"Individuals can denounce and resist a way of life; Only a community can live a way of life into being and then bequeath it to succeeding generations."
-Jim Corbett, Sanctuary for All Life
The marketplace has sent many ideas to the boneyard. We don't drive around Ford Pintos anymore because they blew up when rear-ended. Through both legal means (thank you Ralph Nader) and a lack of public acceptance the Pinto is no longer on the road.
But not all bad ideas make it to the bone yard. We still have xenophobia and racism alive and well in our politics today with entire political parties defending its right to exist. We fought a world war over Nazi's thinking they could exterminate an entire class of people just because of religious and ethnic affiliation and now, 70 years later, we have witnessed the resurgence of the Alt Right.
The question we need to ask ourselves is why?
Why does the Pinto die and racism and xenophobia survive? If we start with the preposition that ideas serve a purpose and play an important role in society then we must (whether we like it or not) accept the fact that people are getting some value out of racism and xenophobia.
Now don't misunderstand ... I am no advocate of these bad ideas ... but to understand this issue and build a more inclusive and equitable society we must provide that same unmet need with a better and more functional idea. The square wheel works, but boy oh boy the round wheel is so much better!!
So what is our round wheel?
What can Quakers offer the world that takes the place of tribalism and circling the wagons?
In this particular question, I think, we Quakers have much to offer. Some very good round wheels!
Queries about bad ideas:
I sat for two days in the forest in Phoenicia, NY with my partner, Phoenix. In that period of time we discussed many things; including how peace might actually be brought about on earth.
As I meditated on our conversations, I first considered the mythologies of peace we have all read. They are not really peace myths but destruction myths. Namely, a great apocalypse will descend upon the earth and there will be death, famine and suffering followed by Jesus coming out of the clouds with a host of angels to bring a reign of a 1000 years of peace where the streets will be paved with gold. Such was the vision of John The Baptist in the book of Revelation.
Much of the world seems to have bought into this myth and part of the myth is that we are waiting for a savior rather than realizing that the cavalry is not coming. Who we are waiting for … IS US!
The most destructive part of this myth might actually be the displacement of responsibility for peace to a savior rather than ourselves.
This so called peace myth we have unconsciously adopted continues to play out with the exception that the names and the players have changed. The US and Allied forces vanquish the Nazi’s and the Japanese and Europe and Asia have peace. The US and the Coalition of the “Willing” vanquish the radical islamic terrorists and after a long war we have peace.
But do we actually get peace? Is a destruction myth following by an occupation equal to peace? Wouldn’t peace, at minimum, require cooperation, integration and buy-in by the defeated?
We might need a new mythology and a new model for peace.
Clearly, the current model is a failure. It has exhausted its usefulness in terms of the goal it aims to achieve. We may have destroyed the Third Reich but we have not vanquished Nazi ideology. They are on the march in Europe and even in the streets of the US. Many more people who don’t outrightly identify as Nazi’s espouse an “ethic” that is hostile to other people who don’t look the same, pray the same and speak the same.
One thing that has occurred with our current mythology of peace (what I will now rename the destroy and occupy myth) is that the purveyors of the methods of destruction (Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Bechtel, the Carlyle Group Raytheon, and others) are getting fabulously rich and their wealth is coming directly out of the pockets of taxpayers at the expense of important social programs like health, education, and the general welfare.
These two things are incompatible. You can’t want one and have the other.
Which brings me to the need for a new Peace Myth. A myth based on integration and wholeness.
What if the new peace myth presupposes that peace is not missing. What if peace is already present, ready at hand, and available … but merely needs to be initiated and activated? The notion that peace is here now is a bit like food being fully available and ready … but in the form of a seed. It merely needs to be nurtured.
There is no shortage of food. There is no shortage of peace.
