Saturday, June 30, 2007

Strangers in the Night

11:45 pm 6-29-2007

In my tent, reading the Gathering information. This is my tenth or eleventh Gathering (my first was 1983, Slippery Rock), so I know the routine pretty well. And I am on the planning (and now oversight) committee, so I felt pretty well-informed about what is going to happen this week. But then something strange happened.

Usually, as I remember, there are three afternoon periods of activities, usually 75 minutes long with 15 minutes pass time in between. Usually something like 1-2:15, 2:2:30 – 3:45, and 4 – 5:15. I remember this because last year we asked for and got two afternoon slots for shape note singing, and that was part of the success. We sang from 2:30 til 5 or 5:15, and that was a good long time to draw in enough people to give it critical mass. It was awesome, actually.

But this year it changed. There are activities scheduled at 1:30, and the next at 3:15, and the next at 4:30. One very long session and then two short ones. And shape note singing is scheduled at 3:15. This is odd and I don’t understand. We can certainly continue to sing past 4:30, I presume, but there’s no indication when the third session is supposed to end, and supper starts at 5. . . . It looks to me as if we’re losing an hour of afternoon singing, but we’ll have to see. Remember the poem about Sacred Harp singers from the music clerk at past Gatherings:

Shape Note/Sacred Harp.
They need to stand in a square and have good live sound.
They like a space with lots of resonance, not drapes and carpet,
where they can be loud.
If they don't like where you put them, they'll find their own space
and leave you a note.
They are very self sufficient.
They do not need a piano.

Note to self: Do not pitch your tent near a campground bathhouse that keeps its lights on all night. I thought it’d be nice, especially for the two thirteen year old girls who will be joining me tomorrow, to be near the bathroom. And it is, of course. Except I didn’t remember that it is kept illuminated all night. So there’s a nice yellow glow at the head-end of my tent and it’s 11 pm.

A few minutes ago, I was dozing off and heard voices. “Is this it?” “It looks a little small.” “There’s the REI logo.” “Is there anyone in it?” “Should we ask?”

“Excuse me, is there anyone in this tent?”


“Are you Paul?”


“Are waiting for a wife?”

I thought a moment. “Yes.”

“Well, she’s looking for you.”

I was obviously confused. Or some one was.

“I don’t understand.”

“There’s a woman here whose husband, Paul, pitched their tent and she can’t find him. She says it has an REI log on it.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t think she’s looking for me; my wife isn’t coming until tomorrow.”

“OK. Sorry to disturb you.”

Then they left. Not long afterwards, though, I felt someone’s eyes looking in through the little triangular window in the rain tarp. I opened my eyes, and even without my glasses on I could recognize a face peering in at me.

“Yes?” I said.

“Oh hi. Is this Paul?”

A subtle pattern emerges. “Yes. Who is this?”

“This is Becky.” Finally, a recognizable fact. A Friend from my Yearly Meeting. “Oh, hi, Becky. This is Paul L.”

“Hi, Paul. I’m looking for my husband. He set up the tent and my meeting went on longer than I thought and now I can’t find him.”

“Sorry.” Then I added, “The other tent is empty; it’s for my daughter and her friend who will arrive tomorrow. You’re welcome to stay there if you can’t find your Paul.”

“That’s OK. I have a blanket in the car and I can stay there. Sweet dreams.”

Sure. So that’s why I’m sitting up in my tent, typing on my iBook, instead of sleeping.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Here at the Gathering

I drove here to River Falls with a Friend early this afternoon. I pitched two tents for me, Youngest Daughter and her friend, got registered, and am getting settled. One treat was seeing fellow-bloggers Chris and Robin M and Linda waiting outside the registration hall. And then other old Friends, too. It felt a little like a gathering of wizards in a Harry Potter story.

