Monday, December 31, 2018

The Blessed Community

Recently a query was read at Meeting, the query was "what do you long for in community?"  What immediately came to my mind was "the Blessed Community".   However, I then began to realize what do I really mean by The Blessed Community?  I think we all have this very idealized notion of the Blessed Community - it is one where love is the coin of the realm.   All our welcome, we are all kind to each other.   We act in union, apparently effortlessly and we are able therefore to do much productively.   God is the center of this community - holding us and connecting us.  There is joy and deep rewards from the connections and joy we experience in this community.

As I briefly enjoyed this idea I realized "what kind of people occupy this Blessed Community?" and this is where the ideal met reality.   I realized that the Blessed Community would not be some gated community where people who are dogmatic, or domineering, or annoying, or needy, or ignorant, or you supply the adjective are barred from entrance.   So if the Blessed Community must be made up of all who show up.....then all above described personalities are part of the Blessed Community.   In fact it would not be that different from your Friends Meeting or mine.  I think it is different than secular community in that it is a community of those who are bound by their relationship to the Divine.

But it does mean it is a community in which some people speak to long in business meeting (or in worship), some people make too much noise during worship, some people push their own agendas that others do not appreciate, some people speak in grating voices or inarticulately or not loudly enough or too loudly.  Some people agree to do things and forget to do it or just don't, etc. etc.

So all that said is Blessed Community any different than what we might think of as "regular faith community"?  Yes I think there is something more we could keep striving for in our Meetings in the way of creating Blessed Community.   I do think that Blessed Community is a place of love and support for its members as well as radical truth telling   (ie loving eldering when we have fallen from our highest self and need to be called back to our greater self.)   It is a place where we hold each other in forebearance (see my Nov 2018 post) which gentles the edges on our encounters and reminds us to see that of God in each other and to speak to that spark even when we do not see it.

It also means that we are fed spirituality by our community.   That we are better off because we have this community.   That in our own dry spells that rather than sitting in thirst we are nourished from the well of our community.  That the spiritual depth of the Meeting is there to turn to and draw upon in those times of dryness or dark nights of the soul.  That we have spiritual elders, regardless of our age, to nurture and support of spiritual development.

Additionally, I hope Blessed Community is also a place of "barn rising" - that we collaborate and help each other in ways that strengthen each others lives, and that we carry this out in a spirit of joyful fellowship where a network of mutual support enriches us all.  That we have a feeling of breaking ground that is Holy Ground.

And finally I hope this creates in our community moments that feel like the "living communion" that Friends forsook the "empty ritual" of formal communion for.   That we have moments of breaking bread that feel like the sharing of the body of the Living God.   That our fellowship in general feels infused with the Divine Presence, unified and bonded by Love, enliving and renewing to our spirit and moving us forward in united action.

May we all, with deliberation, move into the Blessed Community.

Friday, November 23, 2018


Early Friends spoke of holding each other tenderly, in love and in forebearance.  In John 13:35 it is said: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

In the age of Trump this can seem like a fairly foreign concept.  What is modeled from the highest office in the land is anger, hate speak, intolerance to any difference and bullying.  Unfortunately, as studies show, examples from highest levels trickle down.  Thus it is even more important that we act from love and give visible example to forebearance.

We long for the blessed community, but in truth in thru our doors come the same people who are "out there" - people who are carrying their wounds, some with anger, some with depression, some trying desperately to avoid all conflict in ways that also do not serve, etc.  At times we have conflicting needs and at times we are simply rubbed the wrong way by someone else's personality.   So what does it look like to hold that tenderly, in love and forebearance?

I think at the heart of it is this central idea of Quakerism that there is that of God in each person.  It means that at the moment you annoy me, or hurt me, or anger me that you are still a child of God.   And if we have come to know each other in the fellowship of community then hopefully I have seen your shining strengths, your gifts of the spirit, your good heart as well as in your vulnerabilities and your hurts.  In other words that I have already seen you as a child of God.  That aught to be a help.  It aught to make it easier to reach for the Spark within you rather than speak to the most clumsy or dark part of you, or worst yet project onto you my own darkness.  God did not say I will send you only the nice people, or the fun people, or the dedicated to be your fellowship.  The creator apparently loves all of us and intends for all of us to love each other too with all our warts and snarly parts.

