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Written to review my experiences after New England Yearly Meeting of Friends sessions at Bryant University, Smithfield Rhode Island. NEYM sessions brings together some 800 Friends for 5 days to deliberate business, attend workshops, pray and engage in other reflective processes, meet new people and renew old friendships, and take a break from the quotidian lives most of us live.


Einstein discovered a law of physical change: the way to convert a single particle of matter into enormous physical energy. Might there not also be, as Gandhi suggested, an equally incredible and (as yet) undiscovered law of spiritual change, whereby a single person or small community of persons could be converted into an enormous spiritual energy capable of transforming a society and a world? I believe that there is, that there must be, a spiritual reality corresponding to E=mc2, because…from the standpoint of moral freedom, humankind is sentenced to extinction without it.

—James W. Douglass

Photos

MEETING FOR BUSINESS

The Friends United Meeting’s personnel topic dominated, smothered business sessions. This policy prevents homosexuals from employment or volunteer positions with the organization. The wording of the practice is round-about: sex outside marriage is prohibited, and marriage is defined as only between male and female. Thus gays and lesbians are excluded, unless apparently they are celibate. Many feel the motivation stems partly from values and partly from politics, inhibiting more conservative groups like those in Central America and Africa from bolting. Yet many in NEYM are offended at the policy and doubly so when realizing NEYM contributes significant money to FUM.

Thus, like a person with an ailing stomach or chronic arthritis, not life threatening, simply annoying, distracting, worrisome, who then dilutes focus on issues in the wider world, NEYM turns inward, year after year. Our stated theme was “War, God Help Us!” and some like Ernestine Buscemi in the keynote and Peter Crysdale in the bible half hours attempted to refer to it. Despite their attempts, little attention was directed to societal issues such as the war in Iraq, the threat of war with Iran, torture, erosion of civil liberties, environmental desecration, racism, to name a few of the pressing problems of our day. We (I say we inaccurately—I attended only one hour of one business session, not boycotting, just displeased and choosing to devote myself to other matters during that period) passed several minutes about the Iraq war and torture, but I’ve heard these were relatively weak, mostly for internal communication (other meetings and Quaker bodies), lacking substantial discussion, let alone controversy and debate which might stir the pot more, and without action components. Lo and horrors should we ever call for tax resistance or surrounding the Pentagon or joining the equivalent of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign—or freeing one’s slaves.

Ernestine Buscemi, keynote speaker

In filling out the evaluations I discovered that the authors had not provided a category for comments about business sessions. Whether oversight or deliberate I do not know. On my form I noted this, with my general remarks critical of the business practice and how deftly it served to avoid discussion of worldly matters.

Riding home with D I had an informant for business sessions. She corroborated what others had told me. Learning some of this before I met D, I extracted my evaluation from the pile of submissions and softened my language, from never discussed to barely discussed.

D also offered her usual dim view of progress in political realms and specifically about our group meeting regularly about Israel-Palestine at Friends Meeting at Cambridge. She seems a person of relatively weak faith, at least when engaging with political action. She feels our Israel-Palestine group has made no significant progress. Reminding her of eternity, which might have been the wrong response, did little. Perhaps rather than countering her and people like her I should listen, as if the person is aggrieved by some serious problem and simply needs a compassionate ear.

Little at NEYM referred to Israel-Palestine. And this is sad. This is in sharp contrast to Friends General Conference gathering in June. I’d put up a display at the Quaker Witness session that Ian and Beth organized, about our Israel-Palestine group at FMC, and about my work, but few saw or commented about it.