I've been itching to get here for several days. I've done all the preparation I can do for my workshop and for the evening plenary sessions (I'm co-clerk of the evening program committee) and now I want to do it. Getting the tents pitched was big. We're in almost exactly the same spot we camped in 1998 when, after arriving a day early in the expectation of getting settled in before the Big Day, a tremendous storm hit, 4 or 5 inches of rain in as many hours, with thunder, lightening, and wind all night long, the four of us huddled in our large but tight L.L. Bean tent and our three friends next to us. The next morning, we were dry, if tired, but the people who were camping where they were supposed to be (we'd squatted where we were used to camping at Northern YM instead of going to the official FGC campsites) were under 3 inches of water. Our cars were flooded to the floorboards, the south branch of the Kinnikinick River having swollen from romantic creek to raging river through the parking lot. It was a wonderful adventure, but tonight I'd be happy with a quiet, boring sleep.

My heart has a new heaviness that is coloring my mood. Lovely Wife's mother, who has lived with us since 1999 has been on Lummi Island in Washington with L.W.'s sister since mid-May. A call came last night reporting that it appears that she is developing what may be a fatal infection. Lovely Wife and sister Holly have been on the phone, discussing travel arrangements, which are complicated by three of us being at FGC and L.W. going to Brussels, Belgium, for a conference for two weeks and another brother and his family on their way to Australia in a few days for six months. . . .

But all that is uncertain for now. At the moment, I'm watching Quakers trickle into the student center with that first-night bewildered look they'll have until they're oriented and situated. I love them all.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It's been a longer, stranger trip that we may have realized

The Friend to whom I gave a ride to Northern Yearly Meeting mentioned to me that the recent edition of Quaker History had two articles she thought would interest me. One, by Mitchell Santine Gould, was entitled "Walt Whitman's Quaker paradox" and discussed Whitman's closeness to, but non-membership in, Quakers. The short of it is that, in Whitman's own words, "I was never made to live inside a fence."

The article discussed four aspects of Quakerism, of the Hicksite flavor especially, that Whitman shared:

1. Like Whitman, many radical reformers were culturally recognized as "Quaker" without being members. This trend reflects a general diffusion and secularization of Quaker testimonies in society.
2. Like Whitman, Quakers could sometimes be sexual liberals.
3. Like Whitman, Quakers based their liberality upon "liberty of conscience."
4. Like Whitman, the Hicksite schism itself defended the sanctity of human "passions or propensities."
Though there was little new or surprising in the article, it does tie things together and make connections that I hadn't made before, and I enjoyed it.

But the article that really caught my eye was by Mary K. Matossian and entitled, "Why the Quakers Quaked: The Influence of Climatic Change on Quaker Health, 1647-1659." Not what I'd call a snappy, engaging title, but the topic was fascinating.

In sum, the author conjectures that much of the quaking and other unusual mental, physical, and behavioral states exhibited by Quakers in the mid-17th Century were symptoms of a central nervous system disease called ergotism, a form of fungal poisoning from a fungus that grows on rye grain and flour. Because of generally cooler winters and warmer summers and adequate rainfall during this time period (caused in part by reforestation and a decline in population), rye flour was particularly susceptible to ergot, and this being the primary grain in the areas of England and classes from which Quakers were drawn, the author's hypothesis is that many of these early Quakers were affected by ergotism and thus exhibited the strange behavior often observed during that time.

When I first heard of the article, a whole series of light bulbs went off in my head. I had often thought that many of the descriptions of early Friends meetings sounded to me an awful like LSD and mescaline experiences I have had, and how much the massive social (and political and religious) upheaval in Britan 1650s and '60s reminded me in general of the 1960s in the US and elsewhere. And here's the explanation that puts the two together: The Early Quakes were on low-level doses of LSD (which, of course, is derived from rye ergot) and this enabled them to break through the prevailing paradigm to a radically different quality of life and experience, just as it did for millions of my generation in the 1960s.

