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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Have We Friends Invented a Clergy in Trustees?

Our Religious Society of Friends is not a religion of practicalities. Ours is a religion of ideals over exigencies. It is a sink or swim experiment in love of God in each other which gave us the strength of will to oppose all aspects of slavery, to feed Germans after the great war, and barter with Hitler for Jewish lives during the dark days of nazism. It gave us the will and want to be tortured in jails rather than fight, and to send medical help to North Vietnam.

There is always a great danger in a small group "doing" for the many. It breeds dependence, not the independence which drove a capable and courage group of spiritual pioneers. It also breeds contempt of those led by the leaders. We have inherited a great tradition. It is for each of us, working together in love and faith to keep that tradition alive. If we have to do it through artificial means, the great experiment of our faith is lost and we should lay down this society. I am not about to do that yet.

However, there is a serious breach of faith and fortitude in our maintenance of Trustees as an institution which can make decisions without the direction of the Meeting. This is the only body in our Meeting with no oversight from the Meeting, and no answerability. Nominations are made at the same corporation meeting with a single reading and no prior publication so no objections can be made, unless there is some leaking of information to some in the Meeting.

My objection to the power of Trustees to act and decide does not come from a lack of trust any other Friend. The truth is that even the best of us, when given the power to act without the unity of the Meeting behind us, will, in what we perceive to be interest of the Meeting. This is a power given to Trustees, not by the Meeting, but by the State, a power whose truth we have never accepted in our history as being authority over that of God.

Trustees should have no power to make any discussion of any matter within the society of Friends without the oversight of the Meeting and without the clearly expressed unity of the Meeting. English Meetings have survived for three hundred and fifty years without the institution of Trustees. Though the state dictates that we must have trustees, to be a truly Quaker body, they must have no power not directed by the corporate body gathered in worship.

We are told by some Trustees, again and again, that they are made responsible by the state and therefore must act to preserve their own legal liability. This argument does not move me. We cannot force trustees to act, as they are part of the process of coming to unity. Most liability flows when they act, not when they do not.

If in fact, in order to maintain property, we need Trustees, then Quakerism does not work, and we should hire clergy and declare that we have become Protestant. I am not a Protestant. I am a Quaker, raised up in a Utopian faith, believing in the power of God and God's love to guide us in all our Meetings labor, large decisions as well as small.

Friends have risked life and liberty for our faith, we should be ready to risk property as well.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Just Say No to Jean Ritchie Road!

Jean Ritchie - No Jean Ritchie Road!
Well, not this road, here and now. Appalachia is a place of great riches and great poverty. Most of the riches the coal industry has systematically stolen from those who live in that region with the help of gun thugs and politicians for generations. It was getting better. President Clinton was treating the coal industry as it should be treated, with criminal prosecutions for poisoning our rivers and our bodies with mercury in every state needlessly for years. Coal invested one hundred million dollars in the election of a politician who would make their crimes legal, and their investment paid off, George Walker Bush's "justice" department dropped the prosecution of coal burning power plants, and made the dumping of mining waste into the nations water systems and the pumping of mercury into our bodies, legal. Now, many of you might wonder how the executive branch of government can change laws, after all, aren't they presently of the party that rails against judge made laws? Well, the judge who ruled that the coal companies were breaking the clean water act by dumping mountain tops, and tons of precious lumber, and arsenic and other heavy metal pollutants into the streams in the valleys of Appalachia asked the same question. So far the only answer has been the coughing of the children of Appalachia choking on the particulate matter from the blasting of their mountains by now federally protected criminals.

Jean Ritchie Road. Every week the equivalent force to the bombing of Hiroshima is used in Appalachia by the coal industry to blast the tops off mountains and send the results, minus the coal into the valleys, destroying one of the most precious resources in this nation for one of the most destructive and wasteful sources of power we can use. As coal is mined the water in the streams of Appalachia turns as bright orange as the T-shirts of the Appalachian people who came to bring this concern to the people of New York, at an event this week. One young mother joined the fight when she saw her daughter standing among dead fish in the stream that runs behind her house. Our dear treasure, Jean Ritchie tells us that her property is threatened, as fill is used to build an access road, to continue the destruction of her community. There was a great deal of outrage, expressed on her behalf to the Governor of her state, and so, he is responding to the anger. He has named that road, "Jean Ritchie Road." Jean, have you a middle name, we might call you? Or better still, can we demand that this road be stopped and some already existing road, which brings music lovers to say, Asheville, be called after you instead?

Why should we care, from Seattle to New York? For thirty years the levels of mercury in our environment has been dropping. Since Mr. Bush has taken his blood money from King Coal, the mercury levels in the environment have risen six percent. Mercury, one of the most deadly poisons in our ecosystem, is released when coal is burned, as well as when it is mined. And so, the coal industry is not only poisoning fish in Appalachia, but they are poisoning fish in New York State, and in the blood of every American. The levels of mercury in the blood of many American woman is enough now to cause cognitive damage to their offspring. King Coal is not only killing the mountains of Appalachia, but destroying the future potential of our nation as well.