Years ago someone came, relatively new to our Meeting, having left a previous faith.  He became excited at one point about a project he wanted to do and yet met some resistance from the property committee.  At a business meeting he lost his temper and yelled at people and made various accusations.   I called him later to talk about what had happened.  In the conversation he made various characterizations of individuals he was upset with.   He spoke of one woman who is known to be very gentle of spirit and actually sort of afraid of men, as being "unmoveable and patronizing".   I did understand how through his filter he had made that interpretation of her, but having known her for many years I felt this was a misreading of the situation.   It was an interesting moment for me of seeing how knowing the members of my Meeting was protective against misunderstanding them, their motives or their behavior.   That is not to say none of them never annoyed me.  It just meant I had another way to think about their behavior - through the eyes of love.

Certainly there are many examples of our tenderness with each other that has to do with service to each other: care committees that have cared for people onto death, loans that have been made at critical moments that buoyed someone over a rough spot, rides to meeting that were given to folks who would not otherwise have gotten there, etc.   These are important ways we come together as a community that resonate on the physical level.

But forebearance happens on the emotional, spiritual level.  Last year a member of my Meeting died of Alzheimer's.    For years he has certain messages that he gave over and over and over again.   I believe there were some members of our Meeting that found this annoying, and certainly his wife was very uncomfortable fearing he was annoying us.   But most people listened with love in their hearts for him.   When he would raise his hand in business meeting the clerk would lovingly say: "OK, hold on a minute I will come back to you."   He would allow us to navigate through the item at hand and then at the end call on this member so he could speak, but not disrupt us with a somewhat incoherent thought.   For me it became a spirit exercise to listen to the repeated messages and hear the heart which was underneath them, and indeed I found this easily - the messages spoke to what inspired him, or to what amused him or a concern he had for us - and that was where the love lived even in dementia.  I spoke at his memorial to this perception of mine and a member later thanked me saying the message was useful to her in terms of seeing how to listen in tongues.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

To Pray as If Climate Change is Over

I try to pay attention to synchronicities because I believe they are a definite sign of God speaking to us.

Recently while going to Quaker Earthcare Witness national gathering I first while listening to a Wayne Dyer tape in the car heard him quote Nevil, a guy from the early last century, who talked about prayer in a different way.   Then someone at the conference also handed me a flyer about prayer with a quote from Nevil.  Dyer talks about a concept that Neale Donald Walsch also talks about as well: the idea that we are also divine, that we were created by the divine as part of the divine, not separate from, and that when we are connected to our Spiritual Source we have the power to create and experience everything.  All three postulate that we (the collective we) co-create the universe with God.

This carries with it some implications for prayer, that Walsch talks about in his book Happier than God.  The implication being that if we pray “I need money” that we are simply creating more need. If we pray “stop the war” we are simply focusing on war and thus bring more of that energy- that the Divine matches what we bring.   So a better prayer would be ….well not to pray for peace to come because that still carries the idea that peace is “not yet”.  But rather to place ourselves in the frame of mind of really sensing and feeling in our body the world at Peace, getting totally in touch with what it would really feel like.  Interesting the Kabbalah which was practiced by Jewish mystics also directs people to imagine as if it were now that which the person prays for.

So all of this has lead me to really think about the idea of what if we really focused ourselves on the end of Climate change.  (There is almost not right words for this – like how do you describe the absence of oxygen that does not still really convey oxygen?)  The trick of this is not to just sort of imagine going back to some idealized notion of the 1970’s as if climate change was not then beginning.   It means having to fully embrace all the science of climate change – to acknowledge that the burning of fossil fuels, as a reality of physics, warms up the atmosphere.   So it means having to go to a state of living that does not include burning fossil fuels.   That also does not mean going to a time before the industrial revolution.   It means actually seeing a new future that we live into now.   Does anything sound familiar about this?  Early Friends believed that the Society of Friends were trying to live the Kingdom of God NOW, not later.   That we were going to live it into existence.   That Kingdom was also believed to be a world of social justice.

