We are at an inflection point in history. It almost feels like that moment when Joni Mitchell sang Woodstock in 1967. Hearts and minds are open and standing on the cusp of something big. Maybe we don't even understand how big. And inflection points call for choices and sometimes sacrifices. Please listen to and read the lyrics
I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
This is an anti-war song, but the refrain of "getting back to the garden" and "caught in the devil's bargain" is just as prescient now as it was then.
Today's "garden" is equality. Let's be clear, we were not ALL promised equality in our founding documents-- that privilege was just for landed white men. Yet- the simple phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" rings true as a basic desire for all human beings. The promise that each of us can strive and reach our full potential (without the fear that the boot of the state will be on our neck).
The economy that the 1% prospers from, and that most upper and middle class people greatly benefit from, was founded on the theft and genocide of other peoples and built on the stolen labor of human beings. This was our Faustian deal, our original sin. We, as people of white privilege, traded the highest moral and spiritual value of human freedom for material riches. A sin this country has never atoned for -- not with truth and reconciliation, nor with the kind of social programs that allow for the uplift of those who were exploited, oppressed, and left behind.
America seems to specialize in boots, theft, and genocide. We've kept so many categories of people down (BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, People of Color; Women; Poor people; LGBTQ; and plenty of ethnicities). Over time, we've torn down some of those barriers only to replace them with subtler ones-- such as slavery morphing into the Jim Crow era and then the war on drugs, which was a fancy way to racially profile people of color. Maybe it is time to live up to the creed we seem to hold so valuable and extend that creed and include everyone.
We marched today with the Black Lives Matter protest in Chatham. At the end, people of color shared their experiences. No one should have to experience racial slurs and walk through life feeling "less than" and "degraded" because of the amount of melanin in their skin. That very idea is clearly insane and absurd on its face.
Quakers have been a devoted presence for good for so long. Not a perfect presence, but a steady one. Some Quakers held slaves. Some Quakers separated Indigenous children from their parents to "civilize" them. The thing is, we have engaged in self-reflection and have and are seeing the mistakes. Today, Quakers are holding the vessel for equality. We stand in a powerful place at this time in history -- as witnesses to the truth of equality. The place we stand gives light and courage to others. It also bends our nation toward justice.
Queries we are considering in this moment are:
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
From Extravagaria : A Bilingual Edition by Pablo Neruda, Alastair Reid (Translator)
(Noonday Press 2001)
Submitted by Rebecca McBride
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life."
~ Steve Jobs
The last blog I wrote on uncertainty failed to mention the greatest uncertainty of all -- Death. Death makes life possible. And one day we will take our final breath. But that is not such a bad thing. Without death, we would be overrun with every living thing that inhabits the planet. Given our burgeoning human population we might already be at the point of too much life.
When we consider death, which we rarely do, it has us realize that life is finite. We are not going to live forever. And yet this realization, as Albert Camus noted, makes the living of life that much sweeter. So -- let's get on with the living. Dying is the easy part. It happens in a moment. Life is happening in every moment.
Now ... and now ... and now ... and there again. Life is happening!!
In every action we take and in every breath we take we are getting on with living life or getting on with dying.
With the pandemic, the importance of life and living life to the fullest has come into sharp focus. Being confined is a pretty good lens through which it is easy to see what is important. Trust me, I know. I was confined for 26 weekends. It has one savor not just freedom but the living of life. Confinement is a slow death.
In a weird way the pandemic has something to teach us about how to live. Nothing is going back to "normal" and it shouldn't. Normal was, in many ways dysfunctional. The pause is time to take a breather. A full breath. Not a breath like we'd been taking; drowning in our own mucus. Namely, all the stuff we've been tolerating in our lives that just doesn't work anymore.
We could be on the cusp of a new reality if we are ready to give birth to it. That would require not going back to dysfunctional as usual. It could mean embracing a new paradigm. A shift in thinking that profoundly reorders priorities.
As we consider our own confinement during the pandemic here are a few queries:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
~ Hellen Keller
The upending of our lives by the pandemic has pointed starkly to the fact that life is uncertain and that underlying everything is that we don't know what is going to happen next.
Of course this was true before the pandemic and it will be true after the pandemic, but at least we had the illusion of continuity. There was not the blatent insecurity we are confronted with now.
As human beings it is true that we lack control over our circumstances. Anything can happen at any time from natural disaster to a personal health crisis. We don't have control. And all the trappings of civilization are a crude attempt at control. I can't wave a wand and make the coronavirus go away, but the unique super power we all possess is that we have language. And language gives us some choice in the matter of who we constitute ourselves to BE.
To loosely quote Werner Ehrhardt "there is what happens and then there is the interpretation that gets added." The power lies within the noticing of the language we are using -- what are we adding or put another way "what gets added automatically as a function of the linguistic soup we are immersed in."
Which allows me to segue quite nicely into Quaker Silence. Oddly, speaking and not speaking are powerfully tied. In silence we have the unique opportunity to notice.
It is possible to go from being the observer to the observed.