The article doesn't fit my hypothesis precisely; the author focuses more on the quaking, epileptic-type symptoms of ergotism than on the integrative, peaceful, insightful ones experienced with psychedelics. But there is enough data here to persuade me to keep my mind open at least that there may have been a psycho-chemical aspect to the Quaker movement that explains not only their radical vision but also their gradual (though incomplete) assimilation into the fabric of English Protestantism.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Show your talent

I went to a marvelous 40th birthday party for a Friend on Saturday evening. She hosted a benefit talent show at the meetinghouse for her birthday party that was simply a gas.

She started it off, singing One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man from Wonderful Town, and then Make our Garden Grow from Candide. G. has a wonderfully strong voice, Mermanesque in its purity and power but sweeter, and was perfect for singing Bernstein. (She also has a mellow, sexy voice suitable to a Minnesota Public Radio classical music announcer and host, which she also is.)

Lovely Wife was sitting elsewhere in the meeting room, and I didn't have to turn around to know that she was tearing up during Make our Garden Grow. I knew this not only because of the raw beauty of how G was singing the song, but also because I know that LW was thinking what I was thinking, which was that our first formal date was to Candide at the Indiana University Opera in 1987, and that that opera and that song have had special meaning to us ever since.

G. was followed by T., a 9-or-so year old girl who played a half dozen traditional American fiddle tunes on her half-sized violin. Her teacher uses the Suzuki method but is teaching fiddle and dance tunes instead of the more classical oriented tunes used by most Suzuki teachers. Little T ended each of her tunes with the familiar shave-and-a-haircut. . .two-bits tag. She did beautifully and had great poise and presence.

I followed by reading Billy Collins' poem Forgetfulness and then singing Mike Cross's The Scotsman, a kind of a novelty, jokey song that immediately came to my head when G asked me to participate, and which I couldn't shake.

Then came M who played a beautiful piece for flute by Claude Debussy on her alto saxophone.

Finally was the most novel and entertaining act I've ever seen that didn't involve a chainsaw or lighter fluid: A man played a Sousaphone and tap danced. At the same time. (When I saw him come to front of the room, I was reminded of the George Booth cartoon in The New Yorker showing a one-man band -- a fellow with a bass drum, cymbals, washboard, kazoo, etc. -- standing in a library, looking at a book. One librarian is saying to another one, "Well, so far his behavior has been exemplary.)

He then played Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (which he said he thought should have been either "Gee-su joy. . ." or "Yay-su yoy . . ."), playing the base line on the tuba while simultaneously humming or singing the tune to the soprano line. It had the effect not unlike the throat singing Tibetan monks who sing two notes at once. He ended his part with a similarly wonderfully funny version of Stars and Stripes Forever with the tuba doing the oom-pah and his voice approximating the piccolo part. Amazing.

Following the performances, we heard from another Friend who gave a brief presentation about Rainbow Rumpus, an on-line magazine she founded "For Kids with GLBT parents." I've been reading Rainbow Rumpus with infrequent frequency over the past year and have been impressed at its range and quality. I hope you'll check it out, and refer your friends to it.

G said her idea for this kind of a party came from one I did for my 48th birthday a few years back, which was in turn based on Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Community Readings project when he was poet laureate of the US. Another Friend is hosting a similar event this coming Saturday for his 80th birthday. This is a very simple kind of event to organize, people love them, and it builds community and stories for years to come.

Larry Miller

It was a blow to get the e-mail yesterday telling that Larry Miller had suffered a massive, probably fatal stroke on Sunday, and again to learn that he had died earlier today.

I know Larry through serving with him on the Friends Journal board for he past four years. Larry had first joined the board of the Friends Publishing Corporation in 1955 shortly after The Friend and The Friends Intelligencer, the publications of the Orthodox and Hicksite traditions respectively, merged, contemporaneously with the reunification of the two Philadelphia Yearly Meetings and has served several stints over the next fifty years. He also frequently had articles and letters published in the Journal.

