our little hour whistled by a bird
kept within a year a promise in a pocket
a stone we turn worrying its corners
into rounds we lean forward to each week
and look backward upon for strength
Friends gathered around a certain fire
the spark of love that cannot be contained
stills and refreshes with its lulling refrain
As we approach election day, we might be thinking ahead on how we will deal with the past four years if we get a new president.
On thinking about this, I looked back upon the lies we were fed by the Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction, rendition, torture, and so many other human rights abuses all in the service of "freedom." Lies get wrapped in the red, white and blue because they sell much better, but they are still lies.
Obama chose, with Biden as VP, to close that chapter without any accountability. I think that was a mistake because it paved the way for the degradation of the public discourse that devolved into 20,000 lies during the Trump era not to mention the wholesale destruction of the gains it took decades to achieve in race relations, voting rights, immigration and many other areas.
From a Quaker perspective, in my humble opinion, I don't think there can be any moving forward without integrity. And by integrity what I mean is this: taking a hard look at what was done that violated not just our constitution, but the norms of decency we assumed were in place in our government and in our society.
As things stand now, all bets are off. Next presidents, democrat or republican, can do whatever they like, unless it is specifically prohibited. We need to put some rules in place to limit the power of the presidency. The notion of the unitary executive needs to be hobbled if we are to maintain co-equal branches of government and not slip into dictatorship. We learned exactly how fragile our institutions were over the past four years.
To forgive is appropriate, but we must not simply gloss over and forget. There has to be accountability. A presidential crimes commission would be a good start. Not because we want to punish Trump, but because a fair and just society demands it. Such a commission may not even choose to levy a penalty other than the indictment of history, but it needs to happen.
Some say it will further divide an already divided country, but there can be no true healing without a full accounting. A form of restorative justice would be not only to roll back the draconian rules that were put into place, but uplift those who got left behind. If we look back on the civil war and reconstruction, the process of restorative justice was truncated by Andrew Johnson and we saw the rise of lynchings, jim crow laws, red lining and so much more physical and economic violence. We can't let that happen again.
It is time that America comes to terms with our past and passes through the eye of this needle whole on the other side.
Some queries that are with me on the eve of the election are:
It has been snowing for a half hour while still dark
I shined a flashlight out the window and it was falling
in a slant the scant leaves told no wind so I ruled
out rain, and not hail nor sleet either at the end
of October after a day of soaking rain to bring the wells
up and now it is light and despite my lamp’s reflection
in the window I can see the flakes falling between
our houses filling the space to the trees backed
by the fence the second raking not yet done
leaves sodden give up pressed to the ground
their colors traded for browns including the cherry’s
and now the storm is thickening and the trees
beyond the fence are blurred cedar, pine and spruce
with respect to their distances and the bush
that still retains its leaves is being coated
on which the birds perch now flocking to the feeders
and the leaves are bedding down the snow
that the gravel driveway still melts so it has made
one friend again but who can replace Ann who
died this week in her son’s arms my Quaker
friend for years we drove each other and talked
along the way set up for the pot lucked movies
I took her to the classical concerts in Kinderhook
she’d buy me lunch in the café down from the church
Mozart Beethoven Hummel Handel Bach and Haydn
where Vicky’s husband conducted the orchestra
and Sandy, Vicky and Noah sang in the chorus
she had a piano in her house and played a wind
instrument and bridge we worked on book sales
fundraisers for our meetinghouse she lifting
boxes my back could not and sorting them into
categories other Quakers would dispute, the same
book moving among disciplines over several days
she’d give me pens after I started writing poems
in meeting for worship and a sweater she’d knitted
one night in the dark and snow she fell on the stone
steps huge slate they’d lifted all together on her hands
and knees somehow still holding her dish it had snowed
then too and it was slippery and dangerous just the two
of us always arriving early she was quite prompt
we worked the jazz concerts together she at the door
collecting money and presold tickets which had got printed
she made many arrangements for our county fair
exhibit of the solitary confinement cell replica two
years running and sat with me to explain to passersby
why the hearts of men and women deadened in that hole
she had a fine sense of humor and the prettiest face
with a warm smile her daughter and granddaughter shared
attended national Quaker conferences and would speak
of a gathered meeting always brought the bagels
helped families in need without asking questions
she was kind and a good listener with great stories
taught me words to long for me to have remember
we talked of flowers and bushes that bloom in spring
she loved to read both heavy and light and she’d give
me Jack Reacher novels we would sit in the car before
taking her home and she’d look out into the field behind
the meeting house the wheels of hay rolled up
on the almost drumlin trees behind fine in any
season and exclaim the beauty of the view
now the snow is weighing down my yew
roofs have whitened and I’m frightened all alone
my throat constricted I wished I’d called her more
but many times we talked just on the phone
the rain in my eyes I wish would change to snow
so I could blink and see where I’m to go
Never had trouble with the plant before, the north
held enough light for its vine led flowers on porch
or tree its potted green foliage blew blooms to scorch
my tracing fingers. But summer could not bring forth
a single replacement after the florist shop’s shorn
to the ground limp reds that cooled their torch.
