Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kinshasa School

Just started a new blog with photos of a school located in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a minister is doing his best to educate about 500 children of various ages.  Many of them are poor, some have been accused of witchcraft and thrown out of their homes.  The school has barely the wherewithal to operate, and for over a year now I've been searching for some charitable organizations where Rev. Félix could apply for funding.  If you have any ideas, please let me know.  In English or en français...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Morning Mass

Dazzled by gold ornaments
by trees swathed in white lights
and the winter sun piercing
stained glass
with its ice-pure rays

Body and soul vibrating
to the organ’s swell
I sang with
the choir and congregation

Superlatives and absolutes
flowed from the liturgy
like wine

from a celestial cask

Gloria to God in the highest

Deum de Deo
Lumen de lumine
Deum verum de Deo vero

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

The Son
the radiance of God's glory

sustaining all things by his powerful word
superior to the angels

Oh come let us adore him

And I thought I saw the barefoot Rabbi
who had nowhere to lay his head
Drunk with the carols and praise
he began to dance in rapture

Whirling barefoot in a Hasidic dance
hands raised
blessing the Father
and giving thanks for this day

In the voice of the Prophet Isaiah he intoned
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea

Then suddenly still
he looked at his followers and said

In memory of me
go and do likewise

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Blessings

"When the star in the sky is gone, When the Kings and Princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks, The real work of Christmas begins. To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoners, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart."
- Howard Thurman

Merry Christmas!
Follow the light of the star...

Thanks to F/friend David Austin, a.k.a., the Quaker Agitator (now appearing exclusively on Facebook), for the quotation,
and to Christian Clipart for the beautiful image.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Lesson on Nonviolence for Obama by Eric Stoner --

A Lesson on Nonviolence for Obama by Eric Stoner --

Almost immediately after acknowledging that there is "nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King," Obama equated nonviolence with doing nothing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Twelve Days Left Till Christmas

So one more enemy leader is dead
   killed by a drone
Rejoice! they said

Cacophonous carols assail the ear
   and mountains of merchandise
stifle our fear

Isaiah wanders the glitzy streets
   searching for signs
of the Prince of Peace

Wearied by Macy’s wonderland
   he lies down with plush Leo
and soft Gucci lamb

And Mary, her soul extolling the Lord
   looks for fulfillment
of his gracious word

Of haughty brought low and lowly raised up
   but the vet on the corner
just rattles his cup

Of the rich turned away, of the poor getting fed
   but bag ladies huddle
on steam vents instead

The barefoot rabbi passes by
   who forgave his tormentors
before he died

By whom five thousand or more were fed
   but who had nowhere
to lay his own head

He sees that his message went terribly wrong
   he hears his birth fêted
in carol and song

But where shall he find when carols cease
   simplicity, kindness,
forgiveness and peace?

Graphic from mennolink

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Circle Game

You'd think that Black Friday took its name from the dark clouds that packed the sky all day today. Another turkey dinner come and gone, another Christmas shopping season ramping up.

My in-laws are infirm and deteriorating more every day. My husband's mom can't go out anymore, too difficult for my father-in-law to care for outside of their own home, so we brought dinner to them. I cooked the turkey breast on Wednesday and the vegetables at their house on Thursday. Our sons came too, the older one accompanied by his girlfriend, the younger one back from a tour with his band. We all celebrated the holiday together.

I'm having a hard time putting it all together, my in-laws in their decline, my mom dead almost 8 years now, my sons on the threshold of their adult lives... and me somewhere in between. I have trouble even remembering when they were the babies whose pictures adorn the wall in the den. Even if it's all in the natural order of things, the cycle of life, the circle game.

And I remember an infant keeping me awake when I felt desperate to sleep...and rage because I was shut inside with that baby while my husband grabbed his briefcase and went out to work...the first vaccination, the first time he climbed into the schoolbus, first Communion and first honors...and doing it all again with baby #2...their first steps and my mom's last...watching them take their first bite and my mom take her last breath...then suddenly it's today.

Some day, I hope someone dear to me comes and makes me a holiday dinner when I'm too old and feeble to cook and maybe even to care.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gotcha, Christian!

Maybe we've been going about it all wrong.

You know, the in hoc signo thing, converting the king, defeating and baptizing the hordes, Gothic cathedrals, pilgrimages, relics, auto da fés. And more recently, televangelism, rallies, megachurches, blockbuster serial novels, and a graphic Passion on the big screen...

Where's the subtlety, where's the cunning and skill in any of that? Where's the cleverly planned gotcha! moment?

"Come, follow me, and I'll teach you to fish for men," Jesus said to Peter and Andrew. How many fish do you catch, I wonder, by making a lot of noise and disturbing the quiet of the lake? Fishermen spend long hours out there on the sea's placid surface, waiting with baited hook for the first sign of a tug. Then what do they do, pull out a gasoline-powered crane? No, they depend on their two hands and sheer muscle strength to reel in the writhing, struggling creature. Our prey are slippery types. We forget to ask ourselves, as a New Testament professor once asked our class, "Have you ever known a fish that wanted to be caught?" But we think that bigger, louder, and more threatening will ultimately lure them.

On the contrary, stealth and surprise are indispensable elements of Jesus' fishing tackle. What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? --a lost penny, a treasure hidden in a field, a bit of yeast kneaded into dough, a thief coming in the middle of the night, the tiniest of seeds...

And we Christians, the supposed followers of the no-account rabbi from Lower Middle Eastern Podunk, how do we sneakily bait and catch men (and women)? With bulk mailings, fire and brimstone railings, condemnations, and promises of pie-in-the-sky...with mass produced holy pictures, billboards that proclaim to our fellow gas-guzzlers Jesus died for your sins, nonstop Christmas carols (Do you hear what I hear? Yeah, and I sure wish they'd shut it off!), and sanctimonious demands to display an artificially illuminated plastic Nativity scene in front of the downtown municipal building.

You know, I bet the common, run-of-the-mill Palestinian peasant would have laughed too...before running in the opposite direction.

