Oh, say can you see?

Pearl Harbor Day was yesterday. I remembered. And I didn’t fly the flag.

We found a flag holder screwed beside the front door when we moved into this house. We bought a flag, a deluxe, made-in-the-U.S.A. stars-and-stripes. As a Quaker, I chose not to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, which, when all is said and done, is merely a piece of cloth heavily weighted with symbolism. There are principles above ” my country right or wrong” and one sets those principles aside to pledge allegiance to the flag.

Are you a person who loves your homeland? The trees, the bird singing on the wing, the smell of the air? the swell of the hills and the blue mountains rising behind? the shush of surf? the racket of a city street? Any of these can call up home in the mind’s eye.

On the other hand, a nation state is a political construct.  As a powerful symbol, a flag may stand for both and be revered. But, under the same flag in a different year, ordinary citizens might fear the soldiers marching behind it. Any symbol, in the wrong hands, can be used to incite hate and violence.

Yesterday I didn’t hang our flag from the house not because I disrespect the servicemen and civilians who died when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. No, that wasn’t it. I didn’t hang the flag because I was briefly overwhelmed by the pattern of what we, as a nation, choose to remember and honor.

Our national holidays — no matter what the original intention in setting aside a particular day — seem to glorify our military and deify our veterans. The “Freedom isn’t free!” chant drowns out any nuance.

We are admonished to remember Pearl harbor. Shouldn’t decency call us to fly our flags half mast from government buildings all across our country on August 6?  That’s the day when many peace organizations and religious groups remember Hiroshima & Nagasaki.

We rightfully celebrate the birth of our nation on Independence Day. Maybe we should also recall the (according to some estimates) hundreds of thousands of people who cleared and worked the fields but died of contagious diseases before the Europeans moved in and took over? We celebrate Columbus Day but do we, as a people, recall the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee?

And while we’re at it, let’s revive the real meaning of Labor Day — to honor the struggles and celebrate the achievements of organized labor. Outlawing child labor, securing the right to organize, establishing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and more, were no mean feats and have saved countless lives. People died for these protections. “Freedom is not free.”

Labor Day might also be a day that we, as a nation, lay wreathes at the Tomb of the Unknown Worker in honor of exploited/enslaved labor, those buried beside the railroad tracks they built across the prairie or laid in unmarked graves beside the fields they tended. And those others who built our cities dug our canals, blasted tunnels for our roads, toiled from sun-up to sun-down huddled over sewing machines or looms. Juneteenth, which has been an official national holiday since 1997, could be celebrated by everyone, as it should be.

What about greeting cards for Jan. 31, the day the first Social Security check was issued in 1940? Or ritual toasts on June 29 in appreciation of the national highway system? or maybe toasts of clean, safe water on December 2 to the Environmental Protection Agency? “Freedom is not free!”

Let’s toss out the crass commercializing of every one of our holidays. (What kind of holiday do retail workers enjoy when Labor Day is yet another day of sales?)

When I was a child, we pinned simple red crepe paper poppies to our coats on November 11, and thought about all the young men slaughtered in that gruesome war, The War to End All Wars, World War I. They weren’t gods, those dead boys. They were people. We mourned.

We are a country ever yearning toward our ideals of our Declaration of Independence, a country still becoming. We are only ever momentarily the triumphant “Star Spangled Banner.” We are always “America the Beautiful.”

Must our national holidays be all bluster, war-mongering and mindless flag-waving? Will   our proud nation ever learn to symbolically bow her head and ritually acknowledge past failings? Can we, as a people, lift up our many civic acheivements in joy and celebration?

Until then, perhaps I need black streamers for my flag or a wreath of red poppies for my door.

 

 

Step by Step

Yesterday, a friend called me to ask if I wanted to carpool to the demonstration downtown today. I said, no, my husband and I  plan to go to a different demonstration on Monday, in front of a different building downtown. This the third time since January that I’ve turned down a friend’s invitation to one demonstration because I had another demonstration lined up. These days, there is no way I can attend them all.

