On October 5, 2022, I left Texas for one of my twice-yearly visits to Old Chatham Meeting. When I arrived at Dallas Love Airport, the first thing I noticed was the overwhelming whiteness of the folks waiting to pass through TSA security. It’s mostly white people who can afford to fly. The second thing I noticed was a TSA entrance for “Elite Passengers”—presumably those who had paid for a more expeditious security check. After passing through security, the third thing I noticed was the dark skin color of the janitors and restaurant workers. These lower-paying jobs were mainly the province of Latinos and Afro-Americans.
At the boarding gate the grouping continued. The “A” passengers had paid extra for first-boarding rights. The “B” passengers hadn’t paid extra but had downloaded their boarding passes as soon as possible. The “C” passengers hadn’t paid extra and had been slow to get their boarding passes. Of course, between “A” and “B” groups were families with young children and military personnel with military I.D. Before everyone was the pre-boarding group, disabled persons largely in wheelchairs. Nevertheless, for the most part, people at Love Field were grouped according to their income or their ability and willingness to pay. Our American society is a class society based on wealth.
The groups mentioned above are either broad sociological categories (i.e., middle or lower class) or transitory groups of convenience (i.e., groups A, B, and C). That groups should figure so prominently in my thought does illustrate that “the group” is an important feature of human life. Our pre-historic ancestors only survived because they gathered themselves into groups or tribes. Individually, a human being is no match for a mammoth or a saber-toothed tiger. Collectively, people can successfully hunt mammoths and defend themselves against saber-tooths. Co-operation among individuals compensates for our lack of size and strength. In fact, human sociability is so ancient as to be encoded in our genes.
Of course, Old Chatham Monthly Meeting is a tribe of sorts. Perhaps it could be considered a small group designed to protect its members against the hostile values of the larger society. Or maybe the best analog is the extended family, which cares for those family members who are sick or disabled. Certainly, Ministry and Counsel tries to identify and help members of the meeting who are in need. And individual members spontaneously help one another. On this trip, a fraudulent charge caused the bank to close both my checking and credit card. Both Don Lathrop and Bob Elmendorf offered to loan me money. Fortunately, my wife saved me with a Western Union MoneyGram.
However, the most important function of our Quaker meeting is spiritual. It’s a little like a therapy group in which participants probe the psychology of their personalities and look for better ways of coping with the world. In both Meeting for Worship and a therapy group, personal ethics play a role; but the Quaker Meeting seeks to put us in contact with God or Spirit, asking what God’s will is for our lives. Of course, non-theist Quakers substitute another term for God, perhaps speaking of an integrated and balanced life.
My impression is that Old Chatham Friends are whole-heartedly seeking the Ultimate, whether through Christianity, Buddhism, Humanism, New Age spirituality, or some other path. Such diversity is a strength. Different traditions enrich one another and bring us closer to Enlightenment than one religion or philosophy alone. Herb and Elaine Ranney tell me that—even sixty years ago—diversity was a hallmark of Old Chatham Meeting.
But how I digress! I arrived at Don and Merry’s on Wednesday, October 5 and was pleased to have the opportunity to talk to them face-to-face. On Thursday I drove around the area, taking in its beauty before attending a meeting of Ministry and Counsel. I had looked forward to seeing Jens, Regina, and Dianne in person. Unfortunately, covid precautions forced us to ZOOM the meeting, which nevertheless felt productive and included Bill Thompson and Chris Erb.
On Friday, I did more driving around, saw the Ranneys, and—after collecting money from Western Union—visited Bob Elmendorf, who fed me and talked at length about books that I’ve been meaning to read for many years but haven’t gotten to yet. Bob was kind enough to give me one BIG book—the Septuagint, or Bible in Ancient Greek.
Saturday, I went to the annual Meeting Workday, sorting a stack of old mail, sweeping the porch, and cleaning a couple of rugs. I didn’t do all that much work; but I did get to see the real Joseph Olejak (as opposed to his virtual facsimile) and visited with Rebecca McBride, Sandy Beer, Dan Michaud, and Spee Braun among others. I was thankful that Vicki Smith brought real cookies as a snack—not vegetables and hummus.
Sunday was First Day Meeting. I was pleased to note that you really can see the faces of ZOOM participants on the new TV, and—in my opinion—the TV itself is placed in such a way as to be quite unobtrusive. That afternoon Bob Elmendorf and I visited Eric Wilksa in his bookstore, and Bob bought an armful of books to add to his already formidable library. After Bob and I ate at Amici’s, a nearby Italian restaurant, I returned to Don and Merry’s, where we watched a video about the evolution of the cosmos and engaged in a discussion on what place God might have in such a universe.
The next morning I got up at 2:00 am in order to catch a 6:00 am flight from Albany to Dallas via Baltimore. How sad to leave the upper Hudson Valley! But I hope to be back next Spring!
