Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A peacemaker in the Marine Band

I have been thinking a lot about Tom Fox and his Christian Peacemaker team members who are captives in Iraq, but haven't felt that there was anything I could say that others weren't saying better. But today I found this paragraph at the bottom of the CPT's web site:

A note on Tom Fox's Career as a Musician in the Marine Band
Tom Fox was a music major in college. He graduated at the height of the Viet Nam war in May of 1973. He was already opposed to war and was unwilling to participate in the United States military actions in Viet Nam. Tom auditioned and was accepted into the Marine Band, based in Washington D.C. This fulfilled his military obligation. Tom played clarinet with the Band as a professional musician in order to support his family. He received no military training. He left the Marine Band to work as a grocer.

I love this fact and the image of the pacifist clairnet player in the Marine Band. It reminds me of the Yellow Submarine where Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band brought music back to Pepperland, converted the Blue Meanies, and thawed all the people frozen by the Meanies.

Tom's story also suggests to me writing a children's story of how peaceniks infiltrated the opposing sides' military bands and at some crises point did something to end the war between their nations, like leading the armies to march in opposite directions from each other, or continuing the pre-battle music so long that the battle couldn't begin, or accompanied the singing of Christmas carols across no-mans land, or songs that the soldiers' mothers taught them so that they drop their weapons, cry, hug each other, and clean up the mess they made. . . .

Of course, the situation faced by Tom and his comrades is no laughing matter or storybook fantasy. But neither was their conviction that they could enter the lion's den or the fiery furnace and witness to Truth.

I can't help hoping that Tom's music will bring strength and comfort to him and the others as they face their ordeal.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The coat has been hung on the peg. In memoriam Eugene McCarthy

Gene McCarthy was a prophet who read the signs of his times and had the moral courage to accept his call, not only as a a politician, but also as a poet when the nation needed a poet more than anything. One of the few fortunate to have moved the course of history, he was -- for a time -- the right man at the right time. We need his kind now more than ever.

Two poems by Eugene McCarthy (1916 - 2005)


Now it is certain.
There is no magic stone.
No secret to be found.
One must go
With the mind's winnowed learning.
No more than the child's handhold
On the willows bending over the lake,
On the sumac roots at the cliff edge.
Ignorance is checked,
Betrayals scratched.
The coat has been hung on the peg,
The cigar laid on the table edge,
The cue chosen and chalked,
The balls set for the final break.
All cards drawn,
All bets called.
The dice, warm as blood in the hand,
Shaken for the last cast.
The glove has been thrown to the ground,
The last choice of weapons made.

A book for one thought.
A poem for one line.
A line for one word.

"Broken things are powerful."
Things about to break are stronger still.
The last shot from the brittle bow is truest.


The maple tree that night
Without a wind or rain
Let go its leaves
Because its time had come.
Brown veined, spotted,
Like old hands, fluttering in blessing,
They fell upon my head
And shoulders, and then
Down to the quiet at my feet.
I stood, and stood
Until the tree was bare
And have told no one
But you that I was there.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Non-conformists Unite!

Finally, a union for liberal Friends. A great number of persons to be gathered. We could sing the songs of ourselves together in different keys at the same time in one grand cacaphony of unified diversity. We could all go on strike, but at different times, whenever we felt like it. We no long need to hide our skepticism under our bonnets; we can wear it boldly on our bumpers and lapels, whenever we're led to.
I'd write more, but I have to get my tongue out of my cheek.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Back home again in Indiana

I'm writing this from my brother-in-law's comfortable house in Carmel, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis, early in the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving. We drove down here a week ago to visit their family (they have kids the same ages as ours) and then to Seymour, Indiana, where my brother and his wife and four children live. My parents and my eldest daughter and her boyfriend were there, too; we came back to Carmel today and will drive home to Minneapolis on Sunday. It's been a lovely week of family time and reconnecting.

I lived in Valparaiso, Indiana, for most of 20 years (about two of those years were lived abroad -- in Chicago) from 1971-91. Though I had a rich life during those years as a student and young parent and felt that I was a member of the community in which I lived, I can categorically state that I have never felt like a Hoosier. Not once. Hoosierdom was a part of Indiana not from where I was from.

Hoosierness is a kind of sentimental sickness that for reasons I'll never understand is taken as civic virtue here. Kurt Vonnegut, a native of Indianapolis (and born on Nov. 11) used Hoosierness as the quintessential example of a Granfaloon, summarized here by Karen Coyle:

One of the basic concepts of Bokononism, the secretive island religion of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, is that of a granfalloon. A granfalloon is a recognized grouping of people that, underneath it all, has no real meaning. The prototypical granfaloon in Vonnegut's book is Hoosiers: the main character of the book finds himself journeying to an island nation in the company of fellow Indianans, but other than the fact that they hail from the same state they have no significance in each other's lives.

Only Son and I visited the state capital on Tuesday and ran smack dab into this kind of granfallonery on a plaque bolted on the wall of the main, central room of the first floor, under the dome of the state capitol building:

Ain't God good to Indiana?
Folks, a feller never knows
Just how close he is to Eden
Till, sometime, he ups an' goes
Seekin' fairer, greener pastures
Than he has right here at home,
Where there's sunshine in the clover
An' honey in th' comb;
Where the ripples on th' river
Kinda chuckles as they flow--
Ain't God good to Indiana?
Ain't He, fellers? Ain't He, though?

Posted in bronze in the state fargin capitol, mind you. I'll spare you the final two verses of this doggerel. You can read the rest here. This is Hoosierdom at its finest.

But in the secrecy of this blog, I will confess one itsy-bitsy trace of the Hoosierness. Beginning years ago, when both Eldest Daughters were very young, whenever we entered Indiana on a car trip I sang the old jazz standard, Back Home Again in Indiana (words here). I love the tune, and the words fit it well, so it was easy to do without any irony.

It became one of those wierd family traditions that has persisted over the years. Our family still sings it wheneve we cross the line, though now Lovely Wife harmonizes with me, making it even more satisfying. Eldest Daughter confessed to me recently that she and her sister still sing it whenever they enter Indiana, even though they're both adults and no longer my captive audience. This brought me pleasure. (These days, we also sing the Minnesota Rouser whenever we cross the St. Croix. My goal is to learn state songs for all the states we regularly travel through.)

So, I have very mixed feelings about Indiana. I dearly love our family here, though I wish they lived elsewhere.

Fortunately, Bokonoism also has a more satisfying concept that helps redeem us from the false hope of the granfaloon.
The opposite of a granfalloon, or at least one alternative, is the karass. These are the people whose lives are entwined in yours in mysterious yet profound ways. Often they are not part of any of your more obvious granfalloons, but in the end it is their presence on this earth that has great influence of the direction of your own life. Recognizing members of your karass is not an easy thing and some you may never identify, but part of the spiritual mission of Bokononists is to celebrate their karass.
May we all find and celebrate our karass, wherever it may be found.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Happy birthday, November Tenners

Martin Luther, 1483

Norm Cash, 1934

Sluggin' Sammy Sosa, 1968

Richard Burton, Welsh actor, 1925

Vachel Lindsay, American poet & performer, 1879

Carol Ann Becker, Miss Universe - South Africa, 1996
(not the year of her birth, obviously)

Your 'umble blogger, in the reign of Ike, the first year

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Reasons for hope

I'm working as an election judge today, as I have for several years. It's a municipal election, with a hotly contested mayorial race, but very little action in the precinct where I'm working. Only about 150 voters by half-way through the day. I'm on lunch break now.

Because it was slow, I had time to finish reading John Punshon's book Reasons for Hope: Faith and Future of the Friends Church. It is a self-described polemic, written for and about evangelical Friends, by an evangelical Friend who did not start out as one. I won't try to summarize it here, but I think it is important for any Friend -- especially a liberal Fried -- who is interested in whether Quakerism has a future, or, better put, whether Quakers have anything to say about the world and where it's going. Not that it will persuade a Friend not already so inclined to adopt the biblical and evangelical bases of our professed faith, but it should prompt such a Friend to take these things more seriously, and see them in a more sympathetic light.

If there's one brief idea from the book I want to raise up that's appropos of what I and others have been blogging about recently, it's that Quakers have a unique niche to fill in the Christian and broader social landscape, a niche that no other church is likely to fill. If this unique niche -- the distinctives, he calls them -- is abandoned, it will impoverish whatever contribution the Church may have to setting the world aright. He very persuasively makes the case that Friends ignore their biblical, evangelical roots to their peril, just as an individual who is ignorant of ones own family history (or unresolved to it) can never know who he really is or what she is called to do. He isn't at all sentimental or nostalgic about the past or Friends' traditions, but rather considers them in very practical and realistic ways. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I was blind, but now I see. . .

