Living Archives Panel
Quaker Women and Activism
November 2, 2005
Menil Collection, Houston, TX
Elizabeth Gregory: …Women’s Studies Program at the University of Houston. Welcome to the first program in this year’s Living Archives series sponsored by the Friends of Women’s Studies. This series aims to present a sense of the complex history of women’s lives in Houston and of the struggles and changes that have characterized that history. Our panel format was developed as an extension of the program’s Women Archive at the UH, which serves students, scholars, and Houston community as a whole. The focus of the archive is on both the oral history of Texas Women and the papers of Houston area women’s organizations. So if you know of a women’s organization, the papers of which are not collected but should be collected, let us know. The Living Archives series provides a means of focusing public awareness on the need to document women’s history as well as on the Women’s Archive and Research Center – or Women’s ARC. The Friends of Women’s Studies support the Women’s ARC and if you’re not a friend please consider joining. There are membership forms on the desk. And among the member benefits is free admission to the Living Archives. We’ll have time for questions at the end. After that we’ll have some wine and cookies, so please stay. If you have more things to say after the question period ends, stick around and we can all chat and have further discussion.
Sally: Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!
Group: Happy Birthday! [claps, cheers, and laughs]
Sally: And tonight we have cake. Birthday cake. [laughs]
EG: Okay. So stay for wine and cake! [laughs] Thank you Sally. Thank you very much.
Our panelists tonight will offer a variety of perspectives on their experience as Quaker women activists for peace and other positive change. This is a topic of special moment for me because I come from peace activists as it happens; some of them Quaker, not all of them though. Our mediator Ann Walton Sieber is a native Houstonian and has worked in Houston as writer and editor for more than 20 years, editing such publications as Houston Press, Cite, and Out Smart. She is a lead trainer with the Alternatives to Violence project, teaching conflict resolutions in prisons and the community. And her next aspiration is to take AVP into the Texas prison system. She has been a Quaker since 1990 and is on the board of Friends Peace Teams, an international organization for Quaker peace work that currently focuses on conflict resolution and trauma healing in the Great Lake regions of central Africa – Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Congo. The next week, FPT is having its Board meeting in Houston for the first time, coordinated by Ann. And there will be a public presentation of their work in Africa in the meetinghouse – the Live Oaks Friends meeting on Friday, November 11 at 7:30. And there’s information at the table on that, and there are fliers. Earlier this year Ann wrote guidebook to Houston Vegetarian restaurants, which will be published in 2006 by Gibb-Smith Publishers. And she’s taken on a secondary vocation as a vegetarian and macrobiotic chef. Different form of activism. Food Activism.
[laughter from group]
EG: Next to Ann is Barbara Cowan who was born in Toronto in – shall I say the year?
You sent it to me – in 1931.
[giggles from group]
EG: She’s a graduate from the University of Toronto in Liberal Arts and of the
University of Ottawa in Social Work. She has a Master of Divinity degree from the Loyola University in Chicago and a doctorate in Ministry and Pastoral Counseling from the Graduate Theological Foundation. And she’s taught and the C.G. Jung educational center and is now retired from private practice in social work. Her community service includes work in the Harris county jail, Texas Department of Corrections, Livingston death row, and the Houston Women’s center. She’s a member of the Board of the Samaritan Counseling center and the Yung center and she’s been a member of the Live Oaks Friends Meeting for 15 years serving on various committees. She’s currently clerk of the Meeting. She has 4 grown children and 2 grandchildren here in Houston. Her pleasures include friends, theater, ballet, reading, cooking! We should get together. [laughter], gardening, Tai Chi, and yoga.
And next to Barbara is Katherine Van der Pol, who is now clerk for Care and Concern for Live Oaks Friends Meeting and has been leading the Friend’s response to Katrina and Rita. She is a Quaker by convincement since 2000. She went to Rice and was for many years a teacher of journalism, Latin and Greek at St. John’s. She and her husband now run an auto repair shop called [name of Garage] for one year as of today.
And finally, at the end of the table we have May Mansour Munn, a Palestinian Quaker who was born in Jerusalem, Palestine. She came to America at age 15. First attending William Penn College in Iowa, but graduating from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana – both are Quaker Colleges. She taught English at the Friends Girl’s School in Ramala – her alma mater and later taught world history at Memorial High School in Houston. She’s written and published short stories, poetry, articles and essays and has recently completed a novel called Home Coming and is looking for an agent. May is married to Albert Mun and is the mother of Ellen and Jeff. Please join me in welcoming out panel.
[clap from group]
[member in group] Before we get started if you could turn your phones off to silent.