Jean deserves better than this road, not only for the rich treasure of her music, but for being a part of bringing this knowledge to us, as we sleep in ignorance here in New York. Maybe it would be more appropriate to name a road going to some great seat of learning after her. For generation bigots have referred to the hill folk of Appalachia as "ignorant hillbillies." Well, I was among the ignorant here in New York, that great Rome of the modern world. I did not understand how burning coal was filling my blood with mercury. Well, the sons and daughters of Appalachian miners and hill folks came to my city and gave me quite an education. Folks like Julia Bonds, Julia Bonds - No Jean Ritchie Road! who faced threats from the coal industry to come and teach us ignorant city folk a lesson every American voter should understand care about deeply.

My thanks to all the people who came to New York from Appalachia to tell me all the above, and to Bobby Kennedy, Jr., Bobby Kennedy Jr - No Jean Ritchie Road! spoke eloquently to this issue as well. For more, go here... and go here and then... do something.

All the best


Monday, May 07, 2007

Torture in an Age of Cowardice

When I was young in the age of John Kennedy, through books like Profiles in Courage, we learned that the brave did not torture. At my law school reunion, I was reminded that this wisdom has been abandoned by some empowered people in the United States.

Edwin D. Williamson, a former legal advisor to the Department of State, spoke on a panel on public policy and constitution law in response to terrorism. For him, the question was not should or should we not torture, but when and how. Another alum of my school, Barry Sabin, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department in Washington, DC, defended the institution of the detentions at Guantanimo Bay. All the panelists, even the one who spoke against both these contentions, accepted as fact that we live in a new world where there is a special new danger called terrorism, which suddenly appeared on the world scene in September of 2001, a new horror which changes all the rules of law for civilized nations.

October 6, 1979, flight 455 from Caracas, Venezuela was bombed killing all the civilians on board, and Cuba lost its Olympic fencing team. The flight was downed by two bombs set to go off, one, then a while later the other. The plane struggled to return to its point of origin after the first bomb set the cabin on fire, the second bomb brought it down. The masterminds of the bombings, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada were not trained by Al Queda, they were trained by the CIA. Bosch did not disappear into the hills of Afghanistan, he lived openly in Florida. George Bush, the elder, granted him political asylum. Orlando Bosch ... worked for years with Frank Sturgis, making 11 private air strikes on Cuba. In September of 1968, he fired a bazooka into the hull of a Polish ship at anchor in Miami Harbor. He was sentenced to ten years for that, but was out in 1972, resuming his terror campaign. His career of bombings and killings ranks him as one of the most prolific murderers of our nations history, and yet, he lived openly and worked openly as a terrorist in the United States until his death of natural causes.

Barry Sabin's response to my question, referring to Bosch, and asking if the world has not really changed, and more, if we are not in part responsible for the world as it now is, responded that four of Bosch's associates were recently tried and found guilty in the US. Interestingly, we did not torture them or send them out of the scope of American law. Nor have we atoned to Cuba for the harm we have caused that nation by our toleration (at least, aid most likely) of decades of terrorist attacks on that neighbor. The question, has the world really changed, the question of our own support of terror went unanswered.

In order for law to be law, it must be applied to all with the same standard of fairness and reliability. Law is not law when it is applied one way to friends and another way to perceived enemies. We cannot call for torture for others and expect the world to be outraged when our citizens are tortured, and more, we cannot use terror as a tool and stand in such outrage when it is used against us, that we abandon rule of law in our own nation.

It takes courage to atone for our actions, and it takes courage to live free. Torture is an act of cowardice.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Common Sense of Pluralism

I am a pluralist rather than a universalist. I don't think everyone is a little right, but rather, we all have to work together, and accept that we all believe ourselves to be as right as the next person, who considers us completely wrong. Ever since humanity began to consider complex problems, it appears, there have been folks seeking a single answer, a single system, and causing a lot of people headaches in the process. When we lived in a world where there were lots of resources, we could just pick up and go to the next valley and find just as good Mastodons, or Oxen, or Caribou to eat when the advocates of a single system which offended us became too aggressive. The choices have become fewer and fewer as our resources dwindled. But, as the resources dwindle, some folks still believe that they have just not described their single system philosophy of faith or government well enough, the other guys don't have the faith or intellect to "get it," or God has chosen an elect to understand what ever it is we need to understand in order to be saved. My goodness, how long can folks walk blindly over a cliff before they see the folly of their ways?
In the Society of Friends, there are a number of people who ignore that our greatest strength is the number of Friends who have come to a certain kind of pluralism, through our processes. So, along come some Friends who advocate single system belief systems and propose, for example, non-Christian Friends should be denied a say in our business meetings, as God is not speaking to them. Well, what can I say? Some expressions of Christianity and some expressions of the Muslim faith will keep attempting to convert or kill each other, as all the rest of humanities hopes go the way of the Mastodon. It seems a lot more like Quakerism to me, to all work together to preserve those gifts God gave us, in spite of the pictures we paint of God in our minds. For someone to self proclaim themselves a peace activist, a peace maker, or a Quaker while advocating the silencing of Friends in their own society, let alone the world in general, just does not make any common sense to me. It simply does not look like love to me.
One of the many fears the bible speaks of as a barrier to love, it seems to me, is a fear of someone expressing another point of view, and that fear is named orthodoxy. Like silence, we have seen over the years, that orthodoxy not only kills, it commits self slaughter. More, it is making the planet unfit for human life. While we wont talk to those who worship differently, the world is becoming a hostile environment for human life.