Coming to unity on a boiling issue

In the Society of Friends, or Quakers, we never vote on the  issues before us as a community but rather pursue a more difficult route of finding unity in which everyone is in agreement. It’s not exactly consensus but rather trying to find the leading of the Holy Spirit.

It’s an amazing practice, actually, even though one person can hold up the motion of everyone else. Sometimes, as we’ve each discovered, that one person is closer to Truth than the rest of us. And so we labor together until clarity appears.

Without going into the details now, I’ll turn to a recent example of that discipline.

As we Friends in my congregation considered our response to recent racial affronts in America, we realized our reaction needed to go far beyond putting up a banner on the meetinghouse wall facing a busy downtown street or, for that matter, reciting certain trendy catchphrases.

As some among us observed, we needed to go to the spiritual heart of the conflict.

Here’s what emerged, a proclamation we recorded, after months of deep reflection, in our monthly meeting for business records. We do not do such things easily.

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Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2, RSV)

Dover Friends Meeting affirms the deep truth we find in Black Lives Matter. It aligns with our conviction that there is that of God in each person.

Within our Meeting, we have Friends who have benefitted from racial privilege based on whiteness and those who have experienced pain, privation, and even peril because, as people of color, the onerous weight of institutional racism has been heaped upon them. Together, we reject the cultural fiction that “whiteness” has intrinsic value.

We hear, instead, a call to unity across our differences in our Meeting and in our society at large. This unity is a foundational truth of our lives. It stands firm on the bedrock of our primary experience that the Divine dwells within each.

In our entanglement with institutional racism, we have run afoul of Paul’s advice, “Do not be conformed to this world.” We sense a divine invitation to open ourselves to the revealing of ways we must cast off conformity to systems that unfairly benefit some and prepare ourselves for transformation through the renewing of our minds and hearts.

We come to this moment humble and ready. The rigor of the task ahead necessitates that we do this work, individually and collectively, in faithful Quaker community. We pledge to each other mutual accompaniment.

Dover Friends Meeting commits to proceed actively, following Spirit’s leading, to live into new ways to manifest equality and unity in our meeting, the Religious Society of Friends, and in our secular society.

Anyone else feeling déjà vu with a hangover?

Not too long ago, the counterculture of the late ’60s and early ’70s looked like ancient history, especially from our grandkids’ perspective.

Not so now.

Here we are again, with a paranoid tyrant in the White House, a nation divided, police gone rogue, civil rights denied, and frustration erupting in protests. Only this time, the situation looks worse, much worse, than it did then, even before we add climate change and the environment to the mix.

We had more community connections, for one thing. And there were more voices of reason, for another. In what we saw as the Revolution of Peace & Love, the gloom and doom before us was often counterbalanced by experiences of joy and unity, often via its outpouring of vivid music in public festivals and rallies. I don’t see that now. Too many people are simply isolated, and the Covid restrictions aren’t helping.

The closest rallying cry for the American dream I’m sensing is BLM. Think about that and how many middle-class, suburban lawns where its signs are sprouting on lawns and in windows.

In retrospect, as I’ve long argued, there was no standard-issue hippie and no creed to subscribe to. Some were outright apolitical, while for others, peace and social justice activism were paramount.

Once again, activism is high on the agenda, across all generations.

My novel Daffodil Uprising: the making of a hippie describes the transformation as it happened, more or less, fifty years ago on a college campus in Indiana and likely elsewhere. Not all of it was hippiedelic, not by a long shot. Things were generally grim.

A neighbor reading the book said some of the scenes regarding the school’s administration and its disregard for the students sound like those his daughter is complaining about at a prestigious university in Greater Boston. Some things never change, or won’t if we fail to nurture a culture of vigilance. Frankly, we got lazy in the intervening years, or at least distracted.

All I can say is that I expect the next month to be one of the most important in our nation’s history. Wise elders, seasoned over time, are needed in the fray. How many of us are willing and ready to stand up?

The making of a hippie

Oh, my! Consider the implications

Banana Republicans

(It’s not an original phrase, but useful.)

Well, let’s see. Banana Republics were company-owned countries managed by puppet dictatorships relying on intimidation and militarized police for the benefit of a few to the detriment of the public.

The new twist sounds like a foreign policy coming home to roost like a ghost from the past.

Anyone else feeling spooked?

Religion and the global backlash

Have you ever heard someone blame religion for all the armed conflicts in the world? It’s an easy accusation to make, at least until you look deeper to see the financial, ethnic, even racial motivations underlying the violent and oppressive actions throughout history.

Karl Marx may have called religion the opiate of the people, but he also saw economic inequalities as the real oppressor. Labor inequities were only the tip of that iceberg. For once, you can call me a Marxist, at least on that count.

As a member of a historic Peace Church denomination (a grouping that also includes Mennonites, Brethren, and Amish), I can view the wider Christian stream from a critical perspective that acknowledges the many ways faith communities get co-opted by what is often called the World in earlier pronouncements or Empire in corners of our own – even seduced by the vast range of secular idols. What emerges is corrupted and even false religion, not even of a godly scope.

That perspective can provide for a long examination, one far too broad for a mere blog post.

Nevertheless, in the face of the rising stream of intolerant and often violent social and political backlash across America and Europe, especially, I sense that the anger and hatred are fueled by a post-Christian mindset, one that is ultimately materialistic, divisive, and nihilistic.

