3 Graces

We just left the Woodard Lane Cohousing Community to come to Italy. As we moved in, others who’d moved out told us their take on who’s attracted to Cohousing communities: First, there are the extroverts, the folks who would love to live communally under all kinds of circumstances. Perhaps these are the folks that thrive in communes, hostels, barracks, etc. They might happily live under a ping pong table so long as someone else was involved. Secondly, there are the introverts, the folks who love community under certain conditions. Perhaps these are the folks who enjoy their private space but also enjoy a structured environment to discuss the merits of turf (at length) with people they’re not related to. Who does that leave? Extroverted golfers?

As an unapologetic member of the first category, I particularly enjoyed the dinners our cook teams prepared each week, not just to eat but also to throw my weight around a bit. Known fact: bantering about religion, politics, or community gossip helps prep vegetables efficiently. Subjective Observation: Heated discussions about the role of colonialism and the rise of Wahhabism (Jim: look it up!) occasionally yields mixed culinary results but certainly keeps things lively!

With everything cooked and ready to eat, we gathered in a circle and shared some kind of blessing, reflection, poem or hokey pokey before digging in. Upon arriving at WLCH, my sociological analysis is that members of the second camp had unduly influenced a version of a popular grace I remember growing up. It went:

Thank you for this food,
This food, this glorious glorious food,
And the animals,
And the vegetables,
And the minerals,(!)
Who made it possible.

MINERALS! It’s PEOPLE! PEOPLE who made it possible. Suddenly grace was reduced to a guessing game! I mean, sure, some folks are pretty into crystals and the like but when did a mineral ever harvest your lettuce?! Or berate you about Wahhabism? In a rather uncouth manner I began to loudly sing my version each time we did that grace and attempt to pull more people into my camp. Most sung it way they’d always done.

thiscollectivelife5
This is a comic I made while living collectively in North Carolina. I’d say the same concept applies to lemon bars left in the common house.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from (watching other people in) community, it’s that you rarely influence people over the long term by force and your best bet is being a good example. Folks set an incredibly kind and loving example for us in cohousing, and we’ll always remember it fondly.

By request, I was asked to record some of the other graces I learned growing up in Waldorf schools and here are 3. I’m sure my versions are slightly more bombastic and overbearing than those you’ll find on Rudolf Steiner’s Greatest Hits, but take them and share them in memory of me.

My Grandfathers, My Privilege

The woman arrived late for worship and quickly rose, prefacing her message with: “I can assure you this is spirit led….” She spoke at length about white privilege, systematic injustice, the civil rights movement, the death of Micheal Brown and her recent visit to Ferguson. I didn’t catch the whole message because a Friend needed an urgent ride home and when I came back she was still speaking.

I watched her through the half-light doors of the meeting, catching snippets of “reparations” and “brutality” and “mass incarceration” through the cracked doors, waiting to return without disturbing worship. Clearly as folks shifted in their seats many were already disturbed.  Eventually a Friend stood and asked that the speaker allow for some silence to consider her message.  She broke into song, spoke a practiced “don’t silence me” line and sat.  I returned to my seat and mulled what I’d only half heard.  I was bugged by the break in norms, but sometimes we can use a shaking up in meeting. I agreed with parts of her message, but the delivery was rambling. At the end of meeting she confirmed “her mission”, spoke briefly with supporters and was gone.

Missing most of the actual message, my churning emotions about policing, racism and my own privilege lead to my grandfathers:

My dad’s dad was in the New Jersey State Patrol.  He’d retired by the time I came around, but his official patrolman’s portrait used to hang in the garage “to scare the rats away.” I’m certain my Pop-pop felt what MC Killer Mike recently described about his father: “Being a cop must be hard. My dad was one, and never wanted any of his children to follow in his footsteps.” I knew he deployed to Newark in 1967 during the riot there, but that topic was as off limits as discussion of the South Pacific beaches he’d crossed as a Marine.  Near the end of his life, I asked him if he’d ever shot anyone.  He avoided the question. I think of the words Killer Mike adds: “The police have the power of life and death in their decisions — they need to know that Americans hold them to a higher standard than these examples, of American men laying lifeless like deer.” I think of my own standards as his grandson: how can I evaluate his service, knowing so little but also fearing to know more?  Perhaps for some people it’s enough to know he served in uniform, especially as a white man, but I still want to find a lesson there.