Ann: Okay. Well as she said I’m Ann Sieber and I’m the moderator. Before we start with the panel I thought I would give just a short introduction about the Quakers because there are a lot of people who, when I say I’m a Quaker, they look at the me blankly and I can tell the look of sort of going “But where’s the gray, weird looking outfit.” So if you don’t know about Quakers don’t feel badly because you’re not alone. There’s a lot people who get us confused with the Mennonites or the Amish – those sort of groups. Although we share with the Mennonites our peace testimony and with the Amish there’s a certain amount of overlap of believing in a simple life. We haven’t renounced worldliness in the same way they have. So I’ll just give you a little bit of background but perhaps the first things I wanted to do – and it’s really more for me - is we often in a Quaker meeting we start off with a moment of silence just to settle down and get to a little bit of a more centered place. So if you wouldn’t mind just a moment of silence to start with. [silence] Thank you. Briefly the history – the Quakers were started by George Fox in England back in the mid 1600s, he was born in 1624 and shortly thereafter it came to the American colonies around the 1660s. Although it started in England, America was definitely part of the beginning. Basically, Fox is reacting to the ecclesiastical lude of the times. He said that instead of having to go through clergy who were trained in ecclesiastical studies that everybody had access to what he called – that of God in them. That anybody could touch that. Not just men but women could as well. And that was one of the controversial elements of the early Quakers and that you didn’t need any intermediary. And so, every Quaker is a Quaker minister. We have no other Quaker authorities. We have clerks who are selected for 2 years – Barbara is our current clerk – but everybody is part of the volunteer ministry. He was married in late life to Elizabeth Fell and she became instrumental in the formation of the early Quaker thinking as well. And it was a late marriage. It was her second marriage. They called it marriage of equals. She edited his diaries that many people including Yonda Hartog, who I’ll mention fell as though that was – although George Fox spoke the words because she edited the words she crafted the focus of a lot of early Quakers. And the Quakers – we don’t so much have a credo or stated set of beliefs. We believe in an ongoing revelation as our term. We don’t believe in the Bible as an absolute or other books as absolutes but instead we cling to was we call testimonies. These too aren’t stamped in. They’ve kind of evolved through the years, but the Quaker testimonies that sort of serve as our guiding lights are peace, the pacifism, simplicity, equality or all people integrity, honesty in your dealings with people, community, and also stewardship. Probably the best way to get a sense of the Quakers is to describe what a typical Quaker meeting is. It involves coming together in a meetinghouse – we call them meetinghouses instead of churches, and it’s called a meeting instead of a congregation. We all come together and we sit, not in a circle, but a square and just settle into the silence. And it’s basically a mystical feeling. It’s not traditional or so forth. It’s getting in touch with that still, small voice within that everybody has access to. And so just settling into the silence. It’s called unprogrammed because we don’t plan what’s going to happen. And then out of the silence friends may give messages or ministries as they feel led and you may have an entirely silent meeting, you may have 3 or 4 messages within an hour. Sometimes you have what we call popcorn meetings and there’s a lot of people talking. A typical Quaker meeting is mostly silence. And I’ve noticed that the silence in Quaker meeting is really a corporate silence. There’s an expression called a cupboard meeting, and there’s really a sense of a gatheredness to it. My dad’s a Buddhist and when I first started going to Quaker meeting, I’d compare. I’d go to his Buddhist group and I’d be – “Is this the same thing?” And it really has a different feeling because when you’re a Buddhist – and this is my experience – it feels more like the circle is here, whereas in Quaker meeting, the circle is the limits of the room. It’s a different feeling. It’s a different kind of connectedness. So that’s the experience of Quaker meeting. My mom is an Episcopalian and her choir minister Bob Simpson said that when he was in the thick of his musical studies, he would go to Quaker meeting. I think it was in Atlanta. And that silence would help him get in touch with the essence of music. So the silence really is our teacher and it’s how we get in touch with what we feel is that deeper underlying truth. A lot of people ask us “Are we Christian?” We were definitely founded as a Christian group and then the Quakers splintered in the 1800s like a lot of the Christian groups did and now there’s 3 branches – Unprogrammed, which is what we are, Conservative and Evangelical Friends. So, we would call ourselves, not every Quaker who’s unprogrammed is Christian but probably the other two branches would say that they are. Quite a Universalist slant, although again there’s not agreement. We’re not really an agreeing group [laugh]
[laughter from panelist]
Ann: Everyone’s free to go their own way. Locally, as Southern Quakers there’s still a
feel of a frontier mentality. It started up in the East. Pennsylvania of course was
started by William Penn a Quaker. And they’re, you know, they’re very much the establishment. You know the Philadelphia story, the rich family was Quakers. And down here, our Quaker meeting, we’re probably on any given Sunday 50 people. And we’re the only Unprogrammed meeting in Houston. So there’s really a feeling of freshness to it. And very few people Quakers here in Houston were born Quaker. In fact May, at the end of the table, we’ll hear her story, but she’s unusual in that she’s one of the Birthright friends it’s called. The rest of us generally are Convinced Friends. And Houston Quakers, were known for a few things. Back in the early 60s Yonda Hartog – Yonda and Margarita Hartog – went into Jeff Davis Hospital and were appalled by the conditions and started sort of a campaign of volunteers that culminated in this book The Hospital and Much Reform. So a lot of people knew about this. And this got translated into many languages and Yon was our famous member of meeting. And we’re also famous for our meetinghouse, which has an installation by James Turrell which we recently built about 