And how did you react to Donald Trump’s presidential election victory?

A handful of my relatives and close neighbors were jubilant — but not my Quaker meeting. We are deliberately non-partisan, but we are liberal. Inside our clear windows and plain grey walls there were tears, wails and the gnashing of teeth. (This is not totally an exaggeration.) Meeting might have reached unity on draping our front doors with black crepe swags if our clerk had proposed it.

We were gobsmacked! Corporately and individually we had been knocked off-center. We thought we were striding onward and upward toward (our vision of) a better world when suddenly the whole country took a detour! How did this happen? Why didn’t we see this coming?

In hindsight, it is obvious we were infected with complacency. Progress, it seems, is not inevitable. Those of us vulnerable in any way now know fresh fear.

But for most of us in our Quaker meeting, cocooned in relative comfort and security and our white skins, we didn’t grasp the depth of insecurity, fear, frustration, homophobia and racism running through a broad swath of our fellow citizens. We just weren’t looking for a resurgence of hate and discrimination. Who voted for Trump, anyway?

It’s not that we weren’t aware of the other people around us. But ours is a stratified society with neighborhoods and schools determined by income. Even our meeting membership is, to some extent, limited in class diversity. We who are comfortable are never forced to mingle with the hungry. We take up collections for food banks and we do charitable works. We know the statistics and support legislation to alleviate poverty.   Daily frustration and hopelessness isn’t ours.

But Trump’s strongest support came from people with annual incomes of about $70,000. For most of us, neither racism nor homophobia is a daily insult. But racism and homophobia and misogamy lurk all around us and are breaking the bonds of inhibition  loosened by leaders like Trump with no compassion or shame. Even worse, some ministers reinforce these messages.

Quakers revere their more famous members of the past who were on the right side of history. And we are justly proud of the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (to name just two Quaker groups out in the world doing good). One day future generations may even revere a few of us current Quakers who are made of the same stalwart stuff as those abolitionists, suffragettes, and civil rights workers.

But most Friends are like most other people. We aren’t heroes. We aren’t activists. We don’t like to rock any boats or cross any lines. We think we know the difference between right and wrong and we vote accordingly. Besides, when Obama was president, we believed, the country was in good hands. We didn’t have to worry.

Then we wake up one morning and Donald Trump is president. We are in shock!

After a great deal of moaning and commiseration, we begin to climb out of this deep pit of despair. For the first weeks and months following the election, we administered self-care: prayer, readings, journaling, music. As a meeting, we decide to hold a retreat on Responding to Challenging Times. We calm down. We see that the sun still rises. Now we are ready to face reality.

There is some recognition that the problem is not Donald Trump. The problems were there all along — even while Obama was president — and Donald Trump is just a manifestation.

Now, along with millions of other people, we are paying more attention. We are swept up in that wave of others rising to assert decency and tolerance. We have our senators on speed dial. We subscribe to email newsletters chock full of alerts on committee hearings,

Pete Seeger

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notices of demonstrations, talking points to share with our legislators. We write to the editor, pressure lawmakers with phone calls and letters. We are energized around common concerns. We hit the streets (peacefully, of course). We send post cards and make phone calls to other voters. We canvas. We hang signs and share Facebook messages. We not only vote — we get-out-the-vote.

VOTE
Collage postcard to encourage voting

IMG_20171026_001709.jpg Remember when we flooded town halls, demanding answers from our elected representatives? And when we were shut out of  the those town halls, new groups (run predominately by women) organized their own town halls with local experts to examine social issues and look at possible solutions. Grass roots efforts found candidates and supported them with time and money.

Here in Virginia, these efforts have paid off in the midterm elections. In spite of  gerrymandered districts that heavily favor Republicans, Democrats tossed out incumbents and took seats all over the state. They won in districts the party itself gave up on. And those new delegates are more beholden to the voters than they are to the Democratic party. (May we hold their feet to the fire.)