My mom’s dad Jack was the Quaker, the one who’d gone to Europe in the war and came back resolved to changeMe and my brother with Grandpa Jack, 1987 things. While I’ve heard a little more about his military experiences, everything after was meant to transform that violence.  He’d moved my mom and her siblings to a majority-black school district in the 70’s to sensitize them to the importance of race relations. The most vivid images of this experience have come from his kids though, and they describe getting beaten up by black classmates and fear. He’d done American Friends Service Committee work camps around the country rebuilding poor neighborhoods. At Thanksgiving this year I found a picture of him at one of those work camps.  He’s dressed in a shabby work outfit handing a bemused looking older black woman a glass of milk on a plate. I guess.  It looks even more staged than the state patrol portrait, and gives little sense of reparations or restorative justice. What is his lesson of transformation?

I ask myself:  Didn’t all three of these people believe they were being of service?  Their methods differed, but it seems to me the self-styled prophet, the white man and his burden, and the tight-lipped officer all wanted to make things better.  What I wonder is whether their service could have been better served in a broader community, a beloved community. If you bring a message to worship meant to change things, can you really expect anything if you leave right away?  If you followed orders you regret, can you heal or be accountable without telling anyone what happened?  If you wanted to transform pain and violence, can you succeed without accountability to those you “serve”?

My Meeting’s Listserve

My meeting has listserve.  Aside from the obvious lack of intimacy using this kind of communication (more on that later), I’ve been reflecting recently about how or whether listserves serve Quaker process.  For many years, Olympia Monthly Meeting has had a practice of going around the room after worship to introduce ourselves, to allow for “afterthoughts”, or to share announcements “pertinent to the life of the meeting”.  This last category is very broad, and can really say a lot about us as a community.   I sense when we are more or less on the same page as a community when I hear these announcements and gauge reactions, just like how a rich worship may spill into more afterthoughts as spirit moving among us stirs our collective pot. After worship we rise, drink weak coffee and follow up with those who shared things that touched us.

Enter the listserve.  What gets posted on the listserve for the 166 hours we’re not at meeting may or may not have much to do with things that are even mentioned during announcements.  From the privacy of our homes or phones, we post event invitations (progressive, social-justicey or bird-on-it as a rule), ride requests and offers, budget updates, draft business meeting minutes, poetry, prayer requests, product promotions, final logistics for Quaker events already posted in the newsletter.  Sometimes, like when a member is sick and the community comes to their aid during the week, message threads begin that provide helpful updates or instructions and respond to everyone’s concern for that person. Other times threads begin unintentionally when a general request or even a specific personal appeal is replied to en mass to the whole list. It is maddening to include your email address in a mass request very clearly requesting individual RSVPs only to get a crazy avalanche of dozens of cross-posted replies and running commentary irrelevant to 90% of the viewers in response. Many times folks will defend a unilateral decision about something in meeting by saying “well, I posted it to the listeserve” (though obviously not everyone is on there and for clear reasons many have no interest in joining) Typically if something very serious or unexpected occurs, like a death in the community,  somehow we know that it’s better to set up a phone tree to let folks know.

In anthropology  it is commonly understood that most rules are learned when they are broken.  Unspoken boundaries certainly exist on the listserve, but as far as I know we have never made any attempt to establish real guidelines.  “Great!” you say “isn’t that truly uninhibited continuing revelation at work?” Besides the obvious inconveniences, I’m not so sure. Last year when some nitty gritty exchanges regarding an open conflict in the meeting were mistakenly posted to the whole list, the fallout was intense. The sender was publicly admonished for their mistake in meeting (to the shocked surprise of a whole segment of the community not on the list), they apologized for saying something they never would have said  if they’d known it would be shared publicly ( “I would have of course not doffed my hat to Thee privately”), and our take away was that this Friend had blown it.  This individual shouldered disproportionate responsibility and we missed an opportunity for growth as a community because of the two Golden Rules of Quaker Club: #1 There are no rules in Quaker Club. #2 You do not talk about Quaker Club. We recently hosted a Friend come to talk about Eldering who challenged these rules of (liberal) Quakerism in his own words.  “How we can we hold people accountable as a community if we are not clear about our boundaries or rules?” He pushed us and we DO have rules and boundaries.  We emperil ourselves more seriously if we not only deny we have rules but also tacitly discourage discussions that seem to question “they way we do things.”  This is of course not a new discussion for the online convergent Friends community.