5 years ago. He’s a Quaker artist in light and he designed the corridor over at the Museum of Fine arts, if you’ve seen the one that changes colors. So come to our Quaker meetinghouse and you can see his installation there. Then just to finish up I just wanted to mention about Quakers have very much been tied to the Women’s movement, the feminism through the years and I think it stems from our Equality testimony because from the beginning – like that marriage of equality between George Fox and Margaret Fell – they believe that women were equal. And this was just a bedrock. The early Quaker leaders – there were as many women leaders as there were men. It was just a given. Indeed, it’s instructed to me – we do our business in business meeting and in the early Quakers the women said, “We want to have separate business meeting.” And the men said, “No. Come with us. You’re equals.” And they said, “No. We want to be separate because we need to learn these skills. We don’t have these skills of public speaking, of accounting of all these skills that you need to be leaders.” And it’s just like the premise of women’s colleges. You know, if you’re in a society that dominated by a group you sometimes need to get away from the dominant group to develop yourself. So, because of that a lot of women leaders developed and then because of the equality testimony they were very active as abolitionists. And the leader in the abolitionist movement, Lucretia Mott, she organized the first Women’s rights conference in Seneca Falls. And of course Women’s rights came out of that abolitionist movement. So many women were moved to be abolitionists and the Quakers were very strong in that. And then the women said, “Wait. If negros can be free and have the vote, why shouldn’t we?” And so, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton, was a Quaker, Susan B. Anthony was raised as a Quaker, a lot, Jane Adams founder of the social work movement, she was a Quaker. So, strong ties between Quakers and feminism from the very beginning. So, with that I wanted to turn to the panel and just each in turn go down the table and I just wanted you to sort of tell me your story of how you came to be a Quaker, how you were led to it, or if you were born as a Quaker. A little bit of the background of your life as a Quaker and how it’s developed and how being a Quaker has influenced your life and your life’s work.
Barbara: I came to Quakers pretty late. I was born in 1931 and I came to Quaker meeting in 1990. I was raised in a very fundamentalist church. We had a lot of fear, a lot of punishment and great inequality. Great inequality. Well, the clergy had the power., the lay people did not and women has a lesser role even than men. And just finally got extremely weary of that. I had stopped believing the theology. I had ceased to be a Trinitarian person. Very much believing in God, but not Trinity. I found that the Quakers spoke to my heart in terms of not only – I don’t like to think of it as peace tradition, but as a nonviolent tradition because there’s so much more violence than war. I had to struggle still with the simplicity because I’m a person of this culture and in this society it’s very easy to get over programmed and hurry and be tempted by the double page ads in the chronicle. I don’t think it’s a newspaper, I think it’s an advertising journal. It really is.
[giggles from group]
Barbara: And when I came to Quaker meeting, I felt I’d come home. And Albert sitting
over there, he was on my _____ that I join meeting , and he said a very wise
thing. He said, “You don’t come to meeting and learn to be a Quaker. You’re really a Quaker and you find meeting. And I think that holds true.
Catherine: My name is Catherine. I started attending meeting in 1995, so about 10 years
ago. I thought I was a Quaker when I was about 15 years old when I read a book called The Peaceable Kingdom. The book spoke to my heart about the testimonies. It was a novel but it was about the history of the Quakers’ early years. My father was a career naval captain. A career naval officer. And so we traveled a lot. I lived in Japan for 4 years. People in Japan also influenced me a great deal and embraced this idea of simplicity both in their art and in their daily life. That greatly influenced me as well. Reading this book was just an experience that I thought, “Well, I wish the Quakers were still around.” I didn’t know – reading it in Japan – that the Quakers were still even in existence. We came back to the States and I was a sophomore at that time and I was sent to a girls’ Catholic school and I told them that I could not go to chapel, which they had on a weekly basis, because I was a Quaker.
[giggle in panel]
Catherine: I was exempted and sent to History of Religion class. And so when I became
a teacher – I think I chose a healthy profession because I felt that service was what I ought to be doing. I read a book about Friends’ Schools and I was just amazed that Quakers were still around and were still flourishing at least on the East coast in terms of education and led me to the Yellow Pages to see if there was a Quaker meeting in Houston. When I went to my first meeting, I met the author of the Peaceable Kingdom. He was a member of that meeting and that was Yonda Hartog. So I like Barbara felt like, well I was meant to be here. And again, the form of worship I had been raised in a nondenominational home. My parents had both been raised Southern Baptists, but they had fallen away – they were backsliders. I had gone on a spiritual path. I had actually joined an Episcopal church. I was married in the Episcopal. My children, my 3 daughters were baptized Episcopalians, but I was just so delighted to find Live Oak Friends meeting and I’ve been there ever since.
May: I’m going to read something, but before I do that I want to explain that I come from the traditional Quakers that were Semi-Programmed. Some of you hear the word
Ramala and then think about Yasar Arafat and other places and politics and demonstrations. But did you know that in Ramala there is an old meetinghouse still there on Main Street. I used to play the organ when I was 13 in Ramala. So when I say Semi-programmed that means we could stand up and ask for Hymns both in Arabic and English. My mother taught Sunday school at the Friends School. At the meeting house. And her Sunday school which we called First Day school had all sorts of children that were non-Quakers. Actually, it was an ecumenical First Day school. Okay, so I had written an essay for the Friends’ journal which is a Quaker publication about the meetinghouse in Ramala. I’ll just read the first part.