You may be familiar with the Naomi Klein’s idea that we will not be able to solve climate change without addressing the deep flaws of capitalism (and I would add colonialism) which has created climate change.   In other words, a paradigm that allows us to see the earth as something we have dominion over and to take from, a paradigm that can see people and places as sacrifice zones is a paradigm we must abandon.   It is literally not possible to solve climate change from that paradigm.

So my invitation to pray into a picture of the world whole, with climate balance is an invitation as well to see a world of environmental care, of humans living in a new paradigm of being part of the earth and all living things.  Climate change involves how we build buildings, grow food, transport ourselves, heat and light our homes, manufacture objects, and interact with trees to name a few things.   So this prayer is for a radically different and reorganized world.   It is to vision a world of social justice and peace.  Nor does it mean being released from the need to do anything for in fact it means being drawn passionately by that vision of a world made whole to live into it.   It is what I believe early Friends envisioned the Kingdom of God to be.  Can you feel your body relax as you imagine it?  Breath into that image.   Hold it in your heart every day.   Believe in it and start to live into its reality.   Hurry we have no time to waste.   We have lived too long in the kingdom of destruction, hubris and greed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Not a discussion

Recently I sat in a Meeting for worship where a number of messages were given.  Someone rose after at least 4 messages had been given and said:  “What I would like to add to this discussion is….”    I hope that person just chose their words carelessly or was using an expression of speech.   I hope they did not really think that messages shared in Meeting are a discussion or that they rather than spirit had something to “add to the discussion”.   Am I nit picking here?   If it is perceived so, we are more lost then I would hope for the Society of Friends.   So I wrote this for new convinced Friends and Seekers so they may understand the issue.

George Fox famously asked Friends to look inward to find the Light of Christ within, to see what the still small voice said to them – not he said what the preacher or the Bible said to them (and I would add now not what the media says.)   He, in fact, based Quakerism on the idea that we could listen, in silence, for the truth which would present itself to us.  Our worship is unprogrammed by humans but is supposed to be programmed by God!  The silence is supposed to be a space to listen and hear the voice of God, and all messages delivered are supposed to be faithfully discerned before delivery to be from the Holy Voice.

I have written a number of previous posts about messages in Meeting:  Expectant Silence,  and  TheQuality of Silence talks about what makes a living silence and FaithfullyDelivered talks about the importance of delivering messages that we are given.  But I have not written about the discernment process of discerning whether a message is to be delivered.  I am realizing for most new comers it must be a mysterious process that some people rise and speak.  If you hang around a bit you hear that you are supposed to be moved by God to speak.  For some that is so imposingly high a bar they never speak.  Other’s noting the casualness with which some speak, conclude, as the person above did that it is a discussion, and if you have something pertinent to say why then you speak.

But the reasons we are called Quakers is because some of us have been known to literally Quake before we speak -others describe it as “butterflies in stomach”.   This is a curious thing because I speak in public all the time, sometimes in public testimony challenging existing policy, and I do not have fear of public speaking or butterflies.   And yet in Meeting for worship, if I am to speak I will have some thoughts (which I have all hour long) but after THESE thoughts I get a sensation in my stomach.  If I ignore the sensation it gets stronger (and more unpleasant) – a clear tap on the shoulder.

In the past year a newer Friend gave a message that was clearly from God but was also a bit rambly and disjointed.  When I talked to this Friend about this message he acknowledged that the message felt important but unclear to him.   I suggested: “sit with it, review it, it will get clearer.  You do not have to speak the minute the message arises in you.”    For me I will get the initial sense that maybe a message is to share – I will then review it – if it is, the physical feeling will get stronger.  If it is not I will just be again thinking about something.  I also have had to discern is the message for me or the Meeting?   Once I had the funny experience of feeling a message coming to me in a Meeting I was visiting, but no urge to speak.  I thought maybe it is just for me.  I returned home and tested it the next Sunday.  No urge.   However, several weeks later I remembered it and then received a distinct urge to speak.  Apparently, it was being held for a particular person to show up at Meeting for Worship!

