Light In Action

Our Beloved Boston Marathon

Not the Boston marathon. OMG. Not 2 explosions during the marathon. This is worse than a Hitchcock nightmare. Oh Holy God. 4 people dead and countless injured. Here, in my cheerful cocky energetic hometown. And the Marathon, started in 1897 with 18 runners, is emblematic of savvy Boston. Now I know the violence in the US is a run-away train. Now I know we Americans are over the top. So. Help. God. So help me God.

Don’t call me naïve if I chortle that Boston is a wonderful city. The health fairs, the new city-wide bicycles, the parks used for skating, baseball, picnics, dogs and Frisbees. We don’t even call it Boston central park: instead it is Boston Public Garden and Boston Commons, because the land is commonwealth to us all. That’s all 4.5 million of us packed into a peninsula beside the Atlantic Ocean.

We have public transit that works dependably; the universities attract a UN rainbow of people; we have specialty health centers like and Dana Farber for cancer. Our exquisite health care system is aided by an amazing high Tech industry, employing lots of software engineers after graduating from a prestigious school like MIT. Tufts, UMass, BU, and Harvard all have strong undergraduate programs and medical/dental schools. We are replete with young people, artsy folks and street jugglers. Mayor Menimo budgets lots of money for youth summer jobs, and with the same fervor doffed to our beloved Bruins/Pats/Celtics, Boston has built up a hefty police force. The Red Sox nation is a unique phenomenon--winning the World Series in 2004 and in 2007-- we are proud, wielding our economic hammer with a Bossypants attitude. But we, like other places-- Newtown CT; Aurora CO; Virginia Tech and the Twin Towers in NYC—don’t tolerate senseless violence. We are vulnerable now and in tragic mourning. Our town with its Yankee ingenuity has just taken a whuppin’. So we put down the brass and show our tender side: the side that loves Jack/Bobbie/Ted Kennedy, the side that lets OccupyBoston camp out in the middle of the commercial district, the side that treats children suffering from severe burns and cancer, has Spring races for the hungry, for those raped, for our Vets, for AIDS survivors, and for the healthy. We embrace them all.

Boston is in Recovery.

I’m a nonviolence trainer and a trauma crisis counselor. Please hear our agony-a pain only us who love our Marathon can feel. If you aren’t from Boston, the Marathon is not just a race—it’s a cherished symbol. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon, with over 500,000 spectators. Amateur and professionals run it, with about 27,000 runners. Massachusetts official nomenclature for this Monday in April is Patriots’ Day, a state holiday so school age children can view the marathon along Commonwealth Ave.

The response to the violence is more telling than the hateful crime. Boston’s real marathon is the healing. Our recovery from fear and reconciling ourselves to each other will take a Herculean effort. Pray for the victims, and pray that our love grows even deeper of this place, for all of us-even the criminals. It’s the legacy of Boston. We will be proud of this Marathon too.


Poems Arch Across a Wet Sky

 

The Walk

Each step a word

May Day 2009

Each toe a pupil

Each pilgrim a sapling

Big toes flex, then probe, and grab

Groping over earthflesh.

Callouses reach blindly for a vista of mountains.

Underfoot

The arch tenderly curves around a root

Prayer is never stagnant

Grace wraps between skin and grist

After decades of walking

The heel grinds a stone

The rough edges carve out decay

Pebbles grown round with sinew and service

Arms ventilate the stuffed cage,.

Moving hands release a closed heart

Arms swing slow beside tree branches

The narrow voice box floats a bit higher.

Worship whispers in your gait.

Each step an answer

Each answer a gift

Each gift a nod

Receiving God. March 2013

 

Midori’s Dilemma

The mold is creeping. Here we do not hide the truth.

The portrait of John Woolman can’t disguise the black spoors.

A coffee cup is picked up delicately by an arthritic hand.

Watch the coffee gyrate when she takes a tentative step.

Lentil soup steams as Tom’s ladle salutes a hungry stranger.

A toddler forgets her Spiderman beside the compost bin.

Pink worms ooze inside the black belching box.

 

Do not expect to see the infinite love of God tumbling from the high hills.

After the prayer undresses you, pick up the shovel and join the worms.

Outside a sparrow sings amidst the greying sun all of the divine’s mysteries.

Seek justice between bites of stew.

 

Chew up hate; tweet cheerfulness; climb the ladder slowly.

Even Lucretia Mott had manacles muffling her clarion words.

 

What is home? Where can I find love?

Somewhere between the mold and the Bible. 4/15/13

GS graduation

Guancascos in Honduras

In Honduras I pick up bits of the culture. I eat an empanada, and the memory is stored on my tongue. I see a boy riding bareback downhill to the bridge, and my calf muscles contract as if trotting along. I'm amazed at the bromeliads growing like spikey lily pads, the branches filled with orange flowers. One tree can host a botanical garden. Thus after a 3 day visit to Honduras, a bouquet of sweetness fills my sensations.