What there is a shortage of are rituals and practices that activate what is already there. The ritual creates the space for something to come into being. If we go back to the seed — can a seed grow in a garden that is overgrown with weeds? Or in soil that is depleted of nutrients? We can certainly plant that seed, but what chance will it have if it can’t get sun or the space to spread its roots and grow? The potential is there. The possibility of the plant growing and fruiting is there, but without the space (the ritual of cultivation: weeding, watering, mulching and fertilizing) the activation of that plants potential lies dormant.
A new peace myth might look a lot less like Jesus coming out of the sky with angels and more like creating peace rituals right here on Earth.
Queries on peace rituals:
— What might a peace ritual look like?
— How often might peace rituals take place?
— Are peace rituals individual or group rituals? Or both?
— What might a peace ritual look like? What and who would it include?
— How can we come from peace?
— What is the starting point for peace?
— Could the rigorous sharing of ideas and finding common ground be a useful ritual?
— How can we ritualize the idea from Thich Nhat Hanh that “There is no way to peace, peace is the way?"
Wait what? Okay, now that I've gotten your attention let me rephrase. Truing yourself up to the internal compass of integrity can be really hard.
I once took a seminar on integrity and the author of the seminar told us about something called "integrity baseline syndrome." It's a thing where a person knows what to do, knows they should do it, knows when it needs to be done, knows they should communicate if they can't do it -- and then simply doesn't do it and makes others wrong if they are even asked about it. And here is the kicker, once you let your integrity drop out once it gets easier every time thereafter.
Integrity can be really hard because if you've had a reason to true yourself up to that internal guidepost you know it can create some very challenging situations such as:
So why does integrity suck? Well for one thing staying true to that internal compass is hard enough, but knowing the way and then not going the way is even harder. It is hard because on some level we understand the fraud we are perpetrating on ourselves by keeping quiet and because no one likes to look bad, be vulnerable or cry in public --- grappling with one's internal compass almost never gets shared. The burden of the fraud just stays there like a dark cloud.
But wait, you say, isn't it just easier to go along and get along? Sure, for a while, but that cross gets heavier and heavier as time goes on. I am convinced that much of the mental illness in the world today is the direct result of the cognitive dissonance people carry with them. Eventually that mental two step gradually seeps into our outward expression. First it is lies, then cover up, and then who knows what. It starts the moment we ignore the little voice in us. It is almost as if we begin leading a kind of schizophrenic life with one part of us knowing what direction the internal compass would have us move in and the other part marching with the masses.
Imagine for a moment if George Fox, hearing a message, decided to just ignore it. What do you think would have become of him?
Here's the thing. There is no convenient time to take the right action, say 'no' to something wrong, or say 'yes' to something right. There will be consequences one way or the other. The only question that really matters is this one:
Queries on following the internal compass:
"You never know what direction the wind blows from or where it blows to."
~ Theo Erik
My friend and spiritual mentor, Theo, shared this with me 30 years ago. He was making an analogy between the wind and the movement of spirit. I have been considering his words for the last three decades and here is what has become clear to me.
It would be nice to have certainty about life, but we don't have a birds eye view of life. We can't survey the situation of life from high above. We very often don't have all the information we need to make sense of things when they happen. Sometimes it can take time (and often quite a long time) to put things into perspective. What first appears as chaos may, in hindsight, actually be order.
Consider for a moment a giant thing of chaos like a tornado or a hurricane. Yes, it tears through everything in its path and causes havoc, but it also follows the laws of nature. In the chaos, there is also order. We don't fully understand it and with time we might. It was not that long ago that Newton sat under the apple tree. Before Newton the three laws of motion were as opaque to us as hurricanes and tornados are today. We can predict them a little better, but even with the best computer modeling we don't know exactly where they will go, how much rain they'll drop, or which town they'll rip through.
When something happens we don't understand (for good or ill) it seems to come like a bolt out of the blue. We are often taken by surprise, but what if the context in which we hold these events was not chaos, but the natural order of spirit working in our lives? And yes, the analogy with a hurricane or a tornado is apropos. Spirit is a disruptive influence on the workings of the world. Like a hurricane it is an influence that is an order of magnitude higher. I suspect the reason is that so many of us are tone deaf to that "small and persistent voice."