From ministry delivered in Meeting for Worship on 10/23/2005:

We all know the Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant, where a group of blind men are led to an elephant and each grabs one part of the animal – leg, trunk, tail, body, ear, tusk – and then describes the elephant in terms of the part he is holding – an elephant is like a tree trunk, or like a snake, or rope, wall, banana leaf, spear. Then they argue with each other about it, each insisting on his own perception as the only true description of an elephant.

We smile at the silliness of the argument and usually describe the moral of the story as being about the importance of diverse points of view, no one has all the answers, it’s important to be humble and open to new ideas, etc.

But behind those obvious, superficial lessons, there are two more profound lessons found in the two premises of the story.

First, the only reason that the men disagreed and argued with each other was that they were blind. If they could see they would have each realized in an instant that the elephant had many aspects and characteristics at the same time. The lesson, then, if that if you want to know what an elephant is like, wake up, open your eyes, and see for yourself.

The second, and perhaps more important lesson is that there is indeed an elephant! The story only makes sense if the men are feeling & describing something that actually exists (i.e., they aren’t making it up), and that it is the same thing.

So it is when we stumble in our blindness into an encounter of the Living God. Our first perception may be of a particular characteristic or attribute of God: creator, liberator, comforter, judge, lawgiver, mother, father, shepherd, still small voice, pillar of fire, burning bush, etc.

If we remain spiritually blind, our perception of God will be limited to the aspect we immediately encounter. Somehow we know that we aren't seeing the whole thing, but if we are blind the best we can do would be to listen to and “believe” in the validity of the others' experience, incorporating their second-hand description into our first-hand knowledge and experience. The result would be an "idea" of "God" that would be subjective, ideosyncratic, and tentative. We will never be able to testify with power and confidence about God and what God has done for us; we'd always have to qualify our testimony on the reliability of the other witnesses. (How could the blind guy feeling the leg ever accept without reservation that the animal he was feeling had any resemblance whatsoever to a rope or a banana leaf?)

But if we learn how to see, our knowledge will be immediate, personal, comprehensive, and authentic. It would be a living knowledge of The Living God upon which we could stake our lives. And not alone: we'd share the knowledge with all the others who also see (i.e., the Church).

There is one important difference, though. The elephant is indifferent towards her perceivers; she doesn’t have the power, or desire, to cure them of their blindness. So they are stuck in their prediciment and must do the best they can.

Not so with the Living God.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Stay home, young Friend; stay home.

I ran across this advice from The Old Discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (1806) and thought that, while quaint and tied to a particular time and place, the advice nevertheless has a great deal of wisdom for us in it.

Friends are advised to be very cautious in changing their
places of residence: it having been observed that the dissolving
of old, and the forming of new connections, have in many instances
been attended with effects prejudicial to a growth in the truth
and the service thereof, both in the heads and younger branches
of families; we therefore recommend to all, that on these
occasions a strict attention be paid to the pointings of Divine
Wisdom; and that before any determine to change their places
of abode, they consult with their experienced fellow members.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Why sometimes I wish we had cable.

So I could hear lines like this:

"If you have ever sat naked on a hotel bedspread, we have a chilling report you won't want to miss."

"Thankfully, alert gauchos were able to save the llama before it was swept into the blades of the turbine."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why War is not the Answer

Through the Street Corner Society blog, I found a fascinating analysis of the Friends Peace Testimony by someone identifying herself as "Neo-neo-con". She responded to a banner on a Friends meetinghouse that says "War is not the Answer."

Her analysis is quite good, I think, especially where she notes the inconsistency with which Friends have observed their Peace Testimony, though there are obvious points of disagreement.

Here is a comment I left for her, slightly edited. My only hesitation in posting it is that it might sound presumptuous for me to appear to be speaking for all Friends. I just didn't want to lard it up with qualifications. For now, it'll have to be enough that I realize it might be presumptuous and apologize in advance:

As a Friend, if I had to sum up our Peace Testimony, I would say it is our willingness to accept suffering ourselves rather than to inflict it on others. It is the example Jesus set for us.

That suffering may include enduring imprisonment and even death even though innocent of any crime, or living under an oppressive conditions as Friends did when they patiently endured severe corporeal and economic punishments rather than enlist in the army, pay war taxes, drill with the militia, be conscripted, pay a substitute, etc. While Friends used peaceful, political methods to partially mitigate their suffering (e.g., obtaining legal exemption of conscious objectors from conscription), they nevertheless accepted suffering themselves rather than to inflict it on others.

Is it realistic to expect everyone to accept such suffering? Friends do not necessarily expect everyone to share our scruples in this regard. We therefore do not condemn individuals who defend themselves with violence when necessary, or Friends who have kept our Peace Testimony inconsistently. Neither do we necessarily condemn a state that does so, even if we cannot personally participate in such conduct, if the purpose is just, the means are lawful, and innocent blood is not shed. (These qualifications make most modern wars inherently unjust.) We don't say that waging war to defend oneself is always wicked, but that there is always a more excellent way.

Rather, we have learned from direct experience -- individually and corporately -- that by listening to and heeding the Inner Light (known by some as Jesus the Christ), human beings can live in a world full of injustice and violence without becoming, as Camus said, either victim or executioner. As President Bush has said, Christ can change your heart.

Thus, when we say "War is not the Answer", we mean that it is not the answer to any evil, whether characterized as terrorism, poverty, injustice, or war itself. We mean that war always obscures and interferes with the ability of human beings -- whether aggressor, defender, or innocent victim -- to hear the true Answer and therefore does not truly solve the problem. So not only does our religious experience prevent us from personally participating in war, our love for others requires us to testify that war is not the solution to their problems (and to point them to the Prince of Peace who is).

This kind of understanding is obviously at odds with the a-theistic, secular world view that predominates the world today, a world view that denies any supernatural or eternal moral reality, that relies on human reason and technique to solve problems such as war and evil. Such a world view sees religion -- and human beings -- merely as a tool to achieve certain ends rather than as an end in itself. The efforts of Osama bin Laden and George Bush to use religious language and symbols to sanctify the war they wage against other is blasphemous as a matter of religion, though entirely logical from a secular point of view.

Even so, we have not been called to disengage from the World, to throw up our hands and say "You'll never understand until you've been converted." We are a practical people and have worked tirelessly to improve the concrete day-to-day conditions of human beings -- from ministering impartially to the victims of war to abolishing slavery to achieving the political equality of men and women. We believe things can be better even if they cannot yet be perfect.

Regarding war, we make concrete political proposals that we believe, in good faith, will reduce the suffering that war has produced and prevent further suffering. Here is one such practical proposal on how to more effectively protect the innocent from terrorism.

We are engaged in the political conversation, but our Peace Testimony is not rooted in politics and cannot ultimately be judged in political terms (or, I should say, we would not accept any judgment of it that made in solely political terms).

The questions we ask ourselves continually, the answers for which we hold ourselves responsible, are: "Do you faithfully maintain our testimony that war and the preparation for war are inconsistent with the spirit of Christ? Do you search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war? Do you stand firm in our testimony, even when others commit or prepare to commit acts of violence, yet always remembering that they too are children of God? Do you endeavor to live in virtue of that life and power which takes away the occasion of all wars?" With Divine Assistance, I pray our our answer will always be "yes."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I'm sorry I missed this wedding (but I'm glad it wasn't mine)

I don't know whether it's coincidence, synchronicity, or what, but I've been stumbling over descriptions of weddings recently. Here's one that particularly caught my eye. Maybe it was the first line: "The first time I was married, I was married to over 200 naked people." You just know that whatever follows that is going to be interesting.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

The Army is lowering its recruiting standards in order to be able to enlist high school drop-outs, says this story.

As Malvina Reynolds used to sing (and I sing today), "They've got the world in their pocket, but their pocket's got a hole."

In the presence of God and these Friends . . .

On Saturday, Only Son and I and our friend Elizabeth drove 2 1/2 hours south of the Twin Cities to Lanesboro for the wedding of Faith & Joel, a young couple in our meeting on whose marriage clearness committee I've had the honor of serving. It was the clearest I've ever been that the couple is made for each other and it was such a delight to work with them.