I think the listserve was created with the best of intentions, but as a tool in practice it invariably reflects some of our biggest blind spots. I would also challenge the digital Quaker community to consider this as an extension of a bigger discussion about elective use of technology within Quaker meetings.  We must also ask ourselves:  What might come of more and more of our communication taking place in this sterile, impersonal format, especially considering hangups that exist already in our bricks and mortar community?  Occasionally I suspect folks post things to the list just to provoke a response out of their community that sits silently for much of its time together.  Unencumbered by the expectation to share with Holy inspiration, we cast our thoughts into the Olympia Monthly Meeting corner of the vast digital abyss, hoping  our request for feedback on meeting minutes provokes an invite to a butter churning workshop.

A much needed break

Palm Springs Evening

I had the very pleasant opportunity to spend the last 3 days in Palm Springs, California. The Education Department at the Tribe recently received a new grant, and the kickoff training for grantees was rescheduled from its usual place in DC to sunny SoCal. I must say I had some doubts about the whole thing, like whether I should go when my status as an employee is still unclear, but those doubts melted away in the desert heat. I bought a ticket for Federica to join me, and both of us really enjoyed the opportunity to hang out by the pool, see some good shows in the evening, and generally escape the daily grind for a few days. We came back last night to pouring rain. We’ll have to keep the memory of sunshine alive in our hearts. I think some of the planning and mental space we gave ourselves in Palm Springs will also have lasting positive effects.

Weather in Olympia

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Reflections for staying open this week: Watching salmon return to spawn
I had the opportunity to hear Ben Pink Dandelion speak last weekend at North Seattle Friends Church. His topic was early Friends in the context of Christian theology. One of the points I particularly came away with was not exactly new, but somehow it hit me differently.

While most Christian theology is based on creating a church to wait for end times, Quakers built their church on the premise end times were upon us. With unmitigated, universal access to God through internal revelation, the only thing standing in our way from salvation was our will. Other Churches built a complex series of rituals, expectations and doctrine required for believers to “hold out” on evil, but Quakers really seemed to think if we overcame our will anyone could be saved. Right away and forever. In the question and answer period, someone asked Ben about his own personal spiritual journey, “had he ‘come up through the flaming sword’?” In his answer, he shared that he had had mystical experiences but (and I paraphrase) he said he had not had the kind of unequivocal experience that kept him completely dedicated to his spiritual path. Compared to early Friend’s absolute certainty, he felt doubts at times.

The Screwtape Letters reinforced for me that obvious blunders or questioning one’s faith may not really be what evil is all about. If we are offered salvation in the here and now, is it making the occasional mistake that condemns us or does slow, grinding indifference consume our hope of ever finding inward salvation? The fear of making any mistake could be amplified if Jesus is waiting right around the corner, for sure. But Lewis mentions in my edition’s introduction that he imagines a tedious, bureaucratic and ultimately hollow hell rather than a spectacularly gruesome inferno. Wouldn’t the path to a place like that look tedious, detached? Throughout the book, his protagonist dwells on the subtle deviations overlooked by his underling on a quest for total corruption. Is it a waiting Christ we should worry about, or a demon on our back? How common is total corruption really? Like Ben described, isn’t it more typical to trip up here and there? How do we really find the unshakable certainty early Friends said they had and, if we cannot, how do we pick ourselves up rather than succumb to the status quo?