However, what if like Newton, we are able to sit and perceive the inner workings of the universe?
What would it be like if our relationship to spirit were like that? To be attuned, awake, aware, conscious and looking for which way the wind blows?
Here are my queries on the working of spirit:
Below is a brief essay contest. The submissions are due by Sunday, September 8th, 2019.
The prize is $10.00 to be donated in your name to your favorite charity.
As ethical concerns should be of interest to all Quakers, here follows a description of the essay request:
On Sunday, August 18, 2019, our Meeting faced a moral dilemma. In 500 words or less, propose a better solution than that which was experienced.
The situation involved the Meeting being held outdoors, on the lawn, with no shade. Chairs were arranged in a circle. At times it was overcast. At other times it was more sunny and it was always very hot. Perhaps a third of the way or so into the Meeting one woman went to her car and came back with four umbrellas. She took one herself and gave another to her partner.
She then put the other two flat on the ground in the center of the circle.
Finally, after several minutes, someone picked up one of the other two umbrellas laying on the ground and gave it to the most senior member of the circle of about 26 people, which included a wide variety of ages, down to a very young infant.
Here's the moral dilemma. For perhaps the final half hour, the last umbrella remained on the ground in the center of the circle when it clearly could have brought welcome shade to any of the members of the circle. If such inaction by Meeting members was not the best approach in this situation, what would have been better? Was the constraint of silence an inhibiter to a better response to the situation? Is caring for the well being of all a drawback sufficient to prevent caring for any one in this case?
I look forward to your written responses.
Post your comments below.
Someone posed a concern in meeting on Sunday about "racial violence" and "what drives people to commit acts of racial violence?"
I studied biology in college and earned a bachelors of science in biology. In one microbiology class the professor talked about germ lines. Cells that are the progenitors of long lines of cells. Maybe you've heard of one very famous stolen line of cells from a woman named Henrietta Lacks. Cells taken from her in the 1950's are still in use today in labs, decades later, studied for cancer research. Her cancer cells just keep reproducing.
We have a germ line in the US no one seriously wants to talk about. Lincoln was shot in the head over it, Johnson normalized terrorism in the south after reconstruction because of it, Nixon used dog whistle politics to win an election over it, and Daniel Patrick Moynehan called it "the Negro problem" in his white paper on poverty in the black community. Today we have a president that has stirred up fear in many and used it overtly for political gain over it.
What is it? You guessed right. Racism.
This nasty undercurrent in our national affairs is not new. We've just never dealt with it. It is our uniquely national disease that will need, like a festered wound, to be opened, treated, and dealt with until it heals. For now it just festers and might threaten our very existence.
In biology, to deal with infection or cancer you can't just kill it. Invariably, in the absence of a strong immune system an infection or cancer will return. A toxic ideology must be treated like an infection or cancer. Yes, it must be treated and stamped out, but it also has to be replaced with a new way of thinking, a better mental construct, an internal compass that steers us away from the germ line of a toxic idea.
I learned recently that there are entire groups that worship the kill ratio of the Las Vegas shooter. They aspire to that kind of thing.
If there was the political will we could run racists out of office, pass gun laws, and round up violent people with guns, but that would just push the whole business underground. For every true racist who will go so far as to kill a person of another race, there are 100 who are secret racists. People who won't say and do overtly racist things, but will tell you about the scum that live in a certain part of town. We need to do more. We need to engage in the kind of national dialog (one that Obama avoided) that will ask the hard questions, open the wounds, and let the festering pus out. Something akin to a National Truth & Reconciliation Commission. One that might last years. One that would address everything from the Jamestown Colony right up to Nazi's in the streets of Charlottesville, VA.
Why would we take the time to convene a truth & reconciliation commission? For the same reasons we held a Constitutional Convention. To form a more perfect union.