STOP ... WAIT ... LISTEN ... RINSE ... REPEAT ...
Can you separate the observation of what is happening from the meaning you add to it? Just that little observational practice gets us a little distance from all the judgments and assessments about what is and gives us a place to stand where we can actually generate a little creativity, flexibility and power. (and by power I don't mean force -- I'm talking about the power that comes from being able to think beyond language boxes)
Queries on Uncertainty
I choose creativity, invention, and flexibility in these times -- and you?
I'm a Quaker and I also consider myself a Christian. I realize Quakerism is a big tent and that might not land for some, but there is a story inside the crucifixion that I think is universal.
It is the story of forgiveness.
Before Jesus gave up his spirit he uttered these words:
"When they came to the place called Golgotha, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on His right and the other on His left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His garments by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers sneered at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”…
~ Luke 23:34
Can you imagine the scene? Could you place yourself there and still through all the suffering have the capacity for forgiveness?
There are many mysteries inside of the death and resurrection story, but this one ... this act of forgiveness is powerful.
What does forgiveness give us access to that we would be otherwise cut off from? I can think of a few. Maybe readers can imagine others.
I can think of many stories of people "done wrong" who held on to anger for years and it hollowed them out. Dr. Bernie Siegal, a cancer doctor, the author of Love, Medicine, & Miracles shared many stories of patients who activated their healing powers through the power of forgiveness.
This Easter I invite all of us to consider the following queries:
I am writing this on Saturday. The tomb is still closed. Love is coming. Let us roll away the stone on Sunday and find forgiveness in our hearts.
With each spring the peepers make their song
Slowly as the evenings warm their voices rise
Signaling spring and the vibrancy of life around us.
We lost a song this spring -- Gene's song.
His note will climb with the others but rise upward to the heavens
We notice it missing, but shall always remember the sound.
A note that clings to us as we remain separated.
A song that reminds of community and solidarity.
A signal clear and piercing amid the noise.
I shall always hear your song amid the evening song of the peepers
You can continue to sing to me -- I will listen.
At the end of WWII the US fought a cold war. After 9/11 we fought a terrorist war. As a nation we have been fighting other human beings since the inception of our country.
With the advent of COVID-19 we have a new kind of "enemy." One that is both invisible and everywhere at once. To even call it an enemy is kind of stupid. Viruses, bacteria, and all manner of micro-organisms are part of the normal course of life on earth. We need to understand them and deal with them. Spending 1.7 trillion on nuclear weapons will get us no closer to that goal. And likewise bullets, mortar rounds, and hand grenades are just as useless.
What it does point to is the way we have been using our national resources. Something like 55% of national budget has gone to military expenditures and only 18% to health care. Of that 18% much of it goes to pay private insurers which is massively wasteful as it has insurance profit built into the cost of care. Other western industrialized nations cover their citizens for about a third of what the US spends and no one is left out.
The pandemic has revealed a massive flaw in how we approach health care. The up side is that now we are aware of the flaw -- and we have an opportunity to correct it.
Our new legislative priority, the world we seek, in the post viral pandemic era can really be summed up with one word: PREVENTION.
We have the capacity to prevent war with a robust and well staffed state department -- we need to build that department and have its focus be on peace promotion and cooperation.
We have the capacity to prevent illness with a National Health Service that is properly staffed, funded and supplied to meet the challenges of a 350 million person multinational jet set world.
The days when a virus jumps species and lands in a human population and stays in some remote village is over. The reality is that humans are all disease vectors and the world we built guarantees the spread of disease.
It is time to take our heads out of the sand and deal with reality. The time for ideologies and personalities is over.
A National Health Service is no longer an entitlement program or a give-a-way to the needy but an essential service that cuts across all lines of race, class and ethnicity. WHY? Because it does not matter if you drive a Tesla and live in the Hollywood Hills at some point a barista is going to serve you coffee who earns 8 bucks and hour and lives in working class neighborhood.
If they get sick -- you get sick too.
If they get sick -- your stock portfolio crashes.
We are all in this together ... and the sooner we realize this and put structures in place to ensure we are all taken care of the better off we will be.
On Tues, Mar 10th I felt the first inkling that something was not quite right with my neck. I shrugged it off. "It'll sort itself out, it always does -- if not I'll visit a friend who is a chiropractor."
For the vast majority of my life, my body has been invincible. I've fallen out of trees, off roofs, had horseback riding accidents and so many other situations -- and like that kids toy that you punch and it pops right up -- that was me. Shake it off ... stand up ... get on with it.
But this time was different.
The following morning came the muscle spasms, the rash, the burning pain, stiffness, headaches and a lethargy that made made me feel like a zombie for the last 10 days. Yup, I got shingles. Or more accurately, I got a wake up call that I can't burn the candle at both ends and expect my body to have the kind of resiliency to stay healthy. I don't have to use 16 hours of every 24 engaged in some kind of work.
Here is the reality: there will never be and end to my "lists" and there will be no day when magically I can declare "I did it all, its done."
