Old Chatham Quakers hosted Michael Mears play This Evil Thing in early March.
The title is a reference to conscription in WWI. Bert Brocklesby, the main character in This Evil Thing, is a conscientious objector and faces many deprivations for his deeply held beliefs including the risk of death when shipped to France.
What is so profound about this man is that he chooses conscientious objection at every turn; even when he's told the consequence of his choice might be execution. He refuses to fight. He refuses to march, He refuses to build roads that would be used for war. And he even refuses to peel potatoes because they'll feed the officer corps.
As a conchie (conscientious objector) he accepts all these risks, humiliations and deprivations even when given a choice at every turn to stop objecting and fight.
I was present during the play to the the moment at Golgotha when Christ says "forgive them father for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) I often wondered why the most powerful being in the universe would chose suffering and death instead of smiting his enemies and ushering in a new era?
I can only speculate here, but I imagine suffering for something (vs winning something by force) opens the heart and engages the will.
Brocklesby had choice. He could have killed, but he could not because his heart was opened first to the suffering of Christ and then to his fellow man. The powerful premise of This Evil Thing is the effect of conscience on the mind and body. Once awake you can't go back to sleep.
And this is why conscientious objectors are feared so much. Not because being a CO is an act of defiance, but because it is an act of faith in the higher calling of humanity. Killing and destruction is easy. It is the path of least resistance. It is hardwired into our biology to fight. It takes something to choose a different path. But Brocklesby took the other path and took his lumps to shine a bright light on the possibility of peace.
To read Michael Mears Blog follow this link: https://michaelmears.org/blog/
Today in meeting a member shared about how our American hero's consisted mainly of white guys killing and maiming others and how we need new heroes.
We've ingested this media narrative of violence for a long time and it good to see some new heroes and heroines emerge with films like Wonder Woman and Black Panther.
For the first time we are seeing a hero emerge as a victor that is female in Wonder Woman and black in Black Panther. What is also interesting about these films is that even though there is a considerable amount of violence the wrong-doers bring about their own demise. That is a new twist.
In Wonder Woman, Ares is dispatched when he tries to turn the godkiller weapon against Wonder Woman not realizing that she has this godkiller superpower within her and redirects his thunderbolt back at him taking him out.
In Black Panther, Killmonger is mortally injured in a battle for Wakonda, but refuses to be healed by T'Challa using the vibranium infused herbs.
It seems that our narrative about good and evil and heroes and villains may be flawed. Time for a new narrative. One that includes women and people of color as heroes and heroines too.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light." Genesis 1:1
This passage begins with the void. It is no coincidence that God creates from nothing.
After a workshop this weekend at Powell House, the Quaker Retreat Center in Old Chatham, I came to realize just how filled up I am and how important it is to "make space for Spirit."
The void. The silence. Mindful waiting. Whatever you wish to call it serves a powerful purpose in our lives. In a practical sense it is "pause button" on a very full life, but on a deeper level, it affords a creative opportunity like the one revealed in Genesis.
There is work to be done. It is God's work, but it can be hard to discern it in the cacophony of daily life.
I thought the young woman, Emma Gonzoles, who spoke during The March For Our Lives found the silence to be powerful and galvanizing. It seemed to me that she might have pulled a page from the Quaker playbook.
The six minutes and twenty seconds of silence gave the "pause" needed to let the devastation of gun violence sink in. It also allowed a nation to see and feel the pain that Congress has caused by its legislative inaction on this issue.
The void can be a frightening place; as is any unknown, but embrace it anyway. It is on the edges, in the discomfort, that we grow.
This moment of silence on Saturday has made me very hopeful. Hopeful to see young people grasping ahold of their destiny and also hopeful that in the silence we can find a new creative path.
A member shared a message this past Sunday about taking on the task of finding where the old roads go in her town as a historical project. And from what she shared this is no easy task.
Old roads often had no names, but instead were referred to as "the road from the old widow Farnsworth house to Snyders Dairy Barn. And of course, road building is not a static thing. New roads are paved over old roads and things change. As cars were better engineered they went faster and the roads that served those cars got faster and faster too.