The great promises of our constitution: equal under the law ... and ... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are just hollow words if they are not attached to an experience by the majority of Americans that we actually are equal ... and ... we do have a fair shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we don't do this we risk becoming a caricature of democracy. Our fake president will then preside over a fake Bill of Rights and a fake constitution. The great promise of America will be not only go unrealized, but if we don't deal with our past and act soon we will, eventually, witness our own demise.
Liberty is a fragile experiment.
Fear and ignorance are driving all this hate and it has to be brought out in the open where the fear, suspicion, anger, and hurt can be dealt with.
Queries I continue to consider about racism, white power, white privilege and white supremacy are:
is A friend of mine who lives in Italy was traveling in Siena recently and posted a fresco to her Facebook page of the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit from a church. As I gazed upon this photo I realized that, like the disciples, the love of God is all around us and is visible in each other when we look for it.
Curiously, the disciples could not see the flame of the Holy Spirit in themselves but could witness it in their fellow disciples. Maybe not so curious. Perhaps the message here is that in order to find God in ourselves we must seek it (and see it) in others.
And even if we don't initially have this view of life, it is possible to generate it. The gathered meeting is one way to shift worry, fear, stress, and anxiety by just being open to something larger than oneself. There is no formula for this, but one way I have found that works for me is to just imagine the flame of the Holy Spirit descending on each person in the meeting. I also recall some good thing about that person and if I don't know them I can simply imagine that they are loved by someone whether they are a mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter.
Besides humans, we also see the creative force of love at work in every biologic process. Just consider a garden. It gives joyfully of itself for no reason. Even those things which seem destructive, like the death of living things, we see the creative force of decomposition to feed the next phase of life. Compost is the creative force of microbes even though to our eye it looks like death and decomposition.
And so the contextual shift available to us to is recalibrate our view of life to ALL IS WELL. Life is working just as it was designed to.
The queries I am contemplating today are:
This Father's Day in Meeting, I began to reflect on the arc of influence a father has. I considered my grandfathers, my own father, and then my experience as a father.
The one thing that stood out so strongly for me when considering all the fathers in my family was work ethic. Working and providing was a big theme. My father's father worked in the Bronx as a milkman for Sealtest. He delivered milk to three and four-story walkups without elevators. At one point in his career, he drove a team of horses while delivering milk. He worked hard for most of his life; and to him, a job was a way to support his family. The day he turned 64-- he quit, received his pension and social security, and never worked again. I only knew my grandfather as a retired man.
My own father grew up in a time when the notion of work became aligned with self-realization and doing what you love. My father was a professional man. He used the GI bill to go to college and become a chiropractor. Achieving the American Dream was important to him. He worked up until the day he died at age 84. To him, work and life were synonymous. I always understood my father as a doctor and healer -- it permeated his every waking hour.
For myself, I definitely got the work ethic. I like to work and see the value of work, but working (as my grandfather did) to survive, or working as my father did (to achieve the American Dream) has very little interest for me. I hated working for money. I also did not like working for money to fulfill the intentions of other people or corporations. Work to me has become a spiritual practice. If work does not fulfill on SPICES (spirituality, peace, integrity, community, equality and service), I am likely not to engage in it-- opting instead for living a simpler life. Leading a simpler life is a way to do with less.
Wanting less stuff can allow more space for SPICES.
I'm not sure my father or grandfather would understand this way of thinking. We were all inculcated to think that more, more, more was the way. In my life (and especially in the lives of my children), I have seen that more, more, more is not sustainable. We have to begin to think about our work and our economic life in ways that are sustainable and inclusive of not just humans, but all living beings.
My grandfather and my father both had a Cadillac Eldorado. 1959 and 1972 respectively. I don't aspire to an Eldorado.
The work of fathers now and in the future may be to provide the leadership and inspiration to bring about a different kind of Eldorado -- not the mythical empire of gold the Spanish sought, but one in which do not face our own extinction because we have been blinded by greed and grandiosity.