Certainly all our messages come thru the veil of our own spoken language, the way we have learned to turn a phrase, the twist of our own personality -but when done correctly it serves The Holy One and not our own egos which is why we are also not responding to other messages.  I left a Meeting once permanently when people had gone to arguing with each other through messages about a contentious topic in the Meeting and M&W had not figured out how to stop this abuse of the worship space.  In a Gathered Meeting (as described in my other posts) there can be a sense of a theme and like in an orchestra different instruments sounding differently on the same note and melody.   However, when God is the one orchestrating it is indeed beautiful music.   When it is people contributing from their heads to a topic that is provocative – it has a distinctly different, and intellectual feel to it.  If you violently disagrees with something someone has said: time enough to tell them after Meeting and you will not have multiplied the voices speaking unfaithfully.
So we sit in silence and we wait for words, which may or may not be given; we discern if we have the right words and if we are truly to deliver them, and then we are faithful.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Friends and Natives: Part III

This year at FGC the opening evening was a water ceremony lead by a Native woman, Pocana.  The second night the plenary speaker was Robin Wall Kimmerer.  And the third night a panel of three started out with a white woman Paula Parker speaking about Quaker involvement in the creation and running and promotion of Quaker boarding schools.  I do not know if the order of these speakers was intentional or somewhat an accident of total speakers available to the Gathering, but for me they built powerfully on each other.

Pocana brought our attention powerfully to the role of water in life.  Robin who is also a professor of botany, very use to speaking to white audiences reached for the symbols already familiar to this mostly white audience to translate her message.   She first touched into the idea of We the People from the US constitution and talked about the idea of inalienable rights.   She went on to point out that western culture makes living things; plants, animals, water, minerals, etc into "its" - that we make them into objects rather than into living beings - and that in so doing we disconnect from them and we turn a blind eye to the web of life.  She went to a native speaker of her language and asked him if they had pronouns that did not make other living things into it.  He said no, but helped her figure out that the word ki from their language could serve in this way as a pronoun for a living thing.  She wanted to pluralize too which in their language means adding an N which of course meant the plural is kin!  While she did not say this I am well aware that this how native people really think about all living things - that they are their brothers and their sisters and deserving of respect.  In fact respect is a key concept in Native culture.

She talked about how weird it was for her when she went to graduate school in botany to have to write about plants as things in order to pass her classes.  How foreign and awful a way of looking at them this felt to her after growing up feeling completely connected with them.  She then went on to introduce folks to the idea of the rights of nature.   She gave examples from other countries where River's were given legal rights and how that changes the equation of decisions that can be made about the river and the protections it has against things like pollution.  How it sort of raises it back up into visibility as something valid.  I could feel in my body a sort of relaxing when she spoke about this - a sort of feeling into how much more rational and peaceful the world would be if we treated all of life as connected to us and precious.

The next night was the panel which started with Paula Parker describing the role Quakers had played in the creation of boarding schools for Native people and then the promotion of them.   She explained that as pacifists horrified by the continual US military slaughter of Native tribes and also aware of how poor and marginalized the tribes were, Quakers saw  assimilation as the only solution.  The schools were created to "help" the children assimilate and were at first local schools.  At one point some Quakers met with President Grant and proposed that churches be put in charge of all of them everywhere and the Bureau of Indian Affairs because it was so corrupt.  Grant eventually decided to do this and divided the country into regions to be governed by different Churches.  Quakers were, I believe, in charge of Iowa, Kansas and the Dekotas.  At this time they moved to making the schools boarding schools and forcibly removing children from their parents and sending them far away where they often did not see their parents all year.   They were deliberately not allowed to speak their language, had their hair cut off, and where not allowed to perform any cultural or religious ceremonies. The pictures she showed of children in the boarding schools were the saddest, most depressed school class photos I have ever seen.  In the absolutely saddest thing I ever heard, the Quakers encouraged this separation because they felt they had "failed" in the local schools to assimilate the children, and it would take "stronger measures".  (My God where is the reflection on why this was "failing"?)