I loved Larry, as did everyone on the board. He had a youthful, almost child-like energy and spirit that belied his age. My picture of him is with his head cocked slightly (favoring a good ear, perhaps), stooping a bit to look me in the eye and listening intently, with genuine interest, to whatever answer I was giving to his question. He was the one who could be counted on always to ask the most pertinent (and occasionally impertinent) question during the publisher's report, and often to give words of praise or encouragement.

Every time I saw Larry, he delighted in telling me about his latest project, often involving historical research and writing. He also was one of the funniest persons I've ever known, in part because he was able and willing to laugh at his own foibles. I am grateful to have gotten to know him even a little bit, and that he lived a life so full of love and vitality.

Here is Larry's brief biography from the Friends Journal web site.

Larry Miller, a convinced Friend, lives in New Britain, Pa., with his wife, Carol. A graduate of Antioch College and Chicago Theological Seminary, he was a conscientious objector in civilian public service camps during World War II. He served as the general secretary of Friends General Conference for 17 years. In later years, he served the American Friends Service Committee in India, on the Middle East and Asia desks, and as chairperson of the Quaker United Nations Program. He chaired the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee of FGC and was the only FGC delegate to the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya. He has published a biography of Clarence E. Pickett, Witness for Humanity.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

He'd plead not guilty, that's what. And then g.t.f. out of Iraq, for another.

Thanks to for the tip. Check out her hilarious kitsch kollections on the left side of her page.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Not guilty

One of my favorite Willie 'n Ethel cartoons has Ethel asking wistfully, "Willy, what are the three most beautiful words in the English language?" and Willie answers, "If. Maybe, and Tomorrow."

Today, I'd add two new ones: Not guilty!

About six weeks ago, my car was ticketed and towed from the front of our house. Ostensibly, temporary no-parking signs had gone up the morning of May 1 notifying everyone that the street would be swept on May 2 and to move our cars or else.

Lovely Wife and I do not remember seeing the signs. We took a walk in the afternoon of May 1 (ironically, the 15th anniversary of my admission to the Minnesota bar) and noticed how odd it was that there were signs on all the surrounding streets but not on ours; or at least that what we remember thinking. In any event, we didn't move the car that evening.

I went to work on May 2d, taking the bus, and walked out the front door onto the street where the care was parked, and again didn't see, or was oblivious to, the signs that were ostensibly posted there. Later that afternoon came the call from home that the car had been towed and that I had to take my first trip to the impound lot.

It cost about $145 to get the car out of the city impound lot, and then there was a $34 parking ticket from the county. The impound people said that if I got the ticket dismissed I could file a claim to have the towing and impound fee refunded. So a few days later I went to the courthouse, met with a traffic hearing officer who offered to drop the fine. This was nice, but not good enough to get the towing fees refunded. So I rejected the deal and was told to come back to court in three weeks to make a plea. Just to be sure that it wouldn't be easy, I was told to be in court by 9 sharp and to count on at least two hours before being called.

I did so, only had to wait 90 minutes, pled not guilty, and had a trial date set.

My case was going to be that I hadn't been given notice of the temporary no-parking, and while I was unable to say for certain that the signs were not posted on time, I was doubtful enough that I was willing to put the state to its proof.

The trial was today. At first, my heart sank when I saw a uniformed, middle-aged woman already sitting in the courtroom. My best hope was that the city wouldn't bother to send an officer to testify and the charge would be dismissed without a trial. It was now clear that it wasn't going to be that easy.

The prosecutor was the next to arrive. She was an intelligent-looking, friendly, attractive young woman who is an associate in a large (the largest) Minneapolis law firm which donates its trial associates through thee-month stints as assistant city attorneys to help them get courtroom experience. This, too, was not good news; I'd worked with these "rotators" many years ago and they were uniformly smart, able lawyers over whose eyes no wool was going to be pulled. Not that I was going to pull wool, but still a sign that I was going to have to work for it.

The city attorney spoke with the parking officer, and then came over to talk with me. She showed me a copy of the log kept by the street department recording when it posted its no-parking signs, and upon which the parking officer relied in tagging vehicles. The log showed that the signs had been posted on our block between 9:46 and 9:52 am on May 1, more than 24 hours before the ticket was issued.

