.
God is in all things. We are part of the great whole.
God is in the details.
~ Joseph Olejak
Hippie Hollow and Quaker Worship
True hippies celebrated the human body and the senses. Dropping acid, smoking pot, or just meditating could erase the boundary between the body and the world. The body could flow into the world. The world could flow into the body. To use a metaphor from Rumi, the Sufi mystic, a drop of water can be absorbed by the ocean; but simultaneously, the ocean is absorbed into the drop.
Taking off your clothes in the presence of others—nudism—is one way to free body and soul from social strictures; and that freedom is best experienced in an outdoors natural setting. For hippies and UT Austin students in the 60’s, Hippie Hollow—a remote area of Lake Travis and invisible from the road above—was almost the only safe place to communally bare all.
Hippie Hollow’s origins are shrouded in legend. Knowledge of the place was passed on by word of mouth; and—as far as I can tell—the earliest mention of Hippie Hollow in the Austin American-Statesman is a 1971 article about a woman who was seen “…floating nude, face down on a raft” and subsequently charged with disorderly conduct. Those charges were dismissed, presumably because—in Texas—nudity is only criminal when the perpetrator is recklessly trying to offend (or arouse) another person in a public place.
As an open secret, Hippie Hollow remained an undeveloped spot in the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1985 a gradual process of improvement was begun; and today there are restrooms, drinking water, and even a trail designed for disabled persons. It’s the only clothes-optional public park in Texas.
I can imagine myself visiting in the pre-developed, “hippie” past. In my mind’s eye, I see myself innocently splashing around in the water. Suddenly, a park ranger from the twenty-first century shouts, “Hey, you! What are you doing down there?” Of course, I’ve never been to Hippie Hollow, I don’t swim; and in the 60’s I was afraid of fully dressed people, let alone naked ones. Regardless, it would have been an enriching experience to visit the place and commune with nature just like the hippies of old.
It’s interesting to note that Quakers of the 17th century sometimes went naked “as a sign.” George Fox even encouraged the practice to symbolize that at death people are stripped of earthly wealth and success. Still, even in the 17th century, the practice was scandalous.
We modern Quakers keep our clothes on, but we should bare all spiritually. In Meeting for Worship, we’re supposed to drop our self-defenses and open our naked souls to God or Spirit. In Worship Sharing, we should be vulnerable and remove the psychological barriers between our inmost selves and other people. If we’re primarily concerned to project a sanitized image of ourselves, we’re really playing a public relations game and allowing fear to block our spiritual progress. No one can see our soul, our “true self,” nor can we see into the depths of another’s being. Only the naked truth will allow love to flourish.
Human beings need connection to one another. In pre-historic times such connections were necessary for physical survival. Hunters needed to co-operate to bring down a Mammoth, and the meat had to be shared with the whole group so that it wouldn’t go to waste. Reciprocity ruled. If I share my food today, you’ll share your food tomorrow. If you gather berries today, I’ll take care of your children while you’re foraging. Tomorrow the roles may be reversed. Human connectedness and sociability were built into our genes.
True religion, then, the search for “spiritual food,” is a communal enterprise. We seek God together, not as solitary individuals. In 1652 George Fox saw “a great people gathered,” the operative word being “gathered.”
Anyway, click HERE for the official website of McGregor/Hippie Hollow Park.
Sometime during the 80’s I wandered into the Baptist Church located on “The Drag” of UT Austin. I was a stranger, but two gentlemen in suit and tie warmly greeted me. One of them I instantly recognized as Walt Rostow, a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Rostow had been Lyndon Johnson’s National Security Adviser, in which capacity he advocated for the bombing of North Vietnam and even floated the idea of invading the country with U.S. troops. How was it possible that a nice guy like Rostow could imagine using the A-bomb against China if that country were to retaliate against invading American forces? He was “a sheep in wolf’s clothing” (Townsend Hoopes).
I must have grimaced or said something unkind when I met Rostow. I turned away from him for five or ten seconds; and when I looked back, he had disappeared. The normal assumption would be that he hurried away out of a sense of guilt. In fact, whether in his books or lectures, Rostow never apologized for his role in Vietnam policy. He even argued that the United States had “won” the war—that our intervention had saved the rest of Southeast Asia from communist domination.
