Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Meeting is a Rock

There is a deep peace inside my Meeting House, in the hearts of my Friends. We here are not an old Meeting, not like the 15th Meeting in NYC, where I went to school with the Quakers for 14 years. That schoo, Friends Seminary, had been a school before George Washington was president. Its walls were imbued with the spirit and the silence of the Elders. There we were treated according to the Quaker priniciple that "there is that of God in everyone" so that teachers addressed students with the respect that is due another divine being.

I had no idea how radical the education had been until I went to college - first to Middlebury, in Vermont, bastion of the privileged white class, where I nearly suffocated in two years, had it not been for a few Jewish friends and artists whom I met. Then on to CUNY where the diversity of the students more suited my mindset. But in both those colleges, I met bright, powerful students who had been trained already into submission to some "party line" or other. Few had open inquiring minds.

For the brilliant training that I recieved, I will always be grateful to the Quakers. They rescued me from a dim and drearly life, from isolation and affluence, into the powerful world of service and spirit.

I am extremely pleased to learn that the George School is now the most heavily endowed school in the nation. I hope this will encourage more Quaker Meetings to start schools.

You all just saved my life!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Healing Dissent

It has been two months on the road now, sleeping in the guest rooms of friends and relatives (blessings on their heads) and seeing my native land. From Rhode Island to North Carolina, the cars on the road were strangely devoid of bumper stickers, an unusual silence for such a traditionally opinionated populace. Even here in Asheville,high in the mountains of North Carolina, there is a strange silence.

I sat yesterday on the porch of my friend Clare Hanrahan,a dedicated community activist. She has disconnected her land telephone line and does not give out her cell phone number so we are now forced to come and sit on the porch - an ongoing meeting. The local of the Green Party arrived and we spoke of how to envigorate the dissent: what could be done other than standing in the public square in protest every week, carrying on with the petition of impeachment, generally voicing opposition? It has been six years of steady public dissent now and even the diligent dedicated pacifists are frustrated and discouraged. What could be done?

It was good to learn that now 70% of the population of Western North Carolina is against the war. When we first started standing, both the WNC Peace Coalition and Women in Black, the number was only 15%. Yet six years into any war, the opposition will rise. It does not mean that we have tired of war - only of this war.

We spoke of a recent even in one of the mainline churches, organized by the local chapter of the Network for Spiritual Progressives and 40 local groups, at which Clare was a speaker and recieved a standing ovation. The participants, she noted, were mostly white, mostly affluent. Clare is one of the few who travels between communities, from the projects to the park to the Council chambers. There is great diversity here but the pieces of the pie try very hard not to touch each other, not to find common ground.

Although I certainly respect the work of Rabbi Lerner and his community, I wonder how much real peace building we can do if one of the basic tenets is "To Challenge the misuse of God & religion by the Religious Right and religio-phobia on the Left." It does not seem to be a peace building position, to begin by setting up opponents and then saying that they have misused God and Religion. It seems polarizing and divisive.

How, indeed, do we become the change that we want to see? What if the affluent Christians started feeding the homeless in the park (now closed from 10 pm to 6 am - and there are not enough shelters - but, alas, if you build shelters, one friend said, they will come. Homeless are already shipped to Asheville from other cities as we do have some services)? What if the Right and Left formed a circle around the returning veterans and said to them, "we are greatful that you answered your nation's call, even though there are those of us who object to the war. We want to help you heal and return to us whole. Tell us of what you suffered, tell us of how you still suffer, let us help heal you and perhaps you can heal us."

Perhaps we can indeed break this cycle of the endless war.

It is certainly important work. It is sad for me to see my fellow Americans so bowed down in fear.

My friends in Haiti ask for $75 a month for the salary of a teacher. That is all it will take. Two are needed for the little school.

I am looking forward to going to the Island and seeing the school upon my return.

It is odd to me that it seems an easier project to heal Haiti now than the United States.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Twenty years ago, when I first came here, you could walk down the streets of downtown at 5 PM and hardly see a moving body. Today it rumbles and bustles, a confluence of New Agers and Born Agains, homeless and affluent, artists and marketers. Trendy shops line their windows with flyers for alternative healers, and dreadlocked affluent WASP kids drumming in the park with the homeless on Friday nights, in the shadow of the spire of the Baptist Church.

It remind me now a bit of 8th Street in the Greenwich Village of my home, after it was "cleaned-up" and the artists had moved to Hoboken since they could not afford the rents and the dingy coffee shops were replaced with fern barns. The environmentalist, who pay oh so much more for their organic food, don't seem to yet be aware that Fiji Water really does come from Fiji. I wish that "green" did not look so "white".

But there is a deep spirit moving here as more and more people flock to the ideas that surface -- a model of power with rather than power over. There is so much feminine energy here that some people have dubbed it "Ashe She Ville".

There is an awareness that the road that has lead us to this point is a dead end.

We gather here. In this cul de sac.

Regroup. Rethink. Rejoin.

We have been recycling for oh so many years already.

Here I get to sit deep within the silence of my community, my Quaker Meeting, in the house on the hill by the University, finding the ground of our collective being, serene in the little island of peace created by generations of seekers.

I come back to feed my roots, to nourish my bones, and mark the passage of time.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Straddling Worlds

It has been a month of travelling - from DC to RI,down to the suburbs of NYC, back to the Maryland countryside and now down in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC.
On Saturday in downtown Asheville there was an organic food festival - as there is always a festival now in Asheville on the weekends- with a chair massager- ah luxury.

Was I local?,she asked. I used to be, I answered. But now I live in Santo Domingo and report from the border of Haiti. I hope to move to Haiti in the next couple of years.

"I worked in Haiti about twenty years ago for a few months- in a hunger relief program. It was very touching. The people were very sweet. I wasn't able to see much of the country as they did not let me out of the compound. When I came back to the States, I was incredibly angry for an entire year. Angry at the consumption, angry at the waste."

I thanked her profoundly not only for the massage but for naming the knot in my stomach that had been building over the last month.

While visiting my neices and nephews in a suburb 40 minutes outside NYC, I drove one day with the Mom to deliver one 11 year old to soccer camp where she could work on her "foot skills". We drove the minivan 45 minutes each way to deliver the girl into a field enclosed in a bubble - an enclosed air-conditioned bubble- where coaches from England trained about 75 suburban teens, primarily girls. The course cost $200 for the week,for 5 days of 4 hour sessions, which in NYC suburban terms was a bargin.

How can I explain Haiti to these children?