And then, of course, we throw back the very ones that Jesus would have reeled in and kept:

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame...and maybe also the gays, the addicts, the foreclosed, and those with piercings in strange or embarrassing places. Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. Sometimes I get the feeling that Jesus wasn't as particular as we are.

Devious, subversive, and welcoming. Maybe that's the trick...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Love in the Time of H1N1

The Goodnight Anthem is on the road again, taking my son Tony (guitar and lead vocals) with them. They're off to venues in Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and beyond.

One of their first shows had to be canceled because a couple of musicians in another band got the current version of the plague that's also touring the country. This got me worried, so I sent Tony off with a shoebox full of over-the-counter remedies in case he gets hit with the H1N1: Advil, Chloraseptic, Sudafed, Hall's vitamin C cough drops....and I told him to be sure to take his health insurance card with him and to go see a doctor if he got sick. I included a bottle of hand sanitizer too, for all the good it will do with all the instruments, equipment, amps, cables, and the like that they'll all be handling.

Fortunately, I'm hearing from the nurses at our university that the illness seems to get young people down for only a couple of days.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Where have all the children gone?

I've never pretended to be someone who just loves kids. When I would wistfully dream about falling in love and getting married, having children was something I forcefully pushed out of the picture. I'm an only child and never did much babysitting. I'm used to teaching undergrads. Furthermore, the very idea of this mysterious thing that was going to happen to my body and that I would only learn about several weeks after it started, along with the upheaval that it would bring to my personal and work life (and I loved my job and had no desire to be home full-time), well --to be brutally and shamelessly honest-- all this was something I dreaded, not something I looked forward to. (I guess I should add that I come from a very traditional background, where the idea of being a working mom was treated like an aberration. I did manage to work part-time once my kids were in grade school and then to increase my hours over the years until I was full time again.)

Add to this the problems I had sustaining a pregnancy --5 attempts in order to have 2 kids-- and then the wonderful c-section experiences. (NOT!!!!) It's no exaggeration to say that I felt I was being dragged into motherhood kicking and screaming. If ever there was proof that God works miracles, it's the fact that I have 2 handsome sons who managed to survive their upbringing at the hands of an inept and often impatient mom.

But this blog entry is really about the First Day School at our monthly meeting. We follow the practice of having the children sit with their parents for the first 15 minutes or so of meeting for worship, and then the First Day School teachers stand and the children follow them to the schoolhouse, a building located only about 10 yards or so from the meetinghouse.

If raising kids doesn't come naturally to me, baking does. I find baking --and cooking in general-- to be a very relaxing and restorative activity, provided I'm not rushing home from work and rushing to get dinner on the table. So, for the last couple of years or so, I've been in the habit of throwing some muffins or banana bread or something into the oven on Saturday evenings either just before or just after making dinner. Usually I use a mix and usually I doctor it up a bit, adding whole wheat flour, vanilla yogurt, and whatever else strikes my fancy. There's a full kitchen in our social room, and I place my baked goods on the counter there before entering the space reserved for meeting for worship.

I have to say that I've gotten very accustomed --and very fond-- of hearing our Young Friends outside as they leave First Day School running, skipping, and chattering, and re-enter the meetinghouse. They head straight for the muffins, of course, and I take great pleasure in imagining the kids devouring the muffins in the social room while meeting for worship is winding down.

One of the reasons I doctor up the muffin mixes is to stretch them so that there will be enough for the kids and also for the grown-ups after meeting for worship. We have a small meeting, and about 2 1/2 dozen muffins suffice so that everyone will get one.

But I've noticed that there has been no chatter to listen for the last couple of weeks. And last week there were more than a dozen muffins left over. That's when it hit me that our little monthly meeting is in trouble.

It seems that the usual complement of children never made it back after the summer. Some moms come with babies, and our generous clerk takes them down to First Day School and plays with them in a corner so that the moms can enjoy silent worship. Some weeks a few grade-school-aged kids are there, other times one of the high schoolers shows up. Howerver, it seems that several families have just never returned to our community.

I also happen to be the chair of the Financial Stewardship Committee. Where, I wonder, did Friends ever come up with such a committee name??? We meet every fall along with our faithful treasurer to devise the coming year's budget. We make the proposal at Meeting for Business in September or October and we ask committee chairs to submit their requests for funding. Then we send out what we call a "covenant letter" to members and regular attenders, asking them to pledge their contributions for the coming year, to be paid in a lump sum or quarterly or monthly, as they like.

The intangibles like a lack of children's chatter are beginning to coincide with a smaller number of pledges each year. The amount of money we've collected this year is falling short of our expenses.

Last month we made a presentation on the budget and --thanks to the wonders of Excel-- did a pie chart of where our 2008 expenses went. (We don't have final figures for 2009 yet, of course). Hard to argue with numbers. About 60% of the budget went to upkeep of the 19th-century meeting house and more than 30% to meet our financial obligations to Quartely and Yearly Meeting.

Only 1% of our 2008 budget was spent on activities of a directly spiritually nurturing nature.

As a matter of fact, last year we were able to assign very little funds to Worship & Ministry and First Day School. These two entities have been operating on a shoe string.

Tomorrow we'll hand out covenant letters and pledge forms for the 2010 financial year.

Sure hope I hear some chatter...because, frankly, I'm worried.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The crusader against insufficient questions and answers

Just finished reading Krista Tippett's book Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters--and How to Talk about It. The author hosts the weekly American Public Media's progam Speaking of Faith, which airs at 7:00am in the Philly area, so I rarely catch it--or if I do, it's usually the tail end. I usually try to sleep a bit later on Sundays. However, Tippett certainly know how to talk about religion. I don't know how to describe her style -- sort of rapturous metaphysical reality. Her writing sometimes bears the reader up on a warm, sensuous wave; other times it jolts the reader awake with a cold splash of truth expressed in surprising terms. Here are a few of her jeweled expressions:

Silence, embraced, stuns with its presence, its pregnant reality--a reality that does not negate reason and argument, but puts them in their place.

My mother tongue was Christianity.

