Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Friday, December 29, 2006

God is not my Security Blanket nor my Buddy

Oh Friends. There is such a temptation to join the club ... to pretend that God loves thee as an individual, and that God has some kind of kind faced kid to hold thy hand... I don't think it is that easy. God loves, as we all love, in that God is in that which is that in us that loves, but some external father who will help when the world turns against thee ... if thee accepts that Yeshua was Jesus ... well, in order for me to believe that, I would have, not only to turn off that brain that God gave me, ignore the history of my mother's people, but allow myself to knowingly lie to myself, and frankly, I don't think that would cure what ails me.
Folks who should have been dear to me, my immediate family, have lied to me about love from the earliest of my memories, I have no close friends who have not betrayed my trust and friendship ... and so, I don't think that placing my faith in a mythical idol, the objectification of a remarkable rabbi, will replace that love that I deserved, as we all deserve. Not having had that love does not make me turn against God, because I don't kid myself to believe that myth is truth, rather myth describes truth, and pretty poorly at that.
So, I bear the pain of loneliness as long as I can ... muddle through, and that is that. I try to find joy in spite of the consciousness of pain and though I have lost hope, I don't loose faith.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

For Pam and all who asked to see my flat after the Thanksgiving photo of Mum's house...

Me flat looking south
Me flat looking north
Me flat

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dear Friends, a seasonal apology

There are a number of blogging friends and Friends I feel I have neglected for a while. I must admit, as Thanksgiving approaches, and Christmas, I feel a growing sense sadness, as being rather alienated from my family, these times are particularly lonely. One grows up with a sort of programmed reliance on these days, and well... I tend to withdraw a little.
Anyway, I look forward to being back in the mundane part of the year soon when being alone for long periods of time is just the normal life in New York. On a happier note, a good friend is dropping in from England with his daughter for a few weeks, just after Christmas, on a less good note, that means I have had to give the house a really good try at a cleaning, and I now can almost see the old place again...
Happy Christmas all,

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Should Friends Let Friends Support Disney?

A Christmas approaches, and Friends look for gentle gifts for their kids, avoiding war toys, some might look to Disney... As a plain Friend, I try and avoid clothes made by children, or for wages that are unfairly low, or produced in violation of standards of fair treatment. Disney has often been the object of expressed concern by human rights groups, for example, in China Disney has violated China's labor laws by forcing workers to work overtime, from 11 - 16 hours a day, for 6 - 7 days, paying workers 13.5 - 36 cents an hour when the minimum wage in China, to meet the needs of a small family, is 87 cents an hour...
In July of 2006, workers in the Chinese factory which produces materials for Disney rioted, as they had no effective way to protest the conditions, delayed payment of salary, forced overtime, poor quality meals in their factories - for which they must give a quarter of their salary..., I don't know how other Quakers feel about Disney, but I regard supporting Disney to be similar to wearing cotton back in slave days.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Bless them, because all ye hard nosed, mean spirited, well organized, evil minded out there will then rob them blind.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Routed in History or Myth or Eldership or Adrift

Bless James Mitchner. I've been cleaning up the terrible house, a year late doing so ... and there in the ruins I found a book, its cover torn, binding stained with salt water, and as I began to read it found my bloodstained fingerprints on almost ever page. I first read the book working under sail, hands torn from rough rigging and old wood ... the book I found is Chesapeake. As I have been rereading it, I found myself weeping, and it took a while to realize why. The stories of Quakers in the book remind me of my youth, but not my present in the Religious Society of Friends.

Another, older Friend and I often talk about the changes that have occurred in our community of faith, she reflects that the spirit is changed, noticeably gone is the humor, the bending towards each other. There is so much more we can't put our fingers upon. This book might help.

When I was a child there was more of a continuation of families long in our community, and so our history was a finger touch away. Grandchildren of Conductors on the Underground Railroad spoke to us directly of their grandparent's experiences, those who had resisted the World War One draft told us about times when Quakers still went to jail for refusal to fight, Quakers who were Conscientious Objectors told us of how they were subject to medical experiment, or how they carried stretchers in battle in the Pacific and that they did so because, well "... I never gave it much thought, I was a Quaker, so that is what I did."

