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.

May 19, 2009: Drama on Longfellow Park

On Sunday morning, just as we were settling into worship, the Mormon church across Longfellow Park from Friends Meeting at Cambridge, maybe fifty yards away, caught fire. As I’d taken my usual seat that morning, I’d  heard an insistent alarm bleating but, like the 300 or so Mormons inside the (doomed) building, did not, could not imagine that the annoying alarm meant imminent danger. Assuming the alarm to be a drill, the Mormons apparently exited without fuss. Everyone made it out, thank God. (Meanwhile, of course, across the little park’s green, most Quakers were still centering. Except for the ones sitting near the windows facing the park. They knew something extraordinary was happening.) A few minutes later, a member of FMC entered the meetinghouse to report the fire and to suggest that people move their cars to assist firefighters’ access.

Some back-story which informed my subsequent discernment re whether to remain in worship or to go outside:

Pre-9/11, I was already in love with firefighters and would, whenever possible, witness them in action. (Even a peace-loving Quaker like me needs action figures!) So, I reminded myself on Sunday, I’d already seen plenty of fires.”Stay in your seat, Patricia. And pray for the people around the world swept up in similar disasters. The world needs your prayers.”

My dear friend Wendy Sanford gave a terrific forum that morning re her faithfulness to Spirit and about her daily spiritual practices in order to “sink down to that seed which God sows.” She used the word obedient several times. So I asked, as she reminded us to ask: What am I asked to do? And, again, it seemed as though remaining in my seat was what I was being asked to do. (Meanwhile, twenty-foot flames are now shooting out of the church’s roof!)

But then I was reminded of one of my greatest fears: That I become so inwardly focused I lose sight of what’s happening right under my nose. Or fifty yards away. So I “prayed with my feet” and left meeting. Left while someone was giving a message. (Which for non-Quakes, is SIMPLY NOT DONE!)

It was a drizzly, chilly morning; some Mormons were shivering, some were crying; all of us, Mormons and Quakers, stood shoulder-to-shoulder watching the firefighters struggle against that stubborn, consuming blaze. (It was the worst fire I’d ever witnessed.) Suited, high-heeled CLS-ers and fleece-n-sneakers folks, side by side. Dumbstruck. Horrified. Someone passed around cups of juice to the crowd, Mormon children were invited inside to play in our nursery, etc. When it became painfully clear that the church was doomed, invitations to use our facilities were extended.

This past Sunday was a read-a-query-aloud morning at FMC, i.e. a series of questions on a particular topic that are read at the beginning of meeting so we can collectively contemplate this topic. Ironically, here’s what was read this past Sunday, just as that fire alarm went off: Do you welcome inquirers and visitors to your meeting?. . .

Two days after that tragedy and one day after receiving a phone call from a former writing student and a Mormon who asked me to thank my “church” for its kindnesses, here’s where I’ve gotten:

1) That particular church, the first Mormon church in NE, had been started in the fifties by Mormons attending Harvard, a creation story which closely parallels FMC’s inception. Learning this reminded me that when you talk to people, face to face, you will discover common ground. (Sidewalk conversations about Quakers being persecuted in Puritan Boston and Mormons knowing all about persecution came up, too.)

2) How easy, how absolutely automatic it is to put aside whatever reservations or disagreements I might have with a particular sect or political party in the face of disaster!

3) I like to think that I am a seeker and open to Spirit and that it’s that Mormon certainty I find so appalling. But when I regard the (somewhat astonished) person who just wrote #s 1 and 2, when it comes to my brothers and sisters at 4 Longfellow Park, haven’t I, too, been a wee bit shut down, rigid, judgmental?

You betcha.

PS: The fire has been deemed “accidental” and not, as some in the crowd wondered, arson.