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:
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:
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