Sunday, September 19, 2021

Living with Uncertainty and other teachings of Corona

 Our country is getting more and more polarized over the Coronavirus.  I was amused when Donald Trump's press secretary first spoke of alternative facts.  What an oxymoron.  But now like living into a science fiction movie, there are people on both sides of the divide furious with the other side for doing what they regard to be life threatening or life worth living threatening behaviors. There is no way for them to even discuss the "facts" of the issue because they have different news sources and literally different facts.  In my clinical practice I listen to families that are being torn apart by these differences, and literally to people moving to other states, so they can either live where people are vaccinated, or live where they do not have to wear masks.

My last blog about the virus I said "well clearly Corona is not done teaching us.  We are still being held still in order to learn."  But I was getting pretty tired and board myself with that.   It was easy to just feel like "I wish those other people would hurry up and learn so we can get out of purgatory."  That is never a good position when you stop noticing what you might need to be learning.

Recently while talking to one of my clients - I noticed that all of us, both sides are grasping desperately for certainty, for normalcy.  One side grasp for an end through vaccination and herd immunity, the other grasps to maintain a freedom of choice and the normalcy that comes with that.  It occurred to me that through out time humans have looked for and made up explanations for the scary and unexplained thing in their time.  Ancient people explained earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes as the God's were angry with the people.  A previous generation believed the earth was flat because that was what they could see and the idea it was round felt like we could "fall off".  In a pandemic gone by people not knowing about germs and how they spread believed that whole towns fell ill because witches communed with the Devil.  There is a long list of things that without understanding the science, people made up explanations for.   Actually part of how our brains are literally wired is to fill in missing pieces of info to make sense.  If you print a word without a vowel most people will substitute it and not even know they did.

We don't want uncertainty.  It is uncomfortable; it feels scary.  We feel better with an explanation even if it is as horrible as one of our neighbors is a witch who has turned the whole town over to the Devil.

What arises for me out of this - especially if Corona is here as our spiritual teacher, is how do we learn to live with uncertainty?   It seems to me it requires quite a bit of faith, a belief in a Supreme being who is weighing in for good.  It means learning how to live inside the Serenity prayer.  It means having to surrender the desire for certainty and big T truths.  It means embracing the mystical which is the unknown and trusting being on a journey.  It means not turning away from the suffering which is part of the unknown experience we are having.  It means having to learn to respond with compassion and find hope from within.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Love, Lover, Beloved

 I have a friend who is Sufi.   She tells me that Sufi's frequently talk about God as Love, Lover and Beloved.   This is interesting to me.  Certainly Christianity talks about God as a force of Love, and certainly a sense of Beloved.  But the idea of God as Lover seemed new.

In my 20's I grappled with questions of "what Gender is God?" and tried on what was the experience of tuning into Goddess.  While this did seem to tap into slightly different aspects of the Divine, in the end I came down on the feeling that the Divine is genderless or as we would say now nonbinary.  During that time I was working out what to call God.  In a particular episode I heard the words of the Cris  Williamson song: Song of the Soul.   This is a song which had played in the background of my life without my putting particular attention on it.   So I would hear this part:

Love of my life
I am crying
I am not dying
I am dancing
Dancing along in the madness
There is no sadness
Only a song of the soul
And we'll sing this song
Why don't you sing along?

and in my minds eye I thought it was a song about a human lover:  "love of my life"   But suddenly one day as I listened more closely I caught the first line:

Open mine eyes
That I may see
Glimpses of truth
Thou hast for me
Open mine eyes
Illumine me
Spirit divine

and I could finally see that this was a song about Spirit Divine - but also about God as Lover, as Partner, and in a dramatic turn then all of the names I had played with as the right name for "God" played in my head to the beautiful melody of this song, Song of the Soul, profoundly making the point that all of them are names for God.

So as my Sufi friend tells me that they think of God as Lover, I realize this does open a new energy for me around the Holy One.  Many of the Christian descriptions of God are of a parental God or "Lord" a sort of powerful ruler.  While Jesus calls god Aba, there is not God as Mother (Only Mother Mary) and there is certainly not words or frames for god as partner, friend or lover.  This is a kind of intimacy that Christianity does not suggest.  It is however an exciting set of possibilities.  It suggests a more tender approach from God, and a much closer in relationship - not a God that is "in the Sky" or otherwise far away but one that is right there at ones side.  And put next to the word Beloved, it also suggests a sort of reciprocal loving and adoration.  I think I will be living into this idea for a while.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Your Services are no Longer Needed

 Recently I spoke to a f/Friend of mine who I had not seen in over a year.  She is in her later 70's and she has been clerk of our midsized meeting for the last 12 years.  But recently the nominating committee told her that "because she is so busy that they wanted her to have a break" by which they meant that they were not renewing her nomination as clerk.  They offered her no other role either.