Skimming Henderson’s book, God’s Troublemakers, How Women of Faith are Changing the World, a book I ordered from the library when thinking my witness workshop was going to run, I found the following quote:

The research study, Missing Connections (Lynn and Wheeler, Auburn Theological Seminary), concludes that all [seminaries, religious institutions, and their leaders] were largely invisible in the public arena. Occasionally a reform rabbi or African-American clergy person would be cited for public activism, but invariably neither institution nor leader (whether liberal or conservative) was seen as an asset in their communities or beyond, but rather as inwardly focused, preoccupied with taking care of their own. They were not invited to the table where decisions of great consequence to their communities were made. [Emphasis added]

One slight example of this was no one showing up for my Hydropolitics slide show scheduled for 9 pm. Why? They were stuck in business session until about 10:30, sitting since 7, the “iron butts,” as some are joking, or the “iron bladders” as others have said, no break for this entire period. Several people mentioned to me later they’d intended to watch the show but because of the hour (I’d given up by 9:30) decided to head for bed.

On a more encouraging note which at least indicates intention, I quote our outgoing presiding clerk Christopher McCandless, his stirring opening prayer about the need for societal awareness:

GOD, HELP US: Help us to be Your people, a people of peace in a world awash in the imagery and realities of war. Forgive us our complicity, by our corporate silence and the taxes we render unto America, in our nation’s headlong prosecution of military responses to the violence in the world. As Friends, we have become embedded in a culture that has seized upon war as the dominant model for solutions to all its problems. There are wars on terror and drugs and cancer and poverty, so it has become an easy step to make wars on people, when they act or sound or worship in ways unfamiliar to us. But they are Your people, too. Lead us instead to be witnesses to the ways of peace.

GOD, HELP US: Help us forgive one another for the wars of words that arise between us when we speak or act in hurtful ways that deny the light of Your presence in the hearts of all Your children. Help us look beyond the policies and the preaching, to find strength in our corporate testimony that You are a loving and forgiving God, who gives Your gifts regardless of how our fellow beings may regard us.

GOD, HELP US: Help us, in the words of our Young Adult Friends, to face our fears and our powerlessness. Redeem us from despair at the failures of our stewardship of that small part of Your beautiful creation we call Earth. Empower us to work for Your commonwealth here in the now of our nation and culture. Yet keep us from placing too much of our trust in politics, powers and principalities. Teach us instead to have faith in You. GOD, HELP US.

Is contrition, begging forgiveness, and pleading for intercession from unknown heavenly powers sufficient?

Rather than rehash what I’ve written in this journal ad infinitum, I’ll try to summarize my interpretation of the decision making or governance problem. The practice of discussing in a large group, containing many folks few others know, even with the intent of mutual respect and deep discernment, runs off the rails too often. In point: the FUM personnel issue and how vexing and seemingly intractable this is. What models of discourse might be more appropriate? A representative model, perhaps like that in Ba’hai, the elected spiritual council. Quakers tend to eschew representative forms and voting, why exactly I’m not sure, but because of this blockage we might be choked with the possibly archaic and self-destructive model we now use.

One major issue is the Quaker culture of peace, which often manifests as conflict-avoidance, minimizing discussion let alone action about major planetary issues, especially the situation in Palestine/Israel, my main issue. This is shameful, that a religious body such as ours barely mentions these huge problems. Sure, many of us are aware, some of us are active, and some workshops addressed some of these problems but for the most part, especially in business sessions, little was done beyond minuting concern. I am amazed and awed by this lack of attention. And have to wonder, am I in the right place for me?

Why this lack?

Some feel the religious body is not the place for political discourse and evocation. The body is a “spiritual” body and by definition not suited to intertwine with worldly matters. I am here for self-nourishment, some say, to transcend the noise of the world. The last thing I need is debate about Iraq—or Israel-Palestine for God’s sake.

Some expect the issues would further divide an already fragile community. Susan F mentioned this as a reason to not bring the matter of a travel minute for me up to business meeting at FMC when I was preparing to return to the Levant.

For many, internal issues are more compelling. They are in our faces, stuck to our fingers, lodged in our craws. As with FUM: we give it money, some of us have personal associations with it, some of us are gay or lesbian, or know of the hurts of some of our homosexual friends. This is more real for many than distant issues like the occupation of Palestine, the debacle in Gaza, and even the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq.