But this was my ray of hope: I knew that the street department's log was not admissible unless the "custodian of the record" would testify that the log was kept in the regular course of business, and that the parking officer was not able to lay that foundation. If I could keep the street department log out of evidence, they wouldn't be able to prove that the signs were posted 24-hours in advance and I should win.

I mentioned this to the city attorney who saw the trouble she was in. She did what any good lawyer does in that situation: she began looking for loopholes, and found one. She printed out a copy of the parking ordinance and discovered that there's nothing in the ordinance that requires 24-hours notice of a temporary no-parking zone; the 24-hour notice requirement was a city administrative policy, not an element of the offense itself. Now I saw I might be in trouble. If the ordinance doesn't require 24-hours notice, then the street department log wasn't relevant; it was enough that the parking officer would swear that the signs were posted when she showed up, I was sunk. I thought.

The city attorney saw my disappointment and offered to go "halfsies" with me -- I could get off with a $17 fine instead of $34. I was tempted. I was beginning to see the hubris in my thinking that I could out clever them and that maybe I should cut my losses and accept the invertible. It's what I did in 1972 when I pled guilty to trespassing in someone's swimming pool that I hadn't trespassed in because I didn't want to come back to Cleveland from college to contest what was going to be a small fine, and in 1971 when I didn't file my application as a conscientious objector because I had a high lottery number and didn't need it. I accepted both those decisions as the rational ones, but I always felt badly about them, that I was somehow dirty for taking the easier road.

But this time I said no. I don't think the signs were up, despite the evidence, and I will put you to your proof. "You're going to trial over a parking ticket?" the city attorney said incredulously. "Unless you dismiss the charge," I said.

So she called for a judge. This surprised me. I had a trial date and I expected there to be a judge immediately available. But no, it was so unusual to need one for a parking ticket that they just called around to find a judge with the time to hear a short trial. We waited, and then the call came. "Judge Z has time to hear your case if you can come to his courtroom," the clerk said.

More good news. Judge Z was previously the general counsel for the local office of the Equal Economic Opportunity Commission with whom I had had some small dealings about seven years ago. He was a gentle soul with a reputation as a friend of the downtrodden, and as a mensch. If there was a judge anywhere in the courthouse that might give a sucker an even break, it was Judge Z.

We went to his courtroom, and after a couple of short waits where Judge Z showed himself to be the very model of a modern judge -- he's there not to "judge" but to "help" -- the case was called.

I was pretty nervous, actually. I hadn't been in a courtroom for almost eight years, and my skills were rusty; I wasn't as familiar with the rules as I once was, and I was a little afraid of embarrassing myself. And I still wasn't sure what I was going to do with the lack of notice requirements in the ordinance. But I knew to object when the city attorney tried to introduce the street department log, and the word "sustained" was like music to my ears. I tried not to overplay my hand in cross examining the parking officer, since I knew the judge would take her side if I did, so I kept it simple to establish only that she had no personal knowledge as to when the sign was actually posted. That's all I had, and all I needed.

The city attorney rested here case, and I didn't put on any evidence of my own since I didn't think I needed any: the city simply hadn't proven its case, if some notice was required.

Then I made my argument. I know that the ordinance doesn't require notice, but think of it: if no notice was required the city could go around and hang temporary no-parking signs on the trees and immediately ticket any cars parked there. That isn't what happened here, maybe, but it could if the ordinance isn't read to require some notice. It's a matter of due process, and it would be unconstitutional to read the ordinance as not requiring any notice at all. And since the city hasn't proven that the signs were posted more than a moment before the officer arrived, it hasn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt that I had the constitutionally required reasonable notice of the temporary no-parking zone and therefore could not be convicted.

Then the moment of truth. The judge began reciting the undisputed facts. The car was parked. The signs were there. The ordinance doesn't require 24-hour notice. Uh oh, I thought.