It is absolutely horrifying to me to learn the leading role Quakers played in this nightmare.  Because of course the boarding schools did play key roles in the loss of language of tribes, and of generational trauma which has lead to more alcoholism, domestic violence, suicides and parental alienation in Native populations.   It has been the cause of so much suffering.  Paula shared in an interest group I went to later in the week that sometimes still when she gives talks among Quakers about this some Friends still try to justify or minimize the effects.  I also wonder at what point in our history we realized what a big mistake this was - because we certainly don't talk about it!  I have been a Quaker all my life and have only learned this shameful history in the last year.

Next on the same panel was a Puerto Rician man, Oskar Pierre Castro, who then shared the role that Quakers played (at much the same time in history) of causing Puerto Rico to become a colony!  Puerto Rico had been invaded and conquered by the Spanish, then the French, Dutch and British.  The US had acquired it at the end of the Spanish American war, but it had no formal status.  He explained that Quakers hosted a meeting to discuss what should happen with Puerto Rico and there was a hurricane so most of the Puerto Rican delegate could not come.  Undaunted the US Quakers met and decided that Puerto Rico should become a colony of the US.  This was proposed and passed through US Congress without the actual input of the people of Puerto Rico (who are now in the present time quite divided about whether they would prefer to be a state or to be independent. ) 

The reason I include this panelist who was not talking about Native rights (but about indigenous rights of the people of Puerto Rico) is that I was very struck by the similar white supremacist thinking that Quaker engaged in during both situations.  In both cases they correctly perceived a social injustice that the US was engaging in, but then concluded that they as "good hearted" white people could decide what was best for the poor people of color group.  I wonder in what ways we are doing the very same right this minute in our history?  Having in the last year heard Quakers say things that i considered blatantly paternalistic towards people of color I do not think we have gotten over this mindset yet.

Personally when I moved from the Midwest, some 30 years ago, I was very surprised to meet Native people who were living on reservations that had fairly intact cultural practices.  I had come from where the tribes were so genocided and so pushed off their lands that it was hard to ever meet a Native person.   Here in the NW there are 27 enrolled tribes with over 61,000 members - as well as quite a few more unrecognized tribes.  Therefore the influence of Native Art and culture is felt throughout the region.  It is important to me; it is one of the reasons it would be hard for me to ever leave the NW.  Because of the myth of the Black Snake, shared by many tribes, many native people across the country have been coming off the reservations to fight climate change and to deliberate teach white people because their prophesies tell them there is a time when the Black Snake threatens all of civilization, and they must teach the white people if the earth is to survive.  I feel extremely fortunate to have been learning from local native activists. 

What is becoming increasingly clear to me is the US's unresolved, unapologized for genocide of Native people is inherently bound up in climate change.   That same colonizing mindset: the one that says it is ok to come and take that which is not yours, to take the resources of the land, to act as if we are "over' the land and the other living creatures on it, to live in a way that is disconnected from the history of the land or its rhythms or needs is the mindset that creates climate change.   It is a way of sleep walking on the land.  I'm coming to understand that we must both heal our relationship to Native People and to this land.   We will never solve climate change until we become connected to the land and to the entire web of life.  The reason why climate change is so "big" touching everything: how we use energy, how we manufacture and consume goods, how we produce food, how we build buildings, how we do transportation,etc etc.  is because we developed all of things in a paradigm of estrangement from the earth.  The very things we need to do to heal climate change are the things that will take up back into relationship with the earth.

Those of you who live in this area of the Salish Sea (Puget Sound to some) are aware that an Orca pod that lives here gave birth to the first baby in 3 years, and it died.  The grief stricken mother has been carrying the dead calf on her nose for 9 days now!  While this has been observed before for 3 days - this length of grieving is unknown of.  At this point the scientists are concerned for the life of the mother who is not really eating in her grief.  Some have postulated that the Orca mother, aware of human observation is carrying out a protest: screaming "look what you have done".  She should scream at us: the ways we have degraded the water, and the damns and the heating up of the water by climate change has severally reduced the Chinook Salmon population which is the main food source of the Orca who belong to a food chain with the Chinook Salmon.  The Orca population is shrinking because they do not have enough Salmon.  The local Lumi Tribe has often said at protests "We are the Salmon People.  Who will we be when there are no Salmon?"  This is a question we should all be asking - who will we be when there is no Salmon- because we are part of a web of life also with them.  They bring nutrients from the oceans back into our rivers and our forests - how will our whole ecosystem change without them?

