I was sitting in Meeting this past Sunday and was holding my own children in the light as well as my friends kids and two thoughts simultaneously popped into my head:
I sat, centered down and asked for guidance. Here is what came.
I'd read this story about quantum physics. This thing about quantum physics that a photon can somehow be two places at once. Something about parallel universes being created. That seemed kind of unbelievable to me, but the more I think about it the more it seems possible. There are many things that happen at the same time and make no sense. I love my cat, but she drives me nuts. It's gonna take a shrink to figure that one out, but I digress.
When I look at my 20 year old daughter I can't help but see her 2 year old self. In fact, there were many times when I was really upset with her that that 2 year old self of hers kept her love alive in my heart. Even when I see her now, I know that two year old is still in there. Every once and a while it sneaks out and plays with Papa.
And this is what is at the heart of these two passages. We don't change. I mean, yes, we grow up and have to do grown up stuff like doing the dishes, paying the bills, stacking wood, opening the mail, shoveling snow and 100 other really boring things, but inside there is the 2 year old.
I saw it when I saw my daughter. Her kid self has the ability to pop out. I'm 30 years older than she is and it is harder for me to connect with my kid self -- but I know its still in there.
The verse from 1 Corinthians doesn't say we should abandon entirely childish things. in fact, I'd argue that the world would be a much better place if we stayed in touch with some of the qualities that make us more human. How would the quality of your life and the world change if we were more connected to:
Phoenix and I are visiting Wandsworth Meeting in London. As we spent time with Michael Mears, the creator of This Evil Thing, the one man play about conscientious objection during WWI he brought to Old Chatham, we discussed the many ways of being FOR peace.
This particular quote from our conversations -- "Not everybody will sit in the road holding a Quaker Meeting while Arms Dealers meet in a convention center." -- speaks to me. There are lots of ways to be for peace and no one knows exactly which way will inspire another to "take off their sword."
The raising of human consciousness starts with sharing. Sharing our deeply held leadings. Sharing our experience. Allowing ourselves to be moved by the light of God in others and the frailty and vulnerability of ourselves. In sharing our weakness it becomes a strength.
I was invited to share my peace witness with the Wandsworth Meeting in a meeting for learning afterwards and as is often the case with me I never know quite what to share. I wonder if it is the "right thing to share" or if the part of my Quaker journey is the the "most moving" or "most compelling." I've always tried to not prepare, but rather be led by spirit in these matters. And after my talk David Amos, a member, stood, held his hands together and spoke so humbly. He said "you moved me" and began to cry.
It was a moment of clarity for me. I'd always known that the peace action I'd taken was the right thing for me do do, but I'd often wondered about what effect my peace witness might have on others. Would it shed light on peace? Would it inspire?
The work of peace is must never be considered done. It is an ever expanding piece of art and exploration. A verb that weaves and moves with the times. What speaks to one generation may not speak to another. To keep vigilance with peace work is to remain engaged with it. A static peace witness is a dead peace witness. A cold and soulless event that has moved from a verb to a noun.
He/she had a "peace witness." It was active. It was alive. And then it became a thing.
Queries on peace and the many ways of being Quakerly
The images below are from a note from Hank, an American from Illinois, who lives now as an expat in the UK and is a member of the Wandsworth Meeting.
He shared his own war tax resistance story with me and even at the age of 80 was still working through his experience; what his witness was like for him. I sent him one of my stories from when I was jailed.
His note illustrates perfectly how sharing our own light can be so helpful to others who might need to hear the experience of others.
"Winston was beginning to wonder if the state could declare if 2 + 2 = 5"
In the time we are living in it is getting harder and harder to know anything anymore. In some ways it feels like there are two separate worlds people occupy. In each world there is that which is true, but it is not the complete truth. Parsing these half truths and figuring out what is real is becoming a full time job.
And yet, I press on. For me getting to the bottom of things and understanding the whole truth is not just important, but it actually lends cohesiveness and continuity to life. It ends the cognitive dissonance.
But how do we know what we know? How can I be sure that what I know in my bones is not merely an artifact of what I want to see?
I can look at my hand and drawing on my senses and my direct experience of "handedness" I can definitively say "this is a hand" THIS IS MY HAND! Now it is possible that I am having a hallucination and through some fluke of biology my "knowing" is only a collection of neurons firing in my visual cortex such that I see "hand" and think I know "hand" but all things being equal this is mostly how we know what we know.
Our direct experience is something we have come to know and trust.
There is also a priori knowledge which is based on logic and reason (such as a mathematical equation) in which the knowing is the proof itself. 2 + 2 = 4.
And finally we come to consensus reality where the group decides what is real. For a long time many millions believed the world was flat (that ones making a comeback) and there were dragons at the end of the world. We can find many examples of this in today's politics. (I hear the words fake and hoax frequently these days)
I find no particular comfort in the a priori and consensus "realities." I might think differently if I were a mathematician or a physicist, but let's face it Schrodinger's cat was both dead and alive and Eisenberg's electrons can be anywhere at anytime.
So were does that leave us in terms of how we operate in life? In terms of ethics, truth, and actions?
I have no answers, but I do have some queries that might point to a direction:
"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:
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