So finding an old road is a bit of an archeology dig.
An old road can be a metaphor for life. These old roads have a special place. They represent where we've been. That could be the potholes that put our front end out of alignment or the washouts that prevented us from moving forward but helped us find a new path. They also certainly had some wonderful views and maybe even were part of a picnic or two along the way.
In one sense, you could say, the old roads are still there. They are still exerting an effect on the present -- they are the foundations of what is going on RIGHT now.
It's good to archive the past, and good to know how we got to where we are now. Better to know than to forget. Good know where to potholes and the washouts are. Good to know how to build a better road and also take the time to enjoy remembering the picnics and make time for some scenic vistas as we notice the speed of life quickening.
An attender at our meeting saw a documentary film on Audrey Lorde recently. She related a moment in the film where a young black man stands up and asks Lourde if the Black Feminist Movement takes away from the larger Black Liberation Movement.
Lorde thinks for a moment and says "since black women are black any empowerment of black women empowers the black liberation movement."
And then in a softer mother-like tone of voice says to the young man "I'm not asking you to agree but [in a softer tone] would you think about it."
In a time of such political divisiveness, it is unlikely that we will all agree. In fact, we may even find ourselves in situations where we are a lone voice and there are no like-minded folks around ... but ... we can be like-hearted.
We can be soft and gentle with one another and reach with our words to the heart from the heart. In this way, we may find common ground
A member shared a message this week about growing up catholic and being taught catechisms in Sunday school. One went like this: grace was likened to a full bottle of milk and an empty bottle was likened to sin.
In certain traditions, especially buddhism, being empty is not considered a sin but a spiritual opening. The image of an empty vessel ready to receive is quintessential. In fact, there is a famous story of a student who seeks wisdom from a buddhist master. The master sits with the student and artfully engages in a sacred tea ceremony by preparing the cups, making the tea and carefully pouring it … until the students cup runs over. The student yells at the master “you are dishonoring the tea ceremony!” to which the master replies “it is hard to fill a cup that is already full.”
The beauty of the silent Quaker meeting is the silence itself. It offers the opportunity to empty out amidst a life that is so full of noise and doing. It is akin to the Taoist koan of “the action of inaction.”
When I heard this message of the empty milk bottles I recalled my childhood. It was completely automatic and a kind of free association. Neurons just began to fire as I went down memory lane. I’d go down to the our neighbors farm, wash my milk can with scalding hot water, dip it in the big stainless steel vat and leave my $1.15 on the farmers desk.
Milk bottles, especially full ones where the cream separated over night on the top, represented pure luxury for me. As a child, I loved nothing more than having all that delicious cream in my Cheerios in the morning. I always made a point of beating my sister downstairs in the morning to get that cream.
The full bottle of milk with the cream was a gift I gave myself. My little reward for going down early in the morning to get the milk before the milk truck got there and hauled it away.
This hour of emptiness, of Quaker silence, is a gift. Some might even call it bathing in the Grace of God. We don’t need to earn it. There’s no task to complete to receive it. There is no being ‘deserving of grace.’ It’s there for the taking, like the cream, just waiting for us to partake.
Perhaps it is possible to be both filled with grace and empty to receive it.
Like many people in the meeting, I was without power for a couple of days. My unique concern was not for staying warm or cooking (thankfully I have a wood stove), but for keeping the water out of my basement. No power, no sump pump.
By day two, the water was creeping up to 2" high and at 3" the furnace and the hot water heater are in jeopardy.
My mind is built like Eeyores. When the power went out, the gloom sets in. I begin catastrophizing and cursing myself for all the stuff I did not do; like buying a generator.
What I learned is that my worst fears were never realized. The water stopped at 2 inches. It just percolated up and decided not to go further in spite of my thinking I'd be cold, dark and wet.
The point is this: Be careful what you sow. The mind is a curious thing and for better or worse very few of us are built like Tigger. We tend to expect the worst and go there in our minds -- especially when the power goes out.
If my thoughts are seeds, I must take care to choose good seeds and plant them where they will do the most good.
Matthew 13: The Parable of the Sower
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.
Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.
As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.
But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.
Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
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