Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon (1913-1994) was an American politician.  In turn, he was a U.S. nixonRepresentative, U.S. Senator, Vice President and President.  He first became famous as an anti-Communist crusader during the late 1940’s.  In the 1950’s he served as Vice President under President Eisenhower.  He was elected as President in 1968.  During his term he continued the Vietnam War.  In 1974 he was forced to resign the Presidency due to his cover-up of the burglary of the Democratic National Committee offices.

Nixon wrote 15 books, including Six Crises; RN: the Memoirs of Richard Nixon; In the Arena; Real Peace; 1999; and Beyond Peace.  The first three are autobiographical; the others are political.  The autobiographical books are oddly self-serving.  It is as if they were composed by an actor speaking lines on a stage.  The political books were written to regain respectability after his resignation.  They are lucid and lawyerly and focus mostly on foreign policy.

As well, Nixon played the piano. He played during services at East Whittier Friends Church and in public on the Jack Paar Show, the Grand Ole Opry and at the White House. He composed a piece called “Piano Concerto #1”.

Nixon was raised a Friend.  His ancestors were Irish Quakers.  (Joshua and Elizabeth Milhous, his great-grandparents, were the models for Jess and Eliza Birdwell, the lead characters in Friendly Persuasion, the book written by Jessamyn West, his cousin).  He was a member of East Whittier Friends Church.  His branch of Friends were evangelical Quakers with ministers, choirs and revivals. They forbade dancing, drinking and gambling.  The testimonies, like peace, were observed, and cultural legacies, like plain language, were used.  Silent graces at meals were practiced in his home.  On Sunday mornings he attended a service and taught Sunday School, and on Sunday evenings he attended another service and a young people’s group.  On Wednesday evenings he attended another service.

Nixon left Friends as an adult.  When Hannah, his mother, asked him if he felt led to become a minister, he didn’t respond.  He distanced himself from evangelical Quakerism while attending Whittier College, stating that he no longer believed in the literal truth of the Bible and the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  In 1943 he dropped the peace testimony, becoming a “Fighting Quaker” when he joined the Navy and served in World War Two.  After he became a professional politician, he rejected the integrity testimony, engaging in any sort of devious or corrupt tactics.  Nixon attended the Methodist Church in the 1950’s.  In the 1960’s he grew close to fundamentalists like Norman Vincent Peale and Billy Graham.  He declined an offer by Friends Meeting of Washington to hold services for him in the White House, as they had for President Hoover.

Nixon, however, always stated that he was a Friend.  He mentions this especially in his writings.  Until his death he also retained his membership in East Whittier Friends Church.  It is difficult to determine why he did this.  He was a secretive man, and  most of the files on his religious beliefs in the Presidential Library in Yorba Linda are still unavailable.

Clearly Nixon was a driven, ambitious man whose primary goal in life was to become powerful.  It is probable that he dismissed Friends as unimportant.  (He himself commented that he was not “a professional Quaker”).  It may be that he also used his religious upbringing to humanize himself for voters.

I began attending Friends Meeting during the early 1970’s.  The Vietnam War was central in my life in those days.  And for me it was always a real struggle to find that of God in a man who butchered two million Indochinese and twenty thousand Americans

The Leaveners

The Leaveners is the Young Friends arts association of Britain Yearly Meeting.  Its leaveners2purpose is to encourage reflection and dialogue and inspire commitment to changing the world on issues like human rights, ecology, justice, peace, inequality, spirituality, etc.  It works with people of all ages, both Quaker and non-Quaker.  Based in Birmingham, it was founded in 1978.

Currently the Leaveners sponsor several projects.   Quaker Youth Theatre holds week-long workshops, culminating in a performance.  It has staged plays at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre and at Meetinghouses.  Quaker Music Making offers concerts as well as singing workshops at Meetinghouses.  Past performances have included The Gates of Greenham, Beyond the World and Embracing the Tiger and were staged at venues like the Royal Festival Hall and the Birmingham Symphony Hall.  Words, Signs and Vibes puts on drama workshops for deaf, partly-hearing and hearing people.  (In 2008 WS&V separated from the Leaveners and became an Independent Voluntary Organisation).  The Poet’s Corner presents workshops for aspiring poets and publishes Poetry for Change.  The Doing the Right Thing Project holds drama and debate workshops on conscientious objection.  It also produced the “Quakers in World War One” exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Gallery, based on the stories of Quaker conscientious objectors.  The Refugee Project curates a poetry archive of female refugee poets from around the world as well as the textile prints they have created.  In the past other Leavener projects have also featured dance, painting and stop motion animation.

The Leaveners are facilitated by a core team and a wide network of volunteers.  Workshops and performances are held at schools, youth clubs, arts centres and Meetinghouses.  Participants are honored with arts awards: Discover, Explore, Silver and Bronze.  Funding comes from individual Friends and Friends Meetings; non-Quaker organizations; and the Leaveners Patrons (Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Sheila Hancock, John Whitney and Sally Beamish).