Ramala, Palestine 1946. Through the arched windows of our Ramala meetinghouse, I can see the sky and sometimes hear the song of the thrush in flight, for this silence, like a thread, holds our young lives in tow. But what can we at the aged 10 or 12 do with this Quaker silence except flip through Arabic or American Hymnals or stare at the sky waiting for the courage to say clearly and with conviction, “Let us now sing Hymn number.” For this, our Ramala meeting, does allow the singing of hymns, chosen as the spirit leads. And in the tradition of friends, we also speak out of the silence. But it is the adults we believe who deserve to be heard. Those who lived long enough and know something of life and religion. But I at age 11 still need inspiration. Need to solve the mystery of my own life. And that last time when my grandfather, Ilias Audi, stood up to speak, I strained to hear, to understand. From the angle of my bench set against the wall, I saw only the curve of his back. The quiver of one end of his walrus moustache. Heard the faint echo of his message, for this one room meetinghouse built in 1910 was not built for good acoustics or beauty, but for endurance. The flooring tile beneath my feet are blocks of hand chiseled stone and like the sidewalks of Ramala are worn smooth with use. Stones after all are our natural resource here and our houses, mosques, and churches as well as this meetinghouse all built of stone were meant to last the years. But I don’t think of chiseled stones or birds or hymns when I blurt out my message. Was it I wonder, my grandfather’s example or my own recklessness to share what I wasn’t sure of, hoped would be true.
Ann: Good. Thank you. And then I was going to ask you some questions and I thought
just whoever wished to answer and speak up and then you can all answer or we can just go about. First, I wanted to ask about, just the atmosphere in Quaker meeting for women. You know, what is it like to be a women there. Encouraging of leadership and so forth and how would you compare it to other non-Quaker experiences you’ve had. May grew up in the Arab culture. Barbara and Catherine grew up in American culture with its own form of sexism and so forth. So, what is it like to be a women within Quaker meeting. What’s the encouragement or discouragement and how would you compare it?
Barbara: It’s totally egalitarian. It really is amazing. Also amazing that children are as
important as any adult. Any Indian, and prisoner, and African American. The
equality goes across the board. It’s more I believe than spoken. In my experience it’s lived and that’s a great treasure.
C: I think that it just isn’t an issue. How could it be any other way? It feels so natural
and yet when I think about Barbara is the clerk of our meeting. She’s a women and in other churches that might not be allowed. That seems so foreign to me. It seems that we’re led to minister to one another and that our opinions valid, not because we’re women or because we’re men, but because we’re human beings. And that our ministries – our actions and our service, that we’re all expected to give our very best, not because we have to prove something because we’re women but just because we are led by God to do something. And that’s what we need to do.
M: You know in Quaker history, many of the Quakers of olden days had like 12 children
maybe or 14 because there was no birth control pills. And so, if they were moved – if they had a message they felt the inner light told them that they should go to turkey or some other country and preach the word of God so they would be supported by their meeting and they would leave their 12 children with their husband. They would tread across Europe or wherever to do this calling. So it kind of emphasized their ability and their feminism during that time. When I was growing up in Ramala, in Jerusalem and other places, the idea of there’s that of God in me as well as that of God in my father meant that we were equals, even though he spoke 5 languages and I could barely speak English, I felt quite equal to him and that empowered me.
A: And that kind of touches on my next question. I wanted to just ask, which of the
Quaker testimonies or beliefs has really shone out to you and your thinking about
your life and the way you have approached your work.
B: Come on May. Let’s break this tradition of going 1..2..3..
[giggles from all]
M: Don’t start with me please. [nervous giggle]
A: You were talking about that of God within everybody.
M: Say that again.
A: Which Quaker belief has really influenced the way you’ve lived your life.
M: I think all of them. [laugh]
[laugh from group]
M: It just emphasizes your humanity and your equality with people, and people are equal
to you and trying to simplify your life is very difficult, but I keep striving for that. And Peace is very important. I think the Middle East is really yearning for peace and I feel that we need a little justice in the Middle East before we get that peace. We need to work for that and that’s something that I have worked for in my life as much as I could.
A: And has there been a context in which the Quakers have supported that kind of
yearning for peace and justice. You know, in your – in the causes that you’ve most cared about.
M: Are you talking about Quakers in Ramala?
A: Either there or here.
M: Well Quakers in Ramala have schools. In 1887 they established a girl’s school and
they had come first from England and then the American Quakers came to Ramala. The girl’s school was thriving and my grandmother, who came from Lebanon was one of the early teachers at that school. So through their school. And then the boys got jealous and wanted a school of their own. [giggle] Quakers had another school for boys in 1901. I think they do the best they can. Nobody’s perfect.
A: I wanted to ask you, growing up as a Quaker Arab women, how did you feel different, or was their a difference between you and some of your non-Quaker friends, you know Palestinian friends?
