Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quakers and Cajun -- Peace: There's ISIS and Then There's My Annoying Boss!

When many people hear the word Quaker, all they think of is oatmeal. Quakers, though, are part of a vital faith tradition that is older than the United States but is as modern as today. Including standing for peace in a war-and-violence wracked world.

In light of the Baltimore violence, ISIS, and all the other unrest, you might want to come and find out more about us quirky Quakers and our commitment to deep, personal spirituality, contemplation, equality, social justice, and peace. Peace is be the main focus, this month.

"Cajun and Quakers" will meet at Zydeco's Cajun in Mooresville on May 27 at 6:30 pm. Noted Quaker author, photographer, and retreat leader Brent Bill, a member of Spirituality & Practice’s Living Spiritual Teachers Project, will present a fast-paced, whimsical, and informational presentation about Quakers and their on-going work for peace.

We'll gather right at 6:30, order food and libations (yes, even adult beverages) off the great Zydeco's menu, and then about 7:00 Brent will start the presentation.

There will be plenty of time to ask questions about Quakers and enjoy Zydeco's great food and libations. You'll find that the food won't be the only thing that's spicy that night!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The rented lakes of my childhood": A Poem

Ludington, MI mid 1960s
The rented lakes of my childhood
by Marge Piercy

I remember the lakes of my Michigan
childhood. Here they are called ponds.
Lakes belonged to summer, two-week
vacations that my father was granted by
Westinghouse when we rented some cabin.
Never mind the dishes with spiderweb
cracks, the crooked aluminum sauce
pans, the crusted black frying pans.
Never mind the mattresses shaped
like the letter V. Old jangling springs.
Moldy bathrooms. Low ceilings
that leaked. The lakes were mysteries
of sand and filmy weeds and minnows
flickering through my fingers. I rowed
into freedom. Alone on the water
that freckled into small ripples,
that raised its hackles in storms,
that lay glassy at twilight reflecting
the sunset then sucking up the dark,
I was unobserved as the quiet doe
coming with her fauns to drink
on the opposite shore. I let the row-
boat drift as the current pleased, lying
faceup like a photographer’s plate
the rising moon turned to a ghost.
And though the voices called me
back to the rented space we shared
I was sure I left my real self there-
a tiny black pupil in the immense
eye of a silver pool of silence.

The rented lakes of my childhood" by Marge Piercy from Made in Detroit. © Knopf, 2015. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale": A Poem

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale
by Dan Albergotti

Listen Online

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

"Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale" by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"In the Library": A Poem

In the Library
by Charles Simic
Listen Online

There’s a book called
A Dictionary of Angels.
No one had opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

"In the Library" by Charles Simic from The Voice at 3:00am. © Harcourt, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Pass it on..." A Poem Upon the Occasion of my 64th Birthday


This evening, the sturdy Levi’s
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
suddenly tore.
How or why I don’t know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
got into this street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi’s ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.

Steve Kowit (1938-2015)
Source: The Dumbbell Nebula

Add your thoughts at inward/outward

A poem upon the occasion of my 64th birthday...

Monday, May 04, 2015

"Four Dead In Ohio:" A Personal Reflection on May 4, 1970

 I graduated from high school in June 1969. The Vietnam War was at its bloodiest—at least for the United States. Getting drafted into the army didn’t sound like a good career trajectory for me. I mean, almost seventeen thousand Americans died in the war my senior year. While I was morally ambiguous about shooting—really shooting—another human being, I knew I didn't want to be shot myself! I was self-centered that way.

Then came May 4. Just one week before my birthday. Just up the road from where I attended college. On that day members of the Ohio National Guard fired sixty-seven rounds in thirteen seconds into unarmed protesters (the closest of whom was one hundred feet away), some of whom were throwing rocks and National Guard tear gas canisters back at guardsman. Four students died. Nine others were wounded. Two of those killed weren’t even protesters—just students walking to class. One of them was a member of Kent State ROTC!

“Collateral damage,” as the Pentagon says today.