I learned to be wary that summer of a pious approach to life that saw good intentions and righteous prayer as substitutes for planning and pragmatic action. This way of faith only deepened the despair it was called to heal.

This sentence could easily be entitled "The seeker's manifesto":

I have become a crusader against insufficient questions and answers that stand in, prematurely and destructively, for both justice and mystery.

[religious moderation contrasted with fanaticism]
Developing eyes and ears for moderation does not mean denying the importance of religion in human life. It means inviting and enabling the devout to bring the best of their tradition to bear in the world.

Each person's presence, action, and words in the world matter, however inconsequential they may seem against the backdrop of this evening's news. Religions remind us of this fact, this faith. Like any political or economic theory, this is empirically unverifiable. I choose it. Week after week, my conversation partners illuminate the imaginative and pragmatic possibilities of this choice. soon as human beings pick up a piece of the truth, they make their mark on it. They codify and literalize. They distort the rest of the picture to fit their chosen center.

In some mysterious way, "containing" religion [as opposed to a vaguely practiced spirituality] helps us unlock the sacred within us. It enables us to participate in the human encounter with the divine even when our own spirits are dry.

"Thin religion," as [Croation American theologian Miroslav Volf] describes it, is not religion lacking in zeal. It is religiosity reduced to a formula, and this can render the passion behind it very dangerous.

As a journalist I'm deeply aware of how strangely tricky it is to make goodness seem relevant, or at least as perversely thrilling as evil.

On the nature of religious mystery

Mystery resists absolutes.

If mystery is real, even more real than what we can touch with our five senses, uncertainty and ambiguity are blessed. We have to live with that, and struggle with its implications together. Mystery acknowledged is, paradoxically, humanizing.

Introduce mystery into any conversation and the conversation gentles; reality doesn't lose its sharp edges but the sharp edges are not all, not the end.

On our spiritual practice as we get older

I need to discern my tenets of truth constantly, know their texture, revisit and cleave to their assurances as keenly as I feel how they are changing and expanding as I grow older.

And there's a beautiful, startling oxymoron at the heart of this sentence:

From the beginning of my life of listening, I have observed fierce humility as a quality in the lives of people I admire.

This quote from
The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr, situated close to the end of the book, could be the credo of this fearless crusader:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true, or beautiful, or good, makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, could be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness. Reinhold Niebuhr
The Niebuhr quote invites us to let the light of the discerning Spirit shine even on the good that we try to do so that we see it from the perspective of God's eternity. We can not in our lifetime know all the consequences even of our good deeds. We rarely discover a definitive answer or solution to any problem that we tackle. But remembering this will keep us centered in that "fierce humility" described by Tippett.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Bumbling Quaker and God's Virtuoso

Oh right, this is my blog! I almost forgot. That's how insane work has been lately. But then the first half of the first semester is always the busiest time of the academic year...

Still, I wouldn't miss my annual gig as the token Quaker on campus for anything. Every year about this time in September, Campus Ministry sponsors World Religions Day and invites pastors and lay members of various religious denominations to represent their respective faith traditions at a sort of religion fair held from 11:30 to 1:30 -- the two-hour slot when lunch traffic passes through the center of the campus. I think today was my 4th year representing the Religious Society of Friends. As is my wont, I filled my half of the display table with past issues of Friends Journal and Peaceworks that passers-by were welcome to take. I also brought some books near and dear to my heart, such as Faith and Practice, Quaker Spirituality, and that whimsical opuscule The Quaker Way. Pink Dandelion's
The Quakers --A Very Short History figured in the mix as well this time.

Does it ever happen to you, gentle reader, to see a girl and to say to yourself, She looks like a Susan? Well, the quintessentially clean-cut young man in the white shirt and tie with whom I shared a table today just looked like a Justin. A member of a local evangelical church, he's a student in his senior year on our campus where he also leads a weekly Bible study group. Energetic, earnest, and amiable, Justin also radiates an unwavering certainty in the Truth of his convictions. His unabashed declarations towered over my humble, groping explanations. We were definitely the odd couple of the religion fair this year.

No surprise, of course, that the first question Justin asked me was about the place of the Bible in Quaker faith. I sure wish that one of those bad Quakers from the Bad Quaker Bible Blog had been there to answer that one in my place! Still, I did as well as I could, explaining that Friends revere the Bible and find it to be a source of great inspiration and guidance. I said that during silent meeting for worship a verse from one of the Gospels often pops into my mind and I meditate on it and sometimes give vocal ministry on its message. I noted that many Quakers also read and contemplate the holy books of other faith traditions, such as the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita. And of course I quoted Robert Barclay who said that Scriptures "are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself." I said that traditionally Friends have held the Spirit to be the supreme authority, and I remembered the words of the George Fox Song: "...for the Truth is more holy than the Book, said he."

Prior to asking his question, Justin had been listening closely as I answered questions posed by a student as part of her class assignment. I had been telling her about "the still, small voice" (1 Kings 19:12) and about how Quakers believe in turning down the noise and quieting the mind so as to hear the voice of God in our heart. Justin launched into a virtuoso--but most amiable-- refutation of my "Truth is more holy than the Book" doctrine, quoting from both the old and new parts of said Book and duly citing chapter and verse. (How does one memorize all those chapter and verse numbers?) Passages about the deceitfulness of the heart and the depravity of man came cascading, and the admonition that Scripture alone can teach us the Truth.... He trounced me soundly, I must admit.

I asked about those Bible passages that speak of God's wrath, saying that I did not believe in a wrathful God and that I think those passages reflect the fact that human beings did the writing of Scripture, injecting their own (mis)understandings of God's nature, determined by the times they lived in and the events they experienced. Justin replied that those passages remind us of things we prefer not to think about and that they express just how much God abhors sin and evil. He had a valid point. Never did he say that God abhors the sinner. On the contrary, he spoke of God's graciousness and mercy available to us through faith in Jesus.I believe that Justin indeed possesses what he professes.

Listening to him brought back memories of a time filled with certainty, when security emanated not so much from Bible verses as from catechism questions and Church doctrine ably taught in parochial school and "from the altar." A bygone time...but one that leaves no wistfulness behind.