The issues are too complicated, some claim. How can we ever know enough to make an informed decision? Several raised this in my workshop last year when I stated that one need not know everything to begin a dialog within the community about Israel-Palestine. Why outward issues are thought to be more complicated than inward ones baffles me.

And finally, many of us are too comfortable, safe, content to bother with discord. This is the Quaker culture of peace, the famed culture of so-called peace. Where, in Martin Luther King’s words, silence is betrayal.

Writing all this I continue to ponder: how long will I remain within the Quaker body? How do I manage to suffer it out and they with me?

One answer, perhaps the main one, is that Quakerdom draws me for many reasons—and I wish for the moment to not give these up—plus I participate in several other communities, refuges for this wayward stranger. Without these more politically active and courageous groups like the Catholic Worker-oriented Agape Community; the activist Japanese Buddhist order Nipponzan Myohoji, builders of peace pagodas and designers of world wide pilgrimages; and my courageous buddies in the challenge Israel movement, at home and in Israel-Palestine, I’d be lost and would feel less committed to the Religious Society of Friends.

CHILDREN

Two dreams in this continuing and blessed thick stream of dreams, during and post NEYM: with Lynn,my former wife, residing overnight in a group house that was little more than a flop house, sharing bathrooms with many others, the toilets filthy, sleeping on the floor in a crowded cubicle, someone wanting my blanket when he learns I’m leaving, eating a meal there, then, about to leave, a man who looks vaguely Arabic or southern Asian, examines a rate sheet and determines we owe $100. I’m shocked, Lynn apparently is not, I begin to protest when the dream ends.

Second, with young daughters, Katy and Joey, one of them hostile toward me, so that I come to believe I will always be estranged from this daughter. We fight. I may have hit her, which one I’m not sure, probably Joey since she is traditionally the most argumentative.

Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song.
Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song.

I will never forget you.
I will never forsake you.
I will never forget you.
I will always love you.

—sung frequently during this event

Now kids at NEYM were a focal point for me, mainly because of the possibility of my grand daughter Eleanor attending in a few years. I wished to observe the age group she’d be part of, childcare, 0 – 4 years old. And while there, I thought, for her, for Katy and Phil, her mom and dad, for others, why not photograph? Kimberly, head of that unit, graciously welcomed my presence—I even had a chance to volunteer as a kid tender when pressed into service. She put out a permission sign up sheet for parents. All agreed to having their children photographed.

I observed bountiful love flowing thru the group. Adults volunteered to help, Kimberley is skilled and extraordinarily tuned to this age group, staff promoted Quaker values such as community, they treated violence gently, I noticed a healthy balance between individual and group activity. Painting and drawing and cutting were hits, as were outside play and snacks. I didn’t see any story telling or writing but I might have missed this since I dropped in only sporadically. I am so pleased I observed, this was one of my productive substitutes for business sessions.

As usual I observe legs, women’s mostly, but men’s as well. I am an aficionado of legs, I desire legs, Lynn’s legs first attracted me to her (perhaps a fatal error of judgment), I photograph legs, I consume legs, I favor and thank my own legs for being so stout (too bad they’ve thickened). So when I learned that a young woman, a girl really, age about 17, Clara Gardner of Western Massachusetts, loved by many at NEYM, had been caught between her car as she was loading it in preparation for NEYM and a car driven by a drunk driver, losing her legs, both of them, above the knee, I with others was shocked. She may have asked for the folding of peace cranes, or maybe someone at NEYM came up with this brilliant idea. We folded cranes and made a mound, perhaps over 2000.

Once again I have a new appreciation for my legs, for my entire body.

I wonder how Clara will do, whether she’ll find a way to survive and flourish, or whether she’s fated to live a life of enhanced suffering, lacking legs. And I wonder about the driver, who now is saddled with a possibly incurable illness: guilt, regret, remorse, self-hatred. This is where forgiveness enters, where penance enters, where reconciliation enters. An emerging story and I may never hear of it again.