In his magnum opus, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, written in 1960, Rostow had argued that massive U.S. aid was necessary to jump start economic development in the Third World. America had a special responsibility to the poor and downtrodden of the world. Much later, in the 1990’s, Rostow had personally thought up and led the Austin Project, designed to coordinate public and private agencies toward the goals of prenatal care and the education of Austin’s disadvantaged children. Rostow was a paradoxical character. He wanted to help the poor but supported a war policy that resulted in the deaths of more than three million Vietnamese peasants.
Walt Rostow’s great failing was his inflexibility and his inability to admit that he had been wrong. Although we Quakers have some bedrock principles like the Peace Testimony, we must beware of applying those principles inflexibly. Thus, I’m not prepared to condemn those Quakers who fought for the North in the American Civil War nor those Friends who took up arms against Hitler.
The concept of God is another example. I believe in God; and, for a time, was ill-disposed toward non-theistic Friends. I now realize that it’s possible to be deeply spiritual without being a theist. I would regret a Society in which most Quakers were non-theists, but actions speak louder than words or theological concepts. Love supersedes any belief or creed. It is, indeed, God at work in the world.
The Hippies and the Quakers
National cultures are not homogeneous. At any one time there may be many subcultures, particularly in a multi-ethnic society like that of the United States. Moreover, historical forces occasionally produce a sudden, unexpected subculture. Such was the case with the 60’s counterculture.
While the origins of the counterculture are somewhat controversial, one cause appears to be the maturation of the so-called baby boomers. These young people had grown up in the affluence of the post-World War II United States. They rebelled against the materialism of their parents, who were haunted by the scarcity of the Great Depression. Moreover, these “baby boomers,” largely middle-class white kids, made common cause with African Americans who were revolting against the racism of the larger society. Resistance to the Vietnam War was yet another insurgency and the immediate cause of the counterculture.
According to Robert N. Bellah (Habits of the Heart), individualism is the best one-word description of the dominant American culture. Bellah also argues that the corollary of individualism is competition. In American society, competitors seek a future in which to enjoy “the rewards of success,” prestige and money. We Americans are exemplars of materialism.
The counterculture, in its purest form, was not materialistic. Based on my memories of Austin, Texas in the 60’s, I recall the run-down houses where hippies lived and shared the rent. Beans and potatoes were often staples of the diet in those houses; and the food itself was sometimes obtained from a government surplus food program or, after 1964, from food stamps. In a pinch, one housemate might raid the private food stock of another.
For men, clothes tended to be long-lasting jeans, perhaps with durable work shirts or inexpensive t-shirts. Women wore jeans or looked for old-fashioned dresses in thrift shops. Transportation expenses could be kept down by walking, bicycling, or taking the bus. If a car were owned, it would almost always be old and unreliable. Reading library books or watching television were the main pastimes, supplemented by listening to free music played at a local bar.
The Hippies almost might have subscribed to Query Five of New York Yearly Meeting. They might have asked, “Do we keep to moderation and simplicity in our daily lives? Have we allowed the acquisition of possessions to interfere with God’s purpose for us?”
Hippies were so focused on cheap living because buying a lot of expensive stuff requires a higher-paying job. Higher pay implies competition, stress, and a willingness to put self ahead of others. The whole point of the counterculture was not to compete, not to give free reign to selfishness. The whole point was to live a relatively relaxed life in which family, friends, and spiritual fulfillment would be the highest priorities.
In our history, spirituality has been problematic. Of course, America in the 50’s was religious; but religion and spirituality are not necessarily the same. In the 50’s, practically all Evangelistic Christians threatened eternal damnation against those who doubted the literal truth of the Bible or refused to take Jesus as their personal Savior. The Catholic Church still taught that missing Mass was a mortal sin, not to mention birth control.
In turning away from such negative religiosity, countercultural seekers discovered many spiritual alternatives. Closest to conventional Christianity were the so-called “Jesus Freaks.” They appear to have originated in San Francisco during the 1967 Summer of Love when thousands of potential hippies flooded into the city. Many of them ended up destitute and on the streets. A local Baptist church offered both physical and spiritual salvation, but these youthful converts kept their long hair and liking for rock music even after being saved. The Jesus Movement disappeared along with the hippies of the 60’s, but it has left a legacy of modern worship services and Christian rock.
