The withered Ghost of Love

I was sitting in Quaker Meeting yesterday praying harder than I’ve prayed before. Praying hard is a paradox. I’ve learned in the last 30 years, since I decided to be a follower of The Seed, how to pray. The first step is calming my body. Then to center my thoughts, which are often like a newborn’s flailing arms. Now, I’m not sure you’d agree, but isn’t it impossible to listen to the Creator’s whisperings when I’m willfully determined to pray perfectly? My ego can obfuscate my soul.

 

I came into meeting agitated. I sat in a corner of the sanctuary, amidst friends who were centering down. Sun was streaming in the windows, the walls were recently painted, no icons or altar to distract me. Some images in church evoke more idolatry than worship. Over the course of quiet waiting I felt focused; as the hour progressed I felt loved; and by the time the group of 200 shook hands a sense of blessing arose in me.

 

I sat with Creation wrestling with whether my good work in the Boston area was helpful. I work at some local hospitals accompanying battered women as they wiggle out of the violence at home. Other volunteer activities command my attention: I help arrange Quaker marriages with couples gay or straight. I teach nonviolence at the local prisons in Concord and Shirley MA. Last week I drove a friend to radiation treatment. I serve meals at a soup kitchen with my teenage son. I put up beams in a house with Habitat for Humanity and took inventory of 40 + bathtubs. Does this volunteering help bring what MLK calls ‘the blessed community?’

 

The way English scholars in 1600s thought of charity was a manifestation of love. King James’ Bible says that charity is greater than faith and hope. Obama and hope; quakers and faith; and my work in the community has got me struggling. My question to you, readers, and to that of Spirit on earth is: when are good works charity and when are good works justice?

 

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

 

Charity is a one way street. It’s unidirectional giving. It is

  • putting coins in the can of haggard woman huddled up in front of the CVS store.
  • giving a dollar to a man with a disabled vet sign who stands at the bus stop.
  • food pantries where rich people give food boxes to the poor.

Nothing is wrong with any of these actions. I don’t want to pooh-pooh charity. We have to start somewhere. But my agitation in worship is because charity keeps the rich with all the resources. It’s not a redistribution of resources. Charity needs to be both giving and taking for it to transform into justice.

 

Here’s an instance of charity. A woman, her name is Prudence, was driving out to work into Lexington. She came to a stoplight at a mall and gave some small change to a woman at the corner. The woman was middle-aged with layers of bright sweaters over a patchwork peasant skirt snapping in the breeze. After working long at her secretarial job, Prudence returned home. She drove her second-hand car again 12 suburbian miles to get back to Boston. She pulled over at the same intersection, this time to stop at the 7-eleven to buy eggs, diet coke and batteries. There was the same woman with her sweaters coming out of the cold at the end of the day. She was in front of Prudence at the cash register. She paid for her bread, bananas, soda and deli items. She pulled out quarters and dimes rummaging in a few pockets for some dollar bills. Before carrying her grocery bag she hesitated. She pulled out another bill, and Prudence, in fascination, noticed it was a 5 dollar bill. Without a pause she stuffed it into the slot of a March of Dimes bottle, whose bottom barely had a layer of nickels and pennies with one dollar bill in it. Prudence didn’t know what to think as she got in the car. Should she be pleased that she had given the woman some quarters earlier that day and paid for a banana or two? Wasn’t it more dignified for the woman to choose the food she preferred with the $15 that she got that day than to take left-over food that someone hands her? Did Prudence give her coins automatically or meaningfully? Prudence had a lot to ponder: the woman giving $5 taught her a lesson about charity not to forget. 

Dorothy Day with AJ Muste photo: Marquette U Library
Dorothy Day with AJ Muste. photo: Marquette U Library

As Paul Baker, the singer, says, “charity is a withered ghost of love.” Charity and justice come from two different sources inside you. Another Catholic, Dorothy Day says, ‘I felt that charity was a word to choke over. Who wanted charity? And it was not just human pride but a strong sense of man's dignity and worth, and what was due to him in justice, that made me resent, rather than feel proud of Catholic institutions." 

 

I want to ask Dorothy in worship, when can charity be just? I didn’t get the answers, but I did feel  love at work in me. Spirit, like a lover, bathed me in warmth.  Stay plugged in for more insights. And keep singing into infinity--Allelujah.

