Monday, September 30, 2013

Afterthought #20 - Musical Essays

September here seems to be taking some cues from the month of March, but in reverse—in like a lamb and out like a lion.  All day, just as I thought it was time for a walk with my lab, Buddy, squalls of sideways rain interrupted sunbursts. The scrubbed sea air and the color wheel of green in the Madrones, firs, and cedars should have been incentive enough to get outside, but I kept waiting for the clouds to disappear. Finally, I motivated myself to risk a drenching with the reward of listening to a recent podcast of Song of the Soul on Northern Spirit Radio. On this particular segment, host Mark Helpsmeet interviewed Gretchen Wing, a former high school English teacher-turned novelist/singer-songwriter/baker.

Gretchen Wing

I have the good fortune on most Thursday afternoons to sit around a writing table with Gretchen, critiquing her young adult novels and receiving her wise feedback on my personal essays and memoir.  Every now and then she brings in some lyrics to a song she’s working on, and she’s got writing chops there, too.  As I listened to Gretchen talk about her recent ventures into songwriting and heard the results of her work, I realized she’s doing the same thing in her songs that I do with my essay-writing—trying to make sense of some of the big questions in life.  During the radio program, Gretchen talked about her unexpected turn to writing lyrics and sang some of her “essays” about strength in the face of adversity, lessons from Emerson and Thoreau, injustice, and peace. Several times on my walk, raindrops sputtered on my hood in rhythm to the music.

Whether you’re in the rain, snow, or in a balmy climate, I encourage you to listen to Gretchen’s inspiring songs and her thoughtful responses to Mark’s questions about her soulful work. You can read more of Gretchen’s writing at her blog: Wing's World-Will Backpack for Chocolate.

Oh, and she makes a mean pie, too.

Beginning in January 2012, I instituted posting an “Afterthought” on the last day of each month, fashioned after a practice in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, some groups continue in silence for a few more minutes during which members are invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning's worship. I’ve adopted the form here for brief reflections on headlines, quotes, comments overheard, maybe even bumper stickers.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Marathon – Not a Sprint

Thirty years ago, a friend and I took our toddlers to watch the first Olympic Time Trials for the Women’s Marathon.  With babies in backpacks, we hustled to various points along the twenty-six mile course to witness the field of 238 women make history. Two-and-a-half hours after the starting gun, we cheered Joan Benoit as she crossed the finish line.  Three months later, she’d shave seven minutes off that time to win a gold-medal in the first Women’s Marathon at the Olympics in Los Angeles.
1984 - Joan Benoit
Getty Images / Tony Duffy / Allsport

At the time, I was a nursing graduate student at the University of Washington and was parenting a twin son and daughter.  Often I felt as though I was running a marathon and wasn’t sure I could maintain the pace of both of these arduous endeavors.  Like Joan Benoit at the time trials, though, I couldn’t quit. There was too much at stake.

Kate Gould, lead lobbyist on Middle East Policy for Friends Committee on National Legislation (FNCL), knows about marathons, too.  She ran her first one a year ago in Baltimore, MD as a fundraiser for FCNL's work to prevent war with Iran.  Over that 26-mile course, Kate and six other FCNL runners spread the message that successful diplomacy requires patience and perseverance—just like running a marathon. The back of their t-shirts carried the slogan, "Diplomacy—It's Not a Sprint, It's a Marathon."

In early September, as President Obama and the U.S. Senate planned military action in Syria in response to chemical weapons attacks there in August, FCNL urged people to ask their Senators to take a different approach and to adopt the motto on Kate’s t-shirt. Other peace groups around the world put out the same call, and thousands of us answered. By the second week in September, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would postpone the first vote on the Syrian strike resolution.

A few days later, FCNL organized a conference call to update supporters.  Kate Gould and other seasoned lobbyists made comments like this about the changed U.S. strategy away from the brink of war in Syria:

Historic victory
Something to celebrate
Never seen anything like this.

Then came the reminder:

Diplomacy is a marathon, not a sprint.

As always, FCNL has tools for this work ahead, such as a tally on where lawmakers stand on Syria.  Those from my state are still undecided, so I’ve written again to my Representative, urging him to support the slow, deliberate pace of negotiators like U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.  I’m working on similar letters to my two Senators.

It’s kind of like the cheering on that my friend and kids and I did for Joan Benoit and the other women who trained for years and persevered with the hope they’d someday run at the Olympics.  That’s what friends and family did for me when I juggled parenting and studies. Unlike the marathon, though, we don’t know how long this run will take, so I continue to hold all the leaders involved in this marathon of diplomacy in the Light. There’s so much at stake.

FCNL website 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taking Action in Syria

At the end of worship in my Quaker meeting, we take a few moments to offer names of people we’d like others to “hold in the Light.”   In some faith traditions, the request would be to pray for someone. What I’m hoping when I hold someone in the Light is that he/she/they will listen for wisdom, both within and outside of themselves, and will feel a supportive, loving presence to guide their actions.

Last Sunday, I asked that we hold in the Light the 535 members of the United States Congress as well as President Obama and his cabinet as they seek ways to respond to the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August.

My hope is that these leaders, as well as others around the world, WILL act, but that they will choose nonviolent approaches rather than a military response.  Late last month, Yes! Magazine editor Sarah van Gelder succinctly spelled out "Eleven Reasons Why We Should Not Attack Syria."  It’s worth reading her entire article, but here’s a list of the reasons:

1.     We don't actually know who is behind the chemical weapons attack.
2.     A military strike would be illegal under the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution.
3.     It would violate international law, too.
4.     The American people oppose it.
5.     Violence begets violence.
6.     There are no logical targets.
7.     It will be impossible to control who benefits from Western intervention among the rebels.
8.     Civilians will be killed and maimed.
9.     There is no apparent exit strategy.
10.  There IS a better way.

Courtesy, Yes! Magazine
In fact, there are LOTS of better ways, and van Gelder spelled some of them out last week in another article, Six Alternatives to Military Strikes. Here’s a summary:

  1.    Bring those guilty of atrocities to justice through the International   Criminal Court (ICC).
  2.   Stop the flow of weapons from around the world into Syria through a United Nations embargo on arms and military supplies.
3.   The U.N. Security Council should hold an international peace conference such as those that resolved the wars in Southeast Asia through the Paris Conference on Cambodia, and in the Balkans through the Dayton Peace Agreement.
4.     Offer aid and support to the nonviolent movements within Syria.
5.     Provide desperately needed humanitarian aid to the millions of displaced people.
6.     Live within the rule of law by refraining from launching into a war that violates international law.

These are actions that I believe offer the best hope for peace. Fortunately, organizations like the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) make it easy for us to not only hold our leaders in the Light but also to contact them to let them know we support these better ways to act in response to the attacks in Syria.

I’m heartened that my own U.S. Representative Rick Larsen e-mailed constituents asking for help in his decision about how to vote on the authorization of military force.  I was happy to respond.  And according to the latest FCNL Action Alert, as well as President Obama’s speech on Sept. 10, leaders are listening.  It does appear that our country has moved, at least for now, a few steps back from military action and toward diplomacy as a response. Staff at FCNL are working hard to support this effort and remind us that “diplomacy is a marathon, not a sprint.”  They’ve organized a conference call for tonight, Sept. 11, to talk about the most recent information from Capitol Hill and what the U.S.'s decision to back away from bombing Syria means for prospects for peace. To join the call set for 8 PM Eastern Time, dial (712) 432-1500 and then the access number 380565#.

I plan to call in.  In the meantime, I’m continuing to hold in the Light world leaders and the people of Syria.