Every day I run by the Charles River in Boston. Every week I pick up my knitting. I love both the speed of running and the patience of knitting. My endorphins ramp up with running. Actually some call my carriage jogging, but jog is a sodden word. It does nothing for my endorphins. As I ran today yellow leaves tumbled down from the locust trees-- little scraps of plants not afraid to knock into me. The trees put on French polish before dropping their fingernails. I kept running and running, delirious.
Running is straight forward. When running I cut through confusion. Sometimes I run out of fear, running from any weakness that could kill me. I do run to save my life. But I'm not running from imminent danger, just the creeping fear of a future paralysis. I breathe deep and my body tingles.
I love both running and knitting. Gratitude infuses all of us past 50 who can still run. Thanks for stamina and the blood rising up my cheeks. But knitting is more complicated. There's design, forethought and grace to knitting. How is it that grace pertains to knitting? I can run gracefully. Twoneedles being tossed back and forth is mechanical. Is Spirit involved in knitting? It seems to be the opposite spiritual practice than running.
Knitting helps me weather Quaker thunderstorms. My spiritual nettle is tied up in the yarn. I don't knit during open worship. Holy croutons, not that. But I do knit during worship when business is at hand. Some time ago I was knitting a hat with 4 strands of thread. The strands got tumbled about. The clerk explained that Trustees had just hired an ex-convict to clean our buildings for 15 hours a week. There was anger. "We invited a low-life person to work at our church? We weren't warned about this." There was a stormy silence. I felt my hands automatically threading the yarn back and forth: knit 2, purl 2. I tried to find God's voice in the friction.
"This is totally unheard of. Who is this ex-con? Can we (the entire meeting) see his criminal record?" Some Quaker parents weren't sure whether they wanted their children in the same room with a criminal. I felt prejudice and odious racism lurking in these questions. How in God's name could my sister Quakers be racist? I breathed and knitted. I exhaled and changed needles. How do Quakers let off steam when we are glued to our chairs, our bodies perfectly still? I knitted another ½ a row. Needle front, needle back. There is rhythm, God isn't static. Forward and backward.
"Shouldn't we hear from the man we hired whether he's guilty?"
"But that's illegal."
"But he's willing to talk about how his life turned around. He's made amends."
"He's leader in the AA group."
"He's been to jail twice." Your job Minga, is to keep praying,.
Suddenly I had come to the end of my blue thread and I realized that I had a huge tangle in the middle of my skein. I looked at my orderly rows hanging from the needle: 4 blue knit; 2 white knit: 4 blue , 1 white.
Crap. I couldn't pull any more blue yarn off the skein. A maze of blue string blocked the next row. The meeting was tense. Tight, staccato voices spoke back and forth to each other.
"We should let him in-- he's changed his sinful ways."
Others said, "We can't be so naive - he's been an addict and a killer."
"We should trust in that of God in him."
"We should be careful in this case."
A trustee said, "But our lawyers say it's illegal to ask an employee to speak openly and jeopardize himself. We must get a waiver." There was a pause. From somewhere came the smell of fermented apples. Were people just confused between privacy of this man and whether to hire him? What do Friends do when they're stuck? I turned to my neighborhood, Sarah and handed her the mangled blue skein.
Hold this, I gestured to her. She smiled and opened her eyes in mock fear at the yarn. I started winding the loose end into a ball. I threaded the ball in and out. Sarah held open pockets in the tangle for me to weave onto the ball. My fingers were working overtime.
The clerk suggested a way for this ex-con to speak to the entire meeting. Many heads nodded. Someone apologized if they were sounding paranoid. At this point that assembly of God's people was in unison after wrestling with the injustice of incarceration, with our doubts that Spirit is in charge, with our fear of violence, with recovering addictions, with our slowness to forgive being ruled by fear. Was it fear? Or was it caution?
The rows of stitches on my needle were larger than my tangle of threads. The meeting closed and Sarah handed me back the loose yarn. My tiny ball had started the size of a grape and was now was the size of a peach. The length of the hat had only grown by a few rows, but the tangle of knots had shrunk.
