A View from the Roof
I went to college in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on a campus that abutted the national forest. I would often take hikes up Monte Luna or Monte Sol right behind campus, from which you could almost see clear to Albuquerque. Santa Fe was the only place I’ve ever lived where people came out of their houses at night to watch the sunset, rather than sitting down at the TV to watch the news. The sky in New Mexico is translucent, vibrant turquoise blue and the sunsets were often Technicolor displays. This practice kept me grounded during those years: when we studied astronomy, we could always hike up the mountain and see the stars.
Sometimes we would climb the roofs of the dorms and watch storms roll in. The storms were incredible to watch, huge cloud formations racing across the sky, you could see the sheets of rain falling long before the clouds reached us. During a storm, there was often quite a show in the sky, rainbows to the west, gray clouds to the east, sky and sun breaking through spongy clouds in some other direction. Sometimes I would go up on the roof by myself towards twilight. I would watch as the lights were turned on in the dorms and the houses nearby. I loved thinking of those lights as souls and would imagine the stories behind each light, the lives lived in each place. It was comforting to me – all the light and wisdom, happiness and sorrow through each window. I would wonder which souls I would encounter in my life, which thresholds I would be invited to cross, and by doing so, what I might discover.
Though there is no substitute for being there, for a handshake or for looking into the glint in another’s eye, books have definitely expanded the thresholds and lives into which I’ve been able to walk and learn. All of the books listed here today offer that opportunity.
I hope sometime soon you are invited in to a new space or a familiar one, for a cup of tea or a bit of wisdom.
Black Fire: New QuakerPress of FGC Book
On Sunday, March 6th, QuakerPress of FGC will celebrate the release of Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights with a 2:30 p.m. launching party at Friends Center in Philadelphia. Hal Weaver and Paul Kriese (two of the book’s three editors, along with Stephen Angell) will be present to talk about their seven-year labor of love and argument in selecting from three centuries of writings by African American Friends, as well as some who traveled closely with Friends, participating in our worship and community. Please come to meet Hal and Paul, ask your questions, and get your book signed.
These selections offer a window into the breadth of wisdom, insight, and challenge that African Americans have brought to Quakers and to the larger world through their involvement with Friends. Writings range from the deeply spiritual guidance for meeting for worship, written by Jean Toomer, to the Civil Rights era challenges to Friends by George Sawyer, to the poetry of Howard Thurman and Helen Morgan Brooks, to the stories of nonviolent witness at work by Bayard Rustin. In all, eighteen amazing voices are included in this anthology. We think it makes an excellent follow up and companion book for our earlier publication, Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans and the Myth of Racial Justice by Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye.
Other New Books & Winter Sale
I’ve been reading, savoring really, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s beautifully written and tells the larger societal story of the largest human migration in North America through both smaller, potent stories from over 1000 interviews Wilkerson conducted, and through the rich, dense story of three particular people. It gives both a sense of the excruciating circumstances that inspired the movement, as well as what challenges and promise was found at the end of the train and car rides north and west.
There are many stories in the book that have stuck with me, worked on me. One is the story of Robert Foster (nee Pershing), a doctor, who visits the clothing store in Monroe, Louisiana before his move. The white storekeeper has known him since he was a little boy. He notices his army uniform and asks Pershing what he will do when he gets out of the army. Pershing tells him he plans to go to California to set up a private practice. The man looks at him and asks:
“’What’s wrong with St. Francis?’ Pershing shook his head. The man had lived there since before Pershing was born, and a central fact of colored people’s existence hadn’t registered after all these years. ‘You know that colored surgeons can’t operate at St. Francis, Mr. Massur.’ Mr. Massur had meant well. Still it made no sense to Pershing that one set of people could be in a cage, and the people outside couldn’t see the bars.”
I saw Marty Grundy, a seasoned Friend and former clerk of the Traveling Ministries Committee, in Chicago at a retreat and she heartily recommended a recent book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of this World for Crucifixion and Empire by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker. It sounds as though this book is an incredibly Quaker-sympathetic examination of early Christianity.
“Brock and Parker begin their research perplexed by a riddle: Why are images of the crucified Christ absent from early Christian art? After visiting Mediterranean and European sites sacred to early Christians, Brock and Parker formulate a provocative answer: the dying Christ never appears in early Christian art because early Christians did not believe Christ’s redemptive death had opened a heavenly afterlife for the faithful. Rather, Brock and Parker assert, early Christians looked to Jesus as the exemplar who showed how to defy injustice by creating paradise on Earth in a loving community. In this theory, images of Christ’s passion and death invaded Christian art only when the Church started using a theology of otherworldly salvation to recruit the forces necessary to build a Christian empire.” – Booklist
Tom Hamm’s long awaited book, Quaker Writings: An Anthology, 1650-1920 was just released. When I first heard Hamm talk about this book at a QUIP (Quakers Uniting in Publishing) conference, he talked a bit about how the history of Quaker faith is the history of publishing and this book testifies to that fact. This anthology offers both breadth and depth in one volume, mining journals, tracts, books of discipline, and many other less frequently cited sources to gather together a vivid picture of Quaker thought and history.
Covering nearly three centuries of religious development, this comprehensive anthology brings together writings that illustrate the development of Quakerism, show the nature of Quaker spiritual life, discuss Quaker contributions to European and American civilization, and introduce the diverse community of Friends. It gives a balanced overview of Quaker history, spanning the globe from its origins to missionary work, and explores daily life, beliefs, perspectives, movements within the community, and activism throughout the world.
Amazon.com? Some Reflections
Recently a f/Friend passed along feedback that a customer had purchased a book from us, despite the fact they could have purchased it at a much lower price from Amazon.com. Though I tend to resist offering a perspective on Amazon and think it’s best for us to engage our customer base by offering excellent service and selection, I did offer the below response, which I want to share more widely.
“Thanks again for this feedback and finding a way to give it to us, and thank you for supporting us despite price. I would add that it’s very hard to compete with Amazon on price, as many of the items they sell are predatorily priced, i.e. they are losing money on the sale so as to push others like us out of business. That’s hard for many Friends who prioritize price. What many don’t know is that Amazon doesn’t carry many of the titles we carry – QuakerPress, Pendle Hill books and pamphlets, small Quaker publishers, Britain Yearly Meeting titles and many others - many perceive Amazon as a comprehensive bookstore, but it’s really not true – and these titles either aren’t available at Amazon or they are much more expensive at Amazon.
Amazon doesn’t carry any of the eBooks, curricula, or mp3s we carry, or many of the used Quaker books we sell. Many items that we carry are most readily available through us – without us they would likely disappear. We do sell some books through Amazon, but need to mark them up to cover Amazon’s fees. We could employ people in ways counter to our values – fire those we currently have in positions or cut their benefits (we pay health care and vacation, very unusual in the book world, but in concert with Quaker values) and that would make it easier to offer discounts. We don’t think competing on price alone (though we do when we can – we offer 10% off on many hard covers, for example) will work well, but we try to make up for this by offering service and selection very much focused on our Quaker audience.
We also hope and intend to improve our website so as to become more of a portal for conversation and dialogue among Friends in the coming year, and to offer many more eBooks and items that are exclusive to us. Bookselling and publishing are hard especially now, but we believe it’s vital to our Society that we continue to disseminate and publish ideas that are in our own voice, vetted by us. We don’t think others can fill the void that closing our bookstore (or press) would open.”
A Days Work
It's Earth Day!
Before And After
Geography Of Light