Some of the queries that came to me are:
Every year in parts of the midwest patches of prairie grass are burned to keep invasive grasses out and nurture the native prairie species. You might be asking yourself what does this have to do with being a Quaker or the deepening of spiritual practices? A good question.
Let me start at the beginning. I attended a conference this past weekend at Powell House led by Brent Bill titled "Bad Quakers." The title is a bit deceiving, because even though we heard stories about bad Quakers we used the practice of the queries to sharpen our focus on the Quaker Testimonies. [what is commonly called SPICES -- Spirituality, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship (sometimes Service is substituted here)]
At the end the event, Brent and I were talking about how he takes care of his prairie land in Indiana and a controlled burn came up. It made some sense to me that we were taking about stewardship of his land, but I didn't really understand why at this moment we were talking about it. And there is a connectedness to all things. One thing I did learn is that prairie grass puts roots down several feet into the earth. Regular grass doesn't.
As we drilled down into the testimonies with the queries, we got closer and closer to the essential elements of each one. For me, it was like setting fire to the prairie. Burning off everything that is not needed and making room for the native species to come up and refresh the landscape. And isn't this the essence of continuing revelation? To be in deep spiritual inquiry -- in the NOW -- and see what arises?
Of course the testimony that speaks loudest to me is peace. As a "man of action" I am always thinking about the doing. What peace action can I take that will forward peace? What is the next thing we can do on our committee? These outward manifestations of peace witness are useful and important, but they are only half the story. Like the prairie grass what you see on the surface is only a small part of what is there. What is going on down below? How deep are the roots?
The inward manifestation of peace is the other part of the peace testimony. It is the source, the lodestone, the well spring, and the inspiration for the outward manifestation. The prep work of dwelling in the silence and arriving at clarity for what the peace work will be is deeply important work. This inward time is what can carry peace work a long way. All too often movements are built on the energy and excitement that arises out of opposition, but they peter out because they are not sourced and powered by the infinite working of peace within ourselves.
Movements burn out and activists suffer from exhaustion because they are not grounded in the deep work of being FOR PEACE.
Queries on the Quaker Testimonies:
"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” ~ James Baldwin
When I saw this quote I thought to myself: "this was me to a tee." If I remove negro from this sentence it was an apt description. From the age of 16 I knew something was amiss. I just couldn't tell what it was. And I got angry and was angry for a long time.
For Baldwin he had to leave the USA to find a place he could call home, he was attacked on the left and the right for being black, gay, a freedom fighter, and outspoken.
And while that direction was right for Baldwin, it is not right for me. If there is one thing I have learned from Quaker meeting it is that you can't run from your thoughts, they follow you wherever you go. For me the transformative power of Quaker Meeting was using the alchemy of silence to change rust into gold. That is changing rage about the way things are through love to create the world we seek.
As we come upon April and consider the world we seek, I ask that members of the meeting consider seven areas that we can share with FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) for our representatives in Washington DC. You can write down seven areas that you feel are important for legislative action and include up to 20 words as a comment on each. Such as:
Dismantling Nuclear Weapons
The world I seek is one where we do not threaten each other with mutually assured destruction, but use that money for constructive purposes such as education and the general uplift of all people.
Rage has it place, but it is only useful for a very narrow thing -- getting into action. If you are angry, offended, and upset by the actions of government that's okay. What are the next steps?
Here's one: Join the Outreach, Peace, and Justice Committee on April 7th at 10 am and share your thoughts.
Some Quaker concerns are:
This blog was set up to post content of interest to Old Chatham Quaker members and attenders. Posts related to one's own personal spiritual journey, reports based on interviews with others, and reflections on Quaker-related topics are welcome. Posts by individuals are personal expressions and do not necessarily reflect those of the Meeting as a whole.
Guidelines for posting on website blog:
Submit to member of Communications committee; committee has editorial oversight over all content posted on the Meeting website.
Be respectful of the nature of vocal ministry given in Meeting for Worship or other settings and any private conversations about spiritual matters.
Cite source of any image or other external content submitted.