November 15, 2009: All of a peace

Yesterday at an all-day workshop re Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice (conducted by that wonderful book’s authors, Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye), Greg Williams, an African American Quaker from New Bedford meeting spoke up.  A meeting for worship, to be conducted by Cambridge Meeting, had been scheduled for the next day—this morning—at Textron in Wilmington. Greg wanted to talk about that:

“It’s a protest against cluster bombs,” he noted. “I’m against cluster bombs. But why isn’t  Cambridge Meeting doing anything about the violence right here! I’ll tell you why,” he went on. “Because protesting against cluster bombs is easy.”

And, yes, I got a little defensive–although I did try to wait n’ think before speaking: “Greg,” I said (too fast?). “I understand why you’re angry. But I feel like there are lots of things happening at Cambridge Meeting you don’t know anything about.” (I was thinking, of course, of our sharing circle, FMC’s strong presence at the Louis D. Brown/Mother’s Day march and individual ministry directly involved with urban street violence. My friend Lynn’s work with the Boston Workers Alliance, for example. ) Later, when just the two of us talked, I’d explained to Greg that I wanted to be “an ally.” An anti-racism ally, that is. But, I told him, hearing that “It’s easy” dismissal had been hard.

Today, on a drizzly morning, seated on a folding chair outside Textron, within yards of where those cluster bombs are manufactured, I had ample time during meeting for worship to reflect on Greg’s words.

Birdsong all around the eleven of us, I was able to hear Greg’s pain, the pain of being a man in color in the greater society AND, as Donna and Vanessa’s book makes horribly clear, within the Society of Friends, i.e. Quakers. I heard his deep longing for a just, peaceful, world. And I heard his lifelong disappointment that Friends, although idealistic and well-meaning, have, a far as HIS life is concerned, been woefully ineffectual. I heard his fatigue; he’s boned-tired of waiting. No matter what Friends Meeting’s doing, it’s not enough.

Sitting outside, Sunday morning traffic wooshing past,  prompted me to think more deeply about something I am trying to incorporate into my spiritual practice: grasping Allness, interconnectedness, the seamless, all of one piece-ness.

Those cluster bombs all too real, all too present, for a few uncomfortable moments I felt that Allness by connecting some pretty disconcerting dots: systemic racism, urban violence, the clouds from a globally-warmed hurricane (in November?!) passing right over my head, an unsustainable economy still dependent on armaments, people of color all over the world already struggling with climate change, people in Roxbury and Mattapan and Dorchester, desperate for work, who would gladly work in a factory making cluster bombs, a Massachusetts-based solar panel business moving to China; I saw it all.

Peace means connecting all those dots.

One last thing: Our little group first sat in a circle on the Textron lawn but a security guard asked us to move to the sidewalk. So, a sign proclaiming “Quakers praying for peace” beside us, our little group huddled on not very wide concrete slabs . How glad I was, when that security guard came over and, later, when a Wilmington police car pulled up, that I was with a group.

The men and women who work in that factory, all who have been touched by war, the people who deny climate change, the people working on a sustainable world, the lovers and the haters; all of us are in this together.