We walked from 'el castillo', the castle, to the Central Park planted snug against the Iglesia de San Marco. I was prejudiced without cause hearing the story of Honduran President Juan Lindo (1850c.) and his invasion of Guatemala. The Castillo was a bit somniforic until I read that Lindo said the future of the country depended on breaking forth and educating the people.

We met many Honduran Quaker leaders (Martha learned all the gossip). We visited in colonial Spanish-built houses with tile floors and a style of ceramic roof that lets in air, but not raindrops. We couldn't resist a trip to the thermal pools: hot springs that flow down from the amazing rainforest of the Celaque summit. My image of Honduras as a poor downtrodden country without much culture to mention was completely overturned.

One of the most intriguing parts of my education was learning about a PreColumbian peace process among the Lenca people here called guancascos. The Lencan Indians are bereft of their language and religion, but guancascos is alive and well carving a peace between communities. This unique tradition can instruct our flailing peace efforts. Guancascos is a bilateral peace treaty between two competing groups fighting over territory. It involves days of dance, ceremonies, a change of local leaders in office, and sometimes weddings and baptisms. Both towns attend the process. It's the biggest event of the year.

Guancascos begins with the Traida de Polvora, the bringing of gunpowder. At this time the leaders from both sides meet: the costs of the fireworks are negotiated. Every peace summit needs a divvying up of fireworks to whet the whistle for larger conflicts. Then the two communities often have a Broom Dance, where the newly elected leader hands a flowered broom to the outgoing village leader and in turn a Tall Staff is given to the outgoing leader. There's ofcourse lengthy greetings punctuated by fireworks and music. The parade starts in one town, and then heads to the outskirts, and ends in the second town. The two groups sachet towards the main Catholic Church, over a floor covered with pine needles, and decorated copiously. The climax is the Danza de Gorrobo, the Dance of the Black Iguana, with elaborate costumes and native musical instruments. Don't these dances sound better than signing a written contract, costly and ponderous?

Guancasco is used in a few dozen villages around Gracias a Dios, and Santa Rosa de Copan. I wonder what ways the Guancasco can instruct Quakers who are a bit stiff around peace initiatives.

It offers formal ways to connect with potential enemies or former enemies. It is renewed every year or every other year. This style of waging peace has happened for 500 years. Ah yea, sounds like a tried and true process to me.


El Cristo Negro de Eschipulas

The terrain going southeast from Chiquimula is a mix of chaparral with valleys of cultivated fields. Guatemalans here dress in western style, with a Butch Cassidy swing. The harvest is good here with melons, watermelons, fruit trees, honey, and ofcourse lots of maize. I certainly have had some excellent dishes in the form of stuffed eggplant, cinnamon porridges, and nutritious caldos (soups). Chefs here have an original way of making empanadas. I was served an appetizer of a fritatas, complete with a bit of corn husk, wrapped around the fritata like a ribbon. They have a technique of growing melons in rows, and then covering the entire row in plastic, to protect it from predators, including the penetrating sun rays. The temperature is hot now, reaching a high of 75 degrees but in July the heat is truly suffocating. Rains come in May which they call winter.

Martha and I went on Jan 15 to visit the festival of El Cristo Negro in Esquipulas, about 40 kilometers south of Chiquimula. The Central Park is huge, with whitewashed walls and wide sidewalks. And there were pilgrims parked everywhere, many with traditional dress: satin skirts and tassles hanging from straw hats. Believe it or not, the entire park looked like Occupy Wall Street. Canvas and industrial plastic hitched up in makeshift tents covered the park. Women had small fires going out on the sidewalks, heating a pot of coffee, or toasting small tortillas on a flat pan. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves with little alchohol.

The ornate basilica with walls like a fortress, dominated the park. On one side of the basilica was a courtyard, where a priest sprinkled and blessed the line of pilgrims. The other side had a line of people waiting hours to get a upclose viewing of the Cristo Negro, a statue at the altar. On the other side was a enclosed place to light candles, and there were thousands of candles. The pavement of rounded stones was slick with wax. The small chapel held the wishes of so many people: those hoping for a new life, for a miracle, even for a loaf of bread. The smoke and the incense were intoxicating: I floated through the aisles of candles as if breathing on another planet. Some say the original christ in the chapel was not so dark-skinned, but after time being exposed to the resin and smoke of such offerings, the statue was black-ened. El Cristo Negro is attributed to have cured many supplicants: the poor, the sick, the desperate. Even an archbishop was cured of cancer here. The story of the Black Jesus orginated 400 years ago.

