©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010
A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.
Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)
(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)
The earth is defiled by its people;
they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
and broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
its people must bear their guilt.
Now let me try to apply this teaching from the gospel of John [about being carried where one does not wish to go], and the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Art Gish, Rachel Corrie to my life. At various stages of my life, what carried me and what was my direction? And most importantly what is the context for this life?
Skip, The Bad Boy
From the age of about three I was Skip, The Bad Boy, a delinquent, easily prone to a life of criminality. At three, I ran away from home, not for long, and not far geographically, but out of the house I fled. At five, I organized a crew of young peers to break every window in a neighborhood church, finally caught and made to pay restitution from my glass piggy bank. During my elementary school years, the principal, the dreaded Mrs. Rylands, every term, called my mother to the school for a conference, often threatening to send me to reform school. I was inching toward a life of crime, sometimes petty, but in later years a bit more serious. In high school, the police put me on one year of probation for driving my mother’s car without her permission and crashing it.
My mother, Pearl Schiel, a photo I made in about 1954 in our Chicago Southside home, surprising her when she walked thru the door—my early “wild mind photography”
I was Skip, The Bad Boy, succumbing to the influence of Chicago’s history of organized crime—Al Capone, the Valentine’s Day Massacre. Other elements of Chicago’s big-shouldered rough-necked history resonated within me. I also had an inexplicable native drive toward defying authority, especially if it was patriarchal, beginning with my father who could be a tyrant and, on occasion, beat me.
My truck, Cimmaron, 1960 c.
At that stage I was directed and carried by something unsavory and self destructive, but thanks to the college YMCA and YWCA programs that I joined at Iowa State University, I began to straighten out. With this turning came another pivot point, related and equally important, from a projected life as naval warrior to a person who tries to foster peace and justice thru art.
Born in 1940, one year after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, four years old when my country dropped atomic and incendiary bombs on the innocents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and other cities, I was a tender and impressionable 13-year-old when the TV series, Victory at Sea, was broadcast.
War in the Pacific
Join the US Navy
I was enthralled, I had my first message from god: join the Navy, become a Chief Petty Officer, sail, defend the country, fight and win. I vividly recall buying my first photographic book, US Navy War Photographs, edited by the illustrious Edward Steichen. He went on to design and produce the groundbreaking photo exhibit, Family of Man, equally influential to my development as a photographer and human being. Mom, Dad, I pleaded, in just 3 years, when I’m 16, I can join the Navy, but only if you give me permission. Please!
From US Navy War Photographs, edited by Edward Steichen
From The Family of Man, an exhibit by Edward Steichen
To their credit, they refused, pushed me instead into college and training to become an electronics engineer. However, I did manage to join the Naval ROTC at Iowa State University, marched, learned naval history, studied weapons, but most importantly—again thanks to the teachings of the campus YM-YW movement, where I was now a program officer—came to the following realization about my role as a naval officer: the true mission of the US military is to protect access to resources, open markets to commerce, and assure the dominance of US ideology. I will be ordered to destroy and kill for American hegemony. Not for me. Must be a better life than this, for me and for the world. But what is it?
I was adrift, anchorless, hopelessly angry and disgruntled.
Then came my mother’s gift, what was it?
Many things. Within five years, these included Buddhism, difficult journeys to places like American Indian reservations on the Great Plains and my childhood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, a shift from filmmaking into photography, meeting my future sweet heart and partner, and the discovery of a coterie of ancestral spirits including early Friends and early Christians, and most importantly, Quakerism, the theology and the practice.
I discovered Quakers
In searching for an audience for the film of my mother’s last year, Pearl Schiel, I discovered Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends. Thanks to a suggestion from Marjorie Swann, then the executive secretary of the New England regional office of the American Friends Service Committee, an act of kindness on her part, I showed my film at Friends General Conference and New England Yearly Meeting in 1980. And that autumn I found my way to Friends Meeting at Cambridge.
This wasn’t my first contact with Friends. I’d been counseled for my conscientious objector (CO) application in 1965 by Andy Rudin at the AFSC, himself a CO doing alternative service. And before that, I saw a film called Language of Faces, which centered on a vigil the Religious Society of Friends organized in 1960 at the Pentagon. In part prompted by the 300th anniversary of the writing of the Peace Testimony, some 1000 Friends stood silently in front of the Pentagon for 2 days to witness for peace and against nuclear armaments. Impressive, but I have to ask now whether Friends are capable as a collective of organizing such a massive public event.
Quakers at the Pentagon 1960
TO BE CONTINUED
“Poll: American voters’ support of Israel drops,” by JTA, the Global News Service of the Jewish People
“Foiling Another Palestinian ‘Peace Offensive”’: Behind the bloodbath in Gaza.” by Norman Finkelstein
“The Doomsday Weapon,” by Uri Avnery, about the report by General David Petraeus concluding that a speedy resolution of the conflicts in Palestine and Israel is in the vital interests of the United States