There are several things wrong with this picture.  One is that she was allowed to serve for 12 years as clerk to begin with.  That reflects either poor nominating practice or an absence of other leadership and a too convenient reliance on those who will continue serving.  It makes sense that if other leaders finally came along or someone finally named the bad practice of over reliance on some Friends that they finally addressed it.  But what else is wrong with this picture is how it was addressed.  Friends, it is not Quaker plain speech to project onto someone, to tell them they are too busy, when they themselves have not made that complaint.  (Yes she had complained about busyness in a way that each of us do when pressed for time....but not in the way that we do when we state I have too much on my plate.  I need relief.)  It seems fundamentally inappropriate to decide for someone that they are too busy.   It might be a very good question to ask.   Or in the case of people who really do try to do too much and do it poorly it wound be Quaker honesty to say "We see that when you are doing, x, y, z and A and B that you are making mistakes.  We are having trouble with some of the mistakes.  We feel like this won't work unless you are willing to release some things which things are you willing to release.  And to involve the person in solving how things will become manageable again.  The final thing wrong is that her position was taken away without giving her any other role which seems to imply that she suddenly has no value or role to play in her beloved Meeting.

When Friends have served long terms because of unusual circumstances where nothing else is possible it should be established clearly by the nominating committee:  "we normally only have two 2 year terms for clerk.  Because the incoming clerk's partner was diagnosed with cancer we are asking you to do one more term.  We regret having to over extend your term and we will replace you at the end of this term."  The nominating committee, the person in question and the Meeting should avoid idea that there is any position that only one person can do.  That is pride and incorrect.   Someone with no experience will do it differently and perhaps less well but this maybe divinely ordered growth on their part, or a much needed chance for the Meeting to experience change.  But if someone has been needed in an extra term it is good to have it set up with the expectation that the term will end so it can be celebrated when it ends!   Leadership is always an act of love and sweat and we need to celebrate each other for what we give to our Meetings.  When a nominating committee if being indirect and not genuine in their communication about end of term, the person is left to wonder did they screw up, did people not see their labor, and ultimately where they unappreciated which certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  I strongly suspect that they were so worried about hurting her feelings by telling her they did not want her to be clerk any more that they made up this story they were taking care of her.   The thing is they were not so it actually did hurt her feelings because she was left to wonder all the question above and if she had done something wrong.  

This is one of the many reasons why it is good Quaker practice to have terms for committee service (even if different for some positions) and to have a limit on how many consecutive terms a person can serve.   Our Meetings have many positions so certainly a person has other places to serve.  It is thinking too narrowly about any/all of us to think we have only one or even two places we can well serve the Meeting.  It is possible to set up situations where people who have not served on a committee come on under someone's leadership and learn by serving with them and then leader rotates off and the newer member is ready to step up.  This is also good practice to create the conditions to grow leadership.  

But what, I can hear someone saying, if there really is not enough people to serve?   Well that is a crisis best faced rather than papered over by having some people lead forever.  It both burns out people and it creates a failure to face the cross roads the group is at.  I recall one year at my Yearly Meeting the nominating committee came to the session and reported that after a whole year of "begging" people to serve and still having 17 unfilled positions they were laying themselves down and asking the Yearly Meeting to face the real issue - that we had a committee structure too big for who we now were.  I thought it an inspired move.  (The sitting clerk handled it very badly.)  If we name that we don't have enough people then it does give us the opportunity to look at how do we need to simplify and at what point do we even have to lay a Meeting down/

Simultaneous to this my F/friend is also a founding member of a Quaker organization for whom she has played many leadership roles over decades.  In that situation, it has sometimes been the case that her involvement made others feel they could not match her enthusiasm or commitment, so hang back from really fully engaging themselves. Being aware of that, and the fact that she will not live forever, she has herself tried to step back again, so there is space for others to learn rules and take leadership.  But when someone who had agreed to be clerk of that organization abruptly withdrew they turned back to my f/Friend and asked her to step back in, only to later rather abruptly remove her when they felt they had found a replacement.  It seems to me that this again fails to see her as a person rather than a needed function or skill set.  

