Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Search: Crisis Experiences

As we searched for a spiritual home among various Friends Meetings and other denominations in our new location in New Jersey, we quickly recognized a sense of “home” in a small unprogrammed Friends Meeting with an active Sunday School. Here I met someone who became a strong spiritual guide for me, Lewis Benson. I had read Catholic Quakerism in an “extension” course under T. Canby Jones and been impressed by the seriousness with which the early Friends were handled. Lewis did not wish to repeat the early Friends, especially George Fox, but rather to share their message as it speaks to the world today through our experience. In some ways he led me full circle back to my earliest guides of the early Friends, the prophets, and Christ in a way that liberated my reaction against the limiting language and experience of midwestern “Christian” orthodoxy.

The community of this meeting helped our family through a very difficult time when the small group of educators I had joined at Holmdel, NJ, was disbanded and a traditional authoritarian school structure was imposed. As I searched for a new position, emotional and spiritual support from the Meeting upheld our family. When I accepted a full time administrative position in a school district over an hour away from our home, it was with regret that we had to leave South Jersey. The position I applied for was Science Department Chair with some teaching, but when the State of New Jersey refused to accept the credentials of the older, both in terms of age and service, Department Chair who had been promoted to “Supervisor” with full time administrative duties, he had to return as Department Chair and I was appointed as Supervisor of Science and Math, as well as Physical Education. With my PhD courses and experience I held a “Supervisor” certificate from NJ while he did not have the certificate. I was fortunate that the previous Department Head was very gracious in the change and we quickly formed a friendship. However, it was unfortunate that within a few months he died of a sudden massive heart attack that some say was brought on by disappointment and “heartbreak” by the “demotion.”

Even with the physical move, it was several years before we slowly felt the distance from the Meeting grow in a spiritual sense. It was a year after we had moved that Lewis Benson and I were placed before the New York Yearly Meeting as recorded Ministers of Manasquan Monthly Meeting. The ties to this Meeting were so strong that in our new location we began to attend a Methodist Church and quickly became involved in the life of the Denville, NJ, church. One of the attractive features of the church was the statement on the cover of the weekly bulletin which stated “Ministers: Every member of the congregation.” The pastor chose not to use his authority but shared his spiritual guidance and challenged others to use their gifts. He persuaded us to accept “Associate Membership” in the church and in the welcoming ceremony spoke of our having been “baptized in the Spirit” and participating in spiritual communion. He accepted the “non-physical” aspects of these sacraments as equivalent with other members’ participation in the physical rites. Again I recognized the diversity of helpful and authentic guidance.

On various occasions I had talked with my father about the impact of Friends’ witness with other groups and within the Religious Society of Friends itself. He had come to the conclusion that the pastoral system had brought the beginning of the end of Friends as a unique witness, and as a pastor he was contributing to the demise of the Religious Society. However, he continued to provide tremendous guidance to many individuals, including myself, and remained faithful to the members of the Meeting that he was serving, to early Friends, and most of all to Christ and the message of Love.

Within a year of our leaving Manasquan, my father died at the age of 58. Characteristically, he had put off seeing the doctor with respect to the pains he was feeling in his chest on Friday until he had carried out his duties over the weekend. Even after admission to the hospital on Monday, he carried on his duties as chair of the town’s ministerium having some of the group meet in his hospital room on the regularly scheduled day. However, when the ministers returned from their lunch break, they discovered that Logan Smith’s heart had been stopped by a massive coronary attack. I was faced with the loss of my most consistent and reliable spiritual guide but also was forced to examine my own spiritual leadership and sharing with others.

As a result of the death of the Science Department Chair and my father within the span of a few months and some concerns that I was having internally with my job, Judy and I had a difficult struggle with emotional, intellectual and spiritual questions. Although I was receiving excellent evaluations and accomplishing what seemed a great deal at the school, there was a lack of enthusiasm and sense of “real” involvement. I missed the interaction with students and the sense of learning and searching which characterized my previous experiences both in an intellectual and spiritual sense.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Search: New Beginnings

In the spring of 1970, I was offered a teaching associate position leading to the PhD at Ohio State U. We decided to end our work at Jamestown Friends and in the fall began a search for new connections. We became involved with a Mennonite church and for the first time I was deliberately choosing to look at guides within a non-Quaker framework. I joined a small group of seekers from the church who met for breakfast one morning a week. One of the most meaningful aspects of this group was that we were all serious students of other disciplines, as well as serious students of the spiritual pathways and intent on understanding our spiritual life as individuals and as a group.

It was at one of these small meetings that I participated in “communion” for the first time. One of the group had brought some juice and rolls and suggested that we have communion together. As we shared together I made the comment that it was good that it was orange juice since if it had been grape juice I was not sure I would have participated. The person who brought the juice said that he had thought about it and knowing my feelings about “communion ritual” decided to bring orange juice since it really didn’t make much difference in the meaning of communing together. That sharing did not seem to me to be a rite or symbol but a time of community with one another and Christ. We shared no formal words but rather a personal feeling of sharing in a life that was a real presence among us. The more I shared of myself and grew in the group, the more meaningful Friends became to me.

In the spring of 1971 when there was much unrest on college campuses, I experienced one of the most intense tests of my beliefs in my life. I have described this experience elsewhere and will state that it was because of this experience I changed from being a pacifist because I didn’t think I could kill some one to being a pacifist because I knew I might be able to kill someone.