~ Richard Russell
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28, KJV)
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away… (Revelation 21, KJV)
Big words and complicated concepts of Christian evangelicals. The most interesting part of these ideas is their eschatology—their view of the “end time.” Dispensationalists believe that true Christians will be caught up to Heaven to be with Christ—the so-called “rapture.” On Earth the Great Tribulation will occur, in which one of every two people will die from famine, the “beasts of the earth,” and a bloody world war. At the end of this seven-year tribulation, Christ and raptured Christians will return to Earth, where Jesus will establish his Kingdom and rule for a thousand years—a millennium. Thus, dispensationalists are also pre-millenarists (i.e., Christ appears before the millennium).
Bearing in mind that there are many versions both of dispensationalism and dominionism, what is the difference between the two ideologies? Well, in terms of eschatology, dominionists see themselves as co-operating with God in building his Kingdom on Earth. When that Kingdom is finally triumphant, presumably after a thousand-year period, Christ will appear and usher in “a new Heaven and a new Earth.” Thus, dominionists are post-millenarists (i.e., Christ comes after the millennium, which is the handiwork of Christians who have wrought a political and social revolution).
The “Seven Mountain” dominionists see seven areas in which modern Christians must become supreme: government, education, the media, arts and entertainment, family, and society. The dominionists who are “reconstructionist” have a vision of what this would look like:
…society would be reconstructed so that the male-headed family and local church fulfill the roles that currently belong to the government, which would have the authority only to protect private property and punish capital offenses. Families and churches, as the cornerstones of the reconstructed society, would implement Mosaic law, with Christ as king over what would have become a Christian nation. Without government welfare, churches would carry the responsibility of aid to the poor, and without public schools, families would be responsible for their own children’s education. The economy would operate without any government regulation, meaning present laws requiring the integrity of consumer goods, protecting workers’ rights, and disallowing exploitative financial practices would no longer be in effect. Because in a reconstructed America Christians would have brought God’s kingdom to earth through the implementation of Mosaic law, these protections would not be necessary (from “The Quiet Rise of Christian Dominionism,” by Keri Ladner in the Christian Century, Nov. 1st issue).
Dominionist Christians, then, are the driving force behind today’s evangelical political movement in the United States. They want to abolish or restrict welfare programs, homeschool their children, and funnel the nation’s wealth into the hands of an elite class that has “God’s favor.” They want to impose on Americans their morality: no sex before marriage, no abortion, and a reversal of the Women’s Liberation Movement so that men can once again be supreme in business, education, and the family.
We Quakers, like the dominionists, want to reform society; but our goals are exactly the opposite of the dominionists. We want to use government to help the poor. We want to strengthen the public schools. We want to see a more equitable distribution of wealth in the country. We want women to be true equals of men in society. As regards sex, marriage, and abortion, Friends may have varying views; but our general tendency is to oppose restrictive laws and mores in the relation between the sexes.
And now, a disclaimer. I have greatly simplified my brief analysis of dispensationalism, dominionism, and Quakerism. Many are the objections that could be raised to my account of these movements. There are many types of dispensationalists, dominionists, and Quakers. But I do think that my central thesis is correct: the dominionists and the Quakers have very different religious and political views. We are not likely to find a common meeting ground.
My sources for this article are Wikipedia (English teachers may sigh), Keri Ladner’s article in The Christian Century, and a somewhat haphazard surfing of the internet. I hope Old Chatham Friends will post their comments, especially criticisms. (Compliments are welcome, too.)
~ Richard Russell
Sometimes I feel a momentary sadness that makes it difficult for me to get out of my recliner and do something that requires concentration, focus, and energy—like writing one of these blog articles or reading philosophy. However, I have discovered some techniques that allow me to overcome my inertia and get busy.
One way is to distract myself by watching an hour-long documentary or TV episode. It doesn’t take much effort to stream a show, during which the sadness dissipates and gives way to the motivation for a harder task. Or, I can listen to a guided meditation and raise my energy level.
Another distraction technique is simply to talk with someone. A conversation with my wife or brother can lift my spirits. I’ve thought about phoning Bill Thompson or Bob Elmendorf in moments of ennui, but I’m always afraid that Bill will talk about coding and statistics or that Bob will want to discuss Greek verb tenses.
There’s also the possibility of taking a brisk walk that causes endorphins and norepinephrine to start circulating in my brain, stimulating me to later undertake some challenging mental task. There’s a problem with this method, however. I must first get out of the recliner before I can start walking. That’s a problem!
Of course, we all have our moments of listlessness and lethargy. It would be wrong to worry too much about this common experience unless it is continuous and deepens into depression. And our Quaker faith reminds us that there is a joy in
life that transcends sadness.
Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are
something to do,
something to love,
and something to hope for.
- Joseph Addison
If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought,
happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.
- The Buddha
We are all connected to everyone and everything in the universe.
Therefore, everything one does as an individual affects the whole.
All thoughts, words, images, prayers, blessings, and deeds
are listened to by all that is.
- Serge Kahili King
Happiness blooms in the presence of self-respect and the absence of ego.
Love everyone around you.
Love everyone in the whole world.
Know that your own life is of infinite importance, as is every other life.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie
The quotes above are one of Jonathan Lockwood Huie’s daily inspirations.
~ Submitted by Richard Russell
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
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