This is where the nominating committee needs to sit down in a very honest conversation with her about what does succession and right use of her gifts look like?   To say (which she knows but as if the person does not) "You have played an essential role in this organization.  We would be no where if but for you....and you will not live forever.  How can you help us plan for the time when you will no longer be here?   What do you see needs to be passed on and how?  What role do you want to play as those shoes are filled?"(There is a reason why there are "emertis" roles in institutions.  They are a chance to retain institutional knowledge and wisdom while it is still here with us.)   It is also I think incumbent on a group like this to find a way to publicly celebrate the role of a founder and not just let them diminish away.  Or worse yet have things taken away from them one by one "your services no longer needed" until they feel a pariah to their own organization.

No ones service should become an institution.  No one is irreplaceable.  On the other hand no one who has served their Quaker Meeting or institution should feel like they are used and thrown away, a disposable in a throw away culture.  Our culture needs to be one that celebrates people and has a right place for everyone and knows how to celebrate gifts given.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Pagan Quaker

 Recently in my worship group I gave a message about how in novel about stopping climate change the author imagines them creating a new religion which will save the earth but jokes it is really an old religion Paganism.  It is about loving the earth.   

To my surprise after that about 4 other messages were given (in our already quite small group) about people never believing in the "Old white bearded dude in the sky, but in Mother Earth", about talking to trees, or being able to center in nature and find spirit there.   Later we did a worship sharing with the simple query How is nature spiritual for you?  I noted for me that the bigness of nature; the ocean, the mountain, the forest, all have this majesty and eternal quality to them that brings me back to the Divine Mother.  Others spoke about the beauty as the thing that brought them in harmony.  The second query was how can we come more deeply into relationship with the earth?   Many of us acknowledged that this one is harder to answer.   So much has been done by existing paradigms to seperate us from the earth.  We have so many blind spots.   But it seems important.  In fact critical at this moment on earth.

The person who created the queries notes that she had looked in Faith and Practice and also at Quaker Earth Care Witness queries.  But she had not been able to find ones she liked.  She had not been able to find them because the ones she found still had a sort of how can we care for or have stewardship over the earth.  She sensed that it is still a separateness paradigm or worse yet a human over earth view point.  She could not find queries that acknowledged the inherent spiritualness of the earth or asked us to be "in relationship" with the earth as Native spirituality so clearly does, or as the science of eco systems does.

What would it mean to be a Quaker Pagan?  To come back into relationship with the earth - to sit under the silence of a tree and hear its message?

                                    Crescent Lake, WA

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Love or Fear Epiphany

 I have long walked with an "evolutionary question".  This is a concept from the book the Celestine Prophecy and is a spiritual question that you are working on.   Mine has been:  "How to bring God/spirit into shatter false dualities that keep us from serving higher purpose/creating a true justice."  I moved two years ago to a Meeting already in a deeply polarized situation.   I felt initially that my evolutionary question gave me some Light to work with.   That by not taking a side (despite others who sought to assign me a side) that I could stay out of the polarization and operate as a bridge between the sides.  Ultimately this failed miserably, and I instead simply earned the ire of both sides.  Initially this was just too profoundly confusing in regards to my evolutionary question, and I simply stopped thinking about it.

However, recently I was having a spiritual conversation with a friend and the evolutionary question came up so I told her mine.  In so doing my attention went back on it and I realized again that I had not reconciled my question with what had happened.  As I renewed my reflections on this I remembered what another Friend had written about this: They wrote that we can be in a state of Love or a state of Fear (but not both) and that it seemed to them that the Meeting had operated in fear, and that we had not stopped to see "What can Love do?"  Their words seemed very true to me.

This is when the epiphany happened.  Evolutionary questions are suppose to weave together all the strands of your spiritual inquiry and growth.   Yet I have had a separate very significant spiritual truth in my life which is that when I get in a state of fear then I forget God, and have to travel some period before some self reflection reveals to me that I am in a state of fear and again disconnected and then I can reconnect.  Suddenly like a puzzle where you have been working separate parts and you suddenly find the piece that connects the two bits and see that it actually one bigger piece I had an epiphany - I saw how the piece about fear connect with my evolutionary question.

I realized that it is the being able to see the fear and name it , both my own and other peoples that is the thing that disempowers dualities, and allows God's healing Love to flow in.  My evolutionary question is now:

How do I notice and name fear, both my own and others, in the face of false dualities, in order to turn towards and open towards God's healing love and allow more truth and more justice to manifest?