Along with Clara losing her legs, Greg W lost, for now at least, some of his mobility. He’d had a mild heart attack at sessions, called for an ambulance, had a stent and reaming done to more arteries (for the second time), continues to be overweight, and now rides in a wheel chair. We were all pleased he’d returned to sessions, chagrined to see him so bound and tubby.

COMMITTEE FOR RACIAL, SOCIAL & ECONOMIC JUSTICE—INTEREST GROUPS—WAR-PEACE VIGIL

Two contrasting dreams: in the first I was meeting with a woman friend in the midst of a sizable group, all of us preparing for some major event. She was beautiful, she and I were intimate, we both or maybe she only had another more public relationship. We kissed lightly, whispered to each other as we stood within centimeters of each other; she held her foot against mine as if to say, here, no one will notice, this is a clear and visible sign to you of my love. I felt elated, confirmed.

In the contrasting dream, again with a group, the leader was swinging playfully from some play apparatus as we awaited the start of our mission. Then a man pulled out a pistol, aimed it at another man’s chest about one meter away, fired, both men near me. Then he held the pistol against his victim’s head, paused and pulled the trigger, shot him cleanly thru the temple. He then turned the gun on himself, in the thick and bustle and fear of the crowd, and killed himself.

What a way to begin the day—or sleep the night. How does this predispose me for the day?

For the interest groups I either supported Rachel in showing Long Night’s Journey into Day, about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, or ran my own slide shows from the Israel-Palestine series. Oddly enough in the discussion following showing Long Nights Journey into Day no one broached the topic of applying the Truth and Reconciliation South African model to the United States, regarding genocide of native culture and people and slavery. Did we just not have sufficient time, could we have led the discussion more fruitfully, was the topic consciously avoided, or just not thought of? Seems an opportunity missed. Maybe we can pick up this thread at our next CRSEJ meeting.

My slide show,Gaza, first night, was relatively well attended (10), good show. Bethlehem, the premiere, second night, less well attended (5), not a bad show but needs lots of work. And a revised Hydropolitics on the third night, scratched because of the late running business session. As usual I put this series on mainly for a chance to show the photos and tell the stories, and as my incentive to edit the shows. Not that I expected to draw huge crowds, or change many minds.

I had numerous slide show and computer compatibility problems. The PowerPoint files I’d made which I’d hoped would maintain my laboriously created animations failed to open. Luckily I’d also exported the Keynote files (I use Apple slide show software, same as used by Al Gore for An Inconvenient Truth) as PDFs. These opened, but lacked the clever transitions. I couldn’t play the sound for Gaza. I managed, barely, explaining to one audience this situation, and to another, for the Bethlehem show which I edited to the version I showed from one much rougher, that this was the first showing, very tentative.

Likewise with my photo exhibit, Gaza is Home to One & One-half Million Human Beings, How Do They Live?, the first time showing this in this form. A highlight connected with that experience was noticing someone intently viewing each photo. I saw this from across the atrium, photographed it with my zoom lens.

The Committee for Racial, Social and Economic Justice met 3 times, Monday thru Wednesday, mainly to plan our direct action. We’d learned our stalwart member Nan Stone had died from cancer shortly before sessions began, and Nan was the inspiration for our direct action. We’d winnowed down our burst of ideas from the September retreat to the “Bury the N word” plan, and JV brought a made-to-order casket and signs. So even tho we’d not reached concord on this plan—I still don’t favor the total prohibition of all uses of the word N… —JV, as is his penchant, plowed ahead with the thought.

Good for him. In the last phase of planning D tried to inject a cautious note by stating, you might antagonize more people than you convince by parading thru the dining hall with that casket. People might feel distracted, interrupted, put upon. I countered him with a crudely expressed quote from Frederick Douglass about rulers never voluntarily giving up power without a struggle, comparing this to those who wish to grow crops without disturbing the soil. D relented, finally decided to