M: Well in our family – for instance, my father worked in Jerusalem as physician. He came in 1946-47 before the war in 1948. He would invite Jewish colleagues of his to our house and we had Muslims in our house and I felt as if everybody is equal and it was a good feeling.
A: I know you’ve done similar things here in Houston too, reached out to Jewish leaders in an effort to cross some of the barriers.
M: That’s right. There’s a group we’re part of, Albert and I. [pause]
M: I’m wondering is my voice okay. Is this working:?
A: She says Speak up.
M: Okay. There is a group – a dialogue group that we’re part of and have been over the years. But there are time when – I wrote a letter once in the paper and the Rabbi Malev. M-A-L-E-V, used to be _______ Rabbi. He answered my letter and then I called him up and said I’d like to meet him. He kept saying, “We should meet face-to-face.” So I did go to his congregation. Met him and talked to him and we became very good friends. He came to my house – our house. I think we need to realize, especially in the Middle East, that we are all equal. There is nobody who is better chosen than another people. And we need to work together because – I’m not that involved anymore. I go back home and I see the tragedy sometimes. I see the walls. I see the check points. And that makes me very sad. But, one does what one can do.
A: And I wanted to ask Catherine and Barbara, how has being a Quaker influenced your work out in the world in terms of social change or working for the world to be a better place.
B: The testimony for peace or nonviolence comes up all the time. I got this book from the Houston Public Library yesterday and I always have a couple of sentences that tack on to things. When I think of peace – I don’t know who said it, but some wise person said, “Peace is not just the absence of war.” This book was published by Texas A&M University Press, written by Patricia Bernstein. It’s just newly published and it’s about an even in Waco in 1916. Now granted the First World War was in progress, but the US was not in it at that time. And Waco was a thriving, thriving city. 10,000 people gathered downtown. Folks wandered selling cotton candy and hotdogs and lemonade. The mayor and the sheriff watched from the second floor of the city hall as a 17 year old, retarded, African American boy was stabbed, mutilated, burned – let me not leave anything out [pages flip] – “The mayor of Waco who watched the entire episode from the excellent vantage point of the second floor of the City Hall was concerned that the lynchers might damage the tree, but expressed no concern for the human being who was stabbed, beaten, mutilated, hanged, and burned to death before his eyes.” 5,000 people, African American people were lynched between 1880 and 1930. So peace is not just the absence of war. The other saying about peace or nonviolence that comes up for me is that lovely quote from Gloria Steinham that says, “The personal is the political.” And certainly peace or nonviolence is quite a political issue. And here is one of my absolute favorite books. Finding meaning in the second half of life by Jim Hollace, who’s the director of the local Yoga center. Oh look at the smiles of people who know or are very familiar with this book! And we know about the fight, flee, submit thing that we’ve heard about for years and years. Jim doesn’t call it submitting, but accommodating. And, if we accommodate, and accommodate, and accommodate, or if we say someone is sweet, personable, amiable, easy going, and most often nice, when these labels repeatedly apply to someone’s behavior the consequences to the persons inner life may in fact be quite ugly. We’re conditioned to be nice. Yet, we find ourselves repeatedly, reflexively being nice, we have not only lost integrity through reflexive responses, we have lost the power to conduct our own lives. Indeed, the stakes are even higher for studies of totalitarian systems or any system with strong collective pressures, show that through intimidation most if not all citizens become nice. Which is to say, docile, compliant, and ultimately complicit in evil. The personal really is political as both of these examples show us. And I had to laugh because I started looking at things. I went to my great big old Webster’s and looked up the word Peace and came up with all the great, great, pieces of the definition: “Freedom from war or civil strife, Treaty to end war, Freedom from public disturbance or disorder, Freedom from disagreement or quarrels, the undisturbed state of mind, serenity, calm, quiet, and tranquility.” And while I had the dictionary out I had just for fun go to Quaker and it did everything that Annie said, but farther down around 4 and 5 in terms of usage, there was a Quaker that was “any grasshopper in the genus edipida or a sooty albatross.”
[loud laughter from group]
B: Do we have any of those?
[member on panel/group] That would be me!
A: And then finally Catherine I’ll put it to you. How has being a Quaker influenced your activism or your being out in the world?
