Friday, January 06, 2017

"They take Alfonso/ And no one stands up..." What Canst -- or Will -- Thou Say?


Today, after reading Kaminksy's poem below, I was thinking of Martin Niemöller. He was a prominent German Lutheran pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is perhaps best remembered for the quotation which seems timely to me:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I've been thinking:

First they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Mexican.

Then they came for the African Americans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a African American.

Then they came for the other non-Europeans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a non-European.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

While I am a Quaker who loves silence (and have even written a book about it's importance!), as the writer of Ecclesiastes says:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
...a time to be silent and a time to speak...

This is not the time for public silence. It is a time to -- with discernment, but not necessarily caution -- to speak.

Town Watches Them Take Alfonso

by Ilya Kaminsky

Now each of us is
a witness stand:

Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.

What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.

Across the street they wash him with fire hoses. First he screams,
then he stops.

So much sunlight—
a t-shirt falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks it up, presses it to his face.

Neighbors line up to watch him thrown on a sidewalk like a vaudeville act: Ta Da.
In so much sunlight—

how each of us
is a witness stand:

They take Alfonso
And no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.

"Our silence stands up for us."  What canst -- or will -- thou say?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage: Preparing for a Trumpian Administration

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days.

These words of Harry Emerson Fosdick ring true for many of us today as we face the inauguration as President of the United States a man whose values run contrary to ours as people of faith. Well, people of our peculiar faith, at any rate. 

The president-elect claims to be a person of faith, after all. Many of us Friends wonder what kind of faith it is  that denigrates racial and gender differences, speaks of and objectifies women as sexual toys, mocks and slanders those with religious and political positions that don't align with his, praises those who are "principalities, ... powers, ... the rulers of the darkness of this world", ... the list could on. But, this is not the first time that we Quakers have, throughout our multi-century history, often found ourselves on the "wrong" side of government, elected or otherwise.

The question for many of us today is how to respond. How to act. We could give into despair. We could retreat into inaction in word and deed. We could remain silent; safe in our quiet Quaker congregations of mostly middle-class whiteness. I know I could. 

So I've been thinking a lot about what my call is during this time -- and perhaps the next almost a decade. I'm starting with three things.

One, I've just taken the Matthew 25 pledge at Sojourners.There I said I'd make an active, ongoing commitment to protect and stand with vulnerable people in the name of Jesus, particularly in support of these groups:
  • Undocumented immigrants threatened with mass deportation
  • African Americans and other people of color threatened by racial profiling
  • Muslims threatened with "banning," monitoring, and even registration
Second, I'm going to reread one of most the formative books of my faith -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer's
The Cost of Discipleship. My copy of this compelling statement of the demands of sacrifice and ethical consistency is well worn. And while I don't agree with everything that Bonhoeffer writes in it, I am challenged by these thoughts from a man whose life and thought were exemplified a new type of leadership inspired by a Gospel imbued with the spirit of Christian humanism and a creative sense of civic duty.

Third, I'm ordering a copy of the brand new Praying for Justice: A Lectionary of Christian Concern. This book, published by Barclay Press, (a Quaker publishing house), was put into print in no small part in response to the recent US presidential election. As its description says, "this book is not free of agenda. It is an act of resistance. God is greater than any politician, political system, or nation. And now is the time for people of faith to act in tangible, costly, and courageous ways. This book calls upon Christians to live into wisdom, prudence, compassion, humility, and discernment, to pursue the heart of God’s kingdom vision: a society in which all are valued as individuals bearing God’s image."

These are small steps, I know.  But I don't know what they'll lead to. All I know is that I have to do something that affirms my belief as a Christian that my life is about depending upon and following God and not about which politicians "control" the United States of America. My allegiance is not to a flag, but to the Eternal Lover of My Soul. The platform I espouse (albeit not always well) is that of a not-so-simple son of a carpenter from Galilee.

I need to continue to write words of Light and Love and Good News. I need to live a life that models the words of Galatians -- "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." And I may need to speak Truth to Power in ways that are new, but true, to me and my prayer to have wisdom and courage for the living of these days.


Monday, December 19, 2016

desert spirit's fire!: Brent Bill: Holy Silence

"The Quaker view that all of life, including silence, is sacramental is based in the Bible as well as in Friendly faith. It is a practice solidly grounded in Christian theology, history, and Scripture." Holy Silence, page 21.

I've read, blogged, and reviewed several of Brent's books and always appreciate that they're never too long, that he has close connections to nature, the environment, the land (I hope so, because he's a farmer!) and especially that all of them emphasize ways we can live closer to God and to all of God's creation...

desert spirit's fire!: Brent Bill: Holy Silence: Holy Silence : The Gift of Quaker Spirituality by J.Brent Bill on Amazon. "The Quaker view that all of life, including silence, is s...

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Silence in a Noisy Season: Silence Is Not A Waste of Time

“Value the opportunity to think unguided by the world. Learn what you feel you need to know, let other information pass. No moment of silence is a waste of time.”

Rachel Needham, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice: Second Edition, #2:17.

From Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality, 2nd edition

Friday, December 16, 2016

Silence in a Noisy Season: Taking Time Silence -- and God

Do you want to live in such an amazing divine Presence that life is transformed and transfigured and transmuted into peace and power and glory and miracle?” If we can honestly answer, “Yes,” then Kelly’s response is, “If you do, you can. But if you say you haven’t the time to go down into the recreating silences, I can only say to you, 'Then you don’t really want to. . . . For . . . we find time for what we really want to do.'”

quotation by Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 120.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Silence in a Noisy Season: Silence -- Heard in the Heart

“So, be still and quiet, and silent before the Lord, not putting up any request to the Father, nor cherishing any desire in thee, but in the Seed’s lowly nature and purely springing life; and the Lord give thee the clear discerning, in the lowly Seed, of all that springs and arises in thy heart.”

Isaac Pennington, quoted by Roger J. Vanden Busch in “The Value of Silence in Quaker Spirituality,” Spirituality Today, Winter 1985, Vol. 37, 326–335.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Silence in a Noisy Season: Silence Kindles Our Souls

"In silence which is active, the Inner Light begins to glow—a tiny spark. For the flame to be kindled and to grow, subtle argument and the clamor of our emotions must be stilled. It is by an attention full of love that we enable the Inner Light to blaze and illuminate our dwelling and to make of our whole being a source from which this Light may shine out. Words must be purified in a redemptive silence if they are to bear the message of peace. The right to speak is a call to the duty of listening. Speech has no meaning unless there are attentive minds and silent hearts. Silence is the welcoming acceptance of the other. The word born of silence must be received in silence."

Pierre Lacout, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice: Second Edition, #2:12.