There had been some unhappiness that our meeting's committee on ministry and counsel was unable to unite to approve the couple marrying under the care of the meeting. There were a number of reasons, not all of which related directly to this couple, and they included a concern that neither had yet become a formal member of the meeting and that the wedding was planned so far away from St. Paul that the wedding couldn't be fairly characterized as a meeting for worship of Twin Cities Friends Meeting.

M&C's inability to unite on the question, despite a strong recommendation from the clearness committee that had considered these and other possible impediments at length and in detail was disappointing to us all, though without rancor; the M&C members' concerns were legitimate ones to raise, but I thought that the clearness committee had adequately addressed them, but alas not.

Thankfully, M&C did approve the clearness committee assisting the couple in arranging the wedding to be held after the manner of Friends, and it was. It was held outdoors, in the city park, under a canopy of shade trees and next to a small pond with a fountain. Of the 200+ people who attended, about 30 were Quakers.

The clearness committee sat behind the couple, facing the meeting, and from the clerk's welcome and introduction on, it was a deeply settled and weighty meeting. The couple walked into the meeting hand-in-hand, being led by the groom's cousin who played Simple Gifts on the violin as their wedding march. Bless their hearts, they sat for about a half-hour before rising to make their promises, an uncommonly long time in my experience, but entirely satisfying.

Their promises were spoken as deliberately and sincerely as if they were vocal ministry in a meeting for worship, which, of course, it was. To my delight, they used the traditional, elegant Quaker vows with only slight modifications ("I take thee to be my life's companion, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful marriage partner. . ."). As they were speaking, the Lutheran church on the hill above the park began ringing its bells as it does on-the-hour. (Fortunately, as Only Son pointed out, it didn't ring God Bless America as it had done at the 2 o'clock hour.)

The ministry that followed was similarly simple and powerful. The groom's father, mother, and brother each spoke simply and lovingly, as did the bride's father who was overcome by emotion as he expressed his appreciation of the day. A member of the clearness committee and several other friends of the couple also spoke, each one deepening the presence of Holy Love over the meeting.

Afterwards, there was lefse and sparkling apple wine as guests signed the certificate and greeted the couple, then a fine dinner and dance. I enjoyed eating with other Friends from my meeting, and a couple we didn't know. It turns out that the male half of the couple, a teacher at the college the couple attended, graduated from the same college I did, during the 7 year hiatus I took between finishing my junior and starting my senior year, but while I still lived in the town, and we enjoyed talking about that connection.

The dance that followed dinner was a gas. The caller was gifted, starting with very simple contra or circle dance figures (too simple for the real dancers in the crowd), and slowly progressed to more complex, but still simple, dances that were more satisfying. I've never seen a caller more skillful at bringing the group along. Even Only Son (14), who is a little shy about public displays like this, was easily drawn into the dancing and had a wide smile the whole time. My gratitude to the women Friends who brought him out. (He cracked me up at dinner when we were talking about whether he would dance or not. He said, "Well, the problem is that the woman here who's closest to my age to dance with just got married.")

Just after dinner, Elizabeth and I took a walk. She is still deep in grief over the death of Lou Ann, her partner of more than 25 years, and that fact combined with her natural introversion makes large public gatherings like this a challenge -- at some point she runs against a wall and feels overwhelmed. When she reached that point soon after dinner was done, we went outside into the cool evening and walked for an hour or so which relieved the tension quite a bit.

We have been friends for more than ten years, and we got to know each other much better last winter when we co-taught Quakerism 101 with our meeting. (She learned of Lou Ann's cancer a few days after our last class.) We worked closely and well in preparing and presenting that class, and I learned so much from her in doing it. She is someone I have always looked up to as sensible, wise, astute, insightful, and strong woman and it is hard to see her in such pain and vulnerability. It felt good to be able to give her a bit of uninterrupted attention. We also had great talks in the car on the way down and back.

A number of Friends camped out Saturday night (Only Son and I went to bed after one of the guests performed an amazing flame-eating fire-show in the parking lot -- no kidding) and on Sunday met for coffee & then a whole gang of 20 guests or more -- including the bride & groom with highly decorated "Just Married" bicycles -- rode bikes on the Root River Trail to Whalen where we ate "world famous" pie. A smaller group of us rode about 20 miles, all told, through a beautiful landscape that varied from wooded riverbank to wide-open wheat or oat fields. It felt really good to have worked with this couple on their wedding; they certainly did their part in providing wonderfully graceful hospitality to many guests, and I feel good that we did our part as a clearness & arrangements committee to have overseen as genine a Friends meeting for marriage as I've ever been to.

The cost of war

On Friday, Only Son and I volunteered at the Eyes Wide Open exhibit that was at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. The exhibit, created and sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee displays a pair of combat boots for each American military death in Iraq. They are organized by state. Each is labeled with the name, rank, home state, and age of the person killed. There is an accompanying exhibit of civilian shoes, of uncertain number, symbolically depicting Iraqis killed in the conflict.

We had witnessed it at Friends General Conference Gathering at Virginia Tech University earlier this summer when the number of combat boots was a little more than 1550. There were more than 1900 pair this past Friday, a mere three months later.

In Virginia, the boots were displayed in the mess hall of the corps of cadets, a large, sterile, featureless room except for the military ball banners that were displayed high on the walls on two sides. The room was too small for the display which completely filled it wall-to-wall, and the boots for those from Virginia and West Virginia had to be moved outside in front of the building, as well as those for the half dozen or so alumni of Virginia Tech who had been killed to make room.

At St. Kate's, though, the boots were set out on a broad, spacious expanse of lawn which made it feel a little like a cemetery. The day was as glorious as an autumn day gets in Minnesota -- bright sun, blue sky, cooling breeze from the west. There was a steady attendance on the Friday we worked.

I was assigned to work at the booth selling t-shirts, books, and other exhibit-related merchandise; Only Son handed out programs to those who came to visit. I must admit mixed feelings about the t-shirt deal -- it felt a bit commercial and degrading with $20 changing hands in exchange for a shirt, even though it was for the good cause of supporting the exhibit as it travels through the country. However, it was an honor to meet and talk with some of those who came to the booth -- parents of active duty soldiers now in Iraq; El Salvador, Gulf War I, and Vietnam veterans; hard of hearing or deaf students with their teachers who had to interrupt the flow of their sign language with dabs of the tissue to wipe away the tears.

Given the disappointment I have expressed over most mass peace demonstrations I've seen or participated in, I was pleased that this one that had a gravity to it, a clear message that needed no interpretation. It was a genuine demonstration of the cost of war to which we are asked to view with eyes wide open; no need to open our mouth. No strident speeches. No chanting or sign waving. Just slow strolls through the ranks, looking at the personalized photos, letters home, and other memorabilia of the person. If you view the exhibit as a glorious tribute to heroes fallen in a noble cause, so be it. At least you've come to that conclusion with some measure of appreciation of the cost. This is the kind of thing that Quakers, uniquely, can do to help make peace, and I am proud (if that's the word) that they (we) have done so.

My most haunting memory from the exhibit: A letter from a soldier to his parents explaining that he was enlisting in the army because America needed more Christian soldiers. What blasphemy. Who is responsible for the false doctrine that was taught to that now dead teenager?

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Silent Protest

While reading accounts of the march in Washington this weekend, I was reminded of an account of this demonstration in July 1917 as described by James Weldon Johnson in an editorial in The New York Age, August 3, 1917.

The protest was planned by the NAACP in response to a particularly vicious race riotin East St. Louis, Illinois, in which at least 100 black people were murdered, many of them lynched. The march was down Fifth Avenue, in the heart of Manhattan. It was led by children, followed by the women and then the men, all dressed in white. Here is how Johnson described it:

Last Saturday the silent protest parade came off, and it was a greater success than even the committee had dared to hope it would be. Some of the New York papers estimated the number of marchers in line as high as fifteen thousand. It was indeed a mighty host, an army with banners.
No written word can convey to those who did not see it the solemn impressiveness of the whole affair. The effect could be plainly seen on the faces of the thousands of spectators that crowded along the line of march. There were no jeers, no jests, not even were there indulgent smiles; the faces of the on-lookers betrayed emotions from sympathetic interest to absolute pain. Many persons of the opposite race were seen to brush a tear from their eyes. It seemed that many of these people were having brought home to them for the first time the terrible truths about race prejudice and oppression.