Two major tests of our marriage and family were experienced in my last year at OSU. In working on my PhD dissertation I placed a great deal of stress on the family as Judy was typing the dissertation and retyping the corrections which often required the retyping of several pages due to even a minor correction on an earlier page. In retrospect I soon realized that in many ways the dissertation had become a “mistress” which took time and energy from wife and family. The other stress was that we had taken a foster child, Terri, in the fall with the intention of adopting her. Terri was almost two years old and we were told that she had been treated much like our own children had been. That is, that she had been taken everywhere with the family, was used to social settings and had been eating from the table for a while. However, much of what we attempted was met with apparent stubbornness and “tantrums” when we tried different foods, took her almost anywhere and in many other situations. Our social worker took a leave of absence soon after we got the child and returned after about six months. Upon the social worker visiting our home for the first time after her leave, she expressed real concern with what she saw and heard about our family. She began to ask questions at work and of us. What she learned was shocking to us at to her. She learned that Terri, a biracial child, had been with a “white” foster family that did not take Terri anywhere, not even to the homes of extended family where she would not have been accepted. In addition she had been completely bottle fed up until the day she came to us. She had never eaten solid food nor sat at the table, something we had expected her to do. After some serious discussions our social worker recommended that Terri be placed with another family. We reluctantly agreed with the proviso that Terri not be returned to the family she had come from. We later learned that she had been placed with a loving family that adopted her. One of the other positive outcomes from our experience was that Social Services decided to change their policy. Their policy had been that the social worker and family of the “old” placement could NOT share information with the social worker and family in the “new” placement. This was changed, largely due to our experience, so that information was required to be shared between the social workers and the families.

Upon graduation in 1972 I was offered a position by two different schools. Due to the fact that I had the PhD and was determined to work and teach in public secondary schools where I felt my talents and calling lay, my job search had been limited to schools in the “East” where they were willing to hire a teacher-supervisor. My choice was between a well established school that was looking to develop newer programs and a brand new high school that was literally building a new school from the ground up, including facilities and program. The deciding factor for me was that in the latter school, Holmdel, NJ, the intent was to develop a small group of leaders in secondary schools from various disciplines who would operate on a cooperative basis approaching a consensus model.

Thus we moved to New Jersey from Ohio. Judy had never lived more than about an hour’s drive from her hometown of Tipp City, Ohio. It was then that she saw the ocean for the first time. The fall of 1972 marked the beginning of several experiences that influenced the rest of our lives in a major way.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Search: Life Choices

After moving to Tipp City schools, my satisfaction with teaching grew while working with Bill Bechtol and colleagues interested in developing a system designed to meet the needs of each student. I also found satisfaction and rewards in working with students in and out of class. With my studies at Miami U in the summers, I was preparing for a long-term commitment to teaching science at the high school.

With the “laying down” of Ludlow Falls Friends Meeting and West Branch Quarterly Meeting, my commitment to Friends seemed to be waning. However, in the spring of 1968 I was invited to become the regular “preacher,” only on Sundays, at a very small Friends Meeting in Wilmington Yearly Meeting. As a result of that I was subsequently invited to be the “weekend minister” at Jamestown Friends Meeting. The parsonage was empty and we were invited to stay in it whenever we needed to stay overnight. With my father being the pastor at Xenia Friends Meeting just down the road, this seemed to be a chance to work more closely with him. One of the surprising aspects of this was that for the first time I heard my father question whether the pastoral system was truly in the tradition of Friends.

After the first year at Jamestown and the third year at Tipp City, I was presented with a choice that was the first major crossroads of my life. Apparently my work at Jamestown was well received and word had spread in the Yearly Meeting. I also suspect that my father’s reputation as a truly outstanding person and minister was involved. I was “called” to a full time pastorate at a relatively large Meeting in Wilmington Yearly Meeting. At about the same time, as a result of my work at Tipp City and at Miami U., I was invited to attend an NSF Academic Year Institute for Science Supervisors at Ohio State U. In addition, Tipp City schools encouraged me to stay there with “tenure” and work on the curriculum in science and math. Up until then most decisions in my life had been either yes or no with relatively clear directions as to which way to choose.

Judy and her family were opposed to my going to Ohio State. This was partly due to the fact that for the previous three summers I had been attending Miami U while Judy had been pregnant the first summer with a difficult pregnancy as well as being pregnant the third summer while I stayed at Miami during the week to work on my thesis. We now had two sons under the age of 3 and the stipend for the Institute at Ohio State was not very much. However, I chose to accept the invitation to Ohio State, in hindsight this was partly due to my wanting the recognition as a young, 25 years old, person among the leaders in secondary school science education. In addition, I could continue as weekend minister at Jamestown.

During that year I experienced a good deal of satisfaction in the academic life and loved being a seeker of knowledge. At the same time the ministry at Jamestown seemed to be producing spiritual growth in the Meeting and in myself. However, I had growing doubts about the pastoral system in Friends since it seemed that the more I was able to speak to the condition of the members and attenders, the more they relied on me and listened to me rather than to each other or to themselves on a deeper level. In conversations with my father, this seemed to be a major danger with the pastoral system in general. My father felt that one of the major goals for him was to “work himself out of a job,” that is, to assist the members of the Meeting to become leaders and ministers within the Meeting. In my experience at Jamestown, it seemed that the more participation and interaction was evident but this seemed to be more a result of the Meeting being content with a “good” pastor rather than a careful searching of their own personal condition.

Toward the end of the academic year, I was given another choice that would confirm the direction I would undertake.