Branded # 7: Amity*

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Last night I attended a reading at Porter Square Books by Debby Irving, an attractive, personable, and righteous Cambridge resident, re her brand-new book, Waking Up White And Finding Myself in the Story of Race.

Reader, I was upset. And jealous. Especially when Irving flatly stated that after taking a course at Wheelock College—where I went, for heaven’s sake!—and awakening to race matters, she couldn’t find any memoirs by white people on the subject! So decided to write one, herself.

Still stewing, I came home to find an e-mail from my dear friend, Delia, with this link. “Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this poem first thing in the morning lately!” she wrote. As Delia knows,  Robert Hayden’s incredible “Those Winter Sundays” introduces Chapter 2 of my memoir re awakening to race in this country. How grateful I was to be gifted with such loving—though inadvertent—support of a dear friend when I needed it! How lovely to again contemplate, “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” !

My memoir’s entitled Way Opens: A Spiritual Journey. That journey continues. So when, ahem, I woke up this morning, I realized I’d heard something else last night: How there’s another, little-known narrative in this country about people of color and white allies. (And, yes, although although our record has been definitely checkered, Quakers have historically been counted among those allies.)

Post Way Opens, here’s where Spirit had led me: To be, as best as I am able, a criminal justice ally. And here’s what I believe I am led to explore: how best I can support Jobs Not Jail. (Not completely clear; need more discernment for sure.)

Reader: care to join me?

PS: Upon reflection, I realized that the above was clumsily written. Let me be clear: I commend Debby Irving and the wonderful and important work she’s done. There can’t be too many books on this incredibly important and difficult subject!

* “Friendship, peaceful harmony; mutual understanding and peaceful relationship.” My alma mater runs a National Center for Race Amity; who knew?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The View from Here

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Saturday night, the Cambridge Bail and Legal Defense Fund hosted its first-evah silent auction. A needed, organic offshoot of Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s Prison Fellowship Committee’s ministry, the Fund supports those in need—with an additional, deal-breaking criteria:  People on Prison Fellowship must know these potential recipients.  People who come to our Wednesday night sharing circle—another PF initiative—or people our members visit in prison, or people our members drive so those folks can visit loved ones in prison, or people known or recommended to PF by greater Boston allies* also working on criminal justice reform; all are eligible for Fund support.

Because PF had never hosted a silent auction before and because we only had about six weeks to pull this thing together, we kept the event small and simple. In-house.  So there were a couple of moments Saturday night when the commodious Friends Room felt a little echo-y. Despite the less-than-optimal attendance, however, the Fund raised almost twice its goal! (In lieu of showing up, several people simply mailed us checks—much appreciated!)

Some examples of what was donated: To teach up to 4 people how to make a flaky-crust, amazingly delicious apple pie (my husband donated this so I KNOW all about his pie skills). Or 3 hours of gardening work. Or advice and support re de-cluttering.

Here’s What I Want To Say:

As point person for the auction, I interacted with the (mostly FMC) people who’d donated goods and services. Their generosity was deeply touching—especially those of modest means who nevertheless gave. Equally touching were donors who bravely offered something that involved some personal risk—but offered, anyway. So I have come away from this experience with such gratitude! To have witnessed such generosity, such trust—and faith—has been an enormous gift.

Because the Fund hoped to refill its coffers, the silent auction came from a place of need, offering a few,  selected-carefully “big ticket” items (in the hundred$, not the thousand$ range, I hasten to add). The comfortable and the well-off would, basically, have no choice but to bid for these $150 to $300 items, in other words. But the next time we run a silent auction, it’ll come from a place of community-building. We’ll have lots of $5 items. People can just show up on the night of the event with whatever they want to auction; the more stuff the better! We’ll do extensive outreach and publicity. We’ll fill that Friends Room!

Most important: The next day, pretty exhausted, I attended an FMC meeting for business. One agenda item elicited much discussion of “the invisible wall,” i.e. the barrier between our privileged, white, faith community and the rest of the world. “Why aren’t we running a soup kitchen,” someone questioned by way of example.

And I realized that my meeting does run a soup kitchen every Wednesday night at the sharing circle. My FMC entails weekly worship and communion with people of color. My FMC is teaching me the wisdom of Mother Teresa’s commentary: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” My FMC is building connections with others in greater Boston doing prison ministry, re-entry support for ex-offenders, criminal justice advocacy et al. My meeting overwhelms me with its generosity and love.