And I thought how concrete, how rock-solid was all that he said...and how airy and undefined my explanations must have sounded! How much more substance a seeker would take away from a conversation with Justin! But then, how does one explain what it's like to sit in the silence and breathe in the Spirit? How do you describe the sudden burst of joy when the heart recognizes the voice of the Master and Teacher?

Why didn't I remember the verse from the Song of Solomon?
Listen! My lover! Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.
The heart is not deceitful nor is it deceived at meeting for worship. The heart when stilled has perfect pitch.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I recently discovered that I can download mp3 versions of some of my favorite old, old songs and listen to them wherever I like on my Sony Zen Stone.

So...I know I'm really dating myself, but here are two of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard...

"Marieke," by Jacques Brel

Unfortunately, my number 2 song, "The Last Time I Saw Her Face" by Gordon Lightfoot, doesn't seem to be available on YouTube sung by its creator. (Glen Campbell's interpretation is OK, but just not the same). So here's another Lightfoot song that ties for 2nd place, "Softly..."

Alas, as the Québécois song writer Michel Rivard sings:

Je n'aime pas la nostalgie
C'est une maîtresse inassouvie
aux yeux trop bleus.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Celebrating my birthday, a weight on my shoulders

Actually, I was at my 6am Body Pump class doing squats with 12 kg (26.5 lb) resting on my trapezius muscles. Even just a couple of years ago I would never have imagined that I'd enjoy a cardio/weight lifting class so much. Hey, what better way to start off the first day of the rest of your life?

Of course a good many of the loved ones who used to help me celebrate my birthday are gone now. I miss my mom especially. My two sons are both suddenly out of the house (one of them on the road), but I got phone calls from them. I left the house before my husband got up and could wish me happy birthday, but he called me at work during the day.

And then I must thank God for the loved ones who have come more recently into my life and who made my birthday special: cyberpals in Finland and Australia, and a colleague who took me out to lunch.

As you get older you learn to appreciate the quality rather than the quantity!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Well Toto, looks like we're not on Bainbridge Island anymore

Gazing out my dining room window I don't see Eagle Harbor, but I do see lots of well-watered greenery thanks to all the storms we've been having.

I've had a month to readjust to life at work and at home after the serenity of Bainbridge Island and the enchantment of Victoria and Butchart Gardens. A week's getaway. But what a week!

At least there are pictures:

Since then the CIA has told us more about its creative ways of making people talk, health care reform has gone Where the Wild Things Are, and the students are back on campus.

Yep, normal life again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Relaxing beside the shimmering waters of Eagle Harbor

...on Bainbridge Island, at the home of friends.

We drove our rental car onto the ferry this morning and crossed the Puget Sound. Had breakfast on board the ferry, too. Coffee, Total cereal, and milk aboard the ferry.

They've been having a hot spell up here in Seattle territory, but fortunately, it's cooler this week. Really enjoying the salt air.

Bainbridge Island reminds me a bit of New England, but our friends tell us that the weather is much more temperate. Beautiful greenery, small, unique shops that you can walk to...I could seriously consider retiring up here!

We visited the Bainbridge Historical Museum this afternoon and watched a news video made in the 70's about predator humans who were capturing the Orca whales to sell them to laboratories and aquariums, thus disrupting pods and families. There was also a moving exhibit on the forced relocation of Japanese Americans in 1942. There's been a large Japanese community on the island since the 19th century, and Bainbridge was one of the first places in the country to comply with Executive Order 9066. Now a monument is being constructed to commemorate the relocated Japanese citizens of the island.

Pres. Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1988, granting reparations to the Japanese survivors of the relocation. The law declared that "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership," were the cause.

...Less than 15 years later, we were doing it again at Gitmo.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Live from PYM Annual Sessions

Here I am at Annual Sessions, being held at De Sales University in the beautiful rolling hills of Penn's Woods...

Scilla Wahrhaftig and I just held our interest group discussion session on torture. Bob Greene from Princeton Friends and Harry (can't remember his last name) from Crosswick Friends attended. Hey, that's 2 more people than showed up last year!!

After viewing NYYM's video minute on torture and spending some time in worship, the conversation quickly moved from Guantánamo to much bigger questions of poor schools and poverty in the inner cities in general and how to build the "political will" to do something about it. It was great to meet Bob Greene finally. I'm going to keep in touch with him and see what sorts of outreach they are doing in the Princeton area.

It's been lovely chatting with Scilla. Came all by myself last year and didn't talk to anyone at all, besides the fact that no one attended my workshop :-(

This building is very modern and amazing. I'm blogging on my laptop using the wireless, but there are 6 public PCs available, four of which have been commandeered by some very young campers who are playing video games. The cafeteria is new and shiny, and I made myself a yummy salad for lunch ... there was even ice cream! Really looking forward to dinner.

Couldn't resist making a couple of purchases at Quaker Books.

A great kickoff to vacation!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

URGENT - Call your senator: GITMO could remain open indefinitely!

Correct me if I'm wrong. Didn't President Obama issue an executive order on his first day in office mandating that Gitmo be CLOSED within the year?

What is Senator James Inhofe's (R-OK) problem? Has he bothered to read the reports of the Combat Status Review Tribunals? Or the testimony of Lieut. Col. Stephen Abraham before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in May 2008? ("The Mistakes of Guantánamo and the Decline of America's Image")

Of the more than 700 individuals who have passed through that fortress of shame known as Guantánamo Bay Prison, only a handful actually have credible accusations against them. Which hasn't kept 200 of them from being incarcerated for over 7 years...or tortured.

Or maybe the senator simply believes his own fear mongering...

When I was as kid, they used to tell us that only the commie pinkos rounded up people and threw them into prison without charge. How do we dare lecture other countries about human rights abuses with Gitmo still open? The Statue of Liberty does not stand for illegal detention and torture (no pun intended).