Many people in the counterculture rejected Christianity altogether and looked to Eastern religions and sects. Richard Alpert is, perhaps, the most famous of these spiritual pilgrims to the East. Alpert was a Harvard professor when his friend and colleague Timothy Leary introduced him to psilocybin and LSD. Drug-induced experiences gave him a glimpse of a spiritual reality beyond our everyday world, but Alpert went to India looking for a more satisfying enlightenment. He returned as Ram Dass (Servant of God), a name given him by his guru.
Shortly thereafter, he wrote Be Here Now, the first classic of New Age spirituality. The book is an autobiography, a yoga how-to, a reading list, and a collection of aphorisms mostly inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism but with some Christianity and Taoism thrown in.
It was not unusual for New Age adherents to eventually end up in a liberal Quaker meeting. Most of today’s Friends still stand in the Christian tradition, but many are Buddhists or some eclectic combination of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern faiths. In any case, the essence of Quakerism is spirituality; and this quality attracted people of the 60’s counterculture.
In the normative culture we are supposed to plan. We are supposed to look ahead and choose the right college, the right career, the right spouse, the right church, even the right retirement portfolio. Ram Dass counsels us against all this planning. We are to live in the moment, we are to “be here now”; or, at least, while the ego is hatching plans for the future, a higher level of consciousness is supposed to be in contact with “The Eternal Now” (Paul Tillich). In a similar vein, Query Two of NYYM asks, “Are we thankful for each day (my italics) as an opportunity for a new adventure of life with God?”
Aside from rejecting materialism and a future orientation, true Hippies abandoned American individualism. I remember seeing them sitting in a circle of friends and casual acquaintances, passing around bottles of water or wine and, inevitably, joints of marijuana. Music festivals like Monterey Pop and Woodstock demonstrated counterculture sociability, and the songs themselves had lines like
We can be together
Ah you and me
We should be together
We are all outlaws in the eyes of America…
But we should be together
Come on all you people standing around
Our life’s too fine to let it die and
We can be together… (Jefferson Airplane)
Hippie communes, where people shared work, food, drugs, living space, and sometimes sex partners, were the antithesis of American individualism. During the Summer of Love in 1967, many hard-core hippies fled from the wannabes invading San Francisco and went to the countryside to start communes, of which there were eventually thousands. There were different lifestyles among these communities. Some had a spiritual or religious basis. Some were purely secular. Some had private dwellings together with communal living areas. Some had no privacy whatsoever. Sometimes drugs and alcohol were forbidden. Sometimes anything was allowed.
Of course, Quakers have long experimented with intentional communal living. About 1970, for example, A Quaker Action Group in Philadelphia morphed into the Movement for a New Society, which founded a network of house communes, some of which survive today. In nearby Boston, Beacon Hill Friends House, established in 1957, is a residential intentional community based on Quaker principles. Not far from Old Chatham, in Canaan, New York, there’s a group of Quakers and non-Quakers who aim to foster spirituality and service to others while joyfully living together. In fact, even though they’re not residential, individual Friends’ Monthly Meetings are themselves little communities.
Well, it’s time for a conclusion. Clearly some counterculture beliefs, if taken to an extreme, are questionable. But if mature people attempt to embody community, mindfulness, and spirituality in their lives, balanced to some degree by individualism, forethought, and practicality, who can object? Are not these, broadly speaking, Quaker values?
~ Richard Russell
One or Two?
It’s best to be humble when speculating about God and the Universe. Nevertheless, such speculation—on a philosophical basis—is impossible for human beings (including myself) to resist. Following Paul Tillich (see his Systematic Theology), I define God as “the Ground of Being” or “Being Itself.”
On my view, Being Itself, the Creative Principle, must struggle against Non-Being in the actual creation. In Jesus’ mythological system, Non-Being becomes “the Evil One,” the Devil. Human beings can ally themselves with God in this struggle as I think almost all Quakers have chosen to do. In so far as we, God’s partisans, triumph over evil, we bring into existence “the Kingdom of God.” However, until the Kingdom is completely victorious, Good and Evil oppose each other in our reality, making the Universe fundamentally dualistic.
In his book Religion in the Making, Alfred North Whitehead presents a subtler and better-reasoned version of my philosophy. He believes that
…God is in everyone and everything and would not be God without
creation. God is the actual, nontemporal entity who transforms
abstract, indeterminate creativity into concrete, determinate
freedom in time, and thus becomes fulfilled as God.