The power of the parade consisted in its being not a mere argument in words, but a demonstration to the sight. Here were thousands of orderly, well-behaved, clean, sober, earnest people marching in a quiet dignified manner, declaring to New York and to the country that their brothers and sisters, people just like them, had been massacred by scores in East St. Louis for no other offense than seeking to earn an honest living. . . .

More than twelve thousand of us marcing along the greatest street in the world, marching solemnly to no other music than the beat of muffled drums, bearing aloft our banners on which were inscribed not only what we have suffered in this country, but what we have accomplished for this country, this was a sight as has never before been seen.

But, after all, the effect on the spectators was not wholly in what they saw, it was largely in the spirit that went out from the marchers and overpowered all who came within its radius. There was no holiday air about this parade. Every man, woman and child that took part seemed to feel what it meant to the race. Even the little six year old tots that led the line seemed to realize the full significance of what was being done. And so it was that these thousands and thousands moving quietly and steadily along created a feeling very close to religious awe.
Imagine that. A mass demonstration designed to touch the soul of those who needed to be persuaded.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Welcome home peace protesters

I hope and trust that our friends who attended the peace protest in Washington arrived home safe and sound today. I was disappointed that it conflicted with the singing convention because Only Son and I might well have gone.

I remember well the first large demonstration I attended in April 1971, the week before the infamous May Day demonstrations (scroll to 'Stop the Government') and mass arrests. I rode from Cleveland to Washington with three friends from school; one of them shot photos (slides) & I recorded music and interviewed participants on my cheap little tape recorder and we put them together into a senior English class project. I wish I still had it.

I don't know what my friend Dave Rogers did with the slides, but I do have the raw, unedited cassette tapes, if they haven't disintergrated yet. On them are recordings of Pete Seeger singing Last Train to Nuremburg, Phil Ochs singing I Ain't a-Marchin' Anymore, a string of cursing veterans (that almost got Dave and me kick out of school for including in the program) and a powerful speech (a variation on what he testified to Congress) given by a tall lanky guy in fatigues who we had met briefly with a group of veterans around a campfire in front of the Lincoln Memorial very early that Saturday morning. I remember telling myself at the time that this guy had the chance of making a difference. If only that courageous young man, rather than this timid one, had run for president. . . .

I felt that I had participated in an historic event and wish that Only Son had been able to go with me to the one yesterday. It is sad consolation that we'll have plenty of other opportunities.

After the second day of the 16th Annual Minnesota State Sacred Harp Singing Convention

The Sacred Harp singing convention is now over. I'm happy, but not ecstatic as is sometimes the case. Maybe it's because of this nasty cold I caught Friday night. (I often get sick after singing Sacred Harp because my throat gets raw and forms a welcome rest stop for germs of all sorts, but here I got sick early.)

I was at meeting from 8:30 until about 11, so I arrived at the town hall at Murphy's Landing just as the memorial lesson was being given. It is one of my favorite moments at a singing. Throughout the first day-and-a-half of the singing, singers are invited to write down on a list the names of singers who have died during the past year, and those who are sick or shut-in and aren’t at the singing. At the appointed time, just before dinner on Sunday, one or two singers rise to read the lists of names. They then give a brief testimony, or devotional talk, usually expressing the group’s love for those who can’t be there and a profound gratitude for the continuity of the tradition over time and space and the hope of seeing them all again on the other side. Two songs are then sung, one for those who have passed on, and one for the sick and shut-ins. There were names of venerable and well-loved singers from the south on the shut-in list this year, and there were few in the room who didn't remember them being here with us in the past, admonishing us (among other things) to "get your nose out of the book and watch your leader!"

The roll is not strictly limited to Sacred Harp singers; many add the names of loved ones, and sometimes the name of a well known person related in some indirect way to Sacred Harp– Helen Schneyer, for example, was remembered today. Another singer I know named his 43-year old brother-in-law who recently died suddenly in a freak accident. I wrote down the name of my friend, Lou Ann, who was not, as far as I know, a Sacred Harp enthusiast, but who I did shed a tear for and who I hope to see again in another place.

When I have co-led week-long Sacred Harp workshops at the FGC Gathering, we've incorporated a memorial lesson -- modified for the circumstances -- on the second-to-last day. In the workshop setting, we ask that Friends speak the names out of the silent worship. We forego vocal ministry and sing a song or two.

The first time we did this, in 1998, I was stunned at the large number of Friends in the workshop who called out the names of family members and friends who had met violent deaths at the hands of others. It lent a particular tone of grief to that lesson, not only for those named, but for the too many who face a similar fate every day. Then we sang number 122, All is Well (v3: Hark! Hark! My Lord, my Lord and Master’s voice, calls away, calls away! I soon shall see – enjoy my happy choice, Why delay, why delay? Farewell, my friends, adieu, adieu, I can no longer stay with you, My glitt’ring crown appears in view, All is well, all is well.”)

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the songs we sang today -- I don't think I knew either of them particularly well, though I liked singing them today. I was taking some notes (I have a dickens of a time remembering the numbers or names of songs, or those that have a particular phrase or musical quality that I like, so I've begun to jot notes into a small book) but neglected to write the numbers down of the two we sang.

But I was moved by one song we sang a little later in the afternoon that could have been sung as a memorial lesson. I don’t remember ever singing it before, number 339 When I am Gone. It had an unusual rhythmic twist to it that I liked.

But as I write this and sang it to myself, I made a discovery: The tenor line, the melody, is the old chestnut Long, Long Agothat you probably learned early in your career as a piano or flutephone player. And, as I read the words again tonight, they sound like they’re from the stream of sentimentalism that forms part of the Sacred Harp (“v2: Plant you a rose that shall bloom o’er my grave, When I am gone, When I am gone; Sing a sweet song such as angels may have, When I am gone, When I am gone.) But singing the bass line this afternoon, I didn’t realize this. (I often don't know the tenor-melody line in the songs we sing untill I sing them again at home.) I was taken by the unusual rhythmical turns it takes at times. Had I sung the tenor, I probably wouldn’t have like the song, but singing the bass line for the first time, I loved it.

Near the end of meeting this morning, when we’re invited to share thoughts that didn’t “arise to the level of vocal ministry,” I shared two lines from a song we sang yesterday that I hadn’t remembered singing before, and which would also serve as a memorial song. It is number 499 At Rest. Unfortunately, I misquoted the words in meeting today (I got them from my notes, apparently). I said the lines were “There is more to life than life, and more to death than death.” The lines really say: ‘Tis not the whole of life to live nor all of death to die.” Much better put.

Today, the convention was less well attended than ones past and seemed just a bit subdued to me. It may have been partly due to a heavy mist that hung over the area all day, but also there were few from the south there, and fewer from singing centers like Chicago and St. Louis who often bring great enthusiasm and energy. But I didn't feel disappointed in the least. It was grand seeing again those who returned again, and meeting other Twin Cities singers who only sing at the convention (I would be in this category, almost, for the past few years). There is such sweetness to these gatherings, such genuine love and affection and hospitality. It is hard to describe the sense of connectedness one feels with other singers, not only in the here and now, but over time and space. Especially at Murphy's Landing's Town Hall where the Sunday singing was held, it was not at all hard to imagine a class of similar singers a hundred or even two years ago singing the same songs, with the same accents and energy, as we did today. I always feel renewed after a convention. One of the byproducts is that my cynicism going into temporary hibernation for awhile and my sense of hope returns.

(And, I got the good news that my friend Robin may be able to co-lead the FGC workshop with me after all.)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

After the first day of the 16th Annual Minnesota State Sacred Harp Singing Convention . .

. . . the only thing I can say is that, after the most powerful rendition of Rainbow that I ever remember singing, my prayer was, "Thank God I was born a bass."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Well-meaning but misguided religious terrorism

I am usually more sympathetic to conservative, evangelical Christians than most of my friends are. That is the stock from which I come, and I know that they hold some keys to understanding and surviving in this death-dealing culture that liberals will never find on their own.

Then along comes one of them who wrote this letter and I want to check my pacifism into a blind trust, join the jihad, and brain somebody.

* * * *
I have been finding great comfort and wisdom in reading Badger's other writings in her blog Badgerings. She has recently suffered the death of her much too-young husband and her writing about the experience has been poignant and powerful.

I found Badger through Songbird who I also have been enjoying, though I wish she hadn't published her photo on the blog, shattering my mental image of her. This happens all the time, with me mostly with radio personalities (is that the right word?). They seldom, if ever, look look like they sound, even this one with whom I was friends in college and I know what she looks like.

Studs Terkel is the outstanding exception.