Quakers get caught in the world's evils and we don't know instantly how to excavate ourselves. I get my yarn in terrible knots, feeling stuck. But Sarah held my tangle and progress was made. The design is still in place for my knitted hat. The yarn kept my hands busy so I didn't feel paralyzed in the midst of a Quaker convoluted fight.
I'd rather be running, but I can't run from human entanglements. How do you stay grounded during a heated argument?
God knows the path ahead is murky, please keep me knitting and running.
by Minga Claggett-Borne
Hello sister citizens and hell-raisers.
I'm mad. For a 54 year old happy mother and neighbor, I still feel fury. I can live with chaos. But I can't live with disgust. I am boorishly fed-up with our leaders' incompetence. I'm angry because last week in the Senate, the DREAM Act was ricocheted out of target. The Dream Act, which has been languishing in Congress since 2001 (yes, that's 9 years) was voted on Sept 22, 2010. Harry Reid amended the DREAM Act to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011. (Now the Dream is 10 years old.) What ways are the three branches of government improving jobs, health care and education?
I write this story to all activists who are fighting for their dream. I write to transform anger.
So I went to Scott Brown's office on Sept 21st with my friend, Susan. I had to give him a piece of my mind. He isn't giving hard working young people raised for years as US citizens half a chance. Did I tell you I was wild-eyed? Susan, made her own sign and carried it on her back as she biked into the state house. Young people were swarming around the steps of the Statehouse. They looked like a rainbow nation, many in graduation robes. All sat on the steps with funny square hats on. I talked to several trying to keep the grit out of my growl. They spoke about having a chance for a diploma from a US university. They enacted a cap and gown ceremony without the diploma. A few wanted to enlist in the navy. The sun glinted on the gold capped dome. A few crows flapped around the iron fence keeping the public off the statehouse grounds. The sky was cerulean with signs bobbing up against it saying, "I have a Dream. I want to study engineering." Or "Don't just Dream, ACT." The crows were yapping, "Caw, caw, caw." The wind blew off a black hat and it tumbled close to the curb on Beacon St.
The Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), introduced when these young folks were 10 years old, hasn't done anything. No D, development. No R, relief: only a narrow portal for E, Education. No person is illegal and no A, aliens. M, for minors insults these adults. Senators, don't ignore them, don't stunt their knowledge. The Brazilian, Chinese, and Dominican, students towered over me that bright afternoon. Long brown locks blew in the wind; onyx eyes spoke out their dreams of education; a Mexican girl in low shiny flats started to cry and sputtered out her hopes to become an architect. Three crows landed in the tree above Colonel Shaw of the 54th Regiment Memorial.
"We will not be quiet.
We have heard the promise.
We knew the dream.
We were promised the dream.
We will be heard.
The Dream Act must pass."
The crows too, kept harping from one tree to the next, their necks stretched in an open throttle.
So Susan and I and others went up to the 24th floor of the government building. I barely passed the security gates because I had knitting needles on me. We listened to a Salvadoran woman speak to the Senator who'd left her country during the US-fed insurgency in the 1980s. As she spoke of her escape to this country, I looked over the steely Boston skyline and glittering harbor. The Salvadoran said her children didn't choose to come here and pay taxes. They deserve their full rights and to live here without death squads. We spoke about how the Dream University helps the aptitude of the US as a whole; it brings revenue for the state coffers; it offers justice in a land where the rich rule. But the Senator's office didn't give us much mind. It was a polite and heated conversation. Something on the order of how crows talk across the noisy street. 'Talkin' about revolution | money pays | anchor babies |no amnesty | which immigrants." We must teach the fledglings "Who migrates? "Caw, caw, caw."