Before the conquest of the Conquis-tadors, the town of Esquipulas, located near the crux of El Salvador and Honduras, was inhabited with about 300 Indians. The missionaries who arrived in town were “very aggressive”, according to Abbot Gregory Robeau. They persuaded many locals to convert to Catholicism: conversion being another form of conquest. Anthropologists have found that when an indigenous group looses its religion, the loss slices through its culture, and within a few generation its language is lost. Sometime soon before the turn of the 16th century, converts asked for a crucifix of Jesus for their prayers. And so a petition was made to the Bishop in the capital Antigua, for a crucifix. An artist, Quirio Catahyo in Antigua was approached about the need of the Indians of Esquipulas. In 1594 Catahyo sculpted a crucifix in memory of Saint Francis. To pay for the cost of the project, the locals of Esquipulas planted and sold cotton.

Indians then traveled by foot from Esquipulas to Antigua to carry Jesus back to their town. They were amazed at the beauty of their new possession. Along the way home, the group passed through various towns, people everywhere were awestruck by the image’s charisma. As a result, the crucifix spent time in each village, prolonging the trip until March 5, 1595. Since then there' s been many cures from the faithful who visit El Cristo Negro, including Pope John Paul II who came to ask for a cure for the suffering of many. If healing is happening with smoke and wax and travelling to a shrine, who am I to dispute it?


Navigating, WWII & My Dad

My father risked his life several times as a pilot in WW II. I think of him often now that he has left me, left this earth. My father traveled to see the marvels of the world, and loved returning to his home town where he lived for 85 years. My father loved wild goose, venison and raw oysters. He was an armchair environmentalist, so dogs became his devoted companions.

My father was an athlete, a conversationalist, with a laugh that shook his whole torso. He thought of himself as a genius- telling me that he was off the charts when he was given an IQ test in school. When his Quaker friend, John Hawkinson entered the living room wearing tangerine slacks, Dad eyed him dubiously, and with aplomb pulled out a pair of sunglasses to inspect him with. Dad was a lot of fun. But today I’m reflecting on the contradiction of being a committed Quaker and joining the army in wartime.

Dad never talked much about his service in the war. He enlisted at age 20 and trained to be a pilot. I didn’t even realize he was responsible for bombing much of Germany. Soon after the war he let his pilot license expire, maybe the war tainted the joy of flying. He told me that being a pilot came in handy to impress popular women. He once did a loop in a two-seater plane, taking Louise out for a spin. When he pulled the plane leveling it out, he noticed that Louise wasn’t in her seat at all. Instinctively he glanced down, out the side window, just in case. In case what? Louise had jumped? Soon Dad found her curled up underneath the cockpit. He was a daredevil.

The earliest memory I have of Dad speaking about being a pilot, I was 10 or maybe 9. We were driving home from school out in the fields of harvested corn near the Chesapeake tributaries. The air was crisp, I was sullen about increasing demands that I help do housework with 3 younger sisters underfoot. The clouds were slung low. The air was full of Canadian geese honking in the distance. Dad slowed the car and pulled to the side of the road. I looked for danger. The wind had picked up and buffeted a trash bag in front of the car.

“Look at ‘em,” Dad said. With a glint in his eyes, he motioned.
There a flock of 15 geese were descending into the field, the field that last summer was stitched in corn. These geese slowly circled down, their mighty wings hooking the air.

“I love to see how they bank against the wind. Watch them pull the throttle. Webbed feet stretch down to brake. Now they flutter just a few feet above the ground.” I watched as one group after another landed just a few feet from each other. Maybe when they were just learning to fly they did some crash landings. Maybe brothers would misjudge and land on top of one another.

“They know how to work the slats. Watch that one.”
“Yea.” Their agility for a fat goose was amazing.
“What slats?” I asked.
“Slats are extensions of the airplane wings. They increase the drag. You pitch the nose of the airplane up to slow down. Landing was always the best part of the flight. The problem was in the war, I was so dag tired at the end of the day. I had to rally all my energy to land smoothly.”
He gave a nod of admiration to the geese. He mentioned briefly that he had flown many flights (20? 30?) over Europe in WW II. He knew he was Quaker, that Hitler was an enemy to the free, that he was fighting violence with violence. He was reconciled to participating in the war: he was just 20 years old. He didn’t fly much after his discharge in 1945. He came home in uniform, a war hero, and got a lot of free drinks. He never untangled the lessons of war for a disgruntled 10 year old. But he admired the savvy of the wild geese: who fly in formation, who travel thousands of miles, who wheel gracefully through the December skies, who descend and land with their sophisticated navigation. I got it: he passed it on. We both shared recurring dreams of flying off the ground.