Singing in Wisconsin

Back in May, after leading a brief workshop and singing a lot of Sacred Harp at Yearly Meeting, a Friend asked if I’d come to his home in Ogema, Wisconsin, and teach his neighbors how to sing Sacred Harp. I said yes, but suggested that we invite other Friends in the region in order to ensure the critical mass of that you need for a successful singing school.

He agreed, and over the summer we set a date, made the necessary announcements and phone calls. Eventually, we had enough committed, so it was a go.

The singing took place a few hundred yards down the road from our Friends’ home, at The Homestead, an old log house on an isthmus between two of the four lakes on the property. (Their property includes the highest elevation above sea level in Wisconsin, but that requires the telling of a wonderful story that is too much to go into here. Let’s just say that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on a map, or a USGS plaque.)

(Thanks to Writeousness for the photo; more available there). The Homestead has been in the Friend’s family for generations and is full of wonderful historic material, e.g., a class photo and commencement program of the Yale class of 1928 of which our Friend’s father was a member. And outhouses wallpapered with invitations to Nixon and Reagan inaugurations, a poster of Spiro Agnew, and autographed photos of the Clintons and Al Gore, etc. No electricity, but a gas stove and lamps and comfortable beds; long tables and lots of eclectic chairs and benches. And a 20’x20’ screened-in covered building overlooking one of the lakes to sing and sleep in. In other words, a comfortable, simple, beautiful, hospitable place.

It was raining hard when we arrived on Friday night, but Saturday dawned a brilliant blue sky and freshly green forest full of energy and promise. About twenty Friends and neighbors came altogether. Most singers were completely new, and a few others had tried before but not quite gotten the hang of it yet.

We started singing a little after lunch with some instruction of the several singers new to Sacred Harp. By dinner, we were singing like regulars. They were quick and enthusiastic learners and produced the familiar sound after just a song or two. Later Saturday afternoon, more experienced singers arrived, and they were willing to challenge the class by more difficult pieces. Saturday night, we moved the singing from the screened room into the small living room. This was real fun since we were crunched up pretty close to each other, sang by the glow of gas lamps, and the low ceiling and wood floors & walls made a pretty reverberant sound. We sang again on Sunday morning inside, and then went outside to hold meeting for worship which was deep and holy.

And there was food for the body as well as the soul. It was provided ad hoc without pre-determined coordination but which, like Holy Manna, filled all the nooks and crannies of our appetites with plenty left over: roasted turkey; chili and hot dogs; home-grown tomatoes and other vegetables; German potato salad; tabouli and baba ghannouj and hummus; bowlfuls of fresh fruit; steel cut oats; beans, tortillas & home-grown eggs for breakfast; the best cherry cobbler I’ve ever eaten (a Martha Stewart recipe); lasagna; pasta salad; strong coffee; mint tea; cold Leinenkugel beer. Any Sacred Harp singer would have recognized the dinner table as dinner on the grounds and felt right at home.

Its been a few weeks now since the weekend, and the glow has worn off just a bit, so I can spare you my rhapsodizing about Sacred Harp singing. But now I’m preparing for our Minnesota State Sacred Harp Singing Convention this coming Saturday & Sunday (mainly by playing a CD recording of the 1999 convention in the car at too loud a volume). I look forward to this event every year like some people look forward to Christmas. (I love Christmas, too. . . .) For more information, you can go here. I'm getting ready to glow again.

To top off the weekend, I drove there and back with a dear Friend -- one who I've known since before moving to Minnesota -- with whom I realized I had not talked deeply with for a long time. The conversation made the transition from and back to the World easier and memorable. She also led me to a wonderful ice cream parlor in Chippewa Falls that I'm pretty sure will become a regular rest stop for our family on our way to yearly meeting in the future.

* * * *

I arrived home about an hour after the three Holly women and Only Son got home, the three women from a 2-week trip to Gold Hill, Colorado where Mother-in-law owns a home and Sister-in-law and Husband are for the moment, and Only Son from a week at People Camp.

Although the quiet of the previous week alone was gone (and it wasn’t all that quiet, actually), I felt at peace after two weeks of discombobulation. There is a peace that comes with normalcy, as Warren G. Harding discovered, even when normal is busy: Only Son eating ice cream at the computer while reading Crooksandliars.com and the New York Times and listening to the Twins’ game on the radio; Youngest Daughter reading her new book on the couch and finally finishing putting away the supper dishes; Lovely Wife singing to her mother while putting her to bed; and me on the Christmas-tree-light lit front porch writing this as I finish the last glass of red wine.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A witness to the war: Michael Yon

I recommend my reader(s) this blog by independent journalist Michael Yon: Online Magazine. He's apparently a non-affiliated reporter in Iraq who is closely associated with certain US Army units. His reporting of actual, on the ground fighting is nuanced, humane, non-ideological, and vividly points out the complexity of the situation in that troubled land.

(He claims to be supporting himself with contributions via PayPal. If so, isn't that an amazing new paradigm of journalism?)

I find it interesting that right wingers are publicizing this blog and that most of the readers who comment on it seem to support the war politically and read his reports as confirming that position. It is true that he is not neutral: he is clearly more sympathetic to the American soldiers than the "terrorists" and "bad guys" who are trying to kill them, but he is equally careful not to paint all Iraqis as being terrorists.

I, however, am reading him as an honest eyewitness who is willing to let the facts speak for themselves and who is observing the slaughter from a unique vantage point. He is compassionate without being mauldin, respectful of the humanity of the soldiers and civilians, and recognizes their virtues without minimizing their vices.

When I read him, I find confirmation for my conviction that this war should never have been started and that it must come to an end as soon as possible. And that the military solution has and will continue to fail in achieving that goal.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Two new features at the Friends Journal web site; and hearing restored

Check out two new features at the Friends Journal web page. The first is a multi-media presentation created by Breeze (Leutke-Stahlman) Richardson about the Quake the Rocked the Midwest in 2004. Here's her summary of the project:

I had the honor of meeting with 20 Young Friends from Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota at the "Second Annual Quake that Rocked the Midwest" to talk with them about their Quakerism and its impact on their lives. Many of these Young Friends are the only Quaker in their social circles and schools. In some cases, they are the only Young Friend in their meeting.

This project is extremely unique in that you will hear from them, in their own voices, their thoughts about Quakerism. It is the only project of its kind publicly available and offers listeners—both within the Quaker community and in society at large—the opportunity to learn about our faith from those who are our future.
The second is a reprint of a series of articles Friend Elbert Russell first had published in eleven issues of the Friends Intelligencer in 1927. The article, The Separation after a Century is an appraisal of the causes and effects of the catastrophic (is this the right word?) separation in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1827. I haven't read it yet, and so can't personally vouch for it, but given the many requests Friends Journal has received over the years for a reprint, I can hardly wait.

(I should disclose that I serve on the board of trustees of the corporation that publishes Friends Journal.)

For those who've been following the blog -- if there are any -- I'm happy to report that as of about 3 pm yesterday I have full use of both of my ears. The cure: oil and water.

So now I'm sitting here on the front porch listening to the crickets in glorious stereophonic surround sound. "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. . . ."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Treading down all reasoning about religion

Elizabeth, commenting on an earlier post, said, in part:

I think this is one of the main reasons that I'm having trouble with our meeting's rather diffuse spiritual focus. By the time everyone has translated a shared experience into language that works for them, and then had their own time to process whether or not they feel antagonistic towards "God language," there's not a lot of energy left over to help me figure out what to do with my experiences of God, or how to interpret them.
I made one response to her comment as a comment. But I've been thinking about it ever since.

And then today, a day that I've spent sitting on the front porch with the cats and the laptop, doing work for the Meeting and reading the Quaker blogs, I ran across Johan Mauer's posting of a lengthy excerpt from Frances Howgill's description of what happened in the north of England about 350 years ago. Here's an excerpt from the excerpt that made me think of Elizabeth and her comment (paragraph breaks and emphasis added):
The Lord of Heaven and earth we found to be near at hand, and, as we waited upon him in pure silence, our minds out of all things, his heavenly presence appeared in our assemblies, when there was no language, tongue nor speech from any creature. The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land.

* * *

And from that day forward, our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love, in the covenant of Life with God; and that was a strong obligation or bond upon all our spirits, which united us one unto another. We met together in the unity of the Spirit, and of the bond of peace, treading down under our feet all reasoning about religion.
Wow. "Treading down under our feet all reasoning about religion." I'm afraid I wouldn't have been welcome in that crowd. Or, maybe if I was part of that crowd, I might have dropped reasoning about religion, too.

