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Book Reviews

New England Quaker Meetinghouses Past and Present

by Silas B. Weeks
reviewed by Gwyn Enright, Summer 2012

This little volume, recently donated to the La Jolla Friends Library, would be the perfect companion to take on a visit to New England. Organized by state, the book presents photos of the simple but elegant meeting houses and notes their history, location, current use and interesting documented facts about both the meeting houses and those who worship there.

For example, we learn Massachusetts has more meetinghouses than other New England states. We learn the graveyard close to the meetinghouse on the Cape in West Falmouth is the oldest on the Cape -the graveyard markers were replaced there in 1888. Weeks opines that Quakers settled in West Falmouth early because it was the first community to exempt Quakers from the church tax. Weeks also points out Quakers enjoyed creature comforts, like heat, as indicated by the hole in the roof to let out smoke from the charcoal used in heating the meetinghouse. This original meetinghouse, completed in 1725 and torn down in 1842, is marked with a stone bearing the initials "FMH."

The Great Barrington Meetinghouse was erected in 1985 and remodeled in 1999 and 2001; Friends had originally met in private homes. The Great Barrington Friends investigated more than 100 building sites before settling on the 30 acres now home to the meetinghouse.

The Preface ties together the theology and the architecture. Weeks explains the two entry doors, the divided interior with movable shutters, the raised facing bench and the preference for "Quaker grey."


Black Fire

edited by H. Weaver, P. Kriese, and S. Angell in 2011
reviewed by Jane Anderson, Spring 2012

This is a collection of writings, speeches, meditations, poems, and illustrations on spirituality and what black Quakers felt and did about racial injustice, intellectual and individual racism within and outside the Quaker community.

Excerpt: "Thy Light Within Me"

Kindle Thy light within me, O God!

Kindle Thy light within me, that all my darkness may be clearly defined. It is so easy for me to recognize and respond to the darkness in others. Far more conscious am I to the error of others than of my own. The temptation is ever present to compare my strengths with another's weakness -- to my own advantage, to my own self-glory. Searchingly, there wells up in my mind the terrible thought: "I thank thee that I am not as other men."

Kindle Thy light within me, O God, that I may be guarded against self-deception and the vanity that creeps into my spirit where a shadow is cast between me and Thy scrutiny. I must know through all the reaches of my spirit that my light at its best is dim and clouded with shadow! Teach me the technique by which I can lay bare not merely my failures, my shortcomings, my sin; but also my successes, my strengths and my righteousness.

Kindle Thy light within me, O God, that Thy glow may be spread over all my life. More and more, may Thy light give radiance to my flickering candle, fresh vigor to my struggling intent, and renewal to my flagging spirit. Without Thy light within me, I must spend my years fumbling in my darkness.

Kindle Thy light within me, O God!


If the Church Were Christian

by Philip Gulley
reviewed by Laurie Brashier, Spring 2012

Asking the question "what if Christians actually began to take their Christ seriously?" this 185-page paperback takes a logical look into good basic questions with thoughtful exploration into the trappings of traditional and organized worship. With lots of "what ifs" it touches on sexuality, peace over power, and meeting the basic needs of those who seek help. There are lots of personal and touching stories that most anyone can relate to during their journey to appreciate the simplicity of Quakerism.


The Quakers: A very short introduction

by Pink Dandelion
Oxford University Press in 2008
reviewed by Roena Oesting, Spring 2012

I was really hopeful when I got this little paperback, 140-page book. And it does have a lot of merit. It covers a good deal of the same material as the "Quakers for 350 Years" in a lot smaller space. However, it does get too engrossed in details in places, and as a result I really can't recommend this for a true beginner.

For a person who has some exposure to the Quaker world and is now ready for an almost-scholarly view of Quakerism, it's fine.


Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader

edited by Elizabeth A. Oppenheimer
reviewed by Gwyn Enright, Sping 2012

We long to have our cake and eat it, too. Now, we can. Elizabeth Oppenheimer has anthologized and organized selected Quaker Blog entries from online conversations into a book that can be held with pages that can be turned. The book includes seven topics, such as "Worship & Ministry," "Reclaiming and Re-examining Our Traditions," "Love As A Testimony," information about the Bloggers, and Blog URLs.

Selections include a Blog, "The Way To Quaker Renewal, Part 1" (p.115), by San Diego Meeting's Forrest Curo. Frustrated by the two extremes of comfortable Friends and "Hair Shirt" Friends, Curo calls for a stronger stand from Quakers. Heather M. Madrone, from Santa Cruz Meeting, writes in "Reaching Out to Youth" (p.254) about coming of age in Quaker Meeting and recommends the youth take the responsibility of indicating their needs and acknowledge the adults' gift of freedom and space.

As part of her introduction, Liz Oppenheimer provides helpful queries to guide reading of the Blog entries. The book is rich with Quaker musings and makes it possible for all Quaker friends to be part of the online conversation. Of course, selections show blogging styles rather than essays carefully crafted for print publication. But no matter - the anthology is well worth an afternoon of perusing.


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