It’s my opinion neither early Friends nor any really faithful person can have unshakable faith. When Friends got around to writing their journals late in life, they had the benefit of hindsight to cast their missteps in the context of deeper spiritual wrestling. They kept coming back for more. If we are to take evil seriously, as Lewis suggests, we cannot think of it as an obvious corrupter but instead as a series of subtle justifications that divert us from our common purpose. It is a slowly built cynicism. If we can keep ourselves open, committed, eyes on the prize, I sense we have a good chance of escaping some demonic dinner plate.

Another reflection: Mt. Rainier’s shadow on the morning sky

Just when you thought you couldn’t add another thing….

I tied a wish to this wishing tree, next to the 12,000 year old neolithic shrine of Gobeklitepe near Urfa.
A few months back, as our wedding plans were in full swing, I was feeling overwhelmed. I’ve been learning to share about these things at Quaker meeting, living into the honest exchange I hope to build in community. After I shared, a Friend came up to me and said “when you feel like you’ve got too much going on, take on just one more thing to push yourself over the tipping point. I’ve found it helps me put everything back into perspective.” I shrugged off the advice, not really knowing what to make of it at the time.

But as my wedding thank you notes still sat waiting and the grant project at my work drew to a close in a flurry last week, I got a surprise offer: How would I like to go to Southern Turkey to accept an award on behalf of the Rachel Corrie Foundation, my former employer? I sprang at the opportunity and quickly understood the earlier advice.

It was an amazing experience, accepting an award on behalf of an organization that means a lot to me. I worked very hard for the Foundation, and sometimes it was challenging from Olympia to feel the wider impact of our global mission. Going all the way to Sanliurfa, Turkey, to accept an International Abraham Meetings “Goodness” award, had a big impact on me regardless of its larger purpose for the organization. For one, Turkey is very close to my heart and even in the few short days I was there I got to see old friends, speak a language that I still love to learn, and eat amazing food. I also had a fascinating experience as I learned about the award the Foundation was receiving, part of a clear effort within Turkey to raise up the history and heritage of Abrahamic faith traditions from an Eastern perspective. Thirdly, and probably most importantly in some ways, I reoriented my perspective on what I am doing now and the responsibility of the blessings all around me.

In the afterglow of my wedding, as I enjoy a great job and live a comfortable life, I’ve really felt blessed. I’ve been thankful every day for all the blessings I have. But I had not reminded myself about the responsibility I have because of these blessings. My blessings are only as meaningful as the way I share them, like my lesson from Quaker meeting. As I spoke with my good friends in Turkey about their fears of an impending war with Syria, of destroyed homes and refugee situations that were “at least a little better than Iraq”, I remembered that I could take on one more thing. I take my blessings with me no matter what I do, but carrying them and sharing them where I am led takes one more bit of effort. I believe that effort is worth it.

Independent Life Skills

View out onto Hood Canal this weekend.
I have been working for the Squaxin Island Tribe for 5 months now on a Federal grant project helping teens transition to adulthood. I am hoping that my job will continue after the grant period ends this week, but even if it does not I am very grateful for what I have learned here. I was honored this weekend to join a 2 day training on the Hood Canal for some of the young adults I work with here. The participants are really not that much younger than myself, and were receiving a training about how to teach independent life skills to their peers and younger youth of the tribe. I sometimes wish that I had had the opportunity to learn about how to make a budget or work on a team or live in a healthy way from people other than my parents. I was very lucky to learn a lot from my folks but the reinforcement of community sharing, of standards passed down from generation to generation was more gleaned than spelled out for me. Several of the folks participating this weekend spoke of hard life experiences and a wish for connection to their traditional culture. The stories that the trainers shared, the discussion of how native people historically lived and flourished here, helped all of us remember the context were we live. Though I am sharing more as a witness than I participant, I feel very lucky to be here and be invited to join these young people on a few steps of their journey into adulthood. I guess I’m still trying to figure out that path myself.

Book Review: “Goatwalking” by Jim Corbett

I will admit that the title and cover of “Goatwalking” drew me in.  I had only a vague memory of the term “sanctuary” that kept me reading the jacket.  I was truly fascinated when I picked up the book and read in earnest. 