 

 

 


Fragile Faith, audacity of Hope, Lit'le Love

Christianity gave me two passages and that’s all I need. 58 books in the Bible, as many as 1,160 chapters, and I only need 2 of them. If I could filter these two ideas into my actions, put them in my resume, and embed them into my voice when my kids are late getting to school; then I don’t need the remainder of the Bible. You doubt me? Read on.
If I just live out the Golden Rule, ‘love your neighbor as yourself‘ I’m half-way there. I love myself equally as I love others. Simple, no bones to pick. However upkeep of my neighbor and myself are both full-time jobs. And they take the upmost care. That’s the rub. What’s the second passage? Consider the 13th chapter in Corinthians. If I make that my recipe for life then I’d be fine. I’d be just hunky dory.

On the road with open eyes
On the road with open eyes

    “All set.” He says dismissively, facing his adventure. But not me, I can’t live so succinctly. I still struggle with ways to face the unknown. Am I prepared for my hike? No, I’m still ruminating on how to act in a messy world. I need your help. I know when he wrote advice to Corinth 2,000 years ago, Paul from Rome, was inspired. The words are like poetry: such beauty with the reverberation of bells across the ages.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Me, now at a ripe age of 700 moons, I know something of what Paul says. I can speak forcefully, my tongue is not wanton. Last month an 85 year-old man tried to commit suicide. When he got out of the hospital, I spent 3 days caring for him. Did I prophesize? My spouse told him that for his 13 grandchildren he should live; I told him by his living he’d inspire others to live longer. Now he’s decided to write another book.

Unlike Mother Teresa, I don’t give away all my possessions, because I love myself along with my neighbor. I’m perplexed about the hundreds of cans and bags of rice I’ve given. Does feeding the poor without much forethought count for doing good? I do give food donations to the community food bank when I grocery shop, and I don’t salivate with love when I do it: but I like doing it as much as I like buying food for us 4 at home. Last week I bought a quart of chocolate soy milk for the foodbank just for fun.

Then Paul descibes love. I don’t have much patience, but I did wait 6 months for Reina to get her divorce. I raged with her, laughed, massaged her shoulders, pored over legal documents. In court Reina’s deadbeat husband asked for both houses and the limo while she took the Nissan and both kids. I was angry, but bit my tongue. The jury is out when deciding if I’m patient.

I totally rejoice when the truth is out. Madoff, Rove, Wilkerson, Blagojevich, and Bryant (and I mean Kobe) need to be accountable to the public. Criminal actions need to be denounced, although punishment doesn’t work. Truth often comes in the face of fear or of harm. So in spirit, rejoice. My brain understands acts of kindness like when I gave a street vendor who was selling a homeless magazine my last dollars. Once at a major intersection, a gaunt man was shuffling between 2 lanes with his can saying US Vietnam vet. I was without a nickel, but I lowered my window to say hi. I gave him some M&Ms that I have stashed in my bag for emergencies, and they clunked inside the can as the light turned green. He flashed me a bright smile, candy rang out more than a dollar bill. Then I came home and my son asked woefully, “What’s for desert, Mom?” I didn’t have any. So I told my son the story of that snaggle-toothed smile from the Vietnam vet. I doubt if that appeased my son’s stomach.

That’s a quick sum of how well I’m dealing with living in love. I fall down everyday. I dust off the dirt and grime and try again. We are crudely-speaking, animals, and any time we can stride forth in love, well a miracle rises out of the compost. What’s your miracles?


A Trumpet Calls as our March Begins

Joeseph E Lowery delivers a blessing in Washington DC. Jan 20, 2009
Joeseph E Lowery delivers a blessing in Washington DC. Jan 20, 2009

Lowery's words begin with the Black National Anthem, found in many church hymnals by JW Johnson and JR Johnson, and sung in AME churches across America since the 1920s.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day.
We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.

He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.
For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.
And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.
Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.
With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

Lowery ends with a rhyme, tongue-in-cheek, from the 1960s: If you're black, Get back; If you're brown, stick around; If you're yellow, you're mellow; If you're red, you're dead; If you're white, you're allright.  (As I recall yellow in this context refers to pale-skinned folk of African descent.) During all the race riots of the 1960s/1970s, it was popular to sum up how the dominant culture catergorized and disposed blocks of people, judging them by surface features.
This system of color-based privilege exists in southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, , Namibia) today and in other countries, where clearly coded messages were obvious to even the most casual observer. I hope that Lowery's last ditty is the death rattle to typecasting in out times. He calls us to keep our feet straight in the path of integrity, no matter what leopard spots or racoon mask we wear. May our hearts stay true despite the drunkeness of the world's ways. Embrasos en paz, Minga


Gene Robinson's prayer 1.19.09

Sarah Pulliam at Christianity Today transcribed Bishop Robinson's blessing. This was given before the concert, but for some strange reason, wasn't publicized.