So it made me wonder about Elizabeth's concern: "Translating the shared experience into language that works" and processing "God language" isn't exactly the same as "reasoning about religion", but it's in the neighborhood. What is the problem here?

Is it the the need people seem to have to "translate" the experience in order to share it with others (particularly those who aren't there)? Or is it that too many people go in with their minds so full of language, tongues and speech that they wouldn't realize the Presence of the Living God if it bit them on the nose?

My inclination -- confession, really -- is to blame the latter: Too many Friends (i.e., me for sure, maybe thee, too?) come to worship with their filters on and tuned up. Everything they experience in the meeting is filtered (or translated) in terms of race, nationality, gender, sex, class, childhood religion, traumas, politics, this morning's newspaper, professional expertise, (dare I say it?) Quakerism, etc. ad infiinitum. With these multiple and overlapping umbrellas in the meeting place, the Living Light is kept at a safe distance, vaguely ascertained, maybe making the room a little brighter now and then, but not nearly as revealing as it could be if the umbrellas were left at the door.

To switch metaphors, I keep thinking that meeting for worship is something like making love. For one thing, no one in his or her right mind would rather talk about making love than actually making love. The only point of talking about it has to be to make the next experience more satisfying in some way.

I don't think that the different ways partners may talk about their lovemaking experience with each other afterwards -- is it like a rocket exploding or a gigantic wave washing onto the shore? -- necessarily has to affect the quality of their lovemaking. But I do know that going into the encounter with preconceived ideas about what it is supposed to be like can jinx the experience.

Rather, what we seek -- as lovers of our lovers and as lovers of God -- is to be as one with each other, "knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love." When this happens, reasoning about religion -- or sex -- simply drops away as in irrelevancy. In the future, if we want to have the ecstatic experience again, we have to leave the filters that we use to define our "selfs" at the door of the meeting room.

* * * *

That's it for now. Off to the ball game to see if the Twins can make it six in a row. . . .

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Bachelor pad

The four Holly women drove off for Colorado last Saturday morning -- Lovely Wife; her sister; their mother; and our daughter -- leaving behind us two men (me and Only Son, age 14). They did a nice job of picking up after themselves and their packing before leaving, so there's a decent base-line of orderlieness that we should be able to at least maintain if not improve upon before their return in a couple of weeks.

It is very strange to have no feminine energy in the house, though. I can't describe exactly what that means, but it has something to do with the habits we've acquired in terms of who does what around the house. Like meal preparation. I prepare meals, but not regularly enough to have internalized the habit of thinking ahead about menus & necessary ingredients etc. So now I have to actually think about what we're going to eat next week and how to acquire it. Which, because it is not a habit, is an effort requiring attention, and I'm batting under .300 on the quality-of-meals index. (But I am proud of the bread pudding I made for the first time.)

But there's something more subtle about their absence -- some sense of complimentarieness that is disturbed, an open arc of the circle that is missing. Not painful, just a missing. (It was the same when Only Son was off to his 15-day canoe trip to the Boundary Waters earlier this month; we missed his part of the Family Circle, too, but enjoyed relating to each other in a new way in his absence.)

In the past, when everyone went off to Colorado during a summer and I had to stay behind to work, I told friends that I enjoyed being able to sit out on the front porch in my boxer shorts, eat tuna out of the can, drink beer, and listen to the Twins game. And I did. But now that there's two of us here, I wanted to make it a little more intentional and affirmative, but alas, his nocturnal life (awake from early afternoon to early morning) and my more-or-less diurnal one (awake from 6 to midnight) only have some overlap, but our energy levels are different and what we've mainly done together is watch movies.


And pretty good ones, too. The best was the amazing City of God, a Brazilian film about the hoodlums who live -- and kill, and die -- in the City of God slum outside of Rio de Janeiro. It is an amazing harsh yet beautiful film that still has me shaking. I just learned that most of the actors live in the slum itself and this gave it even more authenticity. The irony (oh, what a weak word -- blasphemy is probably a better one) for the name of the slum permeates the entire film. Not a movie that inspires hope, unless you can call shaking one up from middle-class complacency hopeful. But not one you'll soon forget. Not recommended for those of tender years.

A second one we watched and liked was Maria Full of Grace. It, too, tells the story of people on the margins of polite society, about a young woman from Columbia who agrees to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. (One review says it's heroin, but I don't think so.) It was gripping, and incredibly sad, but respectful of the characters. I was especially impressed with the portrayal of the two customs officers who suspect the truth; a typical movie would have demonized them as oafs or thugs, but these two were neither. The glimpse into the immigrant's life in America was enlightening. I thought the ending was a bit of a letdown, but I was relieved that it wasn't a brutal or violent one.

Finally, we've had a lot of fun watching the DVDs of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004. I heard from a friend a couple of years ago that the Daily Show was the best news program on TV. I hadn't actually seen it, though, except for a couple of times when staying in a hotel or with a friend who has cable, and when I did, I knew what he was talking about.

These DVDs are the Daily Show's eight half-hour programs broadcast during the 2004 Democratic & Republican conventions. These shows are smart, sharp, irreverent, and funny as hell. They hit the mark about 75% of the time. But I like that there's occasionally lame pieces; it shows that the creators are shmoes like the rest of us, working hard without any super-human talent, and doing their best under tight deadlines, and do it pretty well most of the time.

Furthermore, the show has a point of view. (Gerry Trudeau once said that the reason Doonesbury has stayed funny and relevant is that it has a point of view, the lack of which doomed the anarachic Saturday Night Live despite its brilliant start and talent.) But the point of view isn't essentialy a partisian one. It's a point of view that relentlessly points out the vacuity of most political discourse aimed at the masses in this country. As Stewart said to the idiots on Crossfire last summer, "Pleeeese, stop. You're hurting America."

Anyway, these DVDs are a hoot and give me some hope that there is someone awake in this country.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Everything is political, but not everything is politics

Here's a very interesting interview with church historian Martin Marty over at Tikkun. I enjoy and respect Marty's scholarship (he was a seminary classmate of my dad's), but I usually find him too sociological -- that is, he usually talks about religion in terms of how it manifests itself in society rather than how it manifests itself in an individual human being. But his analysis of the relationship between religious and politics is always interesting. Here's just a short excerpt; the whole interview is worth the read:

There’s a wonderful Dutch book titled Everything is Political, But Not Everything is Politics. When religions convert themselves into nothing but political forces, in the perception of the larger republic, they hurt religion and they hurt the republic. But, you cannot separate religion and politics in a neat way. In a political world—and there is no other world—not to be political is political. That is, if you are silent, if you create a spiritual, political vacuum, it will be filled. Therefore you are voting by not speaking. So, there’s no place to hide. . . .

[T]he forces of modernity reach everywhere, into Bin Laden’s caves and everywhere else, mediated mainly by mass communications, but also by global economy, by rapid transportation, etc. They reach everybody, and it means that your social and personal identity is threatened. Twenty years ago, Jerry Falwell said that in the Civil Rights era, right-wing Christians used to say it was sinful for the church to be in politics. Now it’s sinful not to be, because we used to think we could keep the world from our door, the way the Amish do, or Orthodox Jews do. But you can’t. Our kids get MTV and all these other forces by the time they’re four, five, six years old. So we have to fight back. . . .

When you do that you’ve got to have heavy ammunition, and you’re not going to do it in a mild way. I’ve long been interested in religion and sports. There are no Unitarians or reform Jews in the National Football League, but there are plenty of Pentecostals. There are plenty of people who know God’s on their side and will bash the other guy’s face in God’s name. When you’re on the front line, you must be sure you’re really loaded up with pretty heavy stuff. So you have to have an authoritative book, an authoritative teacher, an authoritative moment, and that’s the simplifier. . . .

Beyond that, I would say that liberals and moderates didn’t stress religious experience. For example, in every little town I go to in Guatemala or Bolivia, I can walk up and down the street and there are ten little evangelical or Pentecostal things going on, and they don’t wait for structure. They just start right in. They pick you
up off the street, they give you an exuberant experience, you jump up and down. You’ve got experience, and that’s a very popular thing.

I’m going to use an analogy: With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, you buy a $70 ticket. But U2 comes to town, and they have $160 tickets and it’s sold out every night. It has its own drama that pales our own drama. This is what happens with Pentecostal and exuberant forms of religion. People are starved, and this gives them an emotional high.

