This is why I send my children to a Friends School

My fourth-grader, Nine-Soon-to-Be-Ten Year Old, recently went on a two-night school camping trip at the Mineral Bar campground, near Colfax, Calif. Their campsite was by the North Fork of the American River, in 49er Gold Country.

No parents are allowed on this trip, only staff. They'll have another one-night trip to the Russian River near the end of the school year. Parents are allowed on that trip.

The fourth grade teacher's parent newsletter described last week's trip. It's a beautiful summary in itself. This part illustrates for me why we send our two children to a Friends School:
That evening, we sat in silence for a thirty minute Meeting For Worship, listening to the rustling leaves and the crackling of the fire. People spoke of how caring everyone was of one another; how we are all here helping each other and supporting our friends. One child commented that the miners were mining Fool's Gold because the real gold was the landscape around us, not the glint of gold flakes from the river.
To have the opportunity to develop such perspective at the age of just nine or ten years old is a blessing and a gift.


Douglas Gwyn explains it for us

I have been slowly making my way through Douglas Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox. It was his first book, I believe, published in 1986 by Friends United Press, and based on his doctoral dissertation. I've read most of his other books and yet had never tackled this one. It's taking time because I keep setting it aside to read other books, or to play with my kids or hang out with my wife or get ready for Affordable Housing Week.

Anyway, this passage practically leapt off the page at me, so here it is, from page 173 of the 1986 edition:
There is a popular notion, even among some Friends, that the Quaker "brand" of worship is not for everyone; that it requires a cool, detached, middle- to upper-middle class Anglo-American temperament. Not only is this notion implicitly classist and racist, it constitutes a terrible misunderstanding of what Quaker worship means. What makes this worship difficult for people of all races and temperaments to accept is the way it brings the experience of the cross into worship itself. No one takes up this cross easily. Yet it is in this quiet, sometimes desperate, prayerful attitude that one may give up one's self to God and say, "nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:44).


Phil Donahue's Movie "Body of War" Premieres in SF on 4/15/08

Today there was plenty of activism in the streets of San Francisco, as the Olympic torch made its way down a different route from what was publicly announced. Crafty!

Now for a different item about local activism: Two weeks ago I heard Phil Donahue interviewed on KPFA/Pacifica radio about his new move, "Body of War." He was so good. So well spoken. And so highly critical of the war machine as well as the media machine that is not truly questioning the debacle.

So I thought I'd publicize the premiere of the movie in town next week:

Join Phil Donahue for a
Special Premiere Screening of

Tues, April 15, 7:00 PM
Embarcadero Center Cinema
One Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level, SF ( map )

+ Q&A with Phil Donahue after the screening +

RSVP: Jen Angel -- jen [at] aidandabet.org, (510) 910-5627

Tomas Young, a 26-year-old veteran, was shot and paralyzed after serving 5 days in Iraq. His story is told in the critically acclaimed antiwar feature documentary Body of War, produced and directed by legendary talk show host Phil Donahue and award-winning filmmaker Ellen Spiro.

Body of War is an intimate human drama wrapped in a political documentary -- full of angst and humor and hope. As the paralyzed veteran Tomas deals with his disability, he evolves into a new person, finding his own passionate voice against the war. Body of War also captures the historic debate in the Congress in the fall of 2002 authorizing the war and celebrates those that stood up against the rush to invade.


Field report from Ploughshares Farm

I talked to Robin tonight, and they had 11 people for their convergent Friends dinner at Brent and Nancy Bill's place, Ploughshares Farm. She said they included Friends from meetings affiliated with Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference, as well as Conservative and unaffiliated yearly meetings.

She was pleased to meet Brent and Nancy, and to buy Brent's new book, Sacred Compass.

She said she needed to write down some thoughts from the dinner as well as from the weekend meeting of the Friends World Committee for Consultation - Section of the Americas. Which is why she was in Indiana in the first place. You'll be seeing firsthand reports on her blog soon.
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Yesterday the boys and I hiked in Sweeney Ridge (this links to a photo of the fog line on the trail -- fortunately, there was no actual fog), and today we went to the children's playground in Golden Gate Park. Rough life!


Erasing Racism Part 2

In my previous post, I wrote about Erasing Racism by Molefi Kete Asante.

I decided to leave one big piece for a second post: So, what to do about racism? Here is what Asante says (pages 236-7):

First, there needs to be an official apology for enslavement of Africans from the government of the United States, namely the President and the Congress.

Then, he recommends the following steps and intentions:
  1. Embrace all of the nation’s history
  2. Choose the present as the arena of action
  3. Rewrite our understanding of the national story from the standpoint of the Wilderness in order to see the whole picture
  4. Support the human and cultural rights of every ethnic group
  5. Open up discussion on reparations to find a way to repair the wrong.
Often times, books about social ills spend chapter after chapter on the problem, and throw in a short chapter solutions almost as a necessary afterthought. Asante provides more bulk than that in the final chapter of this book. Perhaps more important, he weaves insights about and steps toward solutions throughout the book.

This was not an easy book for me to read, for a few different reasons, not just "because I'm white." Racism itself is a pernicious, sad, and sorry topic, of course -- and that's not easy. The book encompasses the history of Africans and their descendants in the US in details that I never learned in history classes.

And I think that Asante's writing voice, as an Afrocentrist, is simply different from what I usually read. It was helpful to notice that and realize it's just a different approach.

It took me a couple of renewals from the library before I got through it. I'm glad I finished it, though.
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Finally, a big plug for Kevin's thoughtful essay on this and related topics at Mobtown Blues, Bitter Soup.

Kevin writes, "The place where race, class, culture, economics, personal responsibility, and public policy intersect is thorny, rife with pitfalls, and full of forks in the road."

I highly recommend it. (Too bad he's left Friends for another tradition. Alas!)