Draped maples had spread spared no shadow scored
each tendrilled leaf with unkindled umbrage, southern
sun playing favorites among the other baskets.
Water and fertilizer were of no effect. I moved
it next to its fecund twin and I asked it
to learn the theorems the other had proved
with such cones dangling that I want my casket
to trail them saying I loved and in return was loved.
the thole pin
Christ’s death was not the summer solstice
but just a few days shy of it on my side in bed at four
my legs are crossed to admit the executioner’s nail
while the light leaks through an ash I should take down
before it halves as the father and his son said
who could fell it for say nine hundred dollars
into my respective neighbors’ yards
Tom said he could die after he’d painted
the crucifixion which he gave to a friend
who lost it in a stack of newspapers
his agonies of Jesus hang on my walls
one morning at his camp Tom’s speech turned
chthonic until he shook a seizure a local quake
a thunder that finally rumbled into sleep
he’s long overboard who pulled the oar with me
still on the Odyssey’s bench of rowers
parsing the Greek he helped me with in college
reading his heavily underlined Beethoven biographies
his Harvard collection of Biblical commentaries
without his wind I’d be whipped until I died
"Let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide" ~ Rep John Lewis
It is not that often that we find ourselves in a period of history where a confluence of factors so powerful are at work that they can change the course of history. Today, the perfect storm of COVID-19, The rise of authoritarianism and BLM have created a certain kind of crucible. We will either come out of this period whole or fractured ... and the outcome depends on what we do. What John Lewis called "good trouble."
I've been thinking about this since John Lewis passed away. Thinking if I have been in enough "good trouble." Thinking what other kinds of "good trouble" I might get into. Lewis was jailed 40 times. I was only jailed once. Have I done enough?
"Enough" seems like a loaded word. What is enough? Who gets to say what's enough? Is enough based on what is convenient for me or what is required to bring about social justice? There is a part of me that wants to kick back, put up my feet and say "I've done my part, let someone else take up the cause" and when I hear myself think those words it definitely sounds like not enough.
The internal place of that motivation though cannot be from lack or obligation. If John Lewis speaks to me -- what rings true is that the inner spring of motivation to bring about change has to be love and peace if it is to succeed. A deeply centered spiritual place.
So I look deeply within and I have to ask myself the tough questions:
There is much to see and much to do. Let us seek the clearness to discern what "good trouble" is for each of us.
“Archangel Michael, lend me your sword and shield so that I may slay the duel barriers to spirituality: fear and control”
I have witnessed things. Things almost too sad to explain to the uninitiated; like the way the spiritually bereft cling to things and try to control their environment when they are disconnected from spirit. It is sad because the clinging is to that which is already dead. We cling to things for succor, but “things” can offer none.
There is an unseen world, a parallel universe, that can be sensed into. It is a world of space and time divorced from what others would call “reality.” And yet, it exists. You could call it anti-reality because it is so far from the usual and customary experiences of most human beings that it would seem like someplace out of Alice In Wonderland.
Some might call it La La Land. Others might call it being a Pollyanna. I call it NEXT.
And those folks, who dismiss this other world when they say “get in touch with reality”, what they really mean is they put more stock in pessimism, scarcity and fear. I’d also add cynicism to that list because reality has such a grip on the reality-believers they can’t even imagine that something else is possible. It is important to elucidate this because those ways of being are just the default setting of human beings. Kind of like when you get the “blue screen” on a PC when it shuts down. To get to another state requires letting go of so called “reality” and being open to something so utterly foreign the only name that fits is anti-reality.
This unreality or anti-reality is “living life from love” and “living a spirit guided life.” And that is an easy thing to say and not an easy thing to do. Like most things worth attaining it requires a level of practice and self discipline that most people don’t have the time for.
Does that mean people living life from love don’t have a need for physical comforts like money, order, predictability and other stuff? No, it just means that we don’t put our faith in those things. We don’t live life from a dead materialistic perspective. And while some material comforts are necessary they will never provide us with the true security we desire because by their very nature they are temporal, changeable and transient.
True security is being a part of something timeless, changeless, and omniscient. I always come back to this quote from Mathew 6:26 where Jesus admonishes his followers in the Sermon on the Mount not to be anxious “behold the fowl of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into their barns; yet they are provided for — Are ye no better than they?”
But how do we get to that place? The short answer is listen. Send a query to spirit. What would you have me do next? Wait in silent expectation knowing that spirit is opening a way. But first it is practical to know where you are invested.
A few queries to live from:
— When you consider predictability, where do look from? A temporal or a spiritual place?
— When you get scared, do you take your cues about decision making from the past or look forward to the guidance of spirit?
— When you seek security, do you consult your checkbook or look to community and the network of relationships you’ve built?
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:
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