Please call your Senators and tell them to vote against S.A. 1559, which would PERMANENTLY prevent the President from transferring any detainee from Gitmo FOR ANY PURPOSE, whether to stand trial in a US court or to be housed at another facility. Remind them that the abuses that occurred in the prison in Guantanamo shamed our nation and you hope that they will not stand in the way of closing that prison. Voting against this amendment will make it possible to close Guantanamo.

If you live in Pennsylvania:
Sen Casey's Washington office: Phone: (202) 224-6324
or Toll Free: (866) 802-2833

Sen Specter's Washington office: 202-224-4254

Otherwise, check

Here are more details from NRCAT:

Dear Friends:

Senator Inhofe has offered an amendment, S.A. 1559, to the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization bill (S. 1390) that would PERMANENTLY prevent the President from transferring any detainee in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to a prison in the United States - whether for the purpose of trying that detainee in a court of law, or for the purpose of closing Guantanamo.

As you all know, Guantanamo is widely recognized as a symbol of our government's use of torture. Senator Inhofe's amendment would make it much more difficult for our country to close Guantanamo - preserving the symbol of torture and needlessly tarnishing our country's reputation.

Please call your Senators and tell them to vote against S.A. 1559. Remind them that the abuses that occurred in the prison in Guantanamo shamed our nation and you hope that they will not stand in the way of closing that prison. Voting against this amendment will make it possible to close Guantanamo.

You can reach your Senators by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and asking to speak with one of your Senators. Then call back and ask to speak to your other Senator.

Thank you for all you have done to end U.S.-sponsored torture.


Linda Gustitus, President
Richard Killmer, Executive Director


Thanks for the free clip-art to the Just A Touch Art Studio of Jonesboro, Georgia;

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Warped Tour Experience

The Goodnight Anthem, featuring my son Tony on guitar and vocals, played at Warped Tour today....

at the Susquehanna Bank Center,

and I was there (as you can see, I found the Greenpeace tent). I got in for free, even got a VIP wristband, because I'm the lead singer's mom and the band's manager is a really nice guy...and it probably didn't hurt that I cooked dinner for them last night.

Took the PATCO high-speed line into New Jersey for the first time. Great mode of transportation! No reason at all to drive to Camden. Besides, parking at the Susquehanna Bank Center costs $20. Round trip from Philly to Camden on PATCO costs $2.50.

Here's The Goodnight Anthem's tent...

and their merch. That's short for merchandise. You can't have a band nowadays without an inventory of sweatshirts and other stuff. We taught this generation well...

I took a vacation day to be there, amid a mass of youthful humanity, with groupies walking about and carrying signs announcing the time and venue (there were 6 stages) of their band. I'd like to say that it brought back memories of band extravaganzas of my youth, but I wasn't into the rock scene too much. The Greenpeace and Warped Eco Initiative tents did remind me of vegetarian and other whole earth festivals I attended. Warped Eco is an outreach effort by Phillipe Cousteau's (grandson of Captain Jacques Coustean) Earth Eco International environmental organization. Made me a bit sad, too. Here we are, some 30 years later, our earth sicker, still trying to get people to change their ways. Clearly, my generation just didn't work hard enough. With "peace, love, and higher consciousness" on our lips, we unconsciously fell prey to the gospel of greed-is-good...

At t-minus 30 minutes until their performance (11:45 am), I made my way into the main amphitheater. TGA would be performing on the SmartPunk stage. While they were setting up on stage right, a ska band called Streetlight Manifesto was playing stage-left, designated as the stage. That's the system for getting so many bands through on a single day, one band sets up stage right while another performs stage left. Very efficient. The ska band had 2 horns, 2 saxes, and a trombone, besides other assorted instruments. The lead singer had his left arm in a sling -- must have tangled with a SmartAlec punk. I enjoyed their driving, brassy energy. I felt every decibel vibrate through my rib cage.

Tony has been dreaming of this day since he first picked up a guitar. I can still remember when he was about 12 trying to persuade us to let him skip summer day camp to go with friends to Warped Tour. I must have asked him to repeat the name of the thing several times. Mom's just don't get it.

Tony's big moment finally arrived. "Hi, how are you all today? We're The Goodnight Anthem!" Fans stood screaming at the foot of the stage, pulsing their hands in the air to the beat of the music. And "Thank you all so much!" and "Give it up for yourselves for being so awesome!" after each song, just like a real entertainer.

20 minutes of dreams come true.

"C'mon, get your hands up!"

From left to right, Joe, Tony, Max, Jimmy

The birth of The Goodnight Anthem (in our basement)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Don't you have anything better to do?"

It was 5:00pm on Torture Accountability Action Day, and I was standing at the corner of Lancaster and Bryn Mawr with a ragtag little bunch from the Bryn Mawr Peace Coalition. I had brought NRCAT bumper stickers and brochures, as well as the petition calling for a Commission of Inquiry, ready to scrape up a few more signatures.

We got a few friendly honks from after-work commuters and a couple of angry taunts -- the usual. A passing motorist yelled at us: "Don't you have anything better to do?" OK, I know it's a rhetorical question, but I'd have loved to lob him a few responses:

--No, my housework is all finished for the day.

--No, my place of work eliminated overtime.

--No, I taught my dog to walk himself.

--Yes, but why waste the first sunny day all week?

--Yes, and I'm doing it!

A police office came over and took our organizer's name and address. Apparently BMPC had failed to apply for a permit or something. He asked us if we were planning a peaceful demonstration. The question was ludicrous. A couple of the demonstrators were senior citizens propped up on canes. Maybe the signs we were holding resembled lethal weapons?

One of the members had a very large cow bell that she rang intermittently to get the attention of passersby. Sort of reminded me of a Salvation Army volunteer at Christmas time, except that she wasn't standing next to a donation bucket. In fact, next to her was a huge boy-like figure made of Legos brought by one of the other members. Apparently it had been used as some sort of toy advertisement. Sure was colorful.

So, how did I ever get into the torture-protesting business? I used to be someone who just minded her own business. Writing and calling my public officials wasn't something I was in the habit of doing, let alone taking to the streets.