April 4: A Day to Erase Racism

This evening on Pacifica radio they played a goodly portion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Beyond Vietnam" speech from April 4, 1967 (or possibly a very similar one from the same period).

He was assassinated exactly a year later, 40 years ago by the time you read this.

He was only 39 years old. I'm already three years older than that.
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I recently read the book Erasing Racism by Molefi Kete Asante. It's a powerful book, blunt and truthful and at times painful, such as describing in horrifying detail some lynchings of African Americans from the historical record. Some not that long ago.

His metaphor throughout the book is that African Americans live in the Wilderness of America, while whites live in the "Promise," or the Promised Land. There are many things I'm still absorbing.

Here's the most important point: The development of equal rights, self-determination, and individual and cultural subjectivity for African Americans in no way takes away from my own identity as a white American of European descent. (See the quote from page 70 below.)

Yet one would think from the mainstream political discourse that nothing could be further than the truth, that assimilation into the white mainstream culture is the only possible "ethical" approach. Clearly, that's nonsense.

Following are some highlights from the book for me. Starting with page 12:
On May 4, 1969, James Forman and his supporters interrupted a worship service at the well-known Riverside Church in New York City to present the “Black Manifesto” and a demand for $500 million* in reparations to African Americans…. Soon after the Black Manifesto was issued, Arnold Schuchter... assigned a leading role to the church, seeing it as a bastion of revolutionary activity. He was sadly mistaken about the role the Christian church would play in bringing about justice, for, like the rest of American society, the church has been afraid to confront the sin in its own soul of supporting slavery and discrimination for so long.
* Based on “Measuring Worth,” that 1969 figure would be worth anywhere from $2.3 billion to $7.0 billion in today’s dollars. See http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/.

Page 70:
There has been personal and collective fury, and there will be fury, so long as we do not deal with the primary issue of white racial domination that influences every aspect of this society.... Perhaps also whites will interrogate preference in order to create racial harmony. But this will require whites to get beyond the idea that they are being dispossessed because others are being treated fairly and justly. It is in the best interest of whites and blacks to have a society of harmonious race relations. Our lives and property will be more adequately protected in a society of racial peace than in one where the Wilderness and the Promise are in permanent antagonism.
Page 124:
Reagan’s image as a cowboy did not make us feel any better and, since the African American community had sensed in his rhetoric a virulent anti-African position, we could only expect the worst from him…. What seemed like an outlaw mentality at the top spread quickly among the Wilderness dwellers….
Page 167:
After so many incidents during the past decade in which white youths have shot up schools or other venues, one would think that there would be outrage in the white community and among the police forces of the country. Instead, there is this denial.... Imagine what would have happened if the Columbine or Santana or numerous other shootings by white youth had taken place in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Harlem, Chicago, or Detroit?
This last question is particularly pertinent in light of the number of shootings in the last six months alone.

I've typed some final thoughts for a second post on the book, since I've probably overindulged in the fair use of quotes for now.


Carrie Newcomer did a wonderful show at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley

On 3/31/08, Robin & I got a babysitter and went to see Carrie Newcomer, Hoosier Quaker singer-songwriter, at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley. It was a long day, because San Francisco Meeting had its now-customary fifth Sunday extended, unprogrammed meeting for worship from 9:30 am to noon. More about that another time, perhaps.

Carrie was wonderful! She played acoustic guitar and parlor guitar, and Gary Walters played grand piano. She played mostly songs from her new album, The Geography of Light. Her voice is strong and beautiful, with a range that goes way low and relatively high. Her words tell stories in a way that’s emotional and deep, yet not maudlin.

Robin has already given her perspective over here. I was crying at pretty much the same places Robin was, so 'nuff said.

Here’s the set list based on my notes:
  1. Leaves Don’t Drop (They Just Let Go)
  2. Betty’s Diner
  3. Geodes
  4. Two Toasts (cowritten with Parker Palmer)
  5. Don’t Push Send (if you haven’t clicked through to this site from Robin’s blog, you should do it here! www.dontpushsend.com
  6. There Is a Tree
  7. A Mean Kind of Justice
  8. Biscuits and Butter
  9. Bowling Alley Queen
  10. Be True (featured on the compilation, "Out of the Extraordinary")
  11. The Clean Edge of Change
  12. Silver
  13. Where You Been
  14. Gathering of Spirits (very moving that half the crowd was singing along with this)
  15. One Woman with a Shovel
  16. (Song about the names for animal groups, as given in the OED – e.g., "exaltation" of larks) (Nine Year Old will love this one if we can get a copy of the lyrics!)
  17. Bare to the Bone

"Bare to the Bone" was the first Carrie Newcomer song I ever heard, as far as I know. (Maybe I heard something on one of the folk music programs I listen to on KALW-FM, but if so, I didn’t notice, and they likely didn’t say she’s a Quaker.) Lisa H. of the long-dormant Rooted and Grounded in Love listed it first on her "personal Quaker playlist" in response to my own post of that name, and that’s where Robin & I first heard it. It’s a beautiful piece, "Here I stand without a message… /Bare to the bone." The nightmare of every unprogrammed Friend!

Oh, and in my opinion, her Quaker jokes were not as funny as her folk-music jokes. We rowdy West Coast Quakers were happy to hoot and holler at them, anyway!

Finally, in the interests of full disclosure, I received a free copy of her new CD in the mail today. I’m not writing this because of that fact. I’m writing this because I really liked the show, and because I’ve now listened to the CD three times tonight – it really is that good! It’s interesting to hear the fuller sound of the band as compared to the bare-to-the-bone acoustic-guitar-and-piano of the show. Both versions are nice.

PS Be sure to check out the current home page of Quaker Books, where Carrie is featured on "What’s New" as of 4/1/08.