In the conflict that happened in the Meeting, the duality was named, but the fear underlying it was never named and so it had great power.  One side afraid they would not feel safe (and valued) in the Meeting, the other side afraid we would not live out a value of inclusion and thus would fail our greater self.  Somehow it feels like it should be easier to respond with compassion when these fears are named, and also to figure out how love could help.  And yes to name that their is no action we can take that will vanquish all are fears or make everything safe for everyone.  I also see it is time to take an inventory in my life, to list out the fears lurking under the surface of my own life.   To notice what they are and to offer them up to God.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

A Quaker Celebrates Earth Day

 The below are comments I made at an Interfaith service celebrating the 51st annual Earthday.  Each speaker addressed what their faith instructs them about their response to climate change:

Quakers believe that, there is that of God in everyone.  Many things flow from that.  We believe that we can know the truth experientially, and that our understanding of the truth may change over time.  But we hold up, as the truth we have found so far, a belief in non-violence, in equality, in integrity, in simplicity, in community, and in stewardship.  To truly embrace any of these things, leads quite quickly to the need to stop climate change as it threatens all of those things.

One cannot embrace equality and non-violence and turn a blind eye to how climate change is wiping out small island nations and creating catastrophes for some of the poorest people on earth, as well as creating wars over resources.  What does it mean to live in community when your neighbor suffers?  How can we be good stewards on an earth where we are extracting and burning fossil fuels with reckless abandon? 

Our historic call to simplicity has been to reject consumption that is bought at the cost of others’  suffering or distracts from relationship with the Holy One– this is only more true now.  Everything which is manufactured, carries a carbon foot print – some items larger than others – but which are actually necessary for our life?  So many plastic do das, throw away objects, electric potatoe peelers, etc that both clutter the unsimple life and also create more greenhouse gases.   The testimony of integrity is to tell the truth regardless of what it costs you personally – There is a lot of radical truth telling to do these days.  One of the painful truths is about our own complicity in a first world life style that is not sustainable for our Mother Earth.  The whole planet is sustainable at 2,000 Kilowats per year per person. The average American uses 11,000.  The painful truth is even those of us, myself included, that live simply, are living way above our means.

Quakers also believe we can receive leadings from the Divine Spirit – promptings to do the right thing.  In our history that has led us, to hide people escaping slavery, and to fight for women’s right to vote, and to be imprisoned and even killed for our right to practice our faith.  It means that we can be asked to take risks and not play it safe.  I think the magnitude of the climate crisis again requires us, to be boldly faithful.  Our being faithful must begin with earnestly asking the Divine author for guidance on how to rightly live and how to boldly act in the face of this greatest moral crisis of history.  Quakers also believe that when we listen in silence that we can and will hear the Inner Voice prompting us.

I have been a climate activist for 14 years.  People often ask me how I find the hope to keep struggling with this issue, and they also ask me “Is it too late?”.    I have surrendered the question “Is it too late quite” long ago.  Because what I am clear about, is that regardless of if we just squeak by, or if we are in a slow death spiral, our moral commandment is the same: to love our neighbors as ourselves, to try to do justice and to treat people with Love in the face of whatever may come.  Interestingly some of the same things we have to do to adapt to climate change are the same things we have to do to mitigate it.   So it is clear to me that the holy voice of Justice calls us.   My hope lies in the promise that God can enter a situation transformationally when we are faithful.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Why a Feminist Opposes Draft Registration for Womyn

 I am a lifelong feminist and I am a lifelong pacifist, and I do not support extending draft registration to women.   Yep you heard it right Congress is about to vote on extending draft registration to womyn.   Jimmy Carter first reinstated draft registration after the end of the Vietnam war had ended it, back in 1980.  At that time all young men ages 18 thru 20 were required to register.  Many young men bravely publicly refused to register for the draft, challenging a system they felt would quickly lead to another active draft and more US military aggression.   A few were prosecuted, thousands quietly did not register, the justice dept decided to start ignoring that the system was failing. (Audits showed most did not put in change of address forms and the usefulness of the registration cards was ever increasing.)  Despite many states making registration automatic with getting a driver's license and the "Soloman amendment passing, denying Federal financial aid to those young men who could not show they had registered.   And still they system has been so incomplete and inaccurate to be useless, and the military has continued to fill its ranks from the "all volunteer" military.   Otherwise known as the poverty draft.