It all started a few months after 911 when a columnist in the Philadelphia Inquirer posed the not-so-rhetorical question, "If we capture any al-Qaeda operatives, will we be tough enough to torture them to get the information we need?" I couldn't believe I was reading this. Will we be tough enough to torture? If I had been playing a word association game and someone had said the word "torture" to me, I would have instinctively responded, "medieval." I assumed that torture had gone out with the rack, the meat hook, and the Iron Maiden, except for some weird, kinky types, deranged criminals, shady paramilitary police in tropical countries, and --yes-- politically motivated religious fanatics. But that an American journalist would even discuss the possibility of torturing suspects --even suspects who hated our guts enough to perpetrate mass murder-- well, I just couldn't swallow it. That very week I sent contributions to both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, even though I had never been a member of either organization before. And I wrote a letter to the columnist telling him what I thought (it got published).

The run-up to the Iraq invasion came next, and I didn't really think too much about the torture question or read very closely the stories that were starting to surface about detainees dumped into Guantánamo Bay prison. Then the Abu Ghraib photos got my (and the world's) attention. I remember writing a letter to then Secretary of State Colin Powell (I still thought he was a decent type back then). After that I started "connecting the dots," as they say, following every story about US-sponsored torture I could find. Had to resort to the "alternative press" to get most of it, just as I had had to count on alternative news sources for anything close to the truth about the US invasion of Iraq. I met a Presbyterian pastor during one of my trips to Ghost Ranch who told me about the organization no2torture. That organization led me to NRCAT and then to the QUIT Conference, which I attended with other F/friends in June 2007. I joined with others who felt similar outrage...and eventually I ended up here, on the corner of Lancaster and Bryn Mawr.

After all, it was Torture Accountability Action Day, and I just couldn't think of anything better to do.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Out of Chaos, Learning

On Friday the new class of doctoral nursing students came to the library for an instruction session. I had 90 minutes to tell them about the resources essential to their pursuit of a Ph.D. and to instruct them in how to use the software wonder known as EndNote.

As usual, I planned a well organized, interactive session and, as often happens, I lost control of the session after the first half hour. Many of the students began searching their individual topics in the online resources, tuning me out until they hit a snag, at which point they'd look up, notice my presence and ask me a question.

As usual, I immediately began beating myself up after the session for not directing it more effectively. I thought of the items left unclear or not covered at all.

Then I realized that what happened is exactly what should have happened. These were mature, enthusiastic adult learners. Of course they were going to dive right into those new resources! They were thrilled with the information that was available to them and asked lots of questions. The session would not have been more effective had I forced them to stick to my arbitrary structure. Either way, the students will be back in touch with many more questions over the course of their doctoral program.

Sometimes you just have to let the learning happen. I think that's what student-centered teaching is all about.
Image from Soo-Hyoung's Library Clipart

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What's for breakfast? Have to ask the committee

I'm sitting by the dining room window. A lovely breeze is coming in, the sun is shining, birds are singing, and very few cars have been driving by. A serenely quiet Saturday morning.

May has been a lean month for blogging. I think I'm suffering a bit from burnout, between work and the interfaith forum I'm helping to organize (more about that later). Every time I sit down to write, no more than a sentence or two will come to me. I was listening to the radio last weekend and someone was talking about burnout. They said the cause was not too much work but rather boredom. I can see that. My life seems to have devolved into a never-ending cycle of committee work.

Committee work has to be one of the most diabolically vapid inventions of the modern era. I mean, wasn't France ruled by a committee during the Reign of Terror? You go to a meeting, you get your assignment, you work on your assignment, to bring it to the next committee meeting, your colleagues tell you how it should be tweaked, you tweak it, you bring it back to the committee, etc., etc. Or else you bring your assignment to the next committee meeting, your colleagues are happy with it, and as a reward you get a new assignment.
(at left, Le Comité de Salut Public)

If you're on a tolerably good committee (a "good committee" is an oxymoron), your colleagues are cordial and fairly reasonable. If you're on a nightmare committee, there are a few colleagues who drag their feet and whine. That's how it is where I work. No one one yells at anybody. That wouldn't be civilized. People who yell aren't "nice." Instead, we have the Reign of Passive Aggression: individuals who hem and haw as though they have a superior idea that the rest of us are just incapable of grasping and then who finally deign to join in the consensus after striking a martyr pose to make us feeling guilty for twisting their arm. Anyway, I usually emerge from such meetings wishing the guillotine would put a swift end to it.

Much as I love my Quaker faith and practice, I have to admit that the downside of it is all the committee work. (I console myself with the thought that at least we don't have to try to lead our spiritual lives according to religious decrees emanating from some central authority...might be restful now and then, though..) Right now I have some long-term projects as part of my participation on one committee, projects that I haven't been able to work on much because of the interfaith forum project. Which leads me to projects, another modern invention. But that will be for another time. Right now I'm hungry and I need to ask the committee what's for breakfast.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hooked on endorphins

...or, Thank God for Bodypump

For the last four or five months I've been taking Bodypump class faithfully twice a week, Saturday morning at 9:00 and Wednesday morning (groan...) at 6:00. I also try to go to the gym a day or two between classes to exercise a bit, even if it's much less of a workout.

If anyone had told me even a year ago that I'd be working out with weights, I'd have said, "Yeah, sure." But I'm really amazed at how much I love the class. According to the instructor, Bodypump was developed by trainers in New Zealand. During the 10 musical tracks, you use barbells to work each major muscle group, with a few push-ups and crunches thrown in for good measure.

There's a supply of bars, clips, and plates (1, 2.5, 5, and 10 kg) available in the room. I started very modestly, tentatively, with a total of just 5 lb (2.5 kg) on the bar, as I had never used weights before. You increase and decrease the weights throughout the session, packing on heavier plates when working the larger muscle groups. Over the course of the weeks and months, you gradually increase your overall weight by small increments. The idea isn't to build huge muscles, just lean ones. At this point, I'm using a total of 22 lb (10 kg) when working the larger muscle groups.

And exercise with weights is very good for osteoporosis too.