This week after hearing a story on the local radio about this situation, it was followed by a story reporting that Congress is trying to pass a bill allowing the killing of 900 Sea Lion on the west coast because they are hanging out at the entrance from the ocean to the rivers where Salmon run and gorging on the Salmon, but the Salmon are so endangered that this is a disaster for the Salmon.  The Marine biologist interviewed were divided on this plan.  One stated that this is the 11th hour for the Salmon - that we are in such danger of them going extinct that we just have to kill the Sea Lions.  The other Marine Biologist interviewed stated that it is a big mistake because other attempts to kill off a species to protect another have badly backfired.   She pointed out that the Sea Lion also feed upon some of the main predators of juvenile Salmon -so when they won't be around to do that it will simply create another threat to the Salmon.   As I listened to this I could only think "stupid white person solution".   In other words, once again we are trying to manage and control nature while being so detached from it as to only create a certain disaster.  We are mad at the Sea Lion for eating the Salmon, but have we stopped for even one moment to examine our own bellying up to the trough?  Or the multiple way we are involved in both the dead baby orca and the dying Salmon?

If we stopped seeing ourselves as separate from the web of life perhaps we could hear the feedback from the system we are a part of? 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Friends and Natives, part II: Decolonizing our Minds

This is part two of a post I did last month about Quakers and Native Americans.   It has become even more timely with the extreme actions of white supremacy that the Trump administration has engaged in during the last month, separating Hispanic immigrant parents from their children.  It is becoming more and more clear the ugly and hateful attitudes of the Trump administration to all brown colored people and that Trump's real agenda here as he faces a country that was crossing over from white majority to people of color majority is trying to turn back the hands of time by actually deporting people of color.  The violent suppression of Native people is the first systemic racism in the Americas, followed of course by slavery.   So colonization is a foundation in US white supremacy and it is therefore important to understand it.
A first step in de-colonizing ones own mind would be learning your own family history and faith history of oppression of Native People’s. (Which some people’s families came here well after the removals had happened, but that does not mean you are not benefiting from the outcomes of colonization.) For example, on whose tribal land do you now live? What were the indigenous names for the significant geography of your area (the rivers, lakes, and mountains.)  Even some of the names we are told are Native names for local landmarks are in fact badly mispronounced English imitations of the real Native name for it.  Please notice the white privilege that we thought of these lands as “undiscovered” and unoccupied and therefore ours to name.  If I came to the city or town you live in and suddenly announced that hence forth it would be called “Hippopotamus” you would be indignant and wonder who I thought I was that I can just waltz in and name something that is already named in the awareness of all its residents.   And yet that is exactly what people of European descent did.  
So for example I grew up in Winnetka, Illinois – both names I were told were Native names – Winnetka does appear to mean "Beautiful Place" but it is unclear in what native language.  Illinois had a French ending because the French changed it from Illiniwek.  The tribe there, recorded by the US government as the Illinois called themselves the Inoka.  I then went to school in Indiana in territory that had belonged to the Miami (resulting in a nearby city being named that ) by 1846 most had been “removed”,  and the Osage tribe (official Bureau of Indian Management name – they referred to themselves at Wazhazhe).  The Miami and the Wazhazhe were both forced west to Oklahoma as were the Inoka.  So I grew up in lands with Native names but no Natives.  I knew there existed tribes in a few places in the US, but thought of them as mostly having been genocided long before my birth.  
It took moving to Seattle (a city named after a Native chief whose real name was Chief Sealth.)  before I met any real native Americans.   And then again I lived in a city that had forced the Duwamish tribe off its land and then denied them to this day official recognition as a Tribe – resulting in their having no reservation and no services.  Despite them popularly being referred to through the city as the Duwamish, this is turns out is also a mispronunciation of their name.