So why at this point in time would the government seek to extend the failing draft registration to womyn?  The answer is interesting.  A few years back several young men sued the federal government stating that draft registration was sexual discrimination because it only applied to men.   They are correct of course.  And they won.  The government has been given a deadline and then and extension due to change of administrations to resolve the problem.   The Trump administration spent a year with the NCMNPS holding hearings around the country that were quite restricted in who was allowed to testify at these "public" hearings.  They toyed with ideas like making a mandatory public service for all young people for two years.  (Hitler's youth?)  While not military it would have done things in the public defined by who?  Sounded like building a wall on the Mexican border to me.  The Biden administration is just going with the recommendation of the commission that toured around which is that women be included in draft registration.   No serious consideration seems to have been given to the other obvious solution to the problem: cancel registration for any gender.

The NCMNPS heard testimony from a former Director of the Selective Service System that the current SSS database is so incomplete and inaccurate as to be "less than useless" for an actual draft, and that registration should be ended rather than expanded to women. But the NCMNPS conducted no research on current or likely future compliance, noncompliance, or enforcement of the registration requirement.  This is an outdated system that has never been used for an actual draft, never functioned well even 41 years ago when implemented.  At a cost of $23 million dollars a year, this is just a waste.  This means we have in my lifetime wasted $943 million dollars on this fiasco.

The tired logic has been trotted out again that if women are serious about equality that this means they must do this too.   I am sorry but it is not a "move forward" for womyn to be eligible to be equally shot at, maimed or killed against their wills....because a draft is against your will by definition.  It is a joke to make this claim at the same moment that womyn lost jobs at record rates in the pandemic and Roe Vs Wade is more threatened than it has been since the original ruling - in a year where womyn may actually lose control over their reproductive rights.  But will gain the right to mandatorily be killed in war.

Womyn AND men deserve the right to equal OPPORTUNITIES (threat of death is not an opportunity).  They deserve the right to equal choices - I stand for the rights of womyn who chose military service or who chose abortion.   But neither group deserve to be equally oppressed.   So I don't think we should keep the oppression for just one group (men).  I think we should finally end this flawed and pointless draft registration system.  

Womyn deserve equal rights but they are not the same as men.  There are still differences between men and womyn and differences that create increased risk factors for womyn in militarized zones.  The most obvious one here being the much greater likelihood of a female solider being raped whether by the “enemy” or as military records reveal disturbingly by her own fellow soldiers or commanding officers (25% were sexually assaulted by fellow recruits and 80% were sexually harassed.  In fact, currently they are more likely to be raped in service than killed in service).   Womyn in addition are on average not as strong and thus more prone to injury from things like marching long distances with a heavy bag on their back. (Stats show womyn having twice the injury rate in training then men.)  But also studies are very clear that womyn are far more prone to PTSD – thus putting them in a situation very likely to create PTSD is putting them at more risk.  (10% of womyn wind up reporting PTSD versus the 4% of men reporting PTSD – although this is in part due to the high sexual assault rate.)

The solution to fixing a broken system which is unconstitutionally applied to only one gender is not to apply the same mistake to both genders!  So far the wrong question has been asked which is whether to include women in draft registration.  The correct question would be whether to end the militarizing of our young people of either gender.  A draft (which this registration collects contact info for) is by definition is to enforce service against people’s wills.   It is (despite court rulings to the opposite) involuntary servitude.  It is wrong to force people of either gender to commit acts of violence and to face potential maiming, psychological harm or death.  Let us create equality by treating both genders right rather than imposing on women the same harm already imposed upon men.   

Friends, FCNL strongly fought to end the draft at the end of the Vietnam war and also opposed its reinstitution in 1980.  But now it is "not a priority".   I understand we have limited staff and have to pick what we can do, have many issues we have worked on for years, etc.  But FCNL in theory sets its priorities by having Meetings vote on priorities but this is not even brought to us to vote on.  Non-violence, anti-militarism and the Peace testimony are historic issues for Friends, and yet most Friends do not even know that their daughters and granddaughters are about to be made draftable, because FCNL is not informing us.   Please let them know you do want this addressed. 

Also write to your Congressional representatives and let them know you want it to at least have a hearing in the House (more than happened in the Senate) and that you do not want this applied to women but rather a bill like HR 5492 from last year that would cancel draft registration altogether.  To change what is required for half the population when they reach the age of majority, to impose a requirement that if utilized could result in their deaths, and to do this with no hearing is outrageous!