USA Lurches Forward - Saalam

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.

Vets for Peace, Boston 2007 by Scheil
Vets for Peace, Boston 2007 by Schiel

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, let’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 didn’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?

A Fruitful Field of Friends

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.
…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

Law & Love in Ari(d)zona

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.

Seven Falls AZ
Seven Falls AZ

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?  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.  Running by the river at dawn was... well, blah.  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.  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.

Maryada & Minga
Maryada & Minga

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.

When is Death a Gift?

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.Katie and Pinny

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.

LOVE Mercy * DO Justice

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

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?