Susan and I retrieved my knitting from a safe place (To muster attention from authorities, carry knitting needles!) and strode out to the day. Susan cheered me up despite our defeat. Our Senator was going to vote against the Dream Act sure as a bat out of hell. My eye caught a seagull wheeling high above the T station. Its wingspan a blade of glinting sharpness. These young people, still disenfranchised, are preparing their next fight to pass the Dream Act. They are pugnacious. They know justice is on our side.Why after 10 years are we so hopeful?Where does the will to learn and to stand proud come from even when access is denied?. Something divine is under these high-flying wings. Yes, indeedâ€”caw, caw, caw.
Why am I not elated? A pallor descends on my face. Why does my heart come to a standstill? The President pulled out the last fighting troops in Iraq, but I'm not jumping for joy. I wish I could celebrate. I admit that removing combat troops is a step in the right direction.
"Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!" exclaimed Colonel John Norris, as the last brigade crossed into Kuwait. Operation Iraqi Freedom was the name coined in our blitzing 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"Hooah!" the soldiers roared. Over 7 years of fighting is good news? As a soldier I'd definitely be delighted to pull out. The living conditions in Baghdad are torrid, so I hear. There's lower education than under Saddam Hussein 10 years ago. Since 2003 and the fall of Saddam, the war on terror and in country conflict has destabilized the Iraq education system. 2751 schools were damaged severely. Other schools experienced looting. Teachers attendance dropped drastically. It is unsafe for many female scholars to attend school.
Water, jobs, and doctors are lacking. I heard that houses, bakeries and sewer plants limp on 3-8 hours of electricity in Baghdad. Imagine that! There are many injured and an estimated 100,000 innocent Iraqis killed by troops. Need I state that the infrastructure in Iraq is much worse than 10 years ago? War destroys progress.
Some regimes are toppled such as the British reign in India (1930s) and the apartheid government in South Africa (1989) with a humanitarian outcome. But in Iraq since Operation Iraqi Freedom we now know there were no weapons of mass destruction, and no elimination of terrorists. Members of Al Qaeda in Iraq have increasingly resorted to kidnapping and extortion to stay afloat, General Higgins said. What freedoms did we offer the Iraqi? Do they have a democracy? No, they can't even arrive at results from the March elections. As of September 5th, there's more suicide bombings and killings in Baghdad against American troops.
Does the quality of life allow new enterprises? Has the crippling war delivered any more religious tolerance? With grinding poverty can Iraqis enjoy cultural pride of film, art and architecture? Would you be happy if a country, letâ€™s say Sweden invaded the US saying that the religious right and the practices of oil companies was a form of terrorism? Supposing the Europeans came to occupy the USA until BP criminals could be put to trial?
I plead to Obama, Palin, or Elijah that we arrest our war making. We still have 50,000 troops in Iraq. And 57,000 in Germany; 60,000 in Japan and Korea; and now about 100,000 in Afghanistan. Altogether we have 360,000 troops deployed in other countries. We are armed to the teeth; we are a nation always at war without studying methods of peace. Instead of putting our best foot forward in other lands, we put our combat boots first. I admit to a sharp tone here, but as a Quaker, I aim to eliminate the need for war. Quaker principles aside, does anyone claim Operation Iraqi Freedom a worthy war? Iraq didnâ€™t prosper even with our tax dollars to the tune of $751 billion gushing over there. And so in short order, we will say of Obama's Afghanistan war.
Friends, let's seize this opportunity. As the combat troops disappear out of Iraq, let all citizens ask for a time of amnesty. Each of us ask the US to do one thing to lead to peace among countries. What are the many avenues to consider? I'm asking for a 30% reduction in US military spending for our next fiscal year.
I'm aiming to salute my neighbors Asalam`alakum during this holy month. And I'm knitting wool hats and blankets during my planning meetings. I could send these to some Iraqi injured children. Or should I send it to one of the soldiers stationed in Iraq, 5,000 kilometers away from this home that is still hemorrhaging?
So Quakers in 2010 are living on the edge. Like a song that plays over and over the human race is in continual flux. But with red oil hemorrhaging in the Mexican Gulf, and the US throwing money into the war machine and foreclosures and miners dying in West Virginia the human race is on the brink of collapse. I keep pinching myself. I keep taking showers and driving to the grocery store. My daily routine bespeaks of the Russian lullaby "May we always have sunshine, may we always have blue skies."
I wake up early each day to run by the banks of the river Charles. I go to the hospital and help empower patients. I come home to a supper of stir fry and Caesar salad. I pray constantly but I have no idea how to pray effectively. It's a life with much satisfaction, but with little justice.
But as oil continues to poison our waters the words of Isaiah come to mind, "How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, child of Dawn! You who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and who would not let the prisoners go home."
In Boston I joined in the movement for a peace culture. I waved and danced at Gay Pride. Quaker Jess carried a sign that said "Friends with Benefits" crowds on the sidewalk went ecstatic seeing Jess's sign. The small print explained the benefits as "equality," "peace, "simplicity," etc. We laughed and laughed.
I went to a seminar on violence through birth control sabotage. I went to a Mother's Day walk through Dorchester, MA to honor parents whose children were killed on the streets of Boston (27 so far in 2010). These are all justice issues. But the smallest gathering of politic speak outs was not on domestic violence or street murders or gay bashing. Guess what?
The least attended was the downtown Boston International Workers Day parade on May 1st. A few hundred people gathered to hear Immigrants in the US speak out. Some Latina students dressed in graduate robes and square hats to urge support for the Dream Act. Puppets 20 feet tall overshadowed the socialist fringe. There was a die-in in front of the military recruiters office. Once in that locale there was a store hiring youth to be salespeople. Now there's no jobs so youth fight our wars overseas. In a cordoned-off 4 lane street I laid a rose down on the body bag for the young soldiers deaths.
In this story I was going to talk about the desert in the southwest of the US. I want to shout-out about egregious policies in AZ. My moniker for AZ is Mexizona. There is evil in our laws of imprisoning the immigrants. But, dear Heavenly Mother, I don't have to go to the Southwest border. I met the enemy in Massachusetts. I met evil in my backyard. I feel the fear, but courage is stronger. The justice needs to happen close to home.
â€¦a spirit from on high is poured out on us,
And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
And the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace,
And the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. Isaiah 32
Sarah and Abraham traveled from Ur to an unknown destination to find a better life. Later Abraham's children settled in Egypt due to a terrible famine throughout the land and were guests of the Egyptians. In Bosnia hundreds of families emigrated to the US, during the hostile devastation of their homeland. From the Irish coming during the Potato Famine to the Lost Boys of Sudan, there are many instances of US Christians opening their homes to economic or political refugees.
Today we face another crisis-- what about the immigrants risking their lives by crossing the Mexican border. We have a combination of Brazilians, Salvadorans and Mexicans pouring across, thousands every month. What are we to do with them?Â I found that people of faith are divided as to how we are to invite and welcome these other citizens who choose to travel so far from home.
I came to the Desert in April to understand the stage where human trafficking has been increasing since 1994. The number of injuries and deaths happening on our borders has multiplied. In 1994 the INS began to militarize the Mexican border. Border Patrol were hired to enforce Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego and Hold the Line in Texas. The government capriciously calls these campaigns prevention through deterrence. But in reality they are deterrence through death. As Boeing and other companies try to build the electronic fences and the physical walls, the migration across the border changes. It doesn't change as one would expect, in decreasing the volume of entrants. But instead of traveling near populous areas, the bands of immigrants are forced to scatter over the most inhospitable desert areas.
This is the place where President Obama decided on May 26th to send 1,200 troops. He wants Congress to authorize $500 million to increase the military presence at the AZ border. Sen McCain is asking for 6,000 troops on the border. Instead of spending money on the Dream Act, they want to increase the number of sharpshooters. This will increase the deaths. Latinos crossing the border aren't deterred by patrols, they just pay more money to the coyotes who smuggle them across. The fence is just a strand of barb wire in some parts of the 2,000 mile border. The wall was built in the populated towns, like El Paso and Nogales. So with the wall, campesinos are driven to run through the abandoned areas of rough terrain and jumping cactus. Some come dressed for a freedom ride to Phoenix, they have on dress shoes, without blankets for nights nor hats for days.
The Sonora Desert is a beautiful and deadly swath of land. It covers southern and western AZ. It is south of Phoenix and east of the Mojave desert and extends south of the border from Nogales sweeping towards Baja CA. The mesquite trees like an umbrella of yellow bloom in April. The prickly-pear cactus and sage dot the chalky adobe. Spring starts in AZ in February and lasts until April. In May and June the heat is suffocating, often soaring up to 115 F. The ground is rocky or gravelly sand, the desert bushes are prickly, thorns adorn the cactus, scorpions and snakes. It's difficult to walk even with sun protection, food and liquid.
I stayed in Tucson, hiking outside, avoiding traffic. The Sonora Desert eerily doesn't seem like the US. AZ laws and schools are different, clocks don't switch to daylight savings time. Sonora Mexico is distinct from Mexico too. It's economy and police are focused on the migrations of workers headed to the US. The border isn't AZ, USA isn't Mexico, let's call it Mexizona. Obama's militarization of Mexizona takes it to a new level. He's pouring money into a militarized zone (as opposed to a DMZ), instead sending money for health, food production and education.
I wasn't altruistic, I had many questions. needs. I sojourned to find a new path in my clouded New England wilderness. I was in a dark place-apathetic and angry. Why? My Dad had died 8 months ago, feeling my own brittleness. What had I done with my life? Was I a living testament to the wonder that I felt just savoring a peach? Things I love were feeling stale.Â Running by the river at dawn was... well, blah.Â My children were leaving for college, my work at the hospital is in jeopardy of closing. I am in existential crisis. So I took off, left my good family and the internet behind.
This corridor is an obstacle course for a lot of human travel.Â Maybe Mexizona is an exodus of people leaving the grueling poverty to a land of milk and honey. America is known as the land of opportunity, but not the promised land. The years wandering in the desert is a zone of danger. Your freedom in the wilderness comes while running from the rifles of border patrol. IF the gun doesn't nail you, the heat will suffocate.
I found Holiness and Grace in the desert. The following groups are all present, some of them I met. Some good Samaritans are: New Sanctuary Movement which includes CluE Clergy and Laity United on Economy; Interfaith Workers Justice IWJ. There's Borderlinks, Humane Borders, No Mas Muertos; and Coalition para Derechos Humanos. And this is just what I saw during my Easter visit.
This seems like as many groups as the do-goobers helping Haiti rise up from the earthquake. I'm just a gringo-girl, what do I know? I saw Christians and college students and retired couples coming to give water and shelter and hope. Many courageous people are helping these nut-brown sojourners who knock at the US door. May we rise out of our morass. Next blog I'll mention how.
It's now 2 months since my Dad took his own life. He was 86 years old.
I think of myself as a daughter who misses her parent. I don't think of myself as a survivor like one who's survived a suicide. Many see suicide as wrong, shrouded in dank and silent screams. But the mystery of suicide was unveiled for our family. Dad spoke openly about wanting to die and that he would do it without our help.
For his family on that August afternoon, he spoke obliquely without fanfare--at bedtime he would take an overdose.I wouldn't participate in the suicide. Dad taught me about welcoming dying, even though I refused to join with him in his dance with death. I didn't want to count the pain killers, or put one pill in his hand. If he dropped one, I'd pick it off the floor, but never put it in his hand. Nor did I choose to flush the drug in the toilet. I was glad to be a bystander not joining in the end game.
In prayer I understood Dad's position, accepted it as different than my own. I checked it out with my Inner Guide and I knew it wasn't my role to deny my father. He wasn't much of a complainer during that year he told me he'd take his life. We talked often.He liked the borderlines of science and mystery. What's dark matter, gray matter and anti-matter. What's the sky and what's heaven? What are the 2 wolves prowling in your mind and do you feed them?We had great conversations. He spoke about his inner gleamings of eternity.Emotionally I cheerfully explored with him life and death and even moreso, spiritually.