Monday, August 08, 2005

I'm all ears

I'm now deaf only in my left ear now; the right one cleared out after a weekend of ear drops & a morning in the clinic. But the right one is still plugged, despite the best efforts of the nurse. I was amazed as how different her touch was than the one who tried to help on Thursday afternoon. Thursday nurse was nice, but kind of rough and smelled of cigarette smoke & lavender water. Monday's nurse was kind and gentle and so confident in her touch. She asked me who helped me on Thursday, So-and-so or So-and-So. I said I didn't remember her name, but that I thought she smoked. "Oh, that was So-and-So" she said. "Yes, it's funny how smoke does that to you."

Anyway, after being very apologetic about not being able to clear the right ear, she asked the doctor to look at me. He is one of the teachers of the residents who staff the clinic. He first looked and said he couldn't dig out the was because it was right up against the ear drum & pulling it out might tear the membrane. So we'll leave it alone, he said very confidently, "It'll come out. As long as you can hear out of one ear, just continue to soften it up with drops & mineral oil and it'll come clean." It was reassuring, and I was so glad to be able to hear something that I counted the day a success.


It was very strange to not be able to hear anything at the wedding I attended on Saturday. It wasn't supposed to be so. The couple had arranged to have microphones & speakers but the plans went to naught when when no one could figure out how to connect what to what. (I put in my shift and couldn't solve the puzzle.) A Friend on the arrangements committee told me later that the lesson learned was to not let the groom bring the extension cords a half-hour before the meeting was supposed to begin.

Other than not hearing anything, it was a nice enough wedding, a hybrid UCC & Friends service. I was OK with the hymns, the reading, even the homily (which was easy to like since I couldn't hear any of it). But the "communion" of bread dipped in blueberry juice following a paraphrased reading of the Last Supper (Jesus was at a "party") required a little more ecumenism than I was mature enough to accept, despite the sincere invitation to "break the rules like Jesus did." I felt sorry I couldn't share 100%, but felt that faking it would have been worse. I'm pretty confident of the couple's understanding & forgiveness (and, though I wasn't counting heads, am pretty sure I wasn't the only Friend they will have the opportunity to forgive.) None of it diminished my love the couple and I was happy for them. It was a beautiful day, warm but breezy & clear and there was a sizable community of people from many intersecting circles to share the day.

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the memorial service for my friend Lou Ann. Here, the amplified sound worked and I could hear what was said. This time, the combined secular-Jewish-Quaker elements seemed just right and in perfect balance. I was especially touched by Elizabeth's story of how, in her last day or so, she asked Lou Ann to tell her anything she really wanted her to know, and Lou Ann said, "You know, you have so many nice clothes in your closet you never wear. . . ." How Lou Ann to say it, how EB it was to tell it.


Tomorrow, I will drive up north of Ely to pick up Eldest Son from the Y camp where he's returning to after a 15-day Boundary Waters canoe trip.

It has been quite strange without him here, though living with the three generatioins of Holly women (grandmother, wife, daughter) for two weeks is really quite nice. It amazes me to see the traits cross the generations right before my eyes. Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing him at the welcome-home banquet tomorrow night, and then a long drive home Wednesday.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

If it were a crime to be a Quaker, would there be enough evidence to convict me?

Over at Consider the Lilies, Rob discusses "coming out" as a Quaker and compares it to coming out as gay.

A commentator cautions him not to trivialize the notion of "coming out" by using it to refer to anything other than sexual orientation. After referring to Matthew Shepard's murder, he notes:

The penalties for "coming out" as a Quaker, if there are any, strike me as relatively minor...
Alas. Relatively speaking, he's right. But is there any penalty to being a Quaker?

No one is looking to be a martyr, but if William Penn was right that with No Cross there can be No Crown, what does the cost-less-ness of being a Public Friend mean?

Is it that Society at Large has improved, become more tolerant and enlightened with the triumph of political and religious liberalism that the Quaker Witness is no longer a threat to it? (I think this is true to a greater extent that we realize.)

Or is it because our Witness has become blunted, blurred, and diluted to the point that we can't distinguish between the Kingdom of God and a Democratic Administration? (Ditto.)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I can't hear you; I've got beans in my ears

I was looking forward to a conversation with my Friend James this evening about -- well I'm not exactly sure how to say it, but something about whether and how professed Quakers can live in the same meeting when some of them deny belief in any kind of supernatural God and others perceive and testify to the Living God as the central fact of their lives. Or something like that.


But I had to postpone the conversation because I can't hear. I woke up Monday morning with my left ear stuffed up. This has happend a few times in the past, and the cause is usually a build-up of wax that has closed the ear canal. Usually, I just take a long, warm bath and let the hot water melt the wax away. If that doesn't work, I use some ear drops that fizz up and dissolve the wax. So I put in a few drops early Monday morning, but while they fizzed, the blockage didn't go away.

My right ear, too, felt a little blocked, but not entirely, and the left one could open up for a few minutes if I tugged it in just the right way, so I didn't worry much about it. But by Thursday, the left ear was completely stopped and not getting better, so I made an appointment at my clinic for this afternoon.

I explained the problem to the resident, who brought in his teacher, who said I must have jammed the wax in too far with a Q-tip and that the nurse would levage (sp?) the ear by shooting warm water into it with a high-power syringe, like power washing or sandblasting a house for painting.

She came in and started but was entirely unsuccessful with the left ear; if anything, I think she compressed it tighter and deeper. We agreed I'd use drops again & come back on Monday to try again. But then she did my right -- my good -- ear, and succeeded only in stopping it up, too. So I came home with both ears feeling as if I had thick drinking glasses clasped over them. I could hear a certain range of sound -- the newscaster on the radio, for example -- but not the engine turning over or the revving sound I depend on to know when to shift (I had to use the tachometer as a visual reminder). That was very odd, driving without being able to hear the aural cues that I depend on.

At home, a friend was here feeding my mother-in-law (my wife and daughter are out at a play) in the kitchen, and she apparently spoke to me as I came in the front door, but I didn't hear a thing and was startled to walk into the kitchen and see here sitting there!

So I had to call James to say I didn't think I could carry on a conversation like this. Now, it's almost four hours later, and I still can't hear. Or, more accurately, I feel my ears in a fog, like the glasses are still clapped around them. It's quite weird.

I did manage to have a lovely telephone call with my second-born daughter (who lives in Michigan), using my semi-good right ear (which is not my natural telephone ear, so that added an additional level of oddness ). We don't get to talk enough, so this was a very welcome call.

Then I spent some time revising a response to the posts about Friends testimonies found on The Good Raised Up, but it kept getting longer and longer and so I'm taking a break.


The heat wave has broken here and it is a lovely Minnesota summer evening again. Sitting on the front porch with the cats and my mother-in-law, I can (barely) hear the crickets' pulsating chirping. The bikers that ride past are completely silent to me tonight -- I can't hear the click-click-click of the free-wheel pawl -- they're purely visual dashes of movement and color and (now that it's dark) light.

My mother-in-law, who can no longer speak, is looking intently at Rascal the cat, an alleged descendant of a Maine Coon Cat. Rascal is looking at her now, too, with his head cocked a little, and they are in complete visual communication with each other. It's an amazing sight.


A busy weekend ahead. A wedding Saturday of a good Friend, two, actually, though I know him much better than her. It's an hour out-of-town, so that will be an effort getting the four of us there. Then another old Friend, now moved to Maryland, will visit on Sunday, after meeting. Then the memorial meeting for Lou Ann who died last week. So it goes.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Symptoms of a crippled meeting

Thanks again to Quaker Ranter for directing me to another fascinating discussion at the Quaker Renewal Forum.

I was struck by this pastor's list of symptoms of a "crippled" meeting. Sound familiar to anyone? I don't know how many symptoms make a meeting crippled, but any of these are danger signs.

I'd offer a diagnosis of my own meeting-- which I think does pretty good by this scale but does show evidence of four symptoms -- except that doing so would be a symptom of #8: being problem-oriented rather than solution oriented. So I won't.

Note that symptom #9 -- They forsake essentials and focus on non-essentials -- is another way of pressing the "core of Quakerism" discussion.

Meetings / congregations are crippled when...

1) They have unresolved conflict and division with no attempts at healing or reconciliation.

2) They lack vision, direction, goals, follow-through, and implementation.

3) They have an institutional and maintenance mindset rather then a missions mindset.

4) They fear new ideas, creative ideas, and new leadership.

