Recently a Quaker friend challenged us to consider what our foundational stories are, how they began, how they changed over time, and what they are now. I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about my foundational stories, which are related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography.
Earlier I wrote Foundational Stories: Quaker Faith. I said we express our faith by telling stories about our faith-based decisions and actions. To continue telling my foundational stories related to faith, I’m led to share some of my Spirit-led stories.
In the last post I wrote about my first spiritual challenge-how I came to be a draft resister at the time of the Vietnam War. I have become aware that many people today have almost no real conception of war, unless someone they love is in the armed forces. Something that happened fifty years ago is relegated to the history books.
Photography is one of the three pieces of my foundational stories. I’ve taken the photos I share in my blog posts, including these from the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC.
I have so many photos from Washington, DC, because of my years on the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s General Committee, which held annual meetings every November. Agreeing to be on the General Committee was another spirit-led decision. I was concerned about agreeing to do that because of the travel involved. I refused to have a car for environmental reasons (also spirit-led). So I took 22 hour train trips from Indianapolis to Washington for those meetings. Again I had many rich experiences and got to know Friends from all over the country. Today I attend the weekly Zoom worship sharing meeting, FCNL’s Witness Wednesday Silent Reflection. Your are welcome to join every Wednesday at 4:15 Central times. fcnl.org/ww-stream
In the previous post about Quaker Faith I wrote about my struggles at that time that led me to be a draft resister. That was such a huge issue that there were many stories within the stories about the war.
Yesterday I wrote in detail about some of my experiences related to the war in Vietnam. I was a student at Scattergood Friends School and really struggled with my leading to resist the draft.
My first experience in organizing occurred at this time, when I helped organize a draft conference at Scattergood. This was held on one of the national days of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.
During another of the National Moratorium days to end the war in Vietnam in 1969, Bob Berquist, our Scattergood government teacher, suggested we go to the nearby town of West Branch and talk with people there about the war. (Scattergood is located on a farm.) He drove three of us into town, stopped at a random house, and stayed in the car while we went up to the door. I still remember how scared I was. But it was a real education to find how unpopular the war was at every house we visited. People seemed to appreciate the chance to share their feelings. Although I was very uncomfortable with the idea, because of my strong spiritual feelings against war, I felt I should do this. And as with every other time I followed those leadings, I benefited in many ways. They were/are always growing experiences.
After Scattergood I attended Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, Indiana. I had gone to the college in 1968, while a student at Scattergood, for a conference of Quakers from across the nation who gathered to write what became the Declaration on the Draft and Conscription: Richmond 1968.
There was a small group of Quaker students, Young Friends, which were an important part of my spiritual life at Earlham. Although I left Earlham after one year, I returned at the time I was preparing to turn in my draft cards. We held the meeting for worship described here.
4:00 pm. Went to Meeting for worship. Jan Cole, Al Ingles, Dav Nagle, Marggie Schutz, Margaret and Lewis Taylor, Becky Gibson, Jim Bay, Ruby, and several others attended.
Al had read my letter to the draft board and my statement on the draft earlier, and asked if I would let him read it during Meeting. I told him that would be alright, so he did.
Al spoke of support and the future and how God spoke through me. I would hope that would be true but felt unworthy.
Margaret Taylor spoke of Iowa Friends who had always spoken against war and done what they felt right. She spoke of her support for me.
Becky Gibson spoke, very movingly, about finding who you are, and how important it is to do what is right.
Then Dav spoke, also very movingly. He is certainly an able minister—one of the people I love and respect very much. He seems always to be close to the center. He said severing ties with Selective Service is a major decision—but ALL decisions are major when they deal with principle and the Spirit. All, each of our decisions must be integral. “Severing ties with Selective Service is not an isolated act in this life of Jeff’s.”
After a good while I felt moved to speak. When confronted with a decision, we are told to do God‘s will. But God’s will is so difficult to discern among many influences—people, law, self (selfishness and pride). Realizing this, Thomas A’ Beckett said, “I am loathsome.” This was how I felt at times. But after he said that, he heard what he believed to be the voice of God saying “Nevertheless, I love.
I felt very uncomfortable having a student deferment from the draft. And as can be seen from this letter to my parents, I continued to work through what I was going to do about the war.
You want me to be practical; not so idealistic. But what you might see as idealistic, I see not only as practical, but necessary in order to be true to my code of life. And if you forsake your principles and all that you believe in, what do you have left?
The most difficult part of this decision has been that I would hurt you. But how far should a man go trying to protect those that he loves, at the same time denying the principles that give his life meaning?Letter to my parents from Earlham College
I previous wrote about the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM) that was related to my Vietnam War decisions and actions. One of the significant consequences of my participation in VSM were the friendships I made with the kids in the neighborhood as I described in that post about VSM.
As I found over and over again as I worked in various community organizing situations, the most important thing is to build friendships. When I was about to leave VSM in Indianapolis and return to Iowa, the neighborhood kids made a meal of spaghetti, baked a chocolate cake, and gave me a record album of Jim Croce they knew I liked.
In Iowa I took classes at the community college, including photography (one area of my foundational stories), But I missed the kids in Indianapolis so much that I decided to return there. The family of several of those kids invited me to live with them while I looked for a job and a place to live. There wasn’t a significant difference in our ages, although at that age a difference of a year or two seemed big. I was about 21 and they were around 14 years old.
When I was first in Indianapolis, I received on-the-job training as a respiratory therapy technician. On my return to Indianapolis I got a job in the respiratory therapy department of Indiana University Medical Center.
At the Medical Center I worked with women on the labor and delivery ward. I was at times present for the miracle of birth.
Many of the women referred to the Medical Center had high risk pregnancies. Respiratory therapists from Riley Hospital for Children, which was part of the Medical Center, would come to help stabilize infants who had various conditions that needed to be taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Riley.
It was definitely spirit-led that when I saw the skills those respiratory therapists had, I wanted to be trained to do that. I was able to transfer to the respiratory therapy department at the Childrens Hospital. After an introduction to respiratory care for general pediatric patients I was eventually trained to work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). At one time I was the respiratory therapy supervisor for the NICU.
I hadn’t decided what I would study at college. The Medical Center had a degree program for Respiratory Therapy. Much as I loved my work, I hadn’t thought of applying to the Respiratory Therapy program. For one thing there were usually about two hundred applicants for each class of fifteen.
But on the day the applicants were being interviewed, the Clinical Instructor of the program came and pulled me off my patient assignments and took me to be interviewed. He was familiar with my work and wanted me to be in the class. I was selected to enter the program. These spirit-led steps resulted in me getting a degree in Respiratory Therapy and this became my career for my entire working life.
This is enough for today. I can tell it is going to take several more blog posts to tell more of my faith-based stories.
Post Script: I feel blessed to have been led to keep a Journal for a few years. I began that during the time I was struggling with the draft decision. This is a link to some of those Journal entries: