Balance

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Dear Friends,

How do we try to keep balance during these very wobbly times? 

Michelle Obama provided the line “When they go low, we go high.” Then I heard a good spiritual riff on this: “When they go low, we go deep.” I want to suggest yet another variation: “When they go wobbly, we go steady.” Not quite as flashy, I agree, but it leads me to address how I personally, at least, seek to steady and balance myself when the equivalent of the “Fasten your seatbelt, we're experiencing turbulence” airplane sign never really goes off .

I love the old hymn, “How can I keep from singing?” In spite of all the turbulence, life truly also does continue to “flow on in endless song, above earth's lamentation,” and we still can “hear the sweet, tho far-off hymn that hails a new creation; thro' all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing; It finds an echo in my soul – how can I keep from singing?” Those lines speak a deep truth and reality for me, as I assume they do for you. The “far-off hymn” that “hails a new creation,” provides realistic hope for me even when I am so immersed in “earth’s lamentation.” 

I do not need to elaborate on what makes these times so shaky, so unbalanced, because we know the major issues all too well. They actually predate the present governmental crisis, although this administration, of course, has certainly heightened our awareness of them, made them worse and more dangerous: climate disruption, immigration issues, homelessness, poverty, health care crises, perpetual war fueled by unrestrained military budgets, and a nation divided by class, race, and disparity of wealth and opportunity - among other topics. I get these surveys from the Democratic National Convention asking me to prioritize the crisis list. I finally filled one out recently and wrote that prioritization was easy: above all keep from destroying the planet with CO 2 emissions and a nuclear holocaust. The rest of the causes are clearly a special priority for those most impacted, and they all apply to all of us at least indirectly. And as difficult as all these problems are, they are all problems we might well solve if we would put reverence for life above the dominant economic and political drivers of fear, exploitation and greed.

Each of us, consciously or subconsciously, is dealing with variations of these contemporary issues, and in the midst of it all, life flows on, and incredibly, perhaps, we do find ways to balance our lives, to find great joy and hope in spite of our anxieties and fears. I would like to share my personal approach to maintaining balance in spite of being tumbled by anxiety, fear, confusion and discouragement, and to remind us that it is possible to still be “in endless song.”

I haver four “sources of balance” that allow my life to go on with a sense of equanimity and joy.

The first source of balance in my life is that I have worked out a theology that is a source of truth and integrity for my mind and soul and squares me up with a concept of what many of us refer inadequately to as God. I joke that I am a “Quardratarian” because my theology has four primary precepts that ground my idea of God.

First, I live with a profound sense of the sacredness of the Grand Mystery of life. I am deeply indebted to the Jewish tradition which conceives of Y-h with unnamable, profound awe and mystery. The Grand Mystery grounds, steadies, humbles me with perspective and infinite wonder.

Second, I identify a God of an intricately interconnected and interdependent universe, from the tiniest atom to the unfathomable order of the infinite cosmos. The interconnectedness and interdependency of all of creation in nature, for example, is a way many of us experience God. My deep respect for the sacredness, interconnectedness, interdependence, and oneness of all creation ultimately leads me to my peace testimony and my commitment to nonviolence. If all life is interconnected and sacred, and I have a deep reverence for it, it is difficult if not impossible to think of destructive violence and war.

God as the Grand Mystery and as an expression of the sacred interconnectedness of all creation are simply factual givens for me, not expressions of faith. They are expressions of plain Truth. But I have two theological assertions that are more a matter of faith.

I have faith in the redemptive and creative power of love that I associate with my idea of God. I have experienced the healing power of the love of God in my life. My primary faith identity as a Christian is based on ministry of Jesus as a radical expression of the love of God that can transcend all the cultural, tribal and belief systems that so easily divide us. My belief in the moral path of radical compassion in the Christian tradition as an expression of God’s love is worthy of my devotion and following.

And my final assertion of faith is in the liberating power of Truth. What inflates the problems of the world is that we are tragically imprisoned and confused by lies that simply keep us off balance as we try to discern what is true or not. In addition to much of advertising itself, we live in a world of “alternative truths” and “don't take what is said literally.” It's too easy to become cynical, angry, and deeply discouraged and hopeless when we can't trust ourselves and others with the core values of honesty and integrity that hold our souls, our families, our community and government together. Although I assume all religious belief systems honor the search for truth, I am particularly indebted to Gandhi for elevating Truth to a level of sacrament and his life's mission as memorialized in his autobiography My Experiment with Truth. It is a sacred, nonviolent, liberating act to experience the intimacy of honesty and integrity of truth-telling and truth-seeking with ourselves, in intimate friendships, and in our work in the world. What a terrible loss it is to live in a world that creates so much skepticism and cynicism.

My theology of God as Mystery, Interconnectedness, Love and Truth provides me a moral basis, a steadying, centering for my commitment to nonviolence and for grounding my life with a meaningful, experienced relationship with the Transcendent. My theology continues to change, of course, but these four basic precepts have held me now for more than twenty-five years.

A second of my four “sources of balance,” beyond my centering theology, is my personal practice of contemplation and prayer that also settles and grounds me. 

I somehow experience a very personal relationship with the Divine that I call prayer. When I pray I feel I am not alone; the Mystery becomes personal. I can't really explain the experience, and I no longer try, but it is very real for me. I think of myself as a “practical mystic.’ I talk with God in very matter of fact ways, mostly in terms of gratitude – for life itself, for beauty, for all that both blesses and vexes my life - but I also bring to our conversations compassion for the suffering of the world with a request to strengthen my vision, wisdom, courage and integrity to support my practice of nonviolence in courageous and compassionate service, especially on behalf of the marginalized. I pray for the well-being of my family and friends and that all may share a vision for peace and justice. My prayer also involves centering and disciplining the mind through contemplative meditation in silence, both in solitude and in the silent worship in our Quaker community.

A third of my “sources of balance” comes from the gift of deep community. Our Quaker tradition has been described as an association of interdependent mystics. Individually we seek a direct, personal experience of the presence of the Divine with a strong emphasis on settling for nothing less than one's individual, experienced truth that can be affirmed with individual integrity. Yet, because at any time we can misread what constitutes our truth due to our egos and all that might misinform us, we need each other for guidance and support as we seek Divine guidance. Friends have a profound respect for communal accountability to balance an equally strong emphasis on individual integrity of faith. As a result considerable attention is given to individual clearness processes and the expectation of Spirit-led group decision making in our communities' business practices. I am very committed to this practice, and it serves me and our tradition well in terms of steadying and balancing our life together.

Finally, I need what I call my “buoyancy factor,” the lift I get from a sense of humor, a child's giggle, a shared smile, the magnificent beauty of our earth, or a song on the heart - among so many other ways I am so deeply heartened by daily graces. We all need to honor and experience joy to maintain balance in our lives.  I am so inspired by the folks in our own lives and in the public eye like Bishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama who have seen more than their share of the grief of life but who have this incredible buoyant spirit. Few of us are Bishop Tutu or the Dalai Lama, but all of us have the capacity to balance and steady ourselves with joy. 

Life really does flow on with both lamentation and endless song. I have very briefly shared how I try to find balance in these trying times. This is not about naive nonchalance and pollyanna wishfulness. I am talking about the capacity of heart, soul and spirit in and through us that leads us to sing in spite of life's lamentations, that steadies and balances us with hope and reverence for life.

Blessings of grace and peace be with you,
Tom

The Mosquito

Friends,

For the past year our Quaker meeting and others have challenged the Navy SEAL proposal to use our state parks for marine and land-based assault training purposes. Our opposition was Initiated by a leaked document about the proposal followed by considerable research and an appearance before the Washington State Parks Commission to ask them to deny permission for the SEAL trainings. (We had learned five state parks had already been given permission by staff only, not the full Commission). Our opposition to the plan was based on two primary issues: 1) The state parks are a sacred trust of public land to be used for recreation and personal and communal spiritual renewal, and military assault trainings, even at night, are an affront to the mission and purpose of the state parks; and 2) The Navy already owns and controls forty-three miles of Pacific Northwest coastline and acres and acres of land; they don’t need to use the state parks. (We also made clear we are not opposed to their training programs; only to their use of state parks.)

This past week, then, the Navy SEAL program held information (scoping) meetings in three sites in the northwest corner of Puget Sound. Their purpose was to explain that if they were to use the state parks they would cause no harm to anyone or the environment and thus they should be granted permission for their use. The information meetings were in part in preparation for a mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be presented later to the State Parks Commission when they make a formal request to use additional state parks. The Navy is obviously taking our challenge seriously as they had twenty-six (!!) staff people (vs. 29 visitors) at the scoping, some brought in from as far away as Hawaii with detailed graphs and posters. 

I offer this background summary to be able to address my real concern about the proposal.

The Navy says the mostly night time assault exercises will not likely impact people or the landing sites themselves. But here’s the crux of why it is important to assert strong opposition to what they propose. The proposal from the Navy SEALs is yet another example of the growing imposition of the military on American life. For example, the Navy commandeers a significant area of our Whidbey Island for their Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) which serves as base for the Navy Growler jets that emit ear piercing noise and another separate parcel of land, the Outlying Field (OLF), used for Growler practice landings. In addition another EIS anticipates a significant expansion of the Growler fleet and thus more Growler flight training exercises, electronic surveillance training that involves Growler flights over the revered Olympic National Park to identify hidden “enemy" sites, and naval training exercises at sea that the Navy acknowledges will endanger whales, dolphins and other marine animals with their use of sonar and explosives with official calculations of likely damage to these wildlife called “takings.” In addition to the NASWI the Navy has major regional bases in Bremerton and the Hood Canal. And all this is within the context of a Pentagon budget that consumes over fifty percent of our federal discretionary budget with another $25.7 billion added in the present provisional budget. Yet they feel they are entitled to also use our public state parks. I heard no reservations in their request nor any concerns. They obviously feel quite justified in their request and assume it will be granted by the Washington State Parks Commission after they complete their scoping sessions and their final proposal. 

The scoping session was an interesting opportunity for “civil” discussion with people who are in somewhat of an adversarial position with the wider community’s welfare. For their part the Navy personnel made it clear their would try to answer any of our questions, and they seemed quite open about sharing exactly what they propose to do. Their representatives were well trained in public relations, and the more we talked with them the more likable each person became. Thye were on “duty" and presumably living out their values as professionals engaged in preparation for deadly warfare. I left the scoping session with generous respect for the Navy personnel themselves quite apart from the larger issue of the disproportionate military presence and the deadliness of their business. It can be difficult to hold deep conviction when facing this level of personal respect and a personal inclination to compromise and accommodate.

But our well prepared and persistent opposition to the Navy expansion is making a difference. For example, my wife had been transparent in providing Navy SEAL command here in the northwest and back in the Pentagon with our plans and reasons for our opposition. So when she introduced herself to one of leaders at the scoping Thursday evening, the woman immediately recognized my wife's name because she had read the letter my wife had sent to the Pentagon! The resistance was apparently at least taken seriously.

There is an African saying that if you think you are too small to make a difference, you have not spent a night with a mosquito. Our nonviolent opposition to injustice during this political era, if done with nonviolence, care and perseverance, does make a difference even in what may feel like small and insignificant ways. It is so crucial we continue to confront those policies and practices that harmfully impact vulnerable life and the planet itself. I am so lifted by the example of success we have had so far in challenging the Navy SEAL proposal. And by extension, each time we march, do research, write our letters, make our phone calls, and say “Enough!" to the military, the corporations and the erosion of our Constitutional democracy we are making a difference, difference in our own souls and in the greater drama of seeking peace and justice. Thanks to all who are committed to this type of opposition.

I want to close with a very important, inspiring short Leslie Stahl "60 minutes" interview with the last living prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, 97 year old indomitable Ben Ferenz. Ben Ferenz has the great wisdom to know the difference between the evil done by those who fight the wars and the real evil which is war itself and the immorality and devastation if creates. Please try to take the time to watch the interviewhttp://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-the-last-nuremberg-prosecutor-alive-wants-the-world-to-know/ 

Watching the Ferenz interview I thought of the Navy SEALS  and all in the military who live under a strong sense of duty and command. How difficult is it for them to exercise their consciences in the midst of war operations? And how difficult it is for each of us to examine our consciences and responsibility for our part in supporting the pervasive militarism of our American culture with our finances and tacit acceptance. The least we can do is try to be the little mosquitos with our questions and challenges. And many of us are doing just that!

Peace,
Tom

The Dance of Life

Dear Friends,

I am imagining a dance between two partners, Biophilic and Necrophilic. They are life-long partners, like a Ying and Yang, depicted in some Mexican literature and art as skeleton dancing with a life figure. They are Kali, the Hindu Goddess of death with a garland of skulls dancing with a Vishnu as creator. They are the compassionate prophetic Jesus weeping over the unresponsive and hardened people of Jerusalem. They compete to see who gets to lead the dance, and each gets a turn. They are inseparable. Life and death.

I’ve been thinking about how these two figures command the dance floor these days. Biophilic is springtime; a surge in political and social activism; scientific creativity and technological change too rapid to even imagine; increased recognition (finally) of women and minority status and rights; a world in constant communication; and the vey real possibility that we can create a sustainable earth. Life Matters! But Necrophilic says, “Not so fast. In fact, it’s my turn to lead for this part of the dance. I represent the threat to the biosphere and nuclear devastation. I represent the repression and exclusion of the refugee and immigrant. I objectify women and creation as something to be controlled, exploited and used. Biophilic may resent dancing with me, but here I am. Learn to accept my lead or figure out how to reclaim the lead yourself!"

You get the idea - actually the very, very ancient idea - experienced in our personal lives and throughout all the wisdom literature of the ages: life and death are one and we must accept and deal with their reality. Yes, we may like to think the dance of life is primarily a waltz, partners in a graceful swirl. But in reality the dance includes a lot of missteps and stomping on toes. It is often inchoate, unfair, destructive, deceptive, painful, traumatic; dancing to the cacophony of the music of racism, fascism, war, and demagoguery. I think especially of war. I think of the lives of all who live so deeply in pain, suffering, need, and fearful for their ability to provide for the feeding, care and safety of their children, their family, and community.

The ancient literature has a response to all this: Choose life! "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) And I agree we all ultimately have the option to choose life, even under the most dire circumstances. But in the midst of real life-threatening situations it is difficult to know how to exercise this choice. What does it mean to “choose life?” The Necrophilic dance partners - sometimes called “principalities and powers" - just seem to firmly lead on their own, and it’s difficult to intervene. Sometimes Necrophilia really gets the upper hand, and we become despairing and are left with just intrinsic hope, something deep inside that somehow withstands the pain and despair of life. And blessed are they who can hold this level of hope, for themselves and others!

But the dance of life itself has its own great power to overcome its challenges. I believe the dance of life is ultimately destined to recover and go on. Necrophilic’s fear, hatred and prejudice, persistent and strong as they may be, are difficult to sustain. Biophilic, on the other hand, has great endurance fueled by love, compassion, courage, faith and intrinsic hope. 

We are all invited, willing or not, into the dance of life, to live as fully into it as we can despite the threats, hardships and uncertainties. Perhaps a good metaphor for the dance I prefer to envision would be a community contra dance* where Necrophilic and Necrophilic’s partner (if they ever choose to join) are only two in a whole line of dancers of Biophilic’s friends and partners who are carried by laughter and the music of joyful celebration, caught up in the nimble enthusiasm of the Grand Fiddle, even if they (like me) often feel clumsy and out of step with the instruction from the inspirational "Caller.” 

 We do have a choice about how much positive commitment and enthusiasm we are willing to give to our lives and to the support of others. No doubt there will always be some who hate the dance, want to sit it out, avoid it, close it down. And their attitude can be very destructive to themselves and others. But we can choose differently. I am so inspired and encouraged by how pervasively, faithfully, and positively the world is responding to the current threats and setbacks to so many of our past efforts. May the lure of a full life continue to manifest in our marches, our personal and communal initiatives, and in our invitations to partnerships to join us.

Peace,
Tom

 *Contra dancing is considered a social dance that one can attend without a partner, but is danced in pairs. Contra dancing is danced in long lines of couples/pairs formed starting from the stage and down the dance hall. Throughout the course of a dance, couples progress up and down these lines, dancing with each other couple in the line. The dance is led by a caller who teaches the sequence of figures in the dance before the music starts. Callers describe the series of steps called "figures", and in a single dance, a caller may include anywhere from 6–12 figures which are repeated as couples progress up and down the lines. Each time through the dance takes 64 beats, after which the pattern is repeated.

April 22nd

Dear Friends,

The healing sunshine, the spring air, the blossoms on the cherry and plum trees, the irrepressible green growth surrounding us more and more each day, the appearance of croci, daffodils, tulips and those random little flowers popping up in surprising places - all just fill the heart and soul. I have seldom if ever needed a springtime like I do this year. It’s like rewinding our old German clock and expecting time to continue.

The times have made us all at least amateur philosophers. We can make meaning out of the familiar if always surprising and wondrous springtime. We have a lot more trouble with where and how to seek and make meaning from our current world situation. Philosophically I try to keep the challenge of holding those two realities together - the glory of the (hopefully) dependable repetition of the spring season and the uncertainty of our daily and future lives. I spend time with the glee of my grandchildren, hear medical recovery stories of my friends, read about creative and committed marchers by the thousands in the streets, and celebrate our young families dealing with successful negotiations with new jobs, social commitments and child rearing - among other positive things in life. All’s so good. And then there are nuclear weapons being so carelessly flaunted like playground taunts and seemingly incomprehensible and deeply hurtful federal policies somehow becoming a reality. All’s pretty bad. And our amateur philosopher status, our capacity to be successful meaning seekers and meaning makers, gets maxed out.

Both of these experiences in our lives are equally real. Our conscious lives stumble when our philosophical effort to make sense of life wavers and we have to hold both of these parts of our reality alive. There is the positive sense that springtime and other life renewables are a fulfilling part of our lives., And in a negative sense, we actively cope with the crazy threats as well. It is clearly draining of body, spirit and mind to do so, and I wish it were easier to make sense of it all. I am impressed that most of us are actually coping pretty well as we both resist what is threatening and foster imaginative alternatives that sustain and affirm life.

I have a whole list of these positive activities in my own personal life, in the life of my family members, and the life of my immediate and extended community life, and I expect you have the same. I am involved, for example, in making some serious changes in our criminal justice system, challenging the expansion of the Navy, and engaging in nonviolence training, among other activities. My wife is creating a framework for talking across the cultural and political divides of our community and challenging the use of our state parks by the Navy SEALS. My son and daughter-in-law, both scientists, take their one year old daughter on her first march to support scientific study. My community is involved in preparing to support immigrants and refugees, homelessness, drug use and hunger in creative and imaginative ways. The list goes on.

We are all challenged to go deeper into ourselves and into our commitment to community. We are dusting off the use of the words “common good” and refreshing them with meaning that includes challenges to entitlements, privilege, and individualism. Rephrasing the Michelle Obama statement that “When they go low, we go high” I heard this week the even better statement, “When they go low, we go deep!” Our challenges are ultimately spiritual ones, or, if you prefer, challenges of clarifying and convincing ourselves that our values of nonviolence, compassion, equality and justice really matter, and the search for truth cannot be compromised.

So enjoy this springtime. Breath the sight andscent of all those blossoms deeply into your lungs and blood. Let the sun warm your face and soul. And keep a good, stiff backbone to all that is unjust and untrue. In other words, be fully alive! L’Chaim!

Peace,
Tom

April 15th

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Dear Friends,

Greetings, especially to all who observe these holy days of Passover and Easter. May these observances provide opportunities for deep reflection on their messages of peace and justice.

I have not been able to write my weekly Saturday Evening Post for a month now. Most of the reason is that I have been traveling or attending weekend events and simply have not had time to write. But I also have not felt I have had anything significant to say. The initial reaction of dismay over the Trump election has settled into a wait-and-see time, and I have felt “benched" until I am ready to get back into the “game." But I am now back at my computer, settled into my writing mode and into my favorite self, and I hope my message tonight can provide some of my usual intended uplift and nonviolent encouragement.

I want to offer two metaphors or symbols that help me understand and provide perspective on the world and life these worrisome days.

I grew up in rural, northeastern Ohio. I had little exposure to the ocean in my childhood and still very little into my adult years. Then sometime in my late thirties I had the experience of spending the better part of a day by myself sitting in a protected rock formation just above the tide line on the rocky coast of Maine. The rhythm of the waves and the flow of the tide had a profound effect on me that day that has continued to inform me over the years. The waves and tide, like life itself, are predictable and comforting, but again, like life itself, they can be surprisingly changeable and dangerous. A beautiful wave comes in, crests, and is immediately countered by an undertow. Suddenly an unexpected wave crashes in such a way that I am covered in spray and anxious about my safety. And then there are times when the sea is in full roil. Hurricane and powerful wind storms whack and wreck the shore.  The sea and wind assert their majestic and unpredictable nature beyond our control. This, too, is the face of havoc that is the sea and also part of the rhythms of our lives. Yet tides and life cycles also create natural order and a predictable dance that sustains and stabilizes our sense of well being even amidst times of fearful disruption.

So the metaphor of both the predictability and uncontrolled power of the ocean reflect my equally deep respect for the vicissitudes of human history, life in general, and our current tumultuous time. We are now in a very roiled moment in the life of our country and the whole world. And although many of us may not feel personally threatened, we are aware of the real or threatening rogue waves and possible hurricanes of violence and war that are impacting thousands of us across the globe.. And there is a sense that, like the forces of nature, we are not really in control. Our intrinsic hope is that the beneficent force of the predictable and regulating tides and and awareness that somehow a grand rhythm of planetary life - likely beyond our comprehension and imagination - will hold amidst the chaos and return us to a time of less turmoil and violent damage.

A second metaphor coming out of this Easter season is the cross. In my interpretation of the Christian story, Jesus’ crucifixion represents the loss of a precious, courageous, spirit-filled human life as a price for attempting to realign humanity with a world of peace and justice and establishing a “beloved community” based on compassion and inclusiveness. I am grateful for this powerful narrative. It provides a model for moral and ethical behavior for thousands across the globe if they choose to take it seriously. Jesus’ life and death, ultimately, represent a model for people like each of us, dedicated to sustaining the planet and a world community. And there may well be a price for our nonviolent response to the injustice we face.

But in a more universal, symbolic form the horizontal bar of the cross represents where we as individuals - or humankind in general- meet what we experience as the vertical bar ofthe mystical presence the Transcendent. The nexus of the vertical and horizontal is a metaphorical representation of what it means to be fully human, living in the wondrous presence of of our planetary existence and also acknowledging and experiencing the awesome presence of the holy.

All religion depends on symbols to try to capture the “first motion,” the moment when our lives becomes more of a question than an answer - like my day on the rocky coast of Maine when I became aware of the ocean’s power to excite my imagination and respect for the wonder and grandeur of all of life. This awareness is larger than politics, even larger than reason or wisdom. We meet each other and the Transcendent at the nexus of symbol, whether it be the cross, the sea, nature itself, the menorah, the crescent and perhaps thousands of other attempts to capture this “first motion.” May each of find that symbol - or symbols - that remind and assure us that we live in a Presence larger than ourselves. I believe, ultimately, our faithful awareness of this nexus with the Transcendence will provide us with the imagination and perseverance needed to face these difficult times.

Peace,
Tom

Pragmatic Spectrum

Dear Friends,

I’ve never been easy with the terms conservative and liberal. Like most “liberals" there’s too much “conservative" in me and probably too much “liberal” in my so-called conservative friends to make the increasingly divisive, implied differences very useful. I’d like to try to describe our differences more in terms of a quite different frame, differences based on a "pragmatic spectrum."

In reality the majority of us can be described as pragmatists, the term often used to describe Obama. I suspect most of us have survived in our daily lives and in our major life decisions by weighing various practical alternatives and ethical considerations relating to a certain situation and choosing the one that we can most live with: Pragmatism. Being pragmatic, of course, may mean we avoid dealing with serious needed change, but nevertheless most of us structure our lives on pragmatic terms most of the time. But we may vary widely about what defines our pragmatism.

For example, it’s safe to say that many folks on a pragmatic spectrum weigh their decisions more from the preferred perspective of wariness about change, about their personal advantage, safety and welfare, about loosing influence and responsibility for their lives. Their pragmatism suggests they would be more inclined to resist perceived threatening chang to them and their community, and they are often therefore more fearful and anxious during times of substantial change. To be honest - and non-judgmental - that would describe at least a part of most of us.

Off to the other side of the pragmatic spectrum are the folks who primarily weigh their decisions on the basis of how their actions will affect other people. Their pragmatic orientation leads them to keep peace in the family, care for others as best they can, and they are more likely to seek change that would better serve the wider community. And to be honest, that would describe at least a part of most of us as well, including our neighbors who may often resist change.

So far I have tried to say that that the vast majority of people may have different biases that define their pragmatism. But most on both sides of a pragmatic spectrum would prefer a “pragmatic center,” a world that would hold reasonably steady, a world where those more concerned about their personal welfare and security would live reasonably well with those more interested in promoting social change. Both sides would prefer to trust a society that would assure their safety and welfare, and change would come about through an orderly process of just law making and preservation of human dignity. Changes would occur at a moderate pace with the assurance that no group would seize disproportionate power over the others without checks and balances. The exceptions, of course, would be those who live under wilting discrimination and oppression who cry mightily for rapid relief and liberation. But I am trying to make the point that society as a whole prefers a status quo with slow paced change even if they are increasingly aware that it is not sustainable..

As much as we may want to believe that our Constitutional democracy assures our preferred just and orderly change, the reality of thecontemporary tumultuous era seriously undermines all or most of the preferred political world described above. Instead of a deliberative response to social injustice, we all live in a time of rapid, complex, threatening change. The majority of citizens on both sides of the pragmatic spectrum have lost much of the control, or even influence, over the fate of their lives. So instead of holding a “pragmatic center” things spin out of control and fall apart. Decisions are made by faceless corporations or wealthy political cabals disassociated from the welfare of the rest of us.

In responseto the chaos one end of the spectrum, the already wary and fearful pragmatists, have sought a radical “savior” whose wild promises of salvation seem more “pragmatic” to them than drowning in helplessness and perceived neglect and abandonment. On the other end of the spectrum, the more community based pragmatists, the ones who assumed the welfare and good will of the status quo was relatively safe, and justice would ultimately prevail, went into shock because the “pragmatic center” doesn't hold for them either.

If you are still with this little late night reflection on pragmatism, I want to loop back to the limitations of the terms liberal and conservative. Our contemporary crisis is not about one political or personal preference versus another. It is not about us and them. The impact of the tragedy of “things falling apart" (or, more accurately, are made to fall apart) encompasses all of us, including its perpetrators. It’s not about “conserving” or “liberalizing.” It’s about having the wisdom to realize that unless we find ways to reasonably cooperate across our unfortunate divides we cannot survive. We need pragmatic win-win strategies that benefit us all.

A good way to describe what is needed is “triage,” and many of us are functioning in this mode. We need to resist and stop the damage being done to all citizens, including those who naively believe the current administration is addressing their needs; attend and protect those most damaged and threatened - always the poor and marginalized; and work at providing alternatives to the social structures that caused so much damage in the first place. The field hospital during an earthquake is not interested in who is conservative or liberal. They are interested in who can address the critical needs before them. Everyone is needed to help, and we need to successfully make the emergency call across the political and cultural spectrum for everyone to pitch in. I seriously can imagine a time in the not too distant future when the liberal/conservative divide will be far less important than cooperative efforts, especially among the young.

I am pleased to say that many of us are already participating in the recovery process from the current political tragedy. Today, for example, I attended a first-of-its-kind community meeting on our island where some twenty-four representatives from very old, but mostly very young, organizations gathered to share about how they are responding to the threats of the current administration and the wider crises of climate change, income disparity, racism and the gamut of other unjust situations we are all facing. The predominant sense in the room was toward practical and hopeful action, what I am calling a kind of united pragmatism. I find that enormously encouraging.

And each of you are surely also seeking practical, pragmatic ways to join in this recovery effort. In spite of the dire threat to so much we hold dear, it is a time of opportunity and community as well.

Peace,
Tom

Memoir

Dear Friends,

There are a number of ways to promote nonviolence and uplift, the themes of my Saturday Evening Post. One of them is writing and sharing a memoir.

This past month my wife and I took a four part course in writing memoir. Memoir is different from autobiography because it emphasizes the feelings and emotions of historical, anecdotal events in one’s life. Memoir allows us to access the stories of our lives for their meaning and significance, and, when shared, they become a powerful human bond among us. During the class we chose several specific memories that we wanted to record in writing, and then we had the opportunity to share it with the class for feedback. Although we were all a bit shy at first to share at such a personal level, we soon learned how gratifying and enjoyable it is to be so personally present to the lives of others. So as each read from their memoir for the day the rest of us listened with gentle smiles of rapt attention and recognition of our common humanity.

As the course moved on my classmates and I began to talk of a wider impact from our shared stories. The heartbeat of any meaningful community is comprised of the stories we tell each other. Writing in the style of memoir provides the opportunity to reflect on our memories and stories for their deeper meaning and feeling, and the experience is truly a blessing for both the writer and, when shared, the listener or reader.

But the more important takeaway from our memoir class was a profound experience of our common humanity. Our stories recounted memories of fear, courage, discovery, affection, and life changing decisions: stories about tending our children, the process of leaving a marriage, the importance of a childhood possession, the affection of a grandparent. Our class members had a good number of similarities - age and ethnicity in particular - but we also came from radically different childhoods and adult struggles. Yet there we were smiling with deep affection for each other’s ability to cope and grow through life's challenges.

And I began to reflect on how memoir classes could be used throughout society to illicit that bond of shared humanity. Many of our communities are so divided and polarized. For many our ideas of the “other” come from whatever news or TV programs we watch, or from the often biased opinions of those most like us. So I’m imagining networks of memoir classes consisting of as wide a variety of people as would be willing to join such a group. And I imagine them writing and listening to stories of memories of grace and loss and success and love and courage in their unique lives. I imagine a Black veteran, an Republican dairy farmer, an Hispanic businessperson, a grandparent to a transgendered child, a homeless person, a retired nurse, an undocumented refugee, and a young foreign student seated around a table writing and sharing their memoir entries. OK, that’s a bit idealistic, but you get the point. All these folks would have incredible stories to write and share. And they most certainly would come to share a deep strain of their common humanity as well as being totally intrigued by the differences in their lives. And the world would become a much more friendly and inclusive place s a result.

A more realistic plan, besides the possibility of sharing our memoirs, is to share our life stories with not only our friends but with those we would assume are quite different. I’m thinking, of course, of a memoir class or a writing group composed of those who voted for Trump and those who didn’t. When we do have opportunities to engage with those with quite different life experiences we expand both our awareness of ourselves and the awareness of the person we get to know. We would do well to seek those opportunities.

The memoir, or some sort of variation of deep personal sharing across our varied humanity, may not be the most obvious means of nonviolent peace building, but surely it is most effective. I encourage social groups at church, in book groups, and more challenging, groups organized across the class and social spectrum, to simply invite a small portion of each others’ stories - memoirs, if you will. Let me know if you’ve given it a try!

As an example of a memoir segment, and for those willing to take the time to read it, I am sharing one of my “relatively safe” contributions to the memoir class entitled “My Afghan” written in response to a memory of a childhood object. After I finished reading one of my classmates said that she, too, had a beloved family afghan that her son now owned that contains the same memories of comfort I expressed - a lovely common sharing.

Peace,
Tom


"My Afghan"

I was seldom sick when I was young, fortunately - chicken pox, mumps, flu, a cold sneezy and wheezy enough to keep me from school. But those were special times, homebound under the care of mom, some chicken soup and - most importantly - under the care of our family afghan. I remember the thermometer stuck under my tongue, the isolation from my friends, and just being sick. But all that was made better tucked away under my afghan.

I don’t remember the afghan’s origins, who it was in our family who spent the many hours carefully knitting its various sections, but it proceeded my childhood. The overall design was a a zig-zag mixture of all the colors I most like - lots of strong dark blue, some purple, some orange and light blue. Although I liked the colors, what was more satisfying was the feel of it: the texture of wool that had holes big enough to put your fingers through. And also the sheer size of it all - bigger than most blankets - so as a child I could get fully covered over twice and still have extra to pull up around my shoulders. But mostly it was the sweet smell of it, the smell of comfort and childhood security. A smell that seemed all my own.

Fortunately I still have that old afghan. It’s survived years of storage all packed up in various boxes and chests before I had my own home and spread it across the back of my reclining chair. It’s now kind of patched up here and there, my having carelessly shared it at times with some moths. But the color, the texture, the wonderful wrap-around size of it, and - most deliciously - the sweet small of childhood memory still persists to this day as I wrap myself in it on cold mornings, or those days when, even now, I just need comfort.

We Shall Overcome!

Dear Friends,

The incessant, daily impact and speed of the worsening political climate is so creepy. I feel more and more unsettled, cautious, anxious. It's like a noxious odor filling the night air. How dangerous is it really? Will it soon go away or will it cause serious harm? The ambivalence about what action to take creates an increasing wariness and weariness in me. And I don’t think I am alone. This is not a new feeling. But where in the past I could expect things to calm down, this hasn’t worked of late. The political situation only gets worse.

Viewing the incineration of Standing Rock buildings made me especially sad. But so did the news of rescinding protection for transgendered people and harsher deportation rules on immigration. And then came the clearly stated intention to weaken or eliminate the government’s primary responsibility to serve and protect the environment and its citizens - especially the most vulnerable.

The result is that consciously or subconsciously we are all getting more and more edgy. Petty but significant conflicts in my island’s community life have spiked, for example. Whether we are aware of it or not, there is a sort of bracing for things to get worse. So thoughts turn to how might we plan to protect the immigrants from deportation. How do we find support for people dependent on ACA/Obama medical care if it’s taken from them? It’s unsettling to write this, but I think these concerns need to be outed and named, in large part because we need to know we are not alone with these feelings. And we need to know that right action is not obvious. We are wise to be wary, and we are even wiser to be looking for imaginative, strategic ways to live differently into these coming months.

The strange thing is that amidst all that seems so threatening another part of me is also aware that a positive, healing change is somehow also part of the chaos. I got that feeling when I saw the fires at Standing Rock. Those weren’t primarily fires of despondency and defeat, sad as they were. They were strategic fires of resistance and commitment to take the struggle for indigenous rights and water protection to a new and likely higher level. The parting words from the tribal elders spoke of a deepened commitment to the cause were not words of a hollow hope; it was a gut’s assurance that what occurred at Standing Rock, both during the occupation and the strategic retreat, was a moral and courageous stand that will be remembered and will serve as inspiration for generations to come. One of the tribal leaders described Standing Rock as a seed planted for the future.

I am going to hold on to the Standing Rock inspired resistance to injustice in the coming days when there will likely be more chaos, danger and madness. For the poor and Native Americans especially the destructive injustices of economic greed have been in place long before this particular administration . They are now being uncomfortably and hastily outed. Standing Rock forces us to recognize how the unchecked power of corrupt politics and the corporations have abused Native Americans for all of U.S. history. And now we need to see how that abuse affects the rest of us as well.

I don’t know what a future timeline for a restorative, healing process will look like, but I believe it will come. Ibelieve the Sioux get it right when they stake their future not on a physical fight they would loose, but on the power of their prayer, nonviolent practices, the righteousness of the cause, and the solidarity of their supporters. And I think that applies to the larger political reality as well. So I dream of a counter to the present political climate that affirms the timeless values of compassion, equity, dignity, and the solidarity of the commons. It may seem like a cliche, but it’s hard to improve on the words “We shall overcome!"

Peace,
Tom

Discernment

Dear Friends,

The challenge for most of us these days is to figure out how to relate to a world that seems somehow alien. How do learn to live in a new landscape that is both threatening and yet exciting and vital? How do keep our bearings? I like to think of the challenge as something like the gyroscope toy that can hold a miraculous, empowered steadiness on a precariously outstretched string as long as it stays whirling and centered.

One way we might use to help us steady our lives is a process of discernment. Discernment is not a word commonly used, but it’s a very useful concept as a disciplined guide in our lives these days.

A couple of definitions of discernment begin to suggest its use. The Webster dictionary says it is “the ability to judge well,” for example. Another definition is to “to separate; to distinguish.” Or an even more nuanced definition is simply “to perceive” suggesting that what we need to know is actually already there waiting to be known to us, waiting to be discerned. We already know what is “right,” what it is we need to do, if we can but access and trust our sense of discernment. But how do we discipline and co-ordinate the thoughts in our head and our observations of external events and information from the media and friends, and then run that through our intuitions, our body’s sensations, our emotions, our conscience? And in addition many of us wait in expectation for what we Quakers call a spiritual “leading,” a “nudge," a sense that our lives can and do receive transcendent inspiration to guide us in terms of how we are to be and do. Quaker writer, Jerry Knutson, calls discernment both a skill and a gift.* I like that.

So much of our emotional efforts these days are spent on the jagged edge of our souls: fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, for example. And before we know it we are carried away, at best, into thoughts of how to resist the injustice we see, and at worst, getting caught up in feelings of retaliation, dismissal and often shaky feelings of our self-righteousness. I want to use my capacity for disciplined discernment to keep nudging me in a different direction that will not only be more effective in countering the injustice but also help in keeping my soul and mental health in better balance - a little disciplined gyroscope whirling on the string.

What empowers and disciplines a sense of discernment? What might help cut through the unhelpful thoughts and emotions and instead guide us to perceive what we really need to be about in our personal, everyday lives and our worlds of workplace and public and civic responsibility?

I have often written about nonviolence as my centering and empowering force, a central discerning principle in my life, and I will always use active nonviolence in my framing of how I must confront injustice. But I want to explore the concept of discernment on a more personal, intimate level through a lens of unconditional love. Unconditional love does not expect reciprocity; it fosters a kind of open-heartedness to all that we encounter in our lives - our friends, our problems, our suffering, our hope and fears, even our enemies? What if our way of perceiving the world was through the disciplined discernment of unconditional love that becomes both a practiced skill and a gift received and given?

Each day in the coming week each of us will be faced with annoying, often frustrating, seemingly intractable challenges in both our personal and political lives. Understandably we may be discouraged and upset and angry. But in those situations we have an opportunity to “separate and distinguish,” as the definition above implies, about how we react to those times in our lives. Are we able to pause long enough to discern alternative responses, and might our primary choice be to act through unconditional love?

My imagining is that when any of us practice unconditional love as a primary form of discernment it would be both personally and socially transformative. What I am suggesting is obviously not novel, and many of you already subscribe to living in this mode, and bless you for it! But there is room in all our lives for improvement of this skill and the welcoming of its precious gift to ourselves and others. So when our little gyroscopes start to waver, try to rewind it by imagining how to deal with the situation with a process of disciplined discernment based on unconditional love. Let me know how it works: tom@tomewell.com

Peace,
Tom


*Jerry Knutson, “Individual Spiritual Discernment," Pendle Hill Pamphlet #443, February, 2017

Going Inward

Friends,

I am now in what I have determined to be my sixth phase of response to the November 8 election: First there was shock, confusion, and denial; second, expecting a miracle rescue; third, watching the inauguration with sadness; forth, ecstatic uplift from the marches on February 21st; and, fifth, horrified that the first days following the inauguration boded worse than expected. These phases were mostly outward, directed in a reactive or resistance mode. But now I am in the sixth phase, going inward, focussing on that still-forming spirit of strategic “next steps” that is coming to life carefully, faithfully, in me and others as community after community is forming and calling forth new structures of economy, relationships, inclusiveness and sustainability.

Maybe this is only wishful thinking because I can’t exactly name what is going on in me personally, or in others, or in groups or movements. But there is a sense of resolve stirring, coalescing, building. The mode of resistance needs to continue for sure, but we need to be very strategic about how we apply our finite time and talents to this part of the work. Perhaps more importantly, however, we need to be taking positive actions that support alternative personal, social, and political structures or we will surely become discouraged if we lack vision and noble purpose.

And at this date I am less interested in particular strategies or engagements as I am with what values and hard-wired morality supports whatever I or others do. My personal values and moral base are grounded in my Quaker faith and practice. I believe that all life is an awesome, sacred, mystically created complex web of interdependence that is lifted by the power of love and rescued and sustained by the power of truth. Within that essential belief system I rely on very practical moral precepts that guide my daily life. Among them are my commitment to nonviolence and peace building, an essential equality of our human beings, a moral obligation for the stewardship of the earth, and a commitment to live more simply, all held together with personal integrity and a community of accountability. (Whew, that may be a bit much, but it is the moral framework I try to use to guide my life.)

The result of such a moral framework is that I have reference points for my personaldaily choices - simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. But they are also guidelines for my political and social life as well. I believe, in combination, they serve what we may refer to as the “common good.”

The moral values and commitment that define the common good are certainly counter to the Trump mindset. But reference to the “common good” also seems to be a bit vague or useless concept for many in our culture. Yet a commitment to the common good is the very heart of what gives society true meaning and fulfillment. When we pull together as a community, as a “commons," in response to a tragedy or a crisis there is such deep pleasure and satisfaction in moving beyond our own personal needs and serving and supporting the needs of others.

Which brings me back to my “going inward” in response to the Trump election. As noted, I am going to be committed to doing my share in the resistance to the Trump political mindset and policies. But I also intend to be more focussed on living with integrity around my values, my commitment to the common good, and my practice of nonviolence. And I intend to be more intentional about encouraging others to do the same. What values most anchor our personal choices? What is our understanding of what constitutes the common good? And how, then, does this translate into imagining and implementing alternative lifestyles and cultural structures in the society around us that reinforce, sustain and build on these values?

Peace,

Tom

A Postscript: Last night Cathy and I were looking at the gorgeous full moon, and I began quietly to sing “I see the moon, the moon sees me…” and Cathy proceeded to sing several more verses. It turns out it was the theme song between her mother and her father when he was in the army during WWII. Everywhere he might have been in the war the moon connected them, so Cathy’s mom would sing the song to herself for comfort and connection. So what I thought was just a lilting lullaby is actually also a tender love song. On Valentines Day this coming Tuesday you might want to sing this little song out to the all-seeing moon to connect you across our little blue planet to all those people you love, all the places you love, all the things you love about life. What a wonderful way to commemorate Valentines Day! I like this version best…