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Report from (Xenia and) Jamestown

Posted on Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 10:14AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | CommentsPost a Comment

Leaving my hostess’s apartment in south Dayton, my route wound through upper-lower-income and lower-middle-income neighborhoods into cornfields, and then quite suddenly into an area of office parks and research parks, where great office buildings sat in the middle of vast sterile lawns bordered by trees.

The road passed then through bits of natural woods, but ended up as a long parkway, a great divided four-lane highway bordered by a thin line of trees that went on and on in a near-straight line for mile after mile. Pretty in its monotonous way, but not the greatest of habitats for our sisters and brothers the native animals. Nor was it a road where I would have been able to replenish my water bottles once they were empty — and before my ankles had given out on me, when I’d been walking with my backpack and no vehicle, those bottles were usually empty by the time I’d walked a dozen miles.

And then suddenly I was in Xenia, which appeared from what I could see to be an aging small town just beginning to be engulfed by an explosive growth of post-Reaganomics exurbs for the wealthy. I registered at an inexpensive motel for the night.

Xenia has a modest Quaker population, including a small Friends church (affiliated with Wilmington Yearly Meeting [FUM]) right in town. I’d attempted to set up a meeting with that church, and its secretary had told me she was going to talk to their two pastors and try to set something up. But nothing came of it —

Jamestown, on the other hand, just down the road, had a somewhat larger Friends church, also affiliated with Wilmington YM, which was quite excited about meeting with me (as I was, too, about meeting with them). And it was my stop for the following night.

From Xenia to Jamestown I followed the old two-lane highway that had been replaced by that new great divided highway. Here was a road that wound through farm country following the natural flow of the land, up and down hills and around the curves of watersheds. The way the land lay suggested glacial activity to me: the hills were very small and seemed randomly distributed, as they often do where glaciers dropped a lot of rock and soil as they were melting back; usually the horizon was well under a mile away. Trees crowded the watercourses, the borders between fields, the areas of over-steep slopes or poor soils, often reducing the corn sea to mere puddles. I would expect a lot of smaller animals in country like this, although I did not see any as I passed through.

Good bicycling country! My ankles had improved a tiny bit more, and it was a joy to get out of the car at a few points along the route and walk for half a mile up the road, and then back again.

The Jamestown Friends Church was an old brick building on the far end of the main drag through the little town, with a lovely little sanctuary and charming, tiny Sunday School rooms. Its pastor spent most of his life in the Church of the Brethren; this is his first pastorate among Friends, and he told me over the phone that he’s eager to learn. The program for their previous Sunday (July 2) listed “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “Oh, Beautiful for Spacious Skies” as two of the three hymns; both, I noticed, were numbered hymns in their hymnal. The sanctuary seats well over a hundred, and my hostess told me that they fill it (no little feat in a town that small) four times a year — Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day.

My hostess had promised me that they would provide me with a “simple repast” — a potluck / carry-in — and lo, so they did, and it was a pleasure getting to know them over the meal. The eight Friends present included several of the most active in the church; they also included a young man, the son of one of the women present, who had just enlisted in the military. (I was told that the clerk of the meeting and his wife have a son already in the military; the church had included him in their prayers the previous Sunday.) And they also included two visitors: the clerk of Wilmington Yearly Meeting and her husband, seasoned Friends who had spent time as volunteers in Ramallah and Cuba, and seemed to know Friends in half the towns I’d visited on my journey, and were presently in town seeing relatives.

As soon as our meeting for discernment had begun, a Friend commented that this was “one of my soapboxes. I recycle everything. I rag my sons about recycling. I walk down the streets looking for recyclables. It’s something I’ve felt was very important.”

A Friend said, “I’ve rarely seen anything unanimous. At meetings, so many people won’t say what they think; only the people promoting their cause will speak. This is very frustrating to me. A lot of people won’t have the courage to oppose something. I wish there was a way to give them the courage to speak.”

Several Friends spoke up in agreement with that comment. One observed that it’s hard for people who disagree to remain friends. Another suggested that if people would write unsigned letters on the Internet we’d at least know what they think. A third commented that in most situations people need to feel safe in order to open up and say what they think.

A Friend noted that use of New Age language puts a lot of people off: “being one with the universe” and “Gaia” instead of “stewardship” and “Creation”. This is an obstacle to unity on environmental matters among Friends.

A Friend said that if we don’t care for God’s Creation our children and grandchildren have nothing to look forward to.

A Friend expressed concern about the fact that Friends are in disunity on environmental matters, and asked if I could tell the group more about this. In reply, I described comments I’ve heard from Friends who are passionately in agreement with the positions of secular environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club on matters such as global warming, species extinctions, etc., and comments I’ve heard from other Friends who are equally passionately in disagreement with those same positions. The Friend wanted to know whether the Friends who were deeply in disagreement with those positions were FUM Friends like the ones in the room with us. I told them that every Friend I’d heard from so far who was deeply in disagreement with those positions was a member of a non-FUM liberal unprogrammed meeting. He reacted with considerable surprise. (But it’s the truth, Friends!)

A Friend said simply, “I think Christ is calling (on this matter) but I’m not listening.” This led to a discussion of why various groups of people don’t listen. One Friend observed that local farmers face a dilemma: they don’t want to use chemicals, but they don’t want to lose yields. Another Friend noted that many members of the younger generation aren’t listening; they’re a “throw-away generation”, wasting resources.

The Friend who had said “I’m not listening” said, “We’re not listening to Christ in other areas, and it spreads into this one.” Consumerism was mentioned as an example of this problem. The Friend said, “If we had the closest (possible) relationship with Him, we wouldn’t have trouble hearing Him on this (environmental question).”

A Friend observed that concern for the environment comes out of the testimony of simplicity.

A Friend asked, “What’s the difference between what I want and what I need? When we can’t discern the difference, that’s where greed comes in.”

A Friend asked, “What makes us want to have more stuff? It comes back to that right relationship (with Christ).”

The discussion continued all the way out to the parking lot after the meeting had broken up — the first time that’s happened to me on this journey!

Friends in Jamestown had suggested a commercial campground a mile up the road as a place where I might spend the night, but when I checked it out, it proved to a tiny place lacking sinks and showers. I felt that traveling in the ministry unshaven and smelly would not reflect well on our Society! So I wound up staying at the same motel I’d used the night before — though not without regret, since I would far prefer to camp, all else being equal.

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