During the end of President Obama’s term he renamed Mt. McKinley as Mt. Denali its original name – in recognition of the indigenous people and that President McKinley had in fact never even been there.   However, Trump is now planning to rename it Mt. McKinley because he says Obama disrespected the former President McKinley  (There is of course blindness to the disrespect of a whole culture.)  My thought was ‘hmm well what if we all just kept calling it Mt. Denali?"   And then my mind went further and realized what if I just went to calling everything by its original name?  Would it help me to live with the humbling reality that all white Americans are standing on stolen land?
There are many other useful questions to begin looking at what it means to be the descendants of Settlers.  Unlike some people who were taught very rationalizing history about “Indian’s on the warpath” as a justification for US killing of Native tribes – I was fairly early on taught the ugly truth about the Trail of Tears, the slaughter of tribes etc.   But somehow this was still taught to me as “look what the US government did, look at what the army did”.   Somehow I was shielded till a native person called me the descendent of Settlers from the truth that indeed both sides of my family came to this country as “settlers”  - both took land awarded to them as if it were “empty”, “vacant”, and “unoccupied” and called it their own.  Suddenly I am seeing clearly that it was just such taking up of land that was why the army “cleared” the land, and why the treaties pushed the Natives further West and off their historic lands.  Suddenly I have to understand that indeed I have benefited from the complicity of my ancestors.
This is a good start to recognize how we are part of colonization.  And then we must look clearly look at how the media, Hollywood, tv and book portrayed the people indigenous to the United States.   I don’t know about you but when I was growing up they were still called “Indians” and tv shows and movies still showed them as “sneaky” and attacking white people (generally for no reason).  Books like the Little House on the Praire series, which was then turned into a tv show, portrayed the white people as nothing but kind, hard working and noble with a few references to Indians as threats.  Children still played in their imaginative play, as well as with little plastic figures “Cowboys and Indians” – a game in which the cowboys were the good guys and it was appropriate to kill all the Indians before they killed you.  (As a Quaker I was not allowed to play these games but that does not mean that my mind did not take in the programing.)  Phrases like “Indian giver”, and “circle the wagons” without any awareness of their racist origins.  For me decolonizing my mind means squarely confronting all these cobwebs, as well as confronting the implications of the term wilderness the gives lie to what was true about all US lands before they were “settled”.
Native People have been some of the most powerful fighters of climate change, using their treaty rights to stop massive oil pipeline and excavation projects.  And for that reason the tribes are under great threat under the Trump administration, which wishes to change their status to a race rather than to one of a sovereign nation.   This would be a clear opening move to strip all remaining power and self governance from them..  One example already happening is the desire of the Trump administration to strip an already financially strapped population because of the lack of jobs on reservations with health benefits by putting “work requirements” on them.  Health care was provide for under most treaties.  So the taking, and the violation of Native Tribes is not a historic footnote.  It has not stopped. 
So the big question remains what will you do now to not passively support the ongoing colonialization of this country?  And how might you benefit if you stepped out of a way of thinking that sees nothing wrong in taking, that says possession is 9/10th of the law, that does not see killing, maiming or destroying as an inappropriate way to get ones way.   Sure you don’t personally believe that, but what practices in your life come out of that same way of doing things?  (An example which comes strongly to mind is how easily an without thought we feel it is ok to cut down groves of trees and to kill animals.)  I strongly encourage people to read the whole Spring issue of Yes Magazine on decolonization,  and particularly the article by Native author Kyle Powys Whyte of the Potawatomi Tribe, “White Allies, Let’s be honest about Decolonization”.   Will we stand with Native people this time to stop the taking?

                                          public art on the Lower Elwha Klallam tribal lands

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Truth about Friends and Native Americans....