Jim Corbett’s narrative style appeals to me: he waxes philosophical with just the right mixture of fantastic imagery (he loves Quixote) and cowboy anecdotes.  He doesn’t jump right into his work with the Sanctuary movement, for which he is (in)famous, till late in the book.   “Goatwalking” is really a series of essays and excerpts from his journals, woven into a rationale for returning to nomadic lifestyles as a gateway to gospel order. Jim talks about his evolution as a goatherder learning to reconnect with his faith and surroundings, complete with fascinating information about goatherding and how following flocks is communing with our Biblical ancestors.  Many intellectuals could have left it there, but he jumps then into talking about how his herding through the Southwestern deserts eventually helped him build an underground railroad for central American refugees as they sought asylum in the US. As I look back on my reading, it’s almost a intellectual leap to link these ideas but the logic flowed naturally as I read. 

I can tell from his work that Jim was a Friend and a truly dedicated man. He saw way open to build an interfaith movement to exploit loopholes in US immigration law as US sponsored death squads were displacing thousands of people in El Salvador and Nicaragua.  Goats fade in prominence as he describes the huge amount of organizing he did in border communities in the 1980’s, building networks of supportive churches, handing out literature, and eventually standing trial for his work.  “Goatwalking” was published in the early 90’s, as his trial had wrapped up and he clear was reflecting on the fruits of his work.  He died in 2001, I was disappointed to learn.

Shortly after I returned to Olympia about 5 years ago, ICE had been raiding local communities to arrest immigrants and anti-war veterans were being harassed for their military resistance in protests.  In that context, a coalition of local groups joined up to draft a proposal for the Olympia City Council, designating Olympia a “Sanctuary City” for immigrants and war resisters regardless of their legal status with the US government.  A lot of work went into planning the proposal, which we knew would largely be symbolic but that we hoped would pave the way for some cross-movement building.  The day that we hoped to hand in the proposal, organizers held a rally and march downtown that was meant to raise up the issue.  During the march, some folks took it upon themselves to throw bricks through bank windows which is what made the paper.  Before long, the sanctuary proposal was completely discredited and in short order so was the City council (for other reasons)

This experience came back to me as I read Jim’s book, thinking about how much work it takes to organize communities and movements.  And not all work is speaking truth to the authorities, because sometimes they’re caught up in their own red tape.  Sometime the work is within, nourishing oneself on goat’s milk (which apparently is enough to keep you alive in the desert) and spiritual discipline.  I’m sorry that I never got to meet Jim Corbett in person, but I’m curious to learn more about the movement he helped build

 

So much for the afterglow…

After such a huge buildup of anticipation this year, for 3 weddings, for new jobs and exciting work opportunities, for sharing the excitement of Fede’s graduation and green card, i’m feeling a little letdown now that it’s all over. I’ve felt so hugely supported by my community of friends and family, it’s a little sad to be on the other side of a huge shower of love.

And then this morning a judge in Israel absolved the state and the IDF of any wrongdoing in the death of Rachel Corrie. I simply can’t help but think of how many people who I know, including my wife, who have put themselves on the line and been luckier than Rachel. Rachel did the right thing as many before her any many after her will do, and she was and still is surrounded by loving community. But today I have been reminded what I already know: the state has no interest in protecting those who seek justice. The state is a cold and ultimately heartless thing, unable to hold itself accountable. As the media falls all over itself to cover party conventions and presidential theatrics, who asks the agents of the state, the gatekeepers and handshakers, what they would do to protect the dignity and human rights of the people? It is our consciences that make us free, but how willing will we be to put that conscience on a shelf, “compromise for the greater good?”

I honor those who follow their dreams and stand up for the right thing, who organize and surround themselves with a true community of accountability.

Procession of the Species 2012

Procession of the Species 2012

A fitting return to updates.  Somewhere I heard that well over 3/4 of all personal blogs are not updated regularly. I helped build the float that the kids are sitting on, repurposed from several parts of greenery, unwanted mushrooms, and decorations in Earthbound productions studio. I had a great time, a beautiful bookend to my first stint with TOGETHER!