The class must really kick up my metabolism rate. On Saturdays after Bodypump, I'm ravenously hungry the entire day as I run around doing my usual errands and chores. I find I'm less hungry on Wednesdays, probably because I spend the day at my mostly sedentary job. But on both days I can detect a dramatic upswing in my mood. I just feel better about myself and have a more positive outlook in general. For instance, a colleague sent me some resentful, negative emails yesterday. It slowly got me down, until by evening I was feeling pretty demoralized. Had yesterday been a Bodypump day, not only would I have laughed her off, but I might even have thought of some funny riposte to get her off my back. Such is the power of those endorphins released by vigorous exercise!

So, in addition to caffeine, I'm now happily hooked on endorphins too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Train Ride to Yesterday

OK, no sense trying to hide it. I’m cranky in the morning until I get my first cup of coffee. I’m not sure if this is a uniquely 20th/21st-century malady or if it was known to medical science somewhat earlier.To aggravate matters, I started taking a medication about a year ago that requires me to wait what seems like an interminable length of time before absorbing my first dose of caffeine.

Usually I drive to work. I listen to music and stay clear of innocent bystanders until I've gotten the caffeine in my blood stream up to a minimum level. On days like today, however when my son needs the car, I take the train. My husband drops me off at the station in barely enough time to buy my ticket, and then I try my luck at getting my day's first cup of coffee at the espresso bar next door.

The 6:57am clientele

What little space there is near the service counter is obstructed by a gaggle of giggling young women and guys of various ages. They’re having too much fun for this time of the morning. They order double espressos or mint-mocha-lattes-with-an-extra-shot-of-espresso-and-skim-milk, and other beverages that take a lot of time to prepare...bagel and egg sandwiches too – toasted, of course. The convivial proprietor –-an essential quality if you’re going to make your living running a coffee bar (or any kind of bar)— chats and jokes with them. Meanwhile, a diminutive, middle-aged woman with a backpack stands there, desperate to order just a simple cup of coffee before her train departs. Needless to say, many a time I've boarded the R5 javaless. Fortune smiled this morning, however, and I was able to make my purchase and fix my 16 ounces in time.

The view from the train window

It's spring and the trees have sprouted delicate, yellow-green leaves. Others are decked out in stellar white blossoms. What are they doing in the picture with a sterile train track embedded in gray stones that extends into infinity? The scene at the window reminds me of those television commercials where the product glows in Technicolor against a monochrome background….

A song comes into my head, an old one that Peter, Paul and Mary used to sing…

This train don’t carry no gamblers, this train.
This train don't carry no gamblers, this train.

This train don't carry no gamblers,
no crap shooters, no midnight ramblers,
This train don't carry no ga
mblers, this train.

This train, don't carry no jokers, well, this train.

This train, don't carry no jokers, well, this train.
This train, don't carry no jokers, no high-tone women, no cigar smokers,
This train, don't carry no jokers, well, this train.

It’s an old African American spiritual -- or is it a Woody Guthry song? I'll have to look that one up.
Anyway, I’m transported back to the 70's and so intent on listening to PP&M that I almost miss my stop....

This train, done carried my mother,
My mother, my father, my sister and my brother,

This train, done carried my mother, well this train.

This train, she's bound for glory,

If you want to get to heaven then you've got to be holy, well
This train, she's bound for glory, well, this train.

I get off this train in a much better mood than when I boarded.
A commute to work by way of yesterday is just what I needed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

No one will ever mistake me for a real translator

...but it's sure fun trying. Andrée Chedid is one of my favorite French writers. She was born in 1920...So, if my mother were still alive, she and Chedid would be the same age. And this is one of my favorite poems by Chedid, published in a collection entitled Fraternité de la parole (1975).

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Nonviolent Stand

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a production of the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the university where I work. It's a one-woman show based on the title character's journals and emails.

In case you've forgotten, or in case you never knew, Rachel Corrie was an undergraduate from Olympia, WA. At the age of 23, Rachel joined the International Solidarity Movement, an organization that advocates nonviolently for Palestinians in the occupied territories, and went to Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, where she lived with a Palestinian family. She taught English to the children, but mostly she was there as an international observer. And what she observed disturbed her. Rachel came to love the family she was staying with very much. On March 16, 2003, Rachel was run over by a bulldozer operated by the Israeli military near the family's house and was killed.

Since then, Rachel has been used for political purposes. She has been worshiped as a martyr and vilified as a terrorist supporter. The first New York production of the play had to be canceled after, among other things, demands were made that this vignette of an activist's brief life be balanced by stories of persons who lost their lives to terrorism. Even at the production I attended, a faculty member was asked to "contextualize" the play before we saw it...why? If members of the audience have chosen either to remain comatose or to listen to only one side of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is a formal "contextualization" really going to broaden their understanding? I can do my own contextualization, thank you. I think that Rachel's words should be allowed to speak for themselves.

I saw a young woman who could not help but see that there was a bigger world out there beyond Olympia and who struggled to understand if there was a place for her in that big world and, if so, just what that was. The young college student's diary entries ring true. Even though it's now so long ago, I still remember.

Sure, she was attracted to guys, but she refused to let having or not having a boyfriend define who she was. She wanted to do more with her free time than shop at the malls. She read and actually tried to apply the philosophies and ideas of the authors to her everyday life. I remember that too ...

She took a stand that many disagree with, and she knew that. Everyday I see so many young people afraid to take a stand, afraid to get involved or even to express a strong opinion, afraid of displeasing the powers-that-be. We teach them not to take chances, lest they imperil their possibility of getting good grades and eventually a good job. As Rachel reads messages from her parents, I hear the fear in their voices. They had a daughter who dared to do much more than simply disagree with a professor or a boss. As a parent, I can't even begin to imagine how they feared for her safety, yet they let her make her own decisions. Maybe Rachel was right. Maybe she was wrong. But she certainly did not live life on the sidelines.

Nor did she pick up a gun.

Had she lived, would all those brave ideals have faded? Would she have become a rebel-turned-CEO like Jane Fonda, or would her activism have continued to evolve?