C: Well, I’ll just tell a story about something we did recently. When hurricane Rita came through I was watching the nightly news with my husband and there was an effort by the news station to match organizations to towns that had been hit by Rita. And, one of the towns was – they had a whole list of them – and so I sent and e-mail saying our Quaker meeting would like to be linked to a small town because we’re a small meeting. We have about 120 people that attend or are members. I didn’t want us to be involved in something that would be too overwhelming for us. We think Goodrich, Texas would be a good match for you. Goodrich had a population of 253 people. And I thought, okay that sounds good. So I called up the number they gave me and it turned out it was a lady who owned the only store in Goodrich. Her name was Brenda. It was a general store. I called her up and said how are you all doing? And she said, “We’re just terrible. We don’t have any power.” And I think by the time I called her it was Day 6 after Hurricane Rita had come through. During the evacuation – Goodrich is located off I-59, South of Lake Livingston – all those people that were stuck on the freeway, a lot of them in that area had gone to Goodrich. She had the only gas station and so they pumped all the gas. So, they didn’t have any gas. A lot of the people were evacuated in to the one room schoolhouse. They had a K – 12 school house built by the WPA and they housed hundreds of people in the their hallways, some of whom brought their barbeque pits and burned, cooked, grilled, food in their hallways. Then they had 105 people who had special needs. They were from an institution in Houston. And they were taking care of them in their one of two churches and then the day after all those people left they found out that the Lake, the Dam in the lake had a crack in it. There are about 1000 people that live in the areas called the Bottoms. A lot of them are elderly, they live in trailer homes. A lot of them are African Americans and so the volunteer fire department (that) has only 15 in it evacuated all those people. Put them in the school and the church to take care of them while they figure out what to do about the break, crack in the dam. So these people were very tired. They had not been sleeping. They had not been – FEMA had been bringing out food. I said, “I don’t know what we can do Brenda, but I’m going to talk to people in my meeting and I’ll get back to you. It was a Friday that I talked to her. It was like 10 in the morning and I’d been planning to go out to lunch with Margarita Hartog and she’s like seventy….
[member on panel] Something.
C: 76. I don’t think she’d mind me saying. Anyway, she and I were going to have Chinese food that day. I called her and I said, “Instead of going out for Chinese could you pack some sandwiches because we’re going to take some gas to Goodrich.” She said, “Well how are you going to do that?” And I said, “I don’t know yet, but I’m going to figure it out.” And she said, “Well I’ll pack the sandwiches.” So make a long story short – because I own an auto repair shop I actually know somebody I can get a lot of gas from and his name is J.B. I said, “J.B. can I have two 55 gallon drums of gas by 1 o’clock?” And he said, “Well I’ll donate – I told him what it was for – and he said well I’ll donate one of those gallons.” And I said, “Well then make it 3!”
[giggles from all]
C: So the former owner of our business had a trailer. He came and brought the trailer.
We loaded up the 55-gallon drums of gas. We got chainsaw supplies. And Margerie brought several bags of groceries. Baby formula and diapers. And ensure. And fruits and vegetables and candies for kids. And we took it all to Goodrich and we were there by 3:30 in the afternoon. I really felt like that’s what Quaker is about. Sitting in worship is like recharging your batteries. It’s like a place were you come and you rest and you relax and you reflect upon God and you let God speak to you, and you’re in the quiet place with all your friends. It’s a collective silence. The Bible says that God is there when there are more than 2 present. And in some ways I think God is between us than within us. And so I get recharged at meeting. There’s that old Quaker joke that when you have a guest come to meeting for worship and he’s like sitting there waiting for something to happen and he nudges and says, “Well, when’s the service going to start?” And the Quaker says, “After the meeting.”
[laughter from group]
C: And so, that’s to me what it’s all about. It’s service.
A: That’s great. Thank you. And maybe I’ll ask one more question and then open it up to the audience. I wanted to ask about if there have been any women Quaker role models that have really spoken to you all. And I guess in my own thoughts I was thinking about encountering some of the sexism that we’re up against. Like this ageism. “I’m not growing old.” It’s like my ace in my pocket is thinking about aging Quaker women and how it’s almost like that’s when women come alive. And you come into a Quaker auditorium it’ll be filled with gray hair because often time Quaker don’t dye their hair and just really having that as a role model of strength in age. And so any Quaker role models that have really spoken to you in your life.
B: My role model owned this necklace and her name was Lois Brockman. And Lois died about 3 years ago.
[someone on panel]: Yeah
B: Lois had been born in Kansas I believe and worked in the health field, came to Houston when the physician that she worked with and enjoyed working with came here. And she loved jewelry. She was a bit of a character. At age 90 I can remember going to meetings – committee meetings with her in her 20-year-old Volkswagen that she hotwired to start. And I think she did retire probably when she was 75 or 80, but then she worked full time as a volunteer with Omega House. I think she did that until a few months before she died. She was an absolutely magnificent woman. She didn’t speak often but when she did it was like that thing about the stockbroker, when Lois Brockman spoke everybody listened. Truly. And I just love – after she died we had a few of her things and we had an auction and the money went to the meeting and I absolutely love having this necklace of Lois Brockman’s because it’s just makes me feel kind of close to her and I hope I can emulate her.
[?]: I remember Lois saying, “I always take up for the underdog!” [laugh] So either of you, do you have?
C: Well some of my Quaker role models are right here. May and Barbara, an Annie, and Jane and Mary and Peggy. I just feel like I’m still learning and you know, just feel very blessed to have such good friends.
Member of panel: We’re blessed to have you.