5) They have a tendency to elevate "Quaker culture" over "Quaker faith" (see previous postings on this topic)

6) They don't provide adequate opportunities for people to grow spiritually or they don't provide a safe place for people to seek and ask questions.

7) They allow unhealthy emotional systems and people to prevail over healthy emotional systems and people.

8) They are problem-focused rather then solution-focused.

9) They forsake the essentials and focus on the non-essentials.

10) They have an inability to deal directly with one another in times of disagreement, change, and conflict.

Oh, to be in England

Following a link on Public Quaker's blog (via Quaker Ranter) takes you to the letters to the editor page of The Friend, an independent, weekly Quaker publication in Britian. (Subscription to the paper edition, for one year, sent to the US is at current exchange rate is $110US -- $2 a week; compare to $43/year to have the monthly Friends Journal sent to the UK.)

It's been said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language, and this letter proves the point. Plain speaking indeed.

Gobbledygook recognised. I see that The Friend now officially recognises Gobbledygook as a language for publication. The trouble is that Gobbledygookers can't understand each other, yet alone themselves. Take the first sentence of tthe fourth paragraph of 'The Gnostic Fox' (22 July). This has 76 words; we don't come to the nominative until words 29 and 30. There are at least four sub-clauses, two parenthetical phrases, a tautological '/' ('soteriological' means 'salvational') and two competing predicates. 26 words are in parenthesis in the only sentence of the 99-word first paragraph. Why could not the author simply have said something like 'Fox, like the old vilified Gnostics, held that there is a divine force in everyone which seeks re-unification with God'.

On another note, Walter Wink is hardly a 'modern author', but professor of biblical interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. If it was necessary to describe who Hans Jonas was, why not Wink?

It is a profound pity that the editor accepted such a badly written article, although the poor quality of this one was exceptional. But outreach is not well served by deliberate obscurity.

Frank Boulton 5 Meadowhead Road, Southampton SO16 7AD

But did you have something to say about the writer's argument? - Ed.

Perhaps Friend Boulton's letter is a bit of an outlier, even for Britian. See this response in The Friend's online comment to the letter:

Dear Editor,

I was appalled to read Frank Boulton's letter 'Gobbledygook recognised,' (the Friend, 29th July 2005). It was a pedantic and unnecessary public criticism, distasteful, and totally lacking in humility or restraint. Such a display of intellectual and educational pride is contrary to what I would like to believe Quakerism is all about.

Stuart Hartley

Monday, August 01, 2005

How can I keep from singing?

This has been a weekend of deep emotion. Our friend, Lou Ann, finally came to the end of her life last Saturday, and Friends have been sitting shiva with her partner all week; my turn was Friday morning. After which I went to Nightingales.

For 40 years or more, Friends in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa have been singing together under the name of Nightingales. Originally the singing was informal and spontaneous at scheduled Friends meetings – half-yearly, yearly meeting, etc. – but some time ago it settled into an at least three-times-a-year pattern: Spring in central Wisconsin or near Madison; summer near the Twin Cities; and autumn near Milwaukee, along with evenings at Northern and Illinois Yearly Meetings and, occasionally, at FGC Gatherings. The weekend sings are Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, with people sleeping on couches or the floor, under the stars or in tents; sharing food and chores, etc. Kind of a Brigadoon – the Kingdom of Heaven made visible on Earth for a few days a year.

The singing is ecumenical, eclectic, and enthusiastic. Listen around the table or the campfire and you could hear in any given hour: Hymns. Spirituals. Ballads. Broadway show tunes. Tin Pan Alley favorites; Folk songs; Rounds; Bawdy songs; Parodies; Camp songs; Chants; Rock-n-roll favorites; Made-up songs. Whole songs and fragments. Melodies no one can remember the words to. On-key or almost-on. With books or without them. The whole gamut. All with joy and vigor, for the love of singing, and each other.

The group is informal and fluid; several hundred on its mailing list, but perhaps 100 or so regularly attend one or more singings a year, always with new singers to replenish. There are now quite a handful of young adults in their 30s and 40s who grew up singing with Nightingales and whose children are now third-generation Nightingales.

But at the center are the Founding Mothers, or Celestial Mamas, who have for years provided the spiritual and emotional center of the group – and the logistical center in that we often met at their places.

Now, though, they are aging – some have already flown on – and this past weekend, the presence of some of them brought a bittersweet quality to the singing. One of the beloved Mothers – not yet 80 and the grandmother to a whole flock of young Nightingales – has already lost much of her strong, beautiful voice to thyroid cancer a couple of years ago. Now, the cancer has returned and the outcome is unknown. She looked strong, but had her limits. We know that she made a heroic effort to come, knowing that this might be her last time.

Another of them is well past 80, one of those wonderfully brilliant, creative, and crotchety Quaker women whose tongue is as sharp as her wit, and who is as likely to want to sing Beans in My Ears as Whispering Hope. She also came, but her physical frailty made her attendance possible only because of the faithful and extraordinary assistance of another Friend who lovingly ferried her to and from and around the farm on Saturday.

And then there was the one dearest to me, almost 81, at whose farm east of St. Paul the Nightingales have been singing for decades. She is an extraordinary woman in ways too many to note here or in a thousand pages. I hold her particularly dear because it was her offer of a job 14 years ago that brought me from my 20-year bondage in Indiana to the Promised Land of 10,000 Lakes and my true home.

For a variety of reasons, and in a variety of ways, she has let it be known that this may have been the last Nightingales weekend that will be at her farm -- the Last Homely House. She is beginning to show signs of weariness, and in our Saturday morning go-around reminded us to always live as if this was the last time you get to something – ride the John Deere mower around the trails on the farm, sing with a particular Friend, come to Nightingales at her farm.

This spring, she lost a giant box elder tree that had lived at least twice as long as it allotted two score years and ten before it succumbed to disease and the forester’s axe.

Because of her fondness of the tree, and because of our fondness for her, we collected money and purchased a 10-foot Autumn Blaze maple tree to plant near the box elder’s stump. On Saturday morning, four of us prepared the hole and that evening, after supper and before the campfire sing, we gathered in a circle around the new tree and the old stump. Our Friend told stories about the old tree, which once held a two-story treehouse, and why she loved it and hated to have it taken out (it posed a danger to the house and the electric line that ran under it).

We then sat in silent worship, said prayers, and then, as we sang songs composed for the occasion, planted the maple, each Friend shoveling in a spade-full of dirt or throwing in a handful of sawdust and shavings from the elder. By the end, the new tree stood straight and true, not yet filling the empty space, but claiming it for the future – we could all envision its mature years, though not all of us will be there to see them.

The ceremony symbolized for me the wistful, poignant character of the weekend. A time to mourn and a time to dance. Something lost, but something gained. Seeds scattered by the storm-shattered tree. So long, it’s been good to know ya. The sense was clear that some among us may not return to another sing, and that none of us may ever return to this place again, at least as a group. There were a lot of tears, more of joy than of sorrow.

But also a sharp and strong sense of rightness and presence, of joy and gratitude and contentment and the deep, deep love that binds us all together even after we have all flown home to our own nests, ready to move to the next stage.

One of the traditions that the Nightingales have is reading around the circle a particularly beautifully illustrated edition of The Nightingale by Hans Christian Anderson. Near the end of the story, after the nightingale had returned to the emperor’s castle and saved him from Death, the emperor says,

“Thanks, thanks, you heavenly little bird. I know you well. I banished you from my kingdom once, and yet you have charmed away the evil faces from my bed, and banished Death from my heart, with your sweet song. How can I reward you?”

“You have already rewarded me,” said the nightingale. “I shall never forget that I drew tears from your eyes the first time I sang to you. These are the jewels that rejoice a singer’s heart.”
And so it is. Singing, particularly with others, has power to do miraculous things, like stave off Death -- for a time, at least -- and bring a strong man to tears. And the tears we tasted were indeed jewels to us all, and they make us rich beyond measure.

Singing also binds people together over time and space so that, when you sing, you can conjure up a host of kind faces to gaze back at you. For my friend, it’s the song It’s a long, long road to freedom that will always makes me think of her: The first time I ever heard it, she was standing in the cafeteria at the Carleton College FGC Gathering with a group of her neighbors who she had brought down for the day, singing it with her full alto voice, head tipped back, eyes closed, swinging her elbows in time: “But when you walk in love with the wind on your wings, and cover the earth with the songs you sing, the time flies by.” Yes it does fly, and sometimes too quickly.