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.

August 3, 2009: Johanna Appleseed

Saturday, a glorious summer day, I was picking up windfall apples in the front yard when a scruffy-looking guy walked by.”You Johnny Appleseed?” he asked. Wise guy responses much appreciated in these parts, I quickly corrected him: “Johanna Appleseed,” I replied. (He chuckled.)

That reminder of the plucky, selfless JA ( we’re talking the Walt Disney version, here, not the Michael Pollan account) was timely: My image for getting Way Opens into people’s hands has resembled the JA myth. You know, traveling around, talking to people about race and white privilege (there might be a wee bit of another John, John Woolman, wrapped up in my mental image), selling my book when appropriate but giving it away, too; getting the word out.

Timely, too, because the next day (yesterday) I was to give a reading at New England Yearly Meeting with Donna McDaniel, co-author with Vanessa Julye of the amazing Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice. How exciting to sow seeds among Quakers, my targeted audience, alongside the wise and deeply committed anti-racist Donna!

But Donna called Sunday morning to report that because of SO MANY YM activities going on, a notice for our reading hadn’t made it into the daily announcement sheet. So only a handful of people attended our half-hour presentation. Since David and I had driven down to Smithfield, Rhode island, I might have been upset at this small turnout. But I wasn’t and am not.

Here’s why:

It is always a pleasure to spend time with Donna and to hear her take on how the world really works.

The people who did come were lovely: engaged, open, attentive.

It is always good to be reminded how busy and distracted Quakers (aka my targeted audience) are.

Although I did deliver books to the YM bookstore, expending that gas to get to and from Bryant College for so brief and scantily attended an event emphasized something I’ve been lackadaisically pursuing: an online, interactive expansion to this website. Stay tuned.

About those windfalls: Despite wind, rain, and squirrels knocking down bushels of apples (or so it seems), there is still plenty of fruit on our tree. Since there were hardly any blossoms on the tree this wet, cold spring, that there are ANY apples seems a minor miracle. A Johanna Appleseed wannabe, I need to be reminded of Nature’s mystery, its bountifulness, its resiliency, and how, contrary to the biblical enjoiner, seeds cast on rocky soil actually do sometimes germinate—and apples somehow grow  unexpectedly.