M: I think my mother was my first and most important Quaker role model. I had a wonderful father but he was somewhat chauvinistic. I had 4 other sisters. We were a family of girls and my mother had to peacefully assert herself – I don’t want to say battle because that’s not a Quaker word – but assert herself and get her way and do what she wanted to do. And she did. She also, as I said, taught Sunday school for years and years. First Day of School. And she had people under her. When I was maybe 13 I was one of her underling teachers and had a little class of kids. She told wonderful stories. She knew the Bible inside out. She knew where all the important places were. She organized bus trips for the kids. She had Quaker friends in America that sent money so that she could by like mittens, for the wintertime or candy or socks, warm socks. So her Sunday school kids would get those at Christmas time. The kids were not Quakers. They ended up being – the mayor the town was one of her students, the plumber down the street was one of her students at the Sunday school. The saddest day I think in her life was when she had to close down the Sunday school because – the meetinghouse is on Main Street and during the first ante-___ the boys would set up, like their defenses. They would burn tires and stand there and wait for the Israelis to come. And so the soldiers would come and then shoot at them. And so all this commotion would go on – sometimes we’d be sitting there in meetinghouse nice and quiet, trying to meditate and all this warfare outside out meetinghouse. And so finally the parents stopped sending their kids to First Day of School. But she stood up. I used to visit them during different times because my father was getting sick and she needed some help in the summer. And so, after he passed away I said to her, “Do you think you can manage?” And she looked at me and said, “What do you mean? Of course I can manage!”
[giggles from group]
M: And this was land under occupation. She was all by herself so to speak. But she was assertive and I admire that. She was assertive in a wonderful way.
A: Thank you. Alright well I want to open it up to questions and because we’re taping this either say your questions quite loudly or I’ll repeat them into the microphone. And also we’ve got a – as May said or Catherine – a pool of other Quaker women in the back. Mary and Jan and Peg. So they might – if we can figure out how to make it – might answer some questions too. So please.
Question: In the beginning you mentioned that you don’t really take the Bible literally but you let it evolve. Could you talk a little bit about that. How you ….
A: Yeah, sure. I used the term continuing revelation and maybe one of you all can elaborate on it. Each person is in contact with that of the spirit or so forth within them. It’s an evolving thing. It’s not set in stone. And there’s a little kids Quaker song where it’s “The truth is more holy than a book to me.” And anything that’s written down it’s water, it’s going to keep flowing. So that’s all that we mean. Anybody else?
B: For one of our what we call faith and practices in an extract about beliefs it says, “Quakers have traditionally been weary of credence statements as limiting our understanding of God. Among the doctrines, finding wide acceptance by friends are universal saving light and continuing revelation.” I think many people have wondered about the canon being closed at the end of Apocalypse that there have been extremely magnificent leaders who’ve carry the light that each of us can do. You cannot just limit the wisdom that develops.
A: That’s to me one of the dangerous and scary things to me about religion is when it tells you to shut your brain down and heed a person or a book or so forth instead of being plugged into yourself and searching. It takes effort, but that’s the effort of being alive. Any body else?
Question: I’m wondering if those of you that are willing to admit that you’re over 50 if you can say something about what a difference age makes in terms of your sets of responsibilities to the world or your place in it. The work that you do in the world.
B: About 10 years ago there was a conference in New York. Miriam _____ a famous _____was there as was Rabbi ______ and I love the sentence he gave us that “The task of the third age is to bring wisdom back to the tribe.” And I think that’s what we’re called to do. And I love the changes in society that are kind of reclaiming the word crone as being not as an old hag, but as being a person of wisdom. It’s really quite lovely. I’m 74. It’s really quite lovely to be 74. You can’t speak I don’t think.
[member of panel]: Nope.
[member of panel]: Not yet.
M: Let me think. Well I don’t think I have much wisdom now, but I have a little more peace. As I’ve said, my mother’s example – she passed away when she was 86 and she was independent till the end. And I hope I can follow that example. You’d like to run faster, you’d like to run like you did when you were younger. That’s what I miss. But I suppose one makes up with other things.
C: Like writing novels.
Jan (in audience) I’m Jan Bar. I’m also a member of the Live Oaks Friends meeting. I’m also 76. It seems to me that in this time, where women, men, children are so over programmed and the culture says you’ve got to go faster, faster, faster that being a crone in this time is the person who stands pointing the way. Because that’s one of the functions of being a crone – is to point the way. And for me …..
