Saturday, June 30, 2012

Afterthought #6

Thirty pages from the end of The Crying Tree (see 6-29-12 post), two sentences bore into me.

“It was all too sad. Fear of loss causing more fear, more loss.”

Isn’t fear of losing something or someone at the base of most of our suffering? The motivation behind many of our most hurtful actions?

When fear looms for me, far too often my first impulse is to try to take control.  Centering, and opening myself to the wisdom that I call God, is where I need to begin. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Forgiveness Revisited

“Forgiveness is a condition in which the sin of the past is not altered, nor its inevitable consequences changed. Rather in forgiveness a fresh act is added to those of the past which restores the broken relationship and opens the way for the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven to meet and communicate deeply with each other in the present and the future.  Thus, forgiveness heals the past, though the scars remain and the consequences go on.”   ~ Douglas Steere

In 2011, I wrote about forgiveness in response to Douglas Steere’s quote and thoughts it raised during a time of Worship-Sharing at my Quaker Meeting.  That day, I focused on my response to interpersonal conflicts, disagreements, and misunderstandings. Now, after reading the novel The Crying Tree, I’m thinking again about the act of forgiveness in the face of violent crime.

The book’s author, Naseem Rakha, spoke recently at Bellingham (WA) Friends Meeting, giving some background about how she came to write The Crying Tree and what she’s learned from that process. In 1996, she was assigned by NPR to cover the first execution in 34 years of a death row inmate in Oregon.  Naseem’s research in order to write a story to be aired the day of the execution was the beginning of her examination of the death penalty. Eventually, it led her to write a novel based on the Oregon execution and others. Written with the integrity of a journalist and the literary skill of a storyteller, the book delves deep into the complexities of crime, punishment, and forgiveness.

Irene, one of the characters in The Crying Tree, adds what Douglas Steere would call a  “fresh act” when she writes letters to her son’s killer as a way to heal her pain and anger.  The reactions of others to Irene’s eventual forgiveness of him span the breadth of views about crime and punishment, giving readers insight into a wide range of perspectives.

As part of her research, Raseem talked with many people on death row as well as family members of victims.  Their experiences convinced her of the healing power of face-to-face meetings between offenders and victims.

This year, the legislature in my home state of Washington took a first step in supporting such healing by adopting a Restorative Justice bill.  Drafted with leadership from Friends Committee on Washington Public Policy, the law encourages a voluntary process of bringing together certain juvenile offenders and those harmed by their actions. Typically, theses face-to-face encounters also include others in the community, including family and support systems around the offenders and victims. The goal is for these parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable approach—a fresh act­—to encourage the offender to take responsibility for righting the wrong that has been done. 

The story of The Crying Tree is far from my personal experience, and I pray that I never have to endure the pain and sorrow of the book’s characters.  But I know that we all are affected by our culture’s values and responses to crime. Quaker faith and practice calls us to forgiveness and offers some healing alternatives. Recent issues of Friends Journal (March 2012) and Western Friend (June 2012) focused on the long history of Friends’ witness for restorative justice and some of the ways that continues today. Now, I’ve added The Crying Tree as another source for seeking the path of forgiveness.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Occupy as a Spiritual Act

 My rural island home in Washington State couldn’t be much further—geographically or culturally­—from Manhattan’s Wall Street.  Last fall, when the first actions of Occupy Wall Street began, the movement seemed like an abstraction to me. After hearing Madeline Schaeffer’s podcast at Friend Speaks My Mind, I’m feeling more connected to this social and economic justice effort.

Fueled by the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse and inspired by uprisings last spring in Egypt and Tunisia, Occupy Wall Street protesters brought their call for democracy to Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District on Sept. 17, 2011. Soon, Occupy groups organized across the U.S. to “protest and change the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process.” All use a consensus-based collective decision-making tool known as a "people's assembly,” that sounds much like a Quaker Meeting for Business.

Madeleine’s audio story describes Occupy efforts in Philadelphia and the influence of Quaker faith and practice on its work. I was drawn by her first words, recounting an outdoor Meeting for Worship at Dilworth Plaza at Philadelphia’s City Hall. Madeleine and other attenders spoke of the power of that worship to assert the Occupy Philadelphia site as “holy ground.”  

Madeleine believes that the Occupy Movement is revitalizing Friends’ understanding of the connection between spirituality and action and that Quakers are providing a spiritual groundedness to this movement. In Philadelphia, that spiritual grounding is evident in tangible ways. “Supporting social change for peace and justice is woven into the fabric of Friends Center,” says Patricia McBee, Executive Director at Friends Center in Philadelphia, of their involvement with Occupy Philadelphia. The Center, just two blocks from Dilworth Plaza, has put its faith into action by offering its commercial kitchen to prepare food, office equipment and services, and space to retreat and “take a breath.”
Lucy Duncan, American Friends Service Committee Friends Liaison, coordinates a Quaker tent at Dilworth Plaza. She spoke with Madeleine of her sense that the Spirit is present in Occupy Philadelphia work and that people there are “being engaged in something much bigger than themselves.”  Michael Gagné, director of the new Envision Peace Museum in Philadelphia, believes that Occupy Philadelphia is teaching people decision-making processes that delve into conflict as part of truth-seeking and without violence. Madeleine spoke with others in the movement who look to Quakers to contribute on the front lines of occupations and direct actions to prevent them from becoming violent. As one participant put it, Quakers have tools to do this and “understand that action is a spiritual act, a transformative experience of their souls.”

Friends and others in Philadelphia are using those tools to organize the upcoming Occupy National Gathering. From June 30 to July 4, the Occupy movement will convene in the vicinity of Philadelphia’s Independence Mall for a week of direct actions, movement building, and the creation of a vision for a democratic future. On July 5, the Gathering will conclude by joining Guitarmy (guitar-playing peace activists) for a 99-mile march from Philadelphia to Wall Street. Perhaps Friend Jon Watts will be there with them singing “Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Your Life,” a song that he performed at Occupy DC ( 

I’ll be 3000 miles away from the Gathering, but I’ll be singing along.