Now nearing 40 years old, the Leaveners continues as an active and vibrant organization.

August 2016

John Maynard

One of my favorite Quakers -though he doesn’t call himself a Friend -is John Maynard.  His lightness of spirit has always been a delight for me.

John is a bagpiper, calligrapher and sign-painter.  He plays bagpipes in the New York University marching band and in New York City parks.  His pipes include Scottish Cauld-Wind Pipes; Parlour Pipes; and Scottish Highland Three-Drone War Pipes.  (He has renamed the War Pipes the Peace Pipes).  His repertoire includes Scottish and Irish marching tunes and airs with the NYU band, and hymns, Broadway, pop, horas, protest and Mexican songs on his own.  It also features “Merrily Danced the Quaker’s Wife”.  John has performed for many groups, protests and marches, among them the War Resisters League, Gays Against Guns, and Queens St. Patrick’s Day; in NYC hospitals; and in Dominica, Italy and Turkey.  He has also played his bagpipes at Fifteenth Street Meeting, the Fifteenth Street Shelter and Sing Sing Prison with visiting Friends.  When he plays, he enjoys people’s surprise.  He has used his calligraphy to create numerous Quaker wedding certificates.  He has also painted signs for dozens of Friends Meetinghouses in the United States and England and for many businesses.

John is a member of Fifteenth Street Meeting in New York City.  His mother had graduated from Swarthmore and had told him about Quakers.  He began attending Fifteenth Street Meeting in 1956 and joined in 1964.  He doesn’t call himself a Friend because he feels he doesn’t fit Quaker standards.  He is also concerned with Friends wealth, lack of integration and attitudes toward gay and lesbians.  If asked, however, he will respond that he is a member of Fifteenth Street Meeting.  John feels a connection between his Quakerism and art when “the painting, lettering or music makes people feel better, more grateful and positive, get proper directions to a Meetinghouse or celebrate a wedding”.  He was also active in the Free Speech Movement and VISTA.  As well, he was a conscientious objector, performing two years of public service by videotaping student teachers in schools for their self-analysis.  He continues to wash dishes at the Catholic Worker St. Joseph House.

I remember once being upset about something at Fifteenth Street Meeting and running into John in nearby Union Square.  He was playing his bagpipes.  He tootled and clowned and didn’t ask me what was wrong.  Cheered me up completely!

For a video of John (in platinum wig) playing “Santa Baby” at Fifteenth Street Meeting go to:

July 2016

Blair Seitz

A friend has encouraged me to become more active on Facebook.  One of the pages I discovered recently was the Fellowship of Quaker Artists.  On it I found the photos of Blair Seitz.

PA landscapes, Farm Contours, Mixed Cropping, Berks County, Pennsylvania Aerial Photograph Pennsylvania

Blair Seitz is a photographer of wide-ranging subjects: war, nature, poverty.  He has been a photojournalist, working for the United Nations and Camera Press and traveling world-wide, especially in Asia and Africa.  His photos have been included in 21 books (Pennsylvania’s Tapestry: Scenes from the Air; Pennsylvania’s Natural Beauty; Amish Ways; etc., and the series Pennsylvania’s Natural and Cultural Heritage).  The volumes were published in part by RB Books, a company established by Seitz and his wife.  As well, many magazines have featured his photos (Time, Newsweek, National Geographic Traveler, The Guardian, etc.)  His stock file contains over 60,000 photographs.  He was awarded a fellowship grant from the Pennsylvania Council of Arts and a silver medal in New York’s International Film and Television Festival.  His photos have also been exhibited at the World Exhibition of Photography and New York’s Museum of Natural History.

Seitz is a member of Reading (PA) Meeting.  He was raised a Mennonite, with a concern for simplicity and service.  During his overseas travels he encountered Quakers, and back in the United States he began attending Friends Meeting in Harrisburg.  His Friendly activities center around inequality, climate change and mass incarceration.  Meditation also remains a focus.  He has conducted workshops and been a resident student at Pendle Hill.

Seitz’s photographs are gorgeous, many appearing as if they had been painted in primary colors.  They reflect his concern for the beauty of the human spirit and of nature, even in his pictures of war and slums.  They also mirror his commitment to simplicity, his photos rarely being digitally manipulated.  A richly gifted artist.

June 2016

Sally Campbell

Sally Campbell (b. 1941) is a songwriter, singer and musician.  She was unable to Sally_Campbellsing or play an instrument when she began writing songs.  With the help of teachers, however, she learned to sing on-key and play the autoharp.  Gifts Songs and Blessings, her CD, is a collection of songs recorded at a concert for her 70th birthday.  She also works closely with the Peoples’ Voice Café, an alternative coffeehouse.  A former children’s librarian at the Library of the Blind, part of the New York Public Library, she is now a “de-cluttering consultant” helping people to clean and organize their livingspaces.  She is also a peace, disabilities and environmental activist and was president of her library’s union.

