Light In Action

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?


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.