I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that, if drafted, I might be called on to shoot my fellow citizens. I mean, shooting foreigners in a jungle was one thing! But our own people? I also knew I might just do it if they riled me up enough. Throw some rock at me and I might just do more than point my M1 Garand rifle at you. Rock may beat scissors. But a .30-06 bullet beats rock. And kills you.

I was afraid to fight.

I was afraid I might like fighting too much.

That second fear scared the crap out of me. What if I did like it—a lot? And went on a real killing spree—even if it was sanctioned by my nation? I’d read Luke 22:49–51:

When Jesus’ follower saw what was going to happen, Brent said, “Lord, whom do You want me to shoot?” And then Brent fired and struck the servant of the high priest, shooting off his right ear.

But Jesus answered, “No more of this, you doofus!” And He touched the man’s ear and healed him. (NBBV)

Reading the Bible always gets me in trouble.

While I’d always taken my Christian faith seriously (very seriously, for someone who was so bad at it), I began trying to figure out if faith meant something in my day-to-day life. Not in the abstract. Not for others. For me. Especially around the issues of peace and war. A question that kept coming was, Whom would Jesus shoot? The events of May 4 began to work on me subtlety. As did Jesus' words.  Slowly, but inexorably I moved toward peace -- and not as a political stance, but as a religious response.

My move toward peace and away from soldiering was furthered when I came across the words of seventeenth-century Quaker Robert Barclay:

Whoever can reconcile this, “Resist not evil”, with “Resist violence by force”, again, “Give also thy other cheek”, with “Strike again”; also “Love thine enemies”, with “Spoil them, make a prey of them, pursue them with fire and the sword”, or, “Pray for those that persecute you, and those that calumniate you”, with “Persecute them by fines, imprisonments and death itself”, whoever, I say, can find a means to reconcile these things may be supposed also to have found a way to reconcile God with the Devil, Christ with Antichrist, Light with Darkness, and good with evil. But if this be impossible, as indeed it is impossible, so will also the other be impossible, and men do but deceive both themselves and others, while they boldly adventure to establish such absurd and impossible things.

Yeah, the language is stilted, but I caught the drift. I couldn't make those things fit together. For me they were at completely opposite ends of the war/peace spectrum. So what was an eighteen-year-old boy to do? Hell, forget the hypothetical eighteen-year-old—what would I do if drafted?

Would I fight and deny my slowly growing faith and belief that as a follower of Jesus I shouldn’t shoot anybody?

Would I serve as noncombatant?

The issue was decided on the draft lottery of July 1, 1970. My birthdate was number 293. I was beyond the range of those who would be called.

Josiah Strong once said there is a popular faith that “God takes care of children, fools and the United States.” I don’t believe God takes special care of the United States, but God seemed to take care of this poor fool at that time. Perhaps to give me time to work on my decidedly unpeaceful nature.

I'm ashamed to this day that it wasn't the deaths of almost 60,000 Americans in the conflict that around my age that moved me. Or 200-250,000 South Vietnamese military personnel. Or 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Or 2 million civilians from South and North Vietnam. At the time, I thought, "Well, that's war. And it's a long way away from me."

What began my awakening were the deaths of four college students in northeastern Ohio.  Four students just like me. Well, most of them were much more socially aware than me.  Which also shames me as a I look back.

But look back today I do. I am far from perfect. Far from peaceful. But my hurt hurts today -- both from the memory of that day and the events of these days.

When I was that longish haired freshman, some friends and I sang in a folk-rock band. And one of the songs we used to love to sing was "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson.

Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the flowers gone,
Picked by young girls every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the young girls gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the young girls gone,
Gone to young men every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the young men gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the young men gone,
Gone to soldiers every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the soldiers gone,
They've gone to graveyards every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the graveyards gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the graveyards gone,
Gone to flowers every one,
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

After May 4, 1970, I was struck by the irony of how we'd sung the words cluelessly, innocently, stupidly -- just some kids in a band.  "Entertaining" fellow students in coffee houses. Fellow students like the four dead up the road in Ohio.

"When will we ever learn."