In contrast, what I’ve often found in radical faith across traditions is an alternative of hope, humility, justice, and love. Repeatedly, progressive social, political, and economic reformers have had religious roots and support. It’s not an even history, and one that is too often countered by reactionary forces, but I wonder how else the world might turn back the growing darkness without people drawn together in deep spiritual faith and discipline.

The continuing marginalization of religion – especially radical religion, like that I espouse – is one more means of inhibiting any challenge to the few who are reaping the vast benefits of the ongoing social breakdown for their own personal gain.

Where do you find refuge, renewal, and opportunities for social progress?

 

TEN GOOD REASONS TO VOTE

When it comes to election results in most of the locales I’ve lived in, I’ve awakened to find myself in the minority. Sometimes, discouraged, I’ve wondered if it’s even made sense to show up to cast my ballot.

On the other hand, believe me, being victorious can feel unbelievably vindicating.

That said, let me argue that casting your vote is not about winning. It’s about taking a stand.

Here are ten reasons you need to do it – especially if you live in the United States today.

  1. It’s witness. The Bible presents a sequence of prophets and faithful individuals who have publicly done what’s right, no matter what. There’s good reason to have a multiparty system and its loyal opposition. Voting is one way of strengthening your own convictions.
  2. It’s protest. In the current political climate, persecuted people and other nations need to know that not all Americans accept the tragic and reckless actions our government has been taking. History needs to know there have always been people of integrity, even when the current turns toward fascism.
  3. You’re a reader. That means you’re better informed than the average Fox channel viewer. At the least, you cancel his vote. (Whew!) Better yet, you one-up him. (Yay!) Go for it.
  4. As an informed voter, you can know who the big PAC money is supporting and cast your ballot against their candidates. Remember, in the end, the PACs want you to pay your taxes for their benefit. Defend yourself.
  5. Some good people are running. Contrary to nihilistic conservative voices, not all candidates are crooks – in fact, that argument begins to sound like a mea culpa. Win or lose, honorable candidates need support in knowing they’ve done the right thing in campaigning. Otherwise, you’ve endorsed corruption and we’ll all pay dearly. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
  6. Officeholders often feel alone when it comes to being true to their own moral values They need individuals to confirm their intuition. You can sway them in the direction events take, even into the next term.
  7. Public policy decisions affect real actions for good or bad. You can back a candidate who’s going to solve problems rather than make more. And please, don’t settle on blank promises like “create new jobs” – ask what it actually means in detail. A job at Walmart won’t put much food on the table or pay the rent, not where I live, and will likely wipe out someone else in the process. Frankly, I’d rather have the someone else. Yada yada. Also listen for what they leave unsaid. Anyone remember hearing anything about taking over the Internet in our last national balloting?
  8. Nurture future leaders. I’m encouraged to see talented fresh faces stepping up to the challenge across the nation. They need a boost. And we need theirs. Confirm their idealistic aspirations.
  9. Screw the bastards. You can vote against incumbents and register your complaint, at the least. Rotten apples are destroying the barrel and need to be purged. This may be our last chance to trash them and wash the container. Don’t lose it. Let the good win out, please. Just look at what the partisan takeover of the Supreme Court is doing to the nation’s workers.
  10. Defend your liberty. In essence, not voting is the same as not having the right to vote. Think about that. It’s time to come to the defense of your essential rights or else lose them. Democracy is being assaulted by reactionary forces.

~*~

What reasons would you add?

THE IMPORTANCE OF SMALL TOUCHES OVER TIME

From our perch today, it’s hard to believe that a Broadway musical like “South Pacific” could have been a bold statement on behalf of racial tolerance a half century ago.

I’m encouraged, of course, to see a Quaker connection.

First, even though the novelist James A. Michener, whose book was the basis of the show, had served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was raised by a Quaker adoptive mother and attended Quaker-affiliated Swarthmore College. In other words, he had been exposed to both pacifist and racial equality values.

Second, as Vanity Fair writer Todd S. Purdom notes in “The Road to Bali-hai,” is that librettist Oscar Hammerstein’s wife’s niece Jennifer attended the George School, another Quaker institution, one where Michener also taught briefly. The Hammersteins’ own son Jimmy also went there, as did a young family friend named and future Broadway great Stephen Sondheim. (And to think how vigorously earlier Quakers denounced theater as vain entertainment!)

Purdom’s article contains another telling point. The hit song “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” was originally a flop. In the preview performances before the Broadway opening, director and co-author Josh Logan was perplexed to see it wasn’t connecting until he realized that star Mary Martin had the women in the audience so abuzz about whether she was actually washing her hair onstage that nobody ever heard the lyrics themselves. He fixed that by having her belt out the first stanza before working her hair.

I wonder about how many other small changes in any art form spell the difference between boffo hit and mundane shelving.

A similar tweak in “Wonderful Guy” changed the song to a soliloquy with the word “you” substituted for “they.” As Logan recalled, “That night they tore the house apart.”

As I was saying about small changes or a simple touch? Never underestimate the importance of revisions in art. Or maybe life itself.

~*~

Michener, by the way, wrote of his experience on the Electoral College elections with the telling title on his political science volume, Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble on Our Electoral System.

He was so prescient there.