Rachel dared to be an active element in an absurd world. For that alone, I count her brave.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Empty Tomb

I arose and am still with you, alleluia.
You have laid your hand upon me, alleluia.
How wonderful is now your knowledge, alleluia, alleluia.
Lord, you have probed me and known me:
You know when I sit and when I stand.

(From the Introit, Mass on Easter Sunday morning)

On this is day you celebrate my triumph over death. During the past week you have retold aloud the story of how my friends deserted me, how no one lifted their voice to protest that I was innocent. You have seen me scourged. You have walked the stations of the cross with me. You were there when they laid me in the tomb.

On this day you celebrate the return of the Light, my return to life.

But I am still in the dungeon, still subjected to scourgings. Thanks to your modern scientia, electric probes now know me. My captors decide when I sit and for how long I stand. Again and again I am laid unconscious and bleeding in the prison-tomb. You still do not lift up your voice to save me. Today, as then, my ordeal is authorized by governments. Their officials deny my presence or my torments, even as they invent new laws to keep me here.

Free me now. Make me rise triumphant from this grave.

I too want to sing alleluia.

--Easter 2006

The scourgings have at last stopped...along with the probings, the stress positions, the sexual abuse.

But the victims have not yet been restored to life. And many of those who have been released from Guantánamo, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib still carry the imprint of their sufferings.

The tomb is not yet empty.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Of Facebook and Sound Bite Friendships

For the rest, what we call friends and friendships are nothing but acquaintanceships and familiarities formed by
some chance or convenience, by means of which our souls are bound to each other. In the friendship I speak of, our souls mingle and blend with each other so completely that they efface the seam that joined them, and cannot find it again.

Michel de Montaigne, Of Friendship

I seem to be having an existential moment with regard to all the faces on my Facebook page and wondering in what sense all these people are my "friends." No, no one's an enemy. I just question what the Facebook folks really mean by "friend." I can't say that I can remember the last time I asked one of my real friends a question like "which breakfast cereal are you?"

So...just what is Facebook, especially in its new twitter-like form? A way of telling the world in shorthand what you like, what music you listen to, what cause you espouse? And do all those kind faces really care? Do any of them really want to know what makes me tick? I get scant response to anything I post that I care passionately about.

Recently I was persuaded to become a "fan" of my place of employment, which now has a Facebook page. Next thing you know, I was "friending" co-workers. Am I the only one who draws a distinction between an affable working relationship and a friendship? I answer emails from students and faculty literally night and day, 7 days a week. Am I wrong to want my own niche in cyberspace wherein to meet and talk with people who have more in common with me that what I eat for breakfast...who want to know more about me than some obscure event in my childhood that I unearthed while completing an inane list of 30 questions...who want to read a bit more at length about something that I'm intensely interested in beyond a sound bite?

Michel, qu'en diriez-vous ?

Flash! Madison Avenue invents a new disease: Blog Smog (the condition you get from being at home blogging all day with your mouth closed)
...Dentyne is the cure

Friday, April 3, 2009

"You're worth more than the worst act of your life"

A decided benefit of working at a university is the opportunity to attend cultural events and lectures by provocative and often moving personalities. I've had two such opportunities in the past 10-days. On Tuesday of last week I heard death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean speak, and just last evening I attended a performance of the controversial play My Name is Rachel Corrie.

I don't know what I expected when I went to see Sister Helen. What did you go out to see? A celebrity surrounded by reporters and screaming fans? No, those who are surrounded by reporters and screaming fans are on Entertainment Tonight. Or something like that. I saw a not too tall, sturdy, gray-haired woman, soberly dressed in a business suit. She was standing in front of a table where her two books, Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents were for sale. I walked right by the evening's guest speaker, not realizing that she was the one conversing naturally yet earnestly with some students. True, there was a tall young woman standing nearby, apparently Sister Helen's manager or handler or something, shaking her head and remarking to another attendee how hard it was to keep her client on schedule....

Sister was introduced by a former prisoner, a man who had served 20 years --12 of them in solitary confinement-- for a murder he never committed. Finally exonerated, he emerged broken by his long years of incarceration and began touring with Sister Helen as a way to help his spirit heal. In his introduction he talked about how, since the death penalty was given the go-ahead by the Supreme Court in 1977, the condemned had no one to be their voice...until Sister Helen. Then she took the floor.

I was captivated by the rich musicality, the lilting Louisiana cadence of that voice. Sister Helen told of how she grew up as child of white privilege, the daughter of a well-to-do attorney. She became a nun and dedicated herself to the service of the poor, although she did not know any poor people personally and was unlikely ever to meet any in the suburbs. Then, as she put it, one day she woke up. She took the commands of Jesus seriously. Moving to a neighborhood where needy people lived, she began to care for them. One day, an acquaintance walked up to her carrying a clipboard and casually asked if she would like to correspond with a death row inmate. "Sure," she said, never dreaming how that first letter would change her whole life's focus. "God can be pretty sneaky," she remarked.

As a member of a local Amnesty International group, I regularly sign petitions on behalf of prisoners in the U.S. and elsewhere who are facing execution, and I've become acquainted with abolitionists here and abroad. However, Sister Helen's twofold ministry puts her in a category all her own. Stretching out her arms, she illustrated that capital punishment is like the cross, with the families of the murdered on one side and the prisoners condemned to death on the other. She made the difficult spiritual journey through what she frankly called cowardice toward the deep conviction that she could not be faithful to her ministry if she limited it to caring for the prisoners while neglecting to reach out to the families of their victims. She told the heart-rending story of her first encounter with the father of a murder victim. "You have no idea," he told Sister Helen, "what pressure we are under to demand the death sentence. But I'm a kind person..." He did not want to compound the killing of his son by killing the love inside of himself.

"The art of love, " Sister Helen concluded, "is is not letting the love in us die."

Sister spoke for a little over an hour, talking about her work and urging us to take it up also. What will always stay with me are the words of blessed assurance that Sister Helen spoke to that first prisoner who could not believe that God would ever forgive him: "I told him that he was worth more than the worst thing he did in his life.... We are all worth more than the worst act of our life."