My Dad was smart and cocky and a good pilot. He loved learning from animals. He loved to move through space. He loved me. The geese are a testimony to lifting off the constraints of the earth; of the extraordinary feeling of going beyond what is earthly possible, and then using all your powers to land safely after flight. What deeper mysteries are there?


Practicing Peace-More on AVP

There’s not much silence in an Alternatives to Violence Workshop. But there’s a lot of soaking in good energy. We do silly games like Mrs. Mumbly Just can’t smile (talk without showing teeth); sly games like taking a slow boat to China; rowdy games like Jailbreak where in pairs you race to sit in the chairs before anyone else gets there. What do all these games have to do with Nonviolence?

When a divided and defensive community like in a prison links arms and runs or laughs together; you transform that community into one of trust and openness. Then guys look at how to change negative reactions. In short, it’s hard to punch someone when you’re laughing with them.

In the AVP workshop we have serious discussions. What incidents happen that make your anger thermometer rise up? At what point do you boil over? In Concord Prison if one gets vexed it means break out in a rage. How can you react differently to insults thrown your way? My vocabulary really expanded in this exercise: I learned the words skinner, to ice someone, and when you take someone down. We looked at messages that still linger from childhood such as, “You’re a moron-you’ll never succeed. You’re too clumsy, who’d ever work with you?...You are estupido… You can’t do math…. You’re a loser.” WE then looked at messages we wanted to receive in our youth. Sitting in a circle on the ground we gave these messages to each other. “You’re wonderful; I’ll love you no matter what happens. I support whatever career you want to pursue…. Your kindness makes you successful… Your inner soul shines.

We talk about apologizing. Is forgetting the altercation necessary for total forgiveness? How do we let go of an insult? Does revenge fuel us and give our lives meaning? Does keeping a grudge stoke our pride? Then we all considered someone in our lives that we need to apologize to. We took 10 minutes and wrote a letter to that person, making sure to take responsibility for our mistakes. It was very powerful and touching. One guy said, I hurt you and I want to stitch up the wound. Another man, call him Jose, was about 22 years old when he found that the victim of his past crime was incarcerated. He tried to apologize but the victim was still furious. In fact Jose feared that his victim was seeking to harm him. So Jose avoided him in the gym, hall and lunchroom. He was quite scared of any contact. He thought they’d both end up in the hole if they ever physically attacked. Then Jose ended up taking an AVP workshop in prison, and his past victim shows up at the same workshop. On the second day, the victim chose to sit down with Jose and he apologized and shook Jose’s hand. Now they are friends and support each other. It was quite a transformation.

Andy Towle & Patty Derr

The Alarming New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander is a slim tall woman with a powerful voice. Her book, The New Jim Crow, 2011, is convincing and well researched. She shared at Boston University a vision and a plan for a new social movement to turn around pernicious racial policies in the US.

“Nothing is more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.” MLK said. That’s the tragedy Alexander felt when she understood that in the 1970s and 1980s a revolution that turned back the rights of Afro-Americans was hatched. It happened while we were looking elsewhere, none-the-less, it was under our watch. She outlined how a prison state was formed that targeted men of color and now is starting to attack women of color.

Here are some facts: The US now has the highest incarceration rate in the world, greater than China or Iran. 2.3 million adults are in jail or prison: five times the number 40 years ago. Money spent on prisons has risen 6 times as fast as the money spent on higher education. Many prisons are privatized so that profits depend on having as many housed as cheaply as possible. African Americans males constitute 6% of the US population, but 40 % of those incarcerated. One out of three are under the control of the criminal justice system: more are in prison than were in slavery.

Drug offenses account for 55-60% of those incarcerated. African Americans constitute 15%of drug users in 2000, in a survey of seven states, but constituted 90% of those incarcerated for drugs. Marijuana is a large number of arrests. Those arrested under the rubric of the War on Drugs are not dealers, but the users. The war on Drugs began in 1980 when drug use was declining.

Alexander explains, “Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America: we have merely redesigned it. Once you have a felony, you are stripped of civil rights even after parole is served.”

The result for families and communities is also demeaning. Alexander again: “the shame and stigma of the prison label is, in many respects, more damaging to the African American community than the shame and stigma associated with Jim Crow.” The demonization of men of color has festered so that families unravel, mutual support is shattered, and communities are decimated.

What Alexander recommends:

1. Tell the truth of the new caste system. (Read her book if not convinced.)
2. Help build a movement. We need to build something as comprehensive as the underground railroad for those released from prison
3. Create safe places in congregations. Many convicts say church is the last place to go because of the shame there. Admit that we’re all criminals who make mistakes.
4. Work for abolition of mass incarceration. End the War on Drugs. Push for legislation in each state that possession of drugs is never a felony, only a misdemeanor.
5. Move from punishing attitude in criminal justice to restorative approach. Try rehabilitation and public health measures, not incarceration.