Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's been busy

I haven't written for awhile, but not because things haven't been happening. Perhaps too many.

Eldest Daughter called a couple of weeks ago to tell me that she and her young man are "engaged." Well, as far as I'm concerned they've been "engaged" since they began sharing an apartment (his) a couple of years ago, but she meant that they've decided to marry.

I was elated and relieved. I am very fond of her fellow; we first met when she arranged for him and me to meet for a ballgame in Minneapolis when he was in town on business. I liked him right away. Quiet; smart; perceptive; gentle; good; funny; solid; a musician as well as an MBA. But also a guy who loves his large screen TV, sports teams, a good laugh, and, it appears, my daughter. Both of them have parents who divorced, and I'm glad that they see enough value in marriage to take their own chances on it. It feels very right, to me.

He was at work in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and was evacuating down the stairwell when the second plane hit his building. We haven't talked at length about the experience, but it seems to have marked him in a subtle way, in the way I imagine a veteran of Gettysburg might feel, like a member of an invisible brotherhood, accessible only to one who was there. I cetainly think of him that way, at least.

I'm very pleased and am looking forward to whatever plans they make.

The weekend called "Memorial Day" found me at Northern Yearly Meeting at a Lions Club camp in east central Wisconsin. For reasons I don't yet understand, this year was a more blah year for me than in recent years, despite the glorious weather and beautiful surroundings. OK, but nothing memorable (except for one afternoon when we sang Sacred Harp with seven basses, not counting me who was doubling up with a competent but unassertive tenor. We ended up with another alto and a treble or two, but seven basses across the table from me . . . wow!)

One reason for my lack of elation was a large chunk of time spent in a workshop aimed at identifying and eradicating racism within the yearly meeting. Those in certain leadership positions were required to attend, and that caused some hurt feelings from others who wanted to attend but couldn't due to the limited size of the group, but was done anyway to demonstrate the YM's commitment to the concern.

Because of the short yearly meeting session (Friday evening - Monday noon), we had only two days for the workshop. The first day was spent exposing examples from Friends' history of how white Friends acquiesced to the social segregation of the time and designated certain "colored" benches in some meetings. This was done in part to puncture our Quaker hubris and smug holier-than-thou self-image. I found this helpful and valuable.

Then, the leaders elicited stories of incidents racism in our own meetings. Or tried to. This is where the workshop began to break down. Perhaps due to the very small number of black Friends in the workshop who might have been able to reflect some real truth, the anectotes that were shared were strained, abstract and conclusory rather than concrete and illuminating. When I left that session, I was unable to remember a single example of racism in the YM that was concretely identified, other than acknowledgement of a lack of black members and attenders at our meetings and a sense that this was our problem to solve.

On the second day, we were encouraged to name concrete things we'd do to eradicate racism from our meetings, presumably the cause of the symptoms we identified the day before. This session seemed very forced to me because of the lack of examples of racist behavior confessed the day before; so instead of "eradicating racism" which was the stated goal we brainstormed ideas on how to "increase diversity" as if they were the same thing. (My commitment? To place advertisements for our meetings in community and ethnic newspapers.)

All in all, the workshop was a disappointment, perhaps because I had higher hopes. Perhaps because of the need to cram it into two two-hour afternoon sessions. Perhaps because it seemd to me to confuse the disease (racism) with the symptoms (lack of racial diversity).

It did lead me to one insight, however. I remembered the press reports and radio programs about the 100th anniversary of Pentacostalism and how almost every report noted in its lead or second paragraph the astonishing (to the reporter, at least) racial, ethnic, and economic diversity of those who took part in the observances. It seemed obvious to me that the Pentacostalists' message had some kind of drawing power that cut across and transcended the superficial social separations of American society, not only today, but a hundred years ago.

This led me to wonder: Are black people not finding their way to Friends meetings in larger numbers because our overwhelmingly white meetings aren't welcoming (which was the premise of the workshop)? Or is it because our message has become drained of spiritual power and authority?

Perhaps this is why our meetings more resemble amiable social clubs with unspoken membership requirements that that reflect the racially stratified dominent culture rather than religious movements that transcend and subvert it. We don't have a sociological problem, we have a religious problem.

This was brought home by one Friend (African American, it happens) who told about meeting and falling in love with two Catholic nuns who took a language class with him in Mexico. He said they had some sort of magnetic power in their calm centeredness and presence, so much so that he said, "I wanted whatever it was that they had."

That, I realize, is what I want: I want people -- all people -- to see Friends and say "I want some of what they've got." It's what drew me to Quakers in the first place.


More mundane things have also kept me from posting.

Like plumbing.

And clearing out the basement of 15 years of accumulated storage so our ancient, asbestos-laden furnace could be removed and replaced with a modern one (giving us an acre or two of new space as well as natural gas savings).

And then installing a radiant barrier in our attic crawlspace. That was a lousy, dirty job, I'll tell you; fortunately, the temperature dipped over the weekend to mid-50s or lower at night so I could work up there without getting heat stroke. But there was only 5' of headroom and the top of my head hovers at about 9 inches above that and I ended up with aches and pain in joints I didn't know I had. . . . But that job is done, and I hope it'll cool things off this summer.

There's also a lot of getting ready to do for the Gathering. We have a complicated two weeks with Lovely Wife and her Holly Mother flying to Seattle next Saturday where LW will attend a conference and Sister Holly will care for HM (who is disabled and needs frequent attention) in their new home on one of the San Juan islands ; Only Son and Youngest Daughter and I will take Amtrak to Tacoma (36 hours) and meet up with LW on the 30th. Then a few days on the island before coming home on the 11th. Only yesterday did I realize that I hadn't made any plans to connect between the train station, Gathering, and Island and back. But I think I have that straightened out.

I've also been preparing for the workshop; 36 have signed up, (for workshop #36 -- a good omen?) a good number for a singing, especially since there are a many in it who have taken the workshop before or are otherwise experienced in Sacred Harp singing and will help bring the new singers along. I am getting very excited about this.

Not to mention two birthdays (15th and12th) and a wedding anniversary (17th) and the End of School and driver permit tests and summer baseball Gathering 2007 planning and gardening and so on.

So there you have it. I'll be back when I can.


Robin M. said...

Hey, sounds like a good and full life.

Linda said...

I'm starting to get excited about Gathering, too. Can't wait to be singing!

Phil Grove said...

Concerning the Catholic nuns that your friend met in Mexico: I'll bet that "whatever it was that they had" was not something they found in the convent or the Catholic Church or any other please where another person could go and find it. I'll bet it was something they found in their own hearts.

Paul L said...

Absolutely right that what they had they had in their hearts, and that's why they were so attractive.

But I wouldn't dismiss the possibility that they found it in the Church. It isn't that they found it in the Church, but that they were in the Church when they found it.