God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears -- tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless  this nation with anger -- anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Bless  us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.
Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for all people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.
Give him stirring words; We will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace. Amen."


Minga's Homefront

I'm thinking about our new year, our new US government, and some luminary Quakers. Despite several snow/ice storms, accidents and fear, I hold onto a vision of new justice for all in 2009. Obama, our bi-racial, bi-cultural, and our world citizen will sit in the White House, which has here-to-for, always been very White. He will have an American Black woman and two 21st century daughters (Quaker students) to guide him, if he chooses to listen! Happy MLK Day !  (I prefer being early to being late.)

I am as always working at home and mining the spiritual lessons taught by 2 strong willed teens. Elias is 16, who eats whey by the drams in smoothies, and owns 12 pairs of sneakers (each one a diff color). He is reading Shakespeare and Paolini this month. He maintains strong grades in high school and throws his body into basketball and volleyball. Asa is 20, completed his 1st semester at Oberlin College with strong grades especially in his lit class of Satire and Humor. He's witty, and reliable. Working during vacations at Lord & Taylor, he looks transformed wearing a suit, carrying his metal coffee cup, and brushing up with the very rich. He loves skiing and seems quite good.

After years of struggle, to find compatibility is a blessing. I prepare quick meals for him-- I offer lots more salmon and whitefish these days. Living together after a year in Spain, I'm much more aware of how central heat pleases my sweetie. The US is decaying, but we have reliable clean water and electricity every day. Thank you, Gaia. With the long deep nights, he snuggles up beside the curve of my ribs and in the morning we leap out of bed. We prance onto crystallized earth, he prowls the street as the sun springs onto a pale sky. Then- he terrorizes other cats while I go running. If you thought his name was Jonathan, I'm happy to inform you it's Ocelot, our elderly cat. Pets are luxurious, but Ocelot helps all the family by showing us that temperature, food and cleanliness matter more than wars or even wordsmithing.

Minga
Minga

My Quaker journey has taken me to off-beat places. I'm charged with encouraging Friends to talk about difficult topics without turning into cannibals. I've talked with different Friends meetings about sexuality, same-sex marriage, and heterosexual privilege. After counting, I've traveled to 12 Meetings to visit and give workshops. What a delight. Also rewarding is my part-time job at the Cambridge public hospital, CHA. I work with women at OB/GYN who live with an abusive partner. It's totally hard work, and I enjoy all 40 women I've met this year. My job differs this year because a core component is working with pregnant women and reversing the violence before the child is born.

Jonathan is, indubitably, wonderful and 2009 is our 25th anniversary. JVB has tolerated my quirks, my rants and our kitchen coated with flour after cookie baking. He and I have a strong partnership on co-parenting, paying the bills, and giving to the community. Other times I bray and he cackles. JVB enjoys laughing, website designing and playing his newest instrument, the bass guitar.

I've felt something tugging inside, like early contractions, when a baby wants to emerge. The inner nudge, call it a Guide, is pushing me to polish some ideas on survival in 2009. I've had a bushelful of Quaker books, many about Quaker abolitionists, and Quaker preachers against 'worldly possessions' (silver, slaves, business), and adoration of the 'beloved community.' Mary Peisley wrote to a Quaker male minister who was distracted from witnessing truth to this "lukewarm, backsliding, degenerate age." She continues, "Consider what thou art doing with these excellent talents. ...thou should not cease to use them. . .Do not become a salve to the world." The lure of such outward business could outwieigh the call of witness. What message can Quakers give in a landscape of fear? How do we untangle our dependence on armaments? How do we live into a culture of peace recognizing that race and class influence our decisions? Peace seems shallow, almost a jingoism. I'm looking for 5 kinds of peace, or assalam. Like shalom, it's a becoming word.

All society is held together by nonviolence, even as the earth is held
in her position by gravitation
.

M. Gandhi.