Archive for May, 2012
I spent 30 days in Kenya, mostly working with Friends groups, scrutinizing and worshiping, and singing. Part of the trip was investigating whether to do future peace work in East Africa. 20 of us Friends from New England also joined in the World Conference of Friends April 16-27 which was remarkable. Here are some stellar points.
*I had my socks knocked off at the Sheldrick elephant orphanage Nairobi where baby, teeny-tiny elephants shorter than me are nursed to health, after abandonment (due to illness, traps or the poaching of mothers). We petted, laughed and played soccer. Also healing is a hurt black rhino, one of the most endangered species. If we don’t change our consumption, these large beasts will die out much to our dismay.
Jess Klassen from Canada, Mary Lord and I roomed in Kaimosi. Jess was a dancing partner who helped revolutionize the Kenya slow undulating at the women’s conference. Actually I didn’t see any conversions to Jess’ Charlestown dance but the Quaker women totally loved how we danced with them. We also slipped off the main stage of the women’s conference a lot to help prepare food and ride into town.
*In Lugari Nancy Shippen and I were roomates at the Lake Basin Peace Centre. We had an AVP refresher course with mostly young adults. Before practicing our skills, we would sing Kiswahili songs for 30 min. Monkeys and jacaranda trees abounded there. Beauty and poverty are transposed.
* In Chwele, Iattended my first HROC workshop that is Healing and Reconciliation. The 35 Kenyan folks attended were still suffering from the aftermath of the 2007 violent eruptions. These folks were burnt out, raped and displaced (IDP is a household term there). This was the most powerful workshop led by a Rwandan Quaker , Theoneste Bizimana. The stories were horrific, and he was quite skillful in building safety without much details of the Rwandan genocide.
v The world conference had 51 countries represented. I knew there were Friends in Moscow and Philippines, but did you know there were Tibetan Friends? The toilets leaked and the millet ugali gets dry. But the speakers and plenary worship were so respectful. Cody and Wendy Sanford’s name were up on the wall with the FLGBTQ epistle-along with many epistles. The YAF presence was strong and eased my fatigue on many occasions. We took more fotos than hairs on your head.
I learned that God speaks in many tongues and that many of the peace, simplicity, justice and environmental issues are ripe for all Friends. I sometimes was lost even when I knew where I was, or where I had been standing. We didn’t argue very much. I learned to wait more, to bridle my tongue more. I think I came away a better person.
v Lastly I slipped away from the stampeding herds of Quakers and went for 3 days to Lake Baringo with my sweetheart. I can handle hippos and even Nile crocodiles better than the petty issues that Friends tangle themselves in. It was refreshing and we were able to pray for guidance as to how to use our gifts. Hurray. Right on the last day I got a terrible attack of jumbley intestines but I’ve recovered enough to eat lots of icecream on arrival. Asante sana.
When I first read about the 6th World conference of Friends in Nakuru Kenya in April 2012, I was mostly excited. My heart palpitated. Then as I heard the theme a cloud descended: Being Salt and Light. Being Salt? What does that mean? Salt wrinkles the skin and all those potato chips causing stomach rolls. As a dyed in the wool Quaker I understand God, the metaphor of Light works for me.
I love Quaker expressions such as Inner Light, Children of the Light, Seed, magnifying, illuminating. But salt ? Sailors are ‘old salts’, and Massachusetts is known for Quaker shipmasters in the past. Paul Cuffe was a venerable Quaker Salt. Salt comes in the form of potato chips; nacho cheese; cholesterol. I wasn’t thrilled about it, so I returned to prayer.
I waited and studied before going to Kenya. At the foundation of our faith, salt was a symbol of the eternal nature of God’s covenant. “The Lord gave the kingdom of Israel to David (and his sons) forever, by a covenant of salt.” 2Chronicles 13:). Salt preserves a relationship just as it preserves food. With salt food tastes better, and salted meat won’t putrefy. For 1,000s of years, salt was wealth. salt was used as money: Soldiers and servants were paid in salt. I know salt, like light, has multiple uses and has been invaluable to humans. The tough part was Being Salt: if you lose your saltiness, what use are you? Matt. 5:13. After months I felt clear, expecting more Light out of the conference than Salt.
As it turned out jettisoning myself, and 70 pounds of luggage to Kenya, was hard work.
I dragged the weight around sweating through airports and buses. Sore muscles and sweat salted my arrival. Nairobi is a western city with skyscrapers, Barclay’s bank, Cadbury chocolate, therefore despite my Kenyan hosts, I had to keep alert. I was thirsty to know what Creator had in store for me. I hungered. Here I am Lord, use me. I didn’t just come to eat ugale (type of millet polenta) and goat meat. Some inner saltiness spurred me to Kenya, now what?
Before the world conference, I traveled around Kaimosi, Chwele and Lugari yearly meetings with beautiful days of brilliant sun and sudden downpours. I had a mission to encourage peacebuilding skills. I’ve been teaching peace through Friends Meetings for 20 years; I’ve worked stopping domestic violence. Kenyans have an amazing amount of groups working for peace. I witnessed their power despite family members dying from AIDS and parents walking miles for clean water.
In 1992, in 1997, and recently in 2007 there was much violence as factions vied for the presidential election. In 2008 about 1,500 people were killed, many raped, houses burned and 600,000 internally displaced persons. How can Friends respond faithfully with another presidential election this year? Many Kenyans Quakers lost their farms (livelihoods) and some lost family members.