If I were to ask you: “have Quakers been good to Native people?” What is your answer?  I think most Friends would conjure up the Benjamin West painting of William Penn sitting under a tree with members of the Lenape tribe and the often repeated story of PA making a treaty with the tribe rather than killing them as was done in most other states.   Or perhaps you would think of the famous Doyle Penrose painting of some Indians quietly sneaking into an old time Friends Meeting as they worshipped.   Or maybe you would simply be aware of FCNL’s dedicated work for decades to prod the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to treat natives well and especially to honor the treaties.  

As a birth right Friend this is what I was raised with a sense that I was from one of the “good churches” who had treated natives well and until recently had felt that if I told a Native person that I was Quaker that it would have immediately identified me as an allie.  I like most other Friends with progressive consciousness, signed for years petitions for Leonard Peltier’s release and even wrote to President Obama with the hope that Leonard would finally be pardoned and not have to die in prison.  I have mourned the trail of tears, the intentional small pox infestations and the cruel stories of children ripped from their families and forced to go to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their language, were often beaten or sexually abused and where the cultural extinction began in earnest.   I have thought “what ignoramus’ thought it a good idea to strip a culture of its language” the very means it tells its story, and mourned the restrictions against Native spiritual practices.

You may share my shock and horror then at the discovery that these “ignoramus” were indeed Quakers. Paula Palmer has written about this in Friends Journal and if you have not read her article please do:   She tells us that Quakers were among the largest promoters of boarding schools for Native people and ran 30 such schools primarily in the Midwest.   How do you grow up Quaker and in the Midwest and not know this shameful history?   Apparently, we have become embarrassed enough of it that we do not speak of it – even while still speaking of our other “good deeds” towards Natives.

 Having perceived Native tribes to be people (a slight improvement over the commonly held belief at the time that Natives were “animals” or “savages”), and having out of a general conviction towards non-violence had for the most part managed not to engage in killing them, Quakers still held the culturally biases view point that they lived “primitively” and that white culture with its language, and it technology was culturally superior.   Once one buys into the myth of superiority one is quickly down the path of unconscious white supremacy.  It is on this logic path that Quakers concluded that the best thing for the Native people was for them to go to school and learn what we considered the most important lessons of our culture.  This is a path that believe assimilation is best for some other group of people. 

Seeing Native resistance to this, the idea was arrived at that if children were separated from their parents and not allowed to speak their native language then they would be receptive to the offerings of the schools.    From this flawed logic Friends not only encouraged the idea of Indian boarding schools, but Friends being big proponents of education we actually set up and ran many of these Indian boarding school.  (This flawed notion of helping those “less fortunate” is the same logic that lead us to our other biggest mistake – the setting up of the penitentiary system – in the naively idealistic notion that if prisoners had quiet time alone for meditation and reflection that they would arrive at pence and eventually redemption.)

I have wondered before why some Native people I have met have last names that I think of as “Quaker” names.   I was aware that at the boarding schools they were forced to give up their Native names and go by English names.  I thought only first names.  It was only recently that I learned that there were scholarships to help pay for Native children to go to school and that  they were then given the last name of their Quaker “patrons”.   I cannot tell you the pain I feel at meeting native people carrying this colonial marker of Quaker fallacious thinking.

In my next Post I will talk more about the process of “decolonizing our own minds” and beginning to look at how we live on this land – this land that is someone else’s.   However, a good starting place as Friends is to learn our true history in relationship to Native People and to begin to tell truthfully that story.   So for example that Doyle Penrose painting I mentioned at the beginning.   That story, as it is told, is that a local tribe who were angry and had been aggressive in the area arrived at the Meeting house on a Sunday while the members were worshiping, they entered but felt the “Presence of the Great Presence” and so remained quiet, share a meal with them and leave behind a white feather as a sign of friendship.   (The implication being that if we were not so Holy then the Friends there might have all been killed.)  Thus we feel proud of ourselves from being different from other white people of the time.   What is unsaid in the normal telling of that story is that the land the  NY Meeting house was on was undoubtedly land that Tribe had occupied.   We still have that picture in many Meeting Houses today.  What sort of message does that send any Native who might happen in our doors?  Just like it is time for the South to take down statues of Confederate “war heros”,  it is time for us to take down such paintings and tell more accurate stories about our relationships to the original inhabitants of this land.