Today, several things are changed. Like much in the city, generations flow through our streets without pausing to put down roots. I walk past neighborhoods looking at old people thinking, like me, they are left behind, and the young people crammed into subdivided flats will not miss us, or the neighborhood as they leave without a mark, a pause, a thought. Our meetings are starved for elders with a memory of our history to pass on, and many young people have no interest at all in what they have to say. In America today, history is a meaningless story.

Why is this the case? Perhaps it is because, we, their parents generations are a generation which failed. We were raised by heroic generations, who stood as Quakers against Hitler while also standing against war. They were raised by a generation who stood up to the World War One draft, and they were raised by a generation who stood against the first thrusting of American navies into the Pacific, the Spanish American War, and they were raised by the generation who stood against slavery, generations who grew to oppose slavery as their great grandparents stood with Mary Dyer on the pillory and gallows ... and now?

We inherited this huge thing, this gentle call to be heroes. And, when we were young, we thought we were. But, we also rebelled against so much we began to rebel against the gentle rooting of history in our elders. The general youth culture began to find voice in Quakerism. Add to this, the first generation of a fully closed frontier, an America with no growth, where in order to keep the lid on, thirty-five of every American is either in jail, on bail awaiting trial, or on probation. This massive internment does not include the jails in which we place our elderly, calling it elder care. We questioned the hierarchy which led us to war, and by placing it in terms of a new world we allowed our elders to be cast aside by brash youth who were adrift and unconnected to our history as Quakers. Add more to this? The constant drift of people seeking a place in the uprooted culture of America makes for meetings which are mostly made up of people who have either come to Quakerism later in life, or have come from other meetings ... adrift.

So, I am not surprised that young Friends seek an authentic Quakerism, and being distrustful of elders look to a history found in those things which inspired us in the path, articles of faith. But, the problem with articles of faith without the culture of a continuous history and elder wisdom, is that these articles of faith may be as rootless and adrift as everything else in America's present. The historical past, as conveyed by elders may be incomplete and "untrue" to the degree it is marked by perspective and marred my memory, but it is honest. Being honest, an elder can converse about history, weigh it against the histories of others, and in that, make it real and alive. Faith, however, based in myth cannot be weighed and a matter of conversation and growth. It is just as it is, and any other perspective is contrary to faith. So, like the rest of the world, we see Friends pounding tables over articles of faith. Myth becomes simply dishonest and a lie when the elements of the story become the point, rather than the meaning underling the story. The elders of my youth shared histories with us, and paid little attention to myth.

I fear that Jean Baudrillard, might be correct, that all that is real today is being replaced by things which represent reality, but are not reality. We play war games on computers, and war itself to the person sitting at a consol in Washington who flies an unmanned plane to kill experiences was as a video game. We set out, long ago to build a historical preservation at South Street, and instead it has been replaced by the Disney version, boats poorly maintained as a backdrop to a shopping district which claims to give the experience of old New York's seaport, those of us old enough to know what a frontier that was can only shake our heads. This is not the place where the eleven year old kid, who walked for miles to the piers could sit and hear the stories of sail on square riggers from an old Norwegian, while watching the antics of the Lighterage owner's Chimpanzee, buy his first sou'wester from the same chandlery that those who were off to see bought theirs, the stinking waterfront of my glorious childhood days are a cleaned up postcard, and in the end, a pure fiction, and worse, a lie.

Maybe this all is part of the sadness which makes it hard to write to dearly missed blogging friends and Friends, I know I have not spent enough time with all, I have been very sad these days, as I watch what was real become all ... oh, that wonderful commercial of the little girl standing next to the elephant explaining with wonder her little TV, "it's the mirrors!" she says breathless in wonder ... these mirrors have not left me that breathless, they have left me sad, and I fear they have left younger Americans adrift.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Teach Your Children Well...

Teach your children well...

There is a museum downtown, in New York City, which preserves a board game produced in Germany during the time when that nation was under the sway of nazism. In this game, Jews are rounded up, and neighborhoods cleared of Jews. Looking at this children's game, leaves one feeling empty and cold. I had the same feeling reading about this a game, about to go on the market this Twelfth month, some call December, to be given as a present on the day some call "Christmas."