In 2009 a program Healing and Reconciliation in our Communities (HROC) was introduced in Kenya by Friends. I participated in a 3 day HROC workshop, altogether there were 20 of us, some Westerners, many Kenyans. Our guest facilitator was Theo Bizimana from Rwanda. The workshop is based on trauma healing so that the first day is building safety and trust. The second day we spoke the painful stories, and mourned. In 2007 one woman watched her family including her husband killed by a group called the Land Defense Force near Mt. Elgon. They were about to kill her, but a phone call interrupted the killing and the murderers changed their course. Other stories ensued of hiding children in sheets, burning houses and stealing cows and land. I heard someone say, “I called to God day and night and only saw machetes in my dreams.” It was heart-breaking.
The third day we looked at reconnecting and rebuilding our communities. We were asked to name a person that we trusted and why. We drew a tree of trust. What elements do we need to nourish the roots? People spoke of what steps they could take in the community of trust. One neighbor paid for a child’s school uniform. Someone had extra seeds, and shared them. Children from different tribes played football together.
As a witness to the healing, I stayed curious and encouraged as much as I could. It seemed that as the shameful stories were exposed, the light burned brighter. HROC is a quiet way for those who suffered to take their light out from under the bushel basket.
The world gathering was a wonderful blend of young and old; programmed and unprogrammed Friends. I learned a lot by the sharing from my home group where we had Brits, Kenyans, Americans, one Ugandan, and one Zimbabwean. We shared respectfully our hopes, our loneliness, concerns of gay marriage and Biblical prophecy. We were kind to each other, and sometimes peppery. I heard more stories of violence from each country: broken relationships, drinking excessively while children go without. We looked at the violence of human greed. Everyday Kenyans carry firewood from the forest, while we collectively confessed our dependence on fossil fuels. I vowed to honor Wangari Maathi’s vision of re-forestation.
I came home exhausted and exhilarated. The best part of any world conference is returning back to your own Meeting, where you are loved and known. Now I need to learn how to transplant Healing and Reconciliation in my own community. And I will plant that pear tree I’ve been dreaming of in my yard. The world gathering starts when you get off the airplane, not when you embark.
Thomas Owen Aotearoa Yearly Meeting spoke in a keynote at the world gather of Quakers attempts to “overcome our divisions and attain unity. The work of the United Nations, Friends’ international peace work, the inter‐governmental panel on Climate Change, to name just a few, are recent international examples of this (peace-building). The African Great Lakes Initiative’s AVP, HROC, and mediation work happening right now here in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi is another – which, to my mind, is some of the most important work Friends are doing right now. It is a privilege to be here to witness it.
Thank God for small salty acts.
I saw the bird in passing, as I loped across the intersection. I hopped up the curb to the sidewalk and I saw it in my mind’s eye–the head contorted, the legs splayed
out, the lower beak jerked out like a huge thorn. It was a robin: it must have been a road kill. If you can imagine The Scream with the mouth of a robin, that was what I saw.
I hate the idea of jogging but that’s what I was doing when I passed the dead robin. I prefer to see myself running. But, actually, I’m mostly plodding through life. The river is beautiful with the waterbirds skimming the water’s edge.
My darling towheads are teens now. They shrug when I suggest we eat a special meal together. My sisters live too far away. Jupiter! I dodge a mud puddle: I put away any guilt for not visiting my Mom down on the farm. That bird, stranded by the curb, was distressing. The black rhinos and the Indian tigers are not long in this world, my Dad gloomily predicted.
I want to blot out that bird; I want to scoop it up and bury it by the riverbanks. It’s a grey day, full of the moist promise of spring. I could feel smug about running instead of jumping in the car to drive to the gym. But the bird, a witness to fossil fuels consumption kills off many species.
This run is not releasing me. Days ago Doris confided in me that she was being knocked around by the father of her children. That bothered me, the worry shot up my back, lodging somewhere below my trapezius. That night I nodded sympathetically. There’s not a dam thing I can do but listen. That’s too negative. I rephrase it saying metalically, “The best thing I can do is the gift of listening to her. I didn’t ask Doris detailed questions.
I want to know, but Jesus, I don’t really want to know. How many shades of grey can one sky hold? Knowledge is responsibility. I feel heavy with death. My body puffs and legs leaps over muddy bike tracks. I’m free of death, yet physically I am moving towards dying. The dark riverwater lugubriously rolls toward the Atlantic Ocean. Does the Boston marathon really start at the headwaters of the Charles River?
Should I listen to rumors that my muscle soreness might be a sign of early diabetes? I want to care for myself and I long to be carefree. I want others to fawn all over in love with me and I want to be alone to listen to my inner path. I remain thick with desire.
The river seemed elastic, never tarrying over indecision. It doesn’t wait for dead birds. God’s promise is like that. Even as we pollute and scream; even if we ignore the vultures circling, the earth moves. Doesn’t love embrace the carrion?. If I knew come hell and highwater, what my purpose on earth is, I’d be glib and unbearable. How boring to know exactly what Creator has in mind for me. A 5 year old gets as much pleasure in opening the rusty treasure box as in finding a jewel within it.
I finish the running by the Anderson Bridge. My body sweaty, my mind cleared of morbidity. Grey skies are a blanket, warming the dark earth. I will stay open to the promise. And there inscribed on the bridge in 1912 the passage in Revelations 22:2, often called the River of Life:
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing
twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
You are currently browsing the Pedals and Seeds blog archives for May, 2012.