But physically I would not lift a finger to help him. Not because it's a crime, but because helping him die would ruin a pact of love. I would never diminish the love we shared. After all, he gave me life. He showed love and exemplified strength. Was I born to give him death? I didn't participate in his undoing, and so kept the promise. Between father and daughter the unwritten vows are not to give up on life or love.
Like a bear's first fishing in the trout stream, I was full of energy yesterday, almost ravishing. I do believe it was a holy time, though a bit frenzied. Twenty-two people and myself worked on our inner violence and how to make the peace campaign as strong as the military tanks. Working towards peace and justice is the same, like the two sides of a mobuis strip. Without justice, peace is a facade "Why can't we all just get along?" pleaded Rodney King. Without peace, justice is a brutal taskmaster.
Love encircles both peace and justice. So us twenty folk practiced deescalating anger, intervening when teenagers come to blows, preventing street violence. It was practicing over and over how in the face of rage to calm your blood pressure, state your truth with conviction, show acts of kindness during tragedy.
I am a commited peacebuilder. I drafted myself into the army for peace about 30 years ago after living in Tchad, Togo, Greece and Swtizerland over a period of 2 years. But is the peace sustainable? It can only be sustainable if it includes justice.
At one of my nonviolent workshops we built a community by first naming our good points and then by affirming in different ways participants' strengths. We laughed, threw a ball around. We tried to throw as many as eight balls around in a circle of 15 people. With cooperation, and lots of neighborly assistance, one can keep 8many balls tossed in the air.
Then, once there's trust in the group, we look deeper at how each of us contribute to violence. I know I'm complicit in the Iraq war because of my dependence on oil. I consume too much energy. Guilty. I know that I've slapped my kids in anger. Ouch. Can you hear them wail? Heck, I've even slapped my spouse. Boom. My offenses are stacking up. I've shoplifted. I'm a common theif. These are a few actions that mark me as guilty.
And I haven't even mentioned the emotional violence I commit to others. Often. Yet I'm Quaker. I work diligently to help the voiceless and I join with the immigrants. I love other people all the time. I am loved. I spend time every day working on myself.
Today in radiant worship I was looking at my serious mistakes. Someone said love your enemies and I raved (silently) at my taciturn Dad. Another speaker prayed how everyday we receive a new gift and I was angry at Spirit for my hard lessons. Inwardly I cried. It's hard to really, unconditionally love yourself. I tilled my heart, I pruned my distress. Remember, we're on this earth to work ourselves as if it's a clay sculpture; our bodies are objects of beauty sculpted by our thoughts and movements. I'm just learning to be that foot soldier for peace. I'm joining in on the shanti sana. (Gandhi's peace army, 1940s)
I like eating in the soup kitchen at one of Harvard Square's historic church. The tables are set carefully, with 15 tables serving 8 customers. I help prepare the meal. This is charity. After serving plates with fresh cooked meats and produce, I sit down and eat with the guests. I meet people who know more than I do but for many reasons they don't have a day job like me. One woman about 70 said she'd like to have kept working as a secretary, another told me he couldn't tolerate noise anymore so lost his work doing construction. Many have medical conditions. A few don't like to chat. I talk with them about children, schools, Barack Obama, the Red Sox nation, seeing the movie Slumdog Millionaire. I try to listen to them the same as to friends at a Christian barbeque. This is similar to my nonviolent workshops where I'm looking for common ground and how to affirm the good in us all. This is not charity strictly: it's loving the stranger (albeit for a short time). I'm changing venues to eat wtih the dispossessed. Except that I'm not sharing my personal nor my food possessions per se. I'm sharing a slice of my time and heart with a meal for 70 people. It borders on justice because there's more mutuality. I wouldn't call sharing loaves and fishes justice exactly?
What does the Lord require of thee? To love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with thy God. —Micah 6:8