The sad reality is that over the years I've turned into something of a work-a-holic. I keep a kind of religious observance of the work ethic. My shrine is my man cave. The relics are the tools. In the US, this way of being is not only raised up as some paragon of good citizenship (the hard working American lionized by the WPA), but approved of and lauded as "industrious." We are a nation of work-a-holics.
I never learned how to rest.
[sarcastically] I must congratulate myself on the timing of this illness. It powerfully aligned with COVID-19, the shutting down of Powell House and my other work obligations. It was like pressing pause on a video -- and just like that everything came to a grinding halt. One day I was laying concrete and the next I was lying in bed. Inert and motionless like a block of cement (if you lie still your skin doesn't burn as much).
Shingles does have a way of focusing the mind. When all you have is pain, the only thing you can focus on is pain. Pain becomes a COP swearing at you and ordering you around --- "HALT, DON'T DO THAT, OR THAT, AND DON'T DO THAT EITHER!" . If you don't listen to the pain messages the shingles pain cop will place you under arrest.
Since illness is an "acceptable form of idleness" I decided to use the time to reflect. Here's what has bubbled up:
And there is one last important piece of this message -- since I am the author of my story, I get to say how true it is, how good a fit it is for me, how well it is serving me --- and I get the choice to revise it any time I darn well please!
Given this POV -- context is decisive.
As we begin to consider the FCNL Legislative Priorities I offer this quote from the prophet Isaiah:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
— Isaiah 2:3–4
On Saturday Outreach, Peace and Justice Committee of Old Chatham Quakers screened the film "The Nuns, The Priests, and the Bombs." It is prescient that we chose to show this film now because the US military just approved low yield nuclear weapons. The Federation of American Scientists revealed in late January that the U.S. Navy had deployed for the first time a submarine armed with a low-yield Trident nuclear warhead.
The move to low yield nuclear weapons is actually a move away from the nuclear posture that the US has held since the cold war. Namely, the insane principle of "mutually assured destruction." With low yield nukes (nuclear weapons with about 1/3 the yield of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) the rationale is that they are usable. That their destructive power can be contained and their use is limitable.
THEY ARE NOT LIMITABLE and THEY CAN NOT BE CONTAINED.
They can't be contained because you can't contain nuclear fallout. They are not limitable because you can't prevent escalation (even if these genies of destruction are used against non-nuclear powers like Iran there is no guarantee that allies of these countries will not use their nuclear weapons to either avenge their friends or immediately retaliate if their interests in the region feel threatened.)
The inescapable truth is that the power and security these weapons promise --- is -- illusory. Not real. We learned very quickly that our atomic security was fake when the Soviet Union entered the atomic age in 1949. These doomsday machines have and will continue to make us more and more insecure for three simple reasons:
As we hold these concerns, we ought also to be thinking about is how as people and as nations we can share a reality of peace and security and what prerequisites need to be put in place for that to happen.
Some queries on nuclear weapons:
Schism -- a split or division between strongly opposed sections or parties, caused by differences in opinion or belief.
Binding -- the action of fastening or holding together.
Before I sat in meeting this Sunday I took the time to prepare my mind with a query: "What, Great Sprit, would you have me look at today?"
For a long time the burning question of how to deal with schisms, splits and differences of opinion has been on my mind; especially inside of the very intimate relationships we hold dear. Siblings. Married couples. Old friends. Dealing with this question is at the very root of peace in our lives but also central to how we generate peace in the world.
We see schisms and splits all around us these days. They seem very deep, but hopefully these chasms will never again be as wide as they once were when the country came to civil war. And no institution seems to be immune from schisms. Not politics. Not families. Not friends. Not even Quakers.
One one occasion a very volatile Quaker, Elias Hicks even went so far as to call for the murder of an Orthodox Quaker who refused to acknowledge that the Bible might not be the only source of truth. A split over what has become the idea of continuing revelation.
Two people I know are dealing with big splits in their family life. People are hurt and no one is talking. Being vulnerable seems very dangerous. The wounds are still open and raw. No one wants salt rubbed in them.
So how do we come together?
One way is to simply suspend knowing. I am reminded of that quote by Mark Twain: “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”
How many times have we been absolutely certain of something only later to discover we had it all wrong. We jumped to judgment. We misunderstood the facts. We made assumptions that turned out to be wrong.
One thing I've always appreciated about Quaker process is waiting. It wasn't always that way. I can recall in my first clearness committee there were long and uncomfortable silences where someone said something or listened to something I'd said and really just allowed it to sink in -- choosing instead to hold it instead of reacting to it. That's a good thing, I think.
Which brings up the idea of binding. In the old days, when a person was injured they'd "bind up the wound" so that it would "knit itself back together." In listening without talking. In hearing without judging we might find ways of binding what has been rent apart.
As I listen to the impeachment trial now going on in the US Senate, I can hear many un-listened to complaints that have now become a pus filled boil. We must start the work of healing and step back from the precipice we are upon. The words of Lincoln's second inaugural address come to mind: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
There is work to be done. Let us get to it.
Queries on Schisms and Binding:
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