A few modest suggestions

Richard J. Foster delivered a talk twenty-five years ago at the Barclay Press Partners in Publishing Dinner. In that talk, Richard noted “a lot of shifting going on in the industry” – four Christian publishing houses were sold that year, one was seeking a buy out, one was on the auction block, and two more had gone out of business. Richard commended Barclay Press for surviving and offered “a few modest suggestions . . . in the days ahead.”

  1. That we would maintain our distinctive Quaker identity while communicating more and more effectively “with the broader Christian family and society at large.”
  2. That we “will always be publishers of truth.”
  3. That we might seek after “the crisp, the clear, and the imaginative.”

What nobody seemed to know at the time was that the world of publishing was going to keep shifting. In fact, it’s still shifting. Every year, there are more staff cuts, name changes, buyouts, selloffs, and shutdowns. And here at Barclay Press, we’re still surviving. One of the reasons we’ve made it this far is that advice Richard offered back in 1992 – it was really good advice.

First, “the central insights of Quaker life and faith are – of all the groups – the most transferable into other cultural and faith contexts,” Richard said. “This is due to the expressly spiritual nature of Quaker convictions. . . . Another advantage is simply that Quakers are perceived in a positive light in the general culture. This impression may not be all that well deserved, but we can certainly make use of it.”

Second, Richard claimed that “Quakers called themselves ‘publishers of truth’ precisely because they refused to pander.” Successful publishers know that the best way to sell a book is to make it “fit the fears of the people. In religious circles it is especially helpful to tap into some conspiracy theory.” But Quakers should not be “peddlers of gossip.”

Third, “We need to love words, to love their sound, to love their meaning, to love their history, to love their rhythm. We need to abhor the cheap sentence that prostitutes words for the purpose of propaganda. We need to be willing to hurt, to cry, to sweat, in order to capture the great image.”

I share Richard’s words because I think they hold true, not just for Barclay Press, but for each of our faith communities. To make a difference in the world, we must be able to communicate more effectively with society at large. We must tell the truth. And we must choose our words with care.

Eric Muhr

P.S. As the end of 2018 approaches, you’ll be receiving reminders from all kinds of non-profits who need your financial support in order to continue doing the work to which they’ve been called. The same is true for us at Barclay Press, so I hope you’ll keep us in mind. If you aren’t able to send a check or give a donation online, send your words of wisdom – I can always use a little bit of solid advice – and please remember to pray for us.

A Long Road

In late July 2016, we released Face to Face: Early Quaker Encounters with the Bible, the first volume in T. Vail Palmer, Jr.’s masterwork on Friends theology. In that first book, Palmer noted that “the earliest Friends constantly quoted the Bible, and it is clear that their pioneering positions on matters such as war, women’s ministry, and justice derive from their understanding of the Bible.”

Last week, we sent Palmer’s long-awaited second volume to press, and we expect to have copies ready to ship on or before January 2. In that second book, A Long Road: How Quakers Made Sense of God and the Bible, Palmer picks up where he left off in Face to Face.

“By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the effort to keep outside influences from impacting Quaker spirituality was clearly failing. Many Friends were impressed by the Enlightenment emphasis on reason in religion and commitment to religious and political freedom. Many others were caught up in Evangelical enthusiasm and commitment to social justice.

“The result was a series of separations and divisions – Quakers disagreed about the nature of God, the atonement, and the function of scripture.

“A long, rocky, even muddy road.

“This is not the first time the story has been told. We find in the contemporary splits of one yearly meeting after another, the underlying issues are the same as they have always been. After all, the story of Quakerism is a story of divisions. It is also a story of creativity. And of hope.”

Eric Muhr

On bacteria

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Cleta Crisman has edited a reflection from Arthur Roberts, first written and shared with pastors in Northwest Yearly Meeting in June 2003. At the time, Arthur’s wife, Fern, was struggling with an outbreak of “a particularly vicious variety of Clostridium bacteria.... A routine application of antibiotics in dental surgery” had compromised Fern’s guardian bacteria, and this “monster” was wreaking havoc on her body. 

Arthur writes that “maybe there’s a parable here: We live in an environment not only inhabited by good and bad bacteria in the gut, but also good and bad influences, persons, ideas, and spirits.” I might add that there are also systems, attitudes, perceptions. There is also our response.

A friend of mine frequently asks, “When you’re under stress, what is your default?” And how might we overcome such defaults (this bad bacteria in our guts)?

Arthur admits that he’s not sure exactly “what powerful combination of truth and love enables you to fend off the ‘destroyer.’” He’s too tired from battling these lions “that prey upon a loved one ... but love makes it not only bearable but spiritually fulfilling. In bearing one another’s burdens – whether burdens of the body, mind, or spirit – we fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Cleta offers a prayer suggestion at the end of Arthur’s reflection: “Lord, show me how to do my part to stay strong against any form of evil that would try to trip me up. Thank you for your constant and loving protection!”

Eric Muhr