…Both good and evil are real forces. Good is constructive and
elevates creation. Evil is destructive and degrades creation.
Neither a human nor a hog is naturally evil, but a human acting
like a hog is evil, because this degradation is a falling away from
the human excellence that could have been. (enotes.com)
Of course, there is much more to Whitehead’s “process” theology than is presented in the quote above, but his speculations are strikingly like mine. Since Whitehead was born in 1861, he gets the credit for this dualistic theology.
Understandably, many people want God and the Universe to be one seamless whole. Perhaps, rather than debate the point, it’s best to put philosophy of religion to one side and focus on faith. Christian faith tells us that when evil disrupts our lives, God suffers with us and is present to help us in our time of need. As the apostle says in Romans 8, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
~ Richard Russell
Turn Down the Heat
In a recent blog article, I wrote about post-traumatic stress syndrome, in which some trauma causes recurring anger and fear, sometimes years—even a lifetime—after the precipitating event. This post is about anger in general and is largely taken from “Why Am I So Angry?”, an episode of the Chasing Life podcast.
Jesus sees anger as a serious problem. Matthew 5:22 has him say, “But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgment.” Ephesians 4:26 reads, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry….”
These verses indicate that anger per se is not a sin unless it is “without a cause” or unless it becomes a grudge; and this viewpoint accords with modern psychology. Anger is simply an emotion, the mere feeling of which is perfectly normal in us human beings.
Its injurious effects come from hardening into a habit that repeatedly recurs. In that case, the adrenaline and cortisol released with anger continually course through the body, damaging the cardiovascular system and possibly leading to heart attack or stroke. Sustained anger may also cause cramping, bloating, and inflammation of the digestive system, not to mention symptoms like headache, anxiety, and even depression. Repressing anger, i.e., not outwardly expressing what is inwardly felt, has similar effects. So, a healthy reaction to either type of anger is to defuse it before it becomes a long-lasting resentment.
Venting to friends, unfortunately, will not alleviate negative arousal. Venting is just rehearsing, practicing, re-living the anger. Nor will strenuous exercise lessen rage or irritation. Although an angry person may “feel” better after, say, running a mile, exercise stresses the body and keeps the adrenaline flowing that started with the anger episode. The idea is to stop the stress response, to stop the extra adrenaline and cortisol pouring into the bloodstream.
Quakers, fortunately, have a traditional method of dealing with such stress. Social activism can channel anger and remove its physiological insult. If, for example, an African American Friend suffers through a day of microaggressions, he or she can find emotional and physical relief in racial justice work. If a Quaker loses a friend or—God forbid—a family member to gun violence, that Friend may mitigate anger by working for gun control.
I personally am not inclined toward activism; but I find that when someone angers me, I can usually calm down by repeating the phrase “that of God,” thereby reminding myself that my annoyer deserves respect. I feel less agitated as I remember that God is to be found in the person provoking me.
Chasing Life describes other ways of coping with anger. Counting to ten is like my “that of God” repetition. Taking deep breaths may help. Later, a soothing bath or calming music may be helpful. Meditation can do wonders if the anger persists.
Persistent anger may involve rumination—repeatedly replaying in the mind an upsetting incident. Thinking of something else, distracting oneself may be the solution, i.e., working on a crossword puzzle or reading a book.
A change of perspective is often needed. Imagine the situation as seen by a third person or a “fly on the wall.” Ask yourself if all this will really matter in a hundred years (or even one year).
In a confrontation between two people, the aroused parties tend to lean toward each other, i.e., “get in the other person’s face.” Try leaning back from the other person.
It’s hard to feel two emotions at once. Try pushing out anger with emotions of humor, love, or empathy. To feel humorous watch a comedy on Netflix or look at comics. For love, pet a puppy or kiss someone. For empathy, help someone in need.
Of course, in this polarized society of ours, there’s a general, social anger.
How can we decrease the hostility of a whole nation? Well, since any large population consists of individuals, those individuals who successfully apply the above techniques will incrementally reduce the general animus. We’re looking to make progress and shouldn’t expect an instant solution to a large-scale problem. And, if I may address liberal Friends (as well as myself), don’t obsessively watch CNN.
~ 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.