What I’d Do Different Now

[Woolworth’s Sit In, Jackson, Mississippi, May, 1963]

Some years ago I began to wonder: Whatever happened to those two African-Americans who desegregated E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1962? So I found Dr. Lynda Woodruff and Reverend Owen Cardwell, Jr.—and wrote a book about what unfolded because I’d wondered.

These days? Now I am moved to wonder: What would happen if I found one of those despicable young men abusing the Jackson, MS sit-inners? (Surely some are still alive?) Could I possibly sit down with one of them; could I ever listen with an open heart? Face to face with a white supremacist, could I remember to seek “that of God” in the old man seated across from me? Not try to “fix” what I’d hear; offer neither advice nor comments but merely ask questions? (Why do you suppose X happened? How do you make meaning of that? Why do you think Y said that? How did you feel when Z happened? Tell me about how you learned about X? etc. ) And then write a book about what I heard? And learned? Could I?

Not lacking in (compelling, passionately engaged-in) writing projects, I am nevertheless tugged at, nudged to wonder: Where does hate come from? What, in all my studies, all my close attention to race and class and gender and education and all the other variables that make each of us who we are; what have I missed, what have I never understood? What do I need to know?



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.

June 24, 2009: Blame the rain?

[Background to today’s blog; much of this info is discussed in the last chapter of Way Opens. Scroll down to the * if you already know about FMC’s inner workings.]

A few years ago, 8 to 12 people doing what’s sometimes called prison ministry, formed a quasi-support group at Friends Meeting at Cambridge (FMC) and called this group, what else, Prison Ministry. These people were visiting prisoners in jail, writing letters to men and women behind bars, advocating for a more just criminal justice system, volunteering in agencies working with families impacted by violent crime, etc., etc. Uncomfortable with the word “ministry,” this group, which meets once a month, is now called Prison Fellowship (PF).

Over time, PF, while continuing to support its members’ individual efforts, took on a new role: sponsoring talks and lectures about the criminal justice system and sharing the stories of individuals directly affected by what some call “the very criminal justice system” for the entire Meeting’s edification. PF also proposed FMC offer a weekly meal-and-sharing opportunity for the formerly incarcerated which is now in its second year and has attracted eight to twelve regular attenders. My husband (who cooks amazing meals for these weekly, powerful, community-building gatherings) and I attend faithfully.

* About a year ago, in the Spirit-led, organic way that these things happen, three people from Prison Fellowship found themselves raising funds, mostly from the larger FMC community, to bail out a young man who’d been held in jail for three years. This oh-my-God-we-actually-DID-this! has led PF to wonder: Should we create a bail fund? A legal defense fund?  Both? Neither? (Twice, through PF members’ efforts, money has also been raised to pay for lawyers, too.)

Over the past few months, at our monthly potluck-plus-meetings, PF has gone around and around on this should-we/ shouldn’t we. Lots of good meals, little progress. Last month, someone suggested we do a kind of personal assessment, ask ourselves what’s keeping us back, what’s a concern, fear, ” a stop,” as they say.

So I did. And here’s what I discovered when I listened to that still, small voice: Given how many people could use bail and/or legal defense funds, including, God forbid, people I love, people I break bread with every Wednesday night, how do you decide who gets what? I am simply not up to such a challenge. It’s too much.

Usually an energetic and optimistic person, I prefaced my gloomy remarks (last night) with: “Maybe it’s the rain but. . . ” (We haven’t seen sunshine around here FOR A LONG TIME!)

But in the organic, Spirit-led way that these meetings go, another PF member suggested that the decision-making process re who gets what should be the responsibility of a wider group, including, she suggested, mothers whose children had either been the victims of the perpetrators of violence and people from the Wednesday night group!

Yes. Once again I’ve assumed primary responsibility for some endeavor. Once again I have decided it’s all up to me! Once again I have failed to appreciate the power of community.

Can’t blame the rain for THAT!

January 29, 2009: Happy anniversary, Owen and Lynda!

This past Sunday during meeting for worship, Katie Cullinan, a member of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, led all of us in a rousing “Rosa sat.” [“Rosa sat/ so Martin could walk. Martin walked/So Obama could run. Obama ran/He ran and he won/So all our children could fly.”]

Now although I am prone, as my daughters would tell you, to blithely burst out in song, I am usually not a big fan of singing during worship. In my experience, it is extremely rare when whatever song is put forth feels like an organic and natural expression of however Spirit is moving among us that morning. “Amazing Grace” sung like a dirge almost never speaks to my condition!

But this past Sunday, five days before the forty-seventh anniversary (!!) of Lynda Woodruff and Owen Cardwell desegregating E.C. Glass High School, to celebrate the Rosas and the Martins and the Lyndas and the Owens and the Virgils with my faith community felt just right. Virgil, by the way, is Dr. Virgil Wood, Lynchburg’s leading civil rights activist. “We stand on their shoulders,” he noted once, in reference to other Lynchburg civil rights movement notables.

Yes, we do.