But then: Though the ordinance doesn't require any notice, it does say that it is unlawful "to park" in a place that is marked with a temporary no-parking sign, not "to be parked" in such a place. There was no evidence that I "parked" my car in a place that was marked with a sign.Therefore, the city hadn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt that I'd parked illegally, I was not guilty, and the ticket was dismissed. (This was true, but I didn't think to raise it: the car hadn't been driven in several days, and there was no sign when I parked it.)

Yahoo. I was a free man. My towing fee should be refunded promptly. It was worth it.

Then Judge Z went back from being a judge to being a helper again: He assured the city attorney and the parking officer that the verdict didn't reflect badly on them, they did a terrific job and were honest public servants whose service he honored and appreciated, etc.

This time, instead of rolling my eyes, I just grinned. It felt good.

This was an important lesson for me. Too many years as a government lawyer myself (1992-99) had hardened my heart in some ways. I have become too presumptuous and conclusion-jumping with the justice claims of others when the rules seemed to be so heart-breakingly clear. Even today, my instinctive reaction was to say, "No, that can't be right; you can't ask the city to permit cars to stay parked during street sweeping time by simply not moving them; when you park on a city street you know that you will sometimes have to move it even if the no-parking signs are posted after you park." But while that may in fact be the objectively correct answer from a legal and public point of view, that wasn't the answer I wanted to hear as an individual citizen who felt treated unfairly.

I also got a renewed lesson on how privileged I am to be able to contest this ticket. I could afford to take two half-days off work because I have a flexible situation and enough working capital to be able to afford some unpaid time off. I was of the right age, demeanor, and color to be taken seriously. I have the legal training to respond to this relatively simple situation without having to spend a large amount of money on attorney fees. Etc.

I also learned not to assume anything. When I called the city to inquire how to get my towing fee refunded, I was told that that required a separate claim and investigation and that having my ticket dismissed wasn't necessarily going to get me my money back. So I still have work to do.

Finally, I learned a little more about what the presumption of innocence means. I was reminded of a Texas defense lawyer who I heard speak at a death penalty defense seminar who explained the presumption like this: Whenever he questions a juror, he asks the juror to stand up and look the defendant in the eye and say, "I think you're innocent, and they're going to have to prove it to me." He said that a juror who could say this was a juror who understood the presumption and the burden of proof.

I won't likely be not guilty for long, but I'm enjoying it while I can.

* * * * *
Tomorrow is Only Son's 16th birthday. I've gotten him a good electric razor. It seems like yesterday I was getting him Legos.

Up visiting friends

This is one of those nights I haven't had too many of lately, where sleep won't come. So, being between good books, I've been off visiting friends I've met through blogging.

One in particular I've grown very fond of was an early commentator here. She is a much more diligent blogger than I am, writing nearly every day. For that I'm grateful, for she has exposed a hundred points in her life with which I feel a connection, and which make me feel less lonely. I now realize that this is one reason why she's a pastor, and such a good one, even to a long-distance lurker in the back of her electronic congregation.

Here is her story that I read tonight that touches me in some odd way I don't understand; I've never felt the kind of disappointment she's describing as far as I can remember, but hearing her tell it somehow makes me feel as if I could, if necessary.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

New Bible bloggers?

David Plotz at has completed his blogging of the Hebrew Bible and is taking a break. He writes:

That said, this is only a temporary stop. I'm writing a book based on Blogging the Bible—distilling it to its best parts and adding lots of new material. That will be published next year. And I'm also searching for a wry Christian writer who can blog the New Testament for Slate. (Nominations accepted at!)
I look forward to Plotz's book. I think it might prove an excellent resource for biblically illiterate Quakers to find their way through the Good Book in a way that is intelligent, humorous, and meaningful.

I'd sure love to see a qualfied Quaker Bible-reader/writer apply for this position. The crew at Friendly Skripture Study may be a good place to start.