[CUT in TAPE]
A: ……We want to have on the hill. So there’s that kind of thing and then this group that’s having its Board meeting this coming week the Friends Peace Team, it’s another one of the international Quaker organizations so I think it’s a good example of that meeting of the local and the international and trying to bridge that gap of feeling like, “Well all I can do is something locally. It’s helpless to try and influence things on a larger level.” Because what we do – I was there when it began in 93 and it was when the UN was first sending in Peace Keeping troops and we were together as a national Quaker gathering. And we were like, “Peace keeping soldiers?” [laugh]
A: And now we’re used to that phrase. We were like, “No. That doesn’t feel right to us. What would real peace keepers look like.” And we’re like, well we have some Quaker methods of doing that so let’s try doing that. And so we formed this organization for international peace teams. Peace teams work. The first place that a Quaker felt a leading to go to - because we do try and move not so much intellectually but through a movement of the spirit or it’s the way it opens – was to go to Africa. He’s the one who’s going to be speaking next Friday. Please, come. He’s a wonderful speaker. And he just sent a letter to all the Quaker meetings in Africa. And Africa happens to have more Quakers on its continent than any other continent in the world. And he sent a letter and said, “Would any of you all like to have some American Quakers come and work with you on Peace issues?” And the clerk in Barundi national meeting wrote him back and said, “Oh, we really need some help because our country, we are so traumatized by the genocide that happened here.” Barundi had a very similar genocide to Rwanda. They’re really brother/sister countries. And you know when you’ve been traumatized when you’re in the middle of it you often times need an outsider to bring in some perspective. And so he said, “Please, come here.” And so some Quakers – two of the four I think were over 75 years old, they went and they did this workshop that I do – Alternatives to violence project. You’re doing exercises and games and so forth. They went over to Burundi and they were sort of like, “We got this little old workshop. You know, let’s try this out.” The rest of us were like, “Pffft. This feels a little silly or ineffectual.” They just said, “Give us more. This is exactly what we need. We need this sort of [deep exhale] basics in listening and conflict resolution. And then as they got more into it they said, - and just in healing the trauma because these were new concepts to them. So that was sort of a way that American psychological concepts could go over there and then be incorporated in the African culture. So it’s a real partnership kind of thing. So now they have these conflict resolution workshops and these trauma-healing workshops. And the way they work is they first went to the opinion leaders – the Hutus or the Tutsis who were not collaborators but instead helped – the Hutus who helped hide some of the Tutsis from the genocide so that they were trusted by both sides. And the opinion leaders then took the workshops and when people saw that they took them they were willing to come. And so they’d bring together 10 Hutus and 10 Tutsis in the same workshop – you know these are people who either have lost their families or their families had participated in some of this murder and for the first time people were starting to tell their stories. And to me – I want to go – I do these workshops and I’m, and I’m just again a little old freelance editor but I’m going to go over to Africa, I hope and do it. And so it’s just the power – you know when I go over to prisons it’s not like I’m doing anything great, anyone can do this. It’s just a belief that everybody has this capacity to help out, if you reach out. Does that answer your question on the international efforts? So, I think it’s just that non-hierarchical belief that everybody’s got this power to make a difference in a situation, they really do. Anymore questions?
B: I just have to speak to an issue that isn’t international, but today’s paper. I think we’re having the experience of a broken myth because whether we like it or not we are victimized by propaganda as well as anyone else. I was horrified. On the front page of the Chronicle today, on the front page lower left corner and then inside is an out and out story about what are called black sites. Prisons operated by the CIA in Morrocco, Egypt, Afganistan and other unnamed countries and I as they say while the first tier of black sites are run by CIA officers, the jails in these countries are operated by the host nations with CIA financial assistance and direction. These people exist – these prisoners exist in complete isolation from the outside world. Kept in dark, sometimes underground cells where they have no recognized legal rights and no one outside of the CIA is allowed to talk to them or even see them. I think we’re having a broken myth about being the sole carriers of justice and personal rights in the world. If you still have your Chronicle, first page, lower left hand side and then inside as well. We have to respond.
Thank you. And I believe _______ [away from microphones]
[member in audience] In all these movements in history, it was women who were ______. Women made ________.
A: Was there anything in closing…
[continued same member of audience] You have to have the courage to stand up.
B: I’m curious. When did your family become Quakers? _______
M: Well, the Quakers came to Ramala in 1886 and soon after that my grandmother came from Lebanon and she became the teacher there at that Friend’s school. And my grandfather was one of the translators for them. And so, they were married and they became Quakers. And so they were like convinced Quakers. And so my mother grew up in a Quaker family and after she met my father – you know there are many Christian Arabs, Palestininian Christians as you know. And he was Greek Orthodox, but he when he married her he became Quaker and they were married in a Quaker ceremony if you want to say that. So, I was brought up as a Quaker and going to meeting – I remember when we lived in Bershiba, it was very important for us to – that was before 1948 and there were no checkpoints in those days – we wanted come to meeting every Sunday and so my father would drive long drives through the mountains to come to Ramala to meeting. And that was part of my growing up.
M: actually no. We spoke Arabic.
[laughter from all]
Yeah, but that would be another story.
M: But Margarita Hartog does that. She used to speak with Yon.
A: It used to be that “you” was the form you used for your superiors or so forth, or your elders you know kind of like the “vous” and “tu” in French. “Thee” and “thou” was the familiar form and the Quakers believed in the equality of everybody so they were only going to use the familiar form with everyone. So that’s how “thee” and “thou” came about, but language is a continuing revelation as well [giggles] so that would be kind of stuck in the past to keep using it. Well I wanted to invite everybody if you’d like to come experience Quaker meeting come 10:30 Sunday morning. And the only thing is if you don’t want to stick out don’t dress up in your Church clothes.
[laugh from all]
A: And we’re very welcoming. And also if you don’t want to be in Quaker meeting but want to experience our Sky Space every Friday a half hour before sunset it’s open to the public. And so that’s something we do to give back to the Houston Community. And please pick up a flyer about the presentation a week from Friday. And it’s going to be a Friend’s peace teams and talking about Africa and peace making in Africa. And he’s a really good speaker and it’s very encouraging work. Thank you all for your attention.
[member in group]: And as you know Dan lived in Africa for quite a while. I don’t think he was there for Quaker ______.