I say these things, not out of smugness but, like the blind man and the elephant, because I only know my own experience, what I, myself, have touched or been touched by.

So, maybe, PF’s outreach needs to begin with FMC?!

 

* Like the Committee of Friends and Relatives of Prisoners

That Thing With Feathers

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Maybe because the snow’s melted enough to reveal tulip and daffodil shoots and in sunnier yards, actual crocuses. Maybe because of soft, vernal light. Maybe because Easter—as confusing and complicated as it is for me—is Sunday. Certainly being on the other side of a several, recent, challenging events helps. But I’m hopeful.

Why? Because of two articles in The Boston Globe, one on the statewide pushback re drug-sniffing dogs in Department of Correction visiting centers, the other, a scathing report re Massachusetts’ regressive get-tough-on-crime policies . Could these articles mark the moment when the proverbial paradigm shifts? Is something different emerging? I choose to believe so.

This morning, the online writing group I am blessed to discover I’ve “joined” has been oohing about the wonderful poem that follows (sorry about the mishmash fonts):

WHAT THE LIVING DO 
by Marie Howe
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

I live. I hope.

Branded #1

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Last night I had a wonderful phone conversation with a Harvard student investigating service projects for herself and her classmates. Through another Kennedy School student, she’d heard about Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s Prison Fellowship Committee and our Wednesday night sharing circle —so arranged for our phone call to learn more.

Early on I’d warned her that I’d have lots to say. And I did. But, bless her, she hung in there. So I blathered. Oh, my, did I!

At one point I heard myself reference the early Quakers and their historic interest in prison reform since they’d spent a fair amount of time in gaol themselves. I even mentioned Elizabeth Fry.

This morning, as I often do post-blather, I wondered if my (way too many) words had been well-chosen. Specifically I wondered what right I had to claim this history as mine.

But Quakers’ penal reform history is much a part of the brand as The Peace Testimony, right? (And, of course, we mustn’t forget that that history also includes Quakers’ well-meaning but misguided belief that sitting in penitent silence with, perhaps, a Bible, i.e. in penitentiaries, was a good idea.) “And this is our testimony to the whole world.”

The brand. A concept I both loathe and am intrigued by. (So why this post is a I; there’ll be more, I’m guessing. Especially since positioning a Quaker Oats container in other settings could be such fun!)

I am confused re brand but do know this: Prison ministry means a version of mindfulness that has enlarged my life.

PS: During that long-winded phone call, I also referenced “The House I Live In.”

 

 

 

 

 

Bling

 

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The first S of the Quaker principles “SPICERS”* is Simplicity. Which I used to interpret as anti-stuff, i.e. “Live simply that others may live.” But at a recent retreat, a wise soul pointed out that simplicity can also mean looking at ALL the tugs and pulls for our time, our love, our energy, and making careful, thoughtful choices. “What am I asked to do?” (May I suggest adding strategically to that all-important question?)

So I am presently experimenting with this inward simplification. Was bummed not to be one of those 40, 000 climate change activists in DC Sunday. But that day, I could be present when a member of our Prison Fellowship Committee downloaded.

“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” Mother Teresa.

 

[* Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Respect, Stewardship)

April 23, 2012: Perfect!

Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s Wednesday evening sharing circle—for the formerly incarcerated and those who care about them— has recently received letters from three inmates currently incarcerated in MA prisons. All three men are looking for people on the outside to write to them—and, no doubt, hoping to establish a connection with someone they can reference when coming up before the parole board: “See? I know this person—who’s not from my old neighborhood, not a family member. ”

My attempts to find interested  penpals among the Quakers doing prison work has, thus far, failed. But, meanwhile, those men are waiting for a response. So today, I decided to send something to each of them, myself.

Remembering how much a former member of the circle—who, unfortunately, has again wound up back in prison—appreciated a notecard I’d sent him, a notecard with a beautiful photograph taken by my friend Janie on the outside, I was figuring out where the closest stationary store might be, who might sell something similar when, duh! Of course! I’d order a batch of Lynn Wiles’ incredible notecards. So I did.

Perfect.