Ten months into Trump’s administration we are sticking it out. We persist.

But “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty” is a tall order. How long can we keep this up? Will we slip back into our old patterns and trust Democrats to take care of our interests?

Blind trust didn’t work the last time. It brought us Donald Trump — and the continuation and expansion of endless war and income iniquities and the occasional child dead of a toothache through lack of health insurance and too many children hungry while their parents work hard at jobs that keep them poor. Even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, to what degree would that have changed? Would we have paid as close attention? Would we have witnessed and acted — or blindly trusted that Things Would Get Better?

We citizens have begun to feel the power we have. Will we use it? How will we use it? Or will we elect a few good people and go back to thinking elections are enough to fix everything?

Take heart. Take heart.

Persist.

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A short and helpful guide book for navigating our alarming political climate.

 

 

3 Ways to Get Over It!

We all have out buttons that beg to be pushed. Yours may be different than mine but they are probably equally unimportant in the wider scheme of things. Unless you are an evil dictator with the power of life and death over your cowering subjects, history will remain unaffected by your flare-up when somebody slams a door.

These last few weeks, due to chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia, I’ve been mostly out of commission. I look normal enough, I guess, if you overlook my horizontal posture. When I do stand up I usually lean against something. Sitting? my elbows are propped on the table and my hands hold up my head. Flat or upright, my brains are mush.

With so little energy to draw on, you’d assume I’d just let little things pass me by — that any buttons I have are obviously wired to dead batteries. Go ahead, you might think. Use ‘you and me’ instead of ‘you and I’ as the subject of a verb. Insert random apostrophes. This poor woman may have that coveted* degree in English but she’s in no shape to react!

And you would be right! I am powerless in my own life. Go ahead and push my buttons. I can’t get it together to lecture you on your transgressions so rub it in my face.

Yes, life goes on even when I can’t take part. To fill the hours, I read ten novels this week — eight historical romances, one YA fantasy, and one literary novel (the least enjoyable). — while wonderful things happened all around me. [Editor’s note: The writer does, in fact, go places and do things — just not as many of either as she would like. She’s waving around the proverbial half-empty glass here and spilling a good bit of it in the process.] Real life — engaged, active, vibrant — passes me by. In the meantime, the garden is weedy, the bank balance is a mystery, and the refrigerator is bare.

But if you think a debilitating illness is guaranteed to make you a more patient person, forget it. Struggling with such a condition can bring you to temporary state of acceptance. You might, briefly, step outside the pain and experience yourself as clear water flowing over and around rocks in a dappled stream bed. But this state will not last. At least, it never does for me.

Little things still get me.

After Quaker meeting [Ed: See? she does go places.] another Friend and I were bemoaning how others had come into the meeting room before the hour and, even though some were already settled, they whispered and laughed and walked around greeting others. Why don’t they know that meeting for worship begins as we center, not by watching the hands of the clock? Both of us confessed our disappointment to hear any Friend substitute the word “consensus” for  the word”unity,” the end result of our Quaker process. And too many who should know better refer to our meetings as “silent” instead of  “waiting worship.”

How spiritual is it to get irritated by misunderstandings of spiritual practice?  But without understanding, can there be full appreciation?

While I was taking a stranger on a tour of our meeting house, she asked me, “What do Quakers believe?”  I began with “Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, that we are all equal in the eyes of God. We believe in continuing revelation, that if God ever spoke he is still speaking.”

Afterwards, a Friend asked why I didn’t just recite SPICE — Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality? This never occurred to me. To me, the core of the Religious Society of Friends is how we arrive at what we believe. There is nothing simple about simplicity or peace or integrity or community or even equality. We have to know how to ask the right questions in the right spirit to put our beliefs into action. Quaker process is a gift to the world.

The irritation of a grain of sand can result in a pearl. Irritation, carefully examined, can guide us to the right questions. We can benefit when we allow ourselves to flow like water around the irritation, calmly taking it in. Quaker process is a way of setting aside ego and listening beyond words. It is not efficient. It’s painstaking and time consuming. To some of us of a certain temperament, it can be irritating. But that’s the price of unity.

Usually, though, there aren’t profound messages in the things that push our buttons. I get perturbed if I trip over my husbands size 13 boots or he doesn’t close a drawer all the way or forgets to turn out a light. He gets ticked if I run cold water in the sink when he’s washing dishes or I turn off a light he needs or I slam a door. We each try to avoid pushing each other’s buttons or over reacting when one of our own buttons gets pushed. That’s the price of getting along.

Some days, I watch myself getting ticked off about everything and snapping at everybody. This is a sign I’m falling into a bad place with the CFIDS/Fibromyalgia again. And then I have to spend most of the day apologizing. And that’s really irritating!

So the the heading of this piece is misleading. I don’t know 3 Ways To Get Over It — I don’t even know one. I get irritated by lots of things. I probably always will. Occasionally, my irritation is instructive. But most of the time, I just take it in stride and step over it.

How about you? How irritating is it that this piece contains no answers?

 

 

P.S. One suggestion: music. I’m listening to The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane.

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*Obvious example of irony

Atheism: the Faith of My Father

In meeting for worship, the question was asked: “What does it mean to have a personal relationship with the Lord?” A previous message had claimed this “personal relationship with the Lord” and offered a definition of God as “Love and Light, Good and Right, Wisdom, Knowledge and Compassion.”

I learned faith from my father, a birth-right Quaker and a devout atheist. Daddy was an equal-opportunity anti-God fanatic. With little provocation, he delivered passionate sermons aimed at converting believers to Reason and Logic. He was evangelical — a missionary among the washed hordes of Christians in semi-rural Ohio. Like all True Believers, my father suffered for his faith. In our little town, people like Daddy who openly, loudly — even brazenly — didn’t attend church were looked upon with suspicion, to say the least.

He tried to raise me as a Quaker without God and hundreds of miles from any Friends’ meeting house. Social justice, the equality of persons, the evils of war — he lectured me on these topics. Countless times, as the sole member of his congregation, I listened attentively as he thundered on in rolling tones about the curse of ignorance that breeds superstition, the hypocrisy of worshipping on cushioned pews beneath stained glass windows instead of feeding the hungry, the impossibility of the virgin birth and the resurrection, the contradictions of the bible, the pagan antecedents of Christian holidays, and so forth and so on, ad nauseum.

I soaked up his every word. I believed. God was an invention of men. Religion was anti-science. If something can’t be proved by scientific, objective measures, it doesn’t exist. Daddy’s worldview wove a thick cloak of superiority about him while others stood naked and exposed in their ignorance.

But now I’m a Quaker, and I consider myself Christian within that tradition.

I didn’t abandon the faith of my father overnight. Mine was a gradual turn about. Even while I was still enthralled by his pronouncements, I was reading heretic texts like The Sleeping Prophet and devouring “non-fiction” on mysteries like Big Foot and UFO’s.  (Decades later we moved to Virginia Beach and I came to know people who knew Edgar Cayce and offered more stories of his second sight.) My friends and I were fascinated with Ouija boards and ghosts.

Even in junior high, the idea of reincarnation appealed to me. The way Cayce explained it, reincarnation sounded fair, and we all want the world to be fair, right? Maybe my life this time is an easy one because I starved to death in the last one. Of course, reincarnation can be used to enforce a caste system and justify inequality. In that way, it’s no different than a religion to keep people under the thumb of the King or in the rifle-sight of a tribal chieftain because obedience and piety are rewarded in the after life so keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told.

Though I liked the idea of reincarnation, it wasn’t enough to undermine my faith in Fundamentalist Atheism. Even from where I stood — a place of relative privilege and comfort — it was obvious any God worth worshipping wouldn’t allow people to suffer like lots of them obviously were. If there was a God in charge of this world and all its hunger, sickness, and premature death, he wasn’t a god I wanted anything to do with anyway.

About mid-way through college, five months pregnant and not married (this was a big no-no back in 1970), I was sitting on my dorm bed at college idly considering a jump from the window and a plunge to the asphalt three stories below. (This sort of thinking I learned from my mother.) Then I heard that still small voice: You don’t have to do that. Things will be difficult for awhile but everything will be all right in the end.

I heard the voice. I never doubted the words. It was enough to keep me going. I didn’t bother to weigh the silent voice on any scientific scales. I just accepted it and moved on.

Three years later, I returned to campus with my daughter to finish my degree. And I met a really nice young man. And I heard that voice again: This is the man you are supposed to marry but you’ll never have any money.” This was an Oh Shit! moment for me, because, in my (still) atheist worldview, money was the only security. The more money the more security.

So I set aside my need for money and that kind of security and married that nice young man. We never were hungry or homeless but we had some lean years and some hard years. I never doubted that we were supposed to be together — I’d been told — and we came through those years a out on the other side.

But in spite of these and other mystical life-changing moments, abandoning the faith of my father was a gradual process. My husband had been raised in a strict Baptist Church and was in no hurry to ever join another one. Years went by and were we unchurched, but, soon after we moved to a town with a Quaker meeting, we began attending.

I suspect anyone who’s been gifted with trustworthy directions and guidance from a source that defies rational explanation longs for frequent communication from that source. In my life, that voice has been crucial and rare. The best substitute I’ve discovered is to fill my life with good people and learn from their examples. And in that little Quaker meeting we first joined, there were people well worth emulating.

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When I told my father I was attending a Friends meeting, his first question was “Race Street or Arch Street?” I assured him we’d joined a Hicksite congregation and he seemed, for an atheist, oddly satisfied. He took great pride in his Quaker forebears and cousins in spite of their irrational beliefs.

Once Daddy got over being pleased that I’d joined the Religious Society of Friends — that his daughter had come into the very fold he’d abandoned — he felt compelled to argue with me about the existence of God — God anywhere, in any form. Since you can’t prove God exists, Daddy argued, God does not exist.

[Oddly enough, I have a disease — CFIDS/ME — that cannot be confirmed with a laboratory test or x-ray. For years, doctors used that same argument against people like me: We can’t prove you’re sick so you are not sick. In spite of their sound reasoning, I am sick. Medical science is catching up with my experience.]

I came back at my father with arguments for the existence of music and love, neither of which have scientific explanations. (Or so I said at the time. I’m wouldn’t make such pronouncements today.)

My current and fluctuating understanding of God is whatever It Is that binds us, makes us human — like the force that holds bees to a hive, working together for the greater good. It’s hard for me to see any sense in altruism without God. If there’s no meaning beyond one’s own individual needs and pleasures, what’s wrong with doing whatever it takes to achieve whatever’s best for yourself? Ayn Rand, anyone?

Do I have a personal relationship with the Lord? Well, it’s an on-again, off-again kind of thing. I don’t always stay in touch. But here’s what faith means to me: an ability to accept uncertainly.

My father and other fundamentalist atheists I’ve met — the brand of atheist compelled to harangue us ignorant church-goers — have a great deal in common with religious fundamentalists: the drive to be RIGHT! The basic flaw in atheism is the claim of certainty. To me, agnosticism seems more consistent with reason.

The idea that something can only exist if human science confirms it’s existence is a strange one. It’s like claiming the Grand Canyon didn’t exist until Joseph Ives sent his Report upon the Colorado River of the West; Explored 1857 and 1858 to Washington, D.C.

This idea also overlooks the expansion of human knowledge, the way new discoveries overturn old understandings.

I can’t explain what I believe and I can’t justify it to a non-believer. That’s fine with me. I don’t care if I’m wrong and I can live with uncertainly.

Isn’t that part of what it is to be human?