Sally is a member of Morningside (NY) Meeting.  She became a Friend as an adult, coming out of a Congregationalist background.  She started writing songs at Friends General Conference Gathering in 1982, and many of her songs have been inspired during Meetings for Worship.  Her first song, for example, was “Hug a Friend”, and another, “Give Us This Day a Gentle Song” was written when a couple brought their baby to Morningside Meeting.  She has co-led songwriting workshops at FGC Gathering and performed at First Day Schools, too.

I was delighted with Sally’s Gift Songs and Blessings.  Reminiscent of Malvina Reynolds, her songs are short and pithy, often funny, always warm.  She calls herself a “song-catcher”.  This reflects her gentle and light spirit perfectly.  (She is a dear friend of mine).

(Gift Songs and Blessings is available for free by emailing Sally at  An interview with Sally, during which she shares some of her songs can be heard at  She will also be offering a concert for her 75th birthday on November 19 at 8 PM at the Peoples’ Voice Café, 40 E. 35th St. in New York City.  Admission is by donation of $20 or whatever one can afford; no one will be turned away).

May 2016

Path to War

Norman Morrison burned himself to death at the Pentagon on November 2, 1965, qa15-rin protest of the Vietnam War.  He was a member of Stony Run (BYM) Meeting.

Path to War (2002), an HBO film, recounts the story of President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War.  Scenes depicting the debates between the hawks and doves of his administration, set in the White House and elsewhere, form the core of the movie.  The cast includes Michael Gambon as Johnson; Alec Baldwin as Secretary of Defense McNamara; Donald Sutherland as presidential advisor Clark Clifford; and Victor Slezak as Morrison.  Daniel Giat wrote the script, and John Frankenheimer directed.

Morrison is a thread in the movie, appearing in four scenes, placed several months apart.  He is shown, horrifically, setting himself on fire across from McNamara’s office as McNamara watches.  At a White House meeting, blow-ups of the North Vietnamese stamp commemorating Morrison are passed around, and Johnson sneers at Morrison’s act.  In his office McNamara gazes out the window at the spot where Morrison died and murmurs “Incredible….”  The Committee for Non-Violent Action holds a silent vigil at the site on the anniversary of the burning.

Path to War repeats the lie that President Johnson didn’t want to become involved in the Vietnam War.  (This is the so-called “quagmire myth”).  In truth, he reversed President Kennedy’s intention to withdraw from the war and widened it catastrophically.  As well, Norman Morrison’s act seems to have been portrayed inaccurately.  He is shown holding Emily, his baby, as he prepares to burn himself, though it appears that he had actually set her down some distance away.  McNamara is shown watching Morrison from his office, though it seems he did not.  The cast is remarkable, however, especially Gambon as Johnson.  The production values –the budget was $17 million –are superior

We still live with the legacy of the Vietnam War.  The permanent war in the Middle East, lately rebranded as the war against ISIS, is based on the lessons learned by the Pentagon about how to fight a war that Americans will tolerate.  (These are use of a volunteer army, air bombing, and drones; shaping the reports of the media; keeping American losses down; etc.)  Like Johnson, McNamara, Clifford and the rest, we have become insulated from the horror we inflict.  Morrison’s act was wrong –we must live and struggle –but he was not insulated.

 (Stamp honoring Norman Morrison issued by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam above).

April 2016

Ann Docwra

Ann Docwra (1624-1710) was a member of the Suffolk gentry.  She converted to plaque49Quakerism about 1664 and went on to become a leading Cambridge Friend.  Known for her fiery temperament, she often angered both Quakers and non-Quakers.  She was close to many early Friends leaders, however, like George Fox Thomas Ellwood and George Whitehead.  She left her estate to Friends in a 1000 year lease and donated toward a Meetinghouse and cemetery.  Jesus Lane Meetinghouse in Cambridge (BrYM) now rests on the site.  It has an Ann Docwra room.

Docwra published a series of pamphlets in defense of Friends.  Encouraged by her father to study his lawbooks, she responded to attacks against Quakers on a legal basis.  (She called herself a “She-Lawyer”).  She engaged in a vitriolic pamphlet war with Francis Bugg, the chief antagonist to Friends and her alleged nephew.  As well, a special concern for her in her writing was women’s full participation in Meeting.  She wrote about the Inner Light, separation of church and state, and religious tolerance, too.  Her works included An Apostate Conscience….; An Epistle of Love….; A Looking-Glass….; Spiritual Community….; and A Brief Discovery….

Docwra also composed a poem, “The Mystery of Profession great”.  Her verse explored the conflict between stating one is religious and actually living such a life.  The opening stanza:

The Mystery of Profession great,/And Lifeless Forms I here repeat,/That all may see, that want of Light/Makes men like Bats and Birds of Night.

March 2016