My friend Jon Hutson, wrote to tell me that Wal Mart is about to sell a game, " Left Behind: Eternal Forces ." In this game, the object is to kill those who have not converted to Christianity, while the on screen characters shout "Praise the Lord." Hudson points out that those killed are civilians, and "the manufacturer's official description states that in the game there can be no neutral noncombatants" One can find a description of the "game" at this official website . On the official web page, it says the players of the game can "Wage a war of apocalyptic proportions." God help us.

I wish I had Jon's email, as I sat in the Odessa restaurant the other day, and listened as a table of people voiced their view of some mythical Muslim hegemony... " they raise their children to hate us, to want to kill us." I sat at the next table wondering how one might teach these people otherwise, that like the Christians of the USA, there are some Muslims who raise their children to hate and many many more who raise their children to love justice and peace.

Some are writing to Wal Mart's CEO, Lee Scott, asking him not to sell the game. I would urge Quakers to think about asking to meet with him, to sit and pray with him. I would also hope we might be joined by representatives of communities who have suffered violence by reason of their not being Christian, as well as those who suffered violence by reason of their being Christian. There is no right side in "religious " violence.

Our children are taught, in the games we teach them to play. One cannot put a machine gun in a child's hands and teach him the lessons of peace Yeshua the Judian, called by some, Jesus Christ, preached.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Sun Is Setting On Liberty In America

The Sun is Setting on American Liberty

Refugees from tyranny once came to America to be free, or so the story goes. This evening, at sunset, I was photographing Liberty from a public pier on the East River, New York. A guard, with a heavy foreign accent came up and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was photographing the statue of Liberty. He told me that I was to follow him back to the ferry terminal and present him my ID to be logged in, as I was taking pictures. I declined his invitation and told him I was within my rights. He asked if I was a journalist, and I said, "Yes." Then he asked what paper I was published in, and I said the Villager among others. He told me to follow him and again I declined. He became so upset, that, though the sun was setting I followed him inside. There I announced that I was giving him my ID under protest that I was exercising my rights as a citizen in public. Many people nodded to me. He then said, "Why are you telling me that you have rights because you are White. I am a citizen also." I explained I did not say my rights were because I was White, and if he was a citizen, all the more wrong for him to deny another citizen his constitutional rights. He told me I could go and photograph all I wanted if I only gave him my ID. Again I told him I would do so under protest.
Scream citizens. Yell and cry out for liberty when your right to walk out streets, to sing, to speak, to write, to photograph all are challenged. Tyrants fear expression. Be loud, be as loud as those Sons and Daughters of Liberty who raised Liberty Tress and threw tea in the harbor. These rights we loose today we will never see again.

Words Lorcan Otway
Tune Birmingham Sunday
All rights reserved.

By Bennington's fields in the steel light of dawn,
Crouched by a stone wall, where I knew they'd come on,
Musket primed for a foe from far over the wave,
In the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In this fledgling young nation, just learning to fly
We rallied to Shays, vowing Live Free or Die,
George Washington's thugs searched for thousands like me
Our crime being brave, our intent to be free

In tobacco fields, my mother's labor pains
Brought me to the life of the lash and slave chains.
I fled north to Canada from slavery
To the home of brave and the land of the free.

See Crazy Horse ride with no fear o'er the plain
To Greasy Grass battle, a victory to gain.
From Yellow Hair's murders his people to save,
The Lakota live free in the home of the brave.

In a dark prison cell, I barely can see
Hans Yoder who lies bruised and tortured like me.
We Quakers and Amish no Great War will fight.
We bravely sought freedom from tyranny's might.

With great grandfather's musket, I offered the fight
To a coward in a jet plane who struck in the night.
My forefathers fought in these mountains like me
Made Afghanistan home to the brave and the free.

So pause in these days when the banners all wave.
Ask yourself, what is freedom, and where are the brave?
Have courage to stand with the brave and the free
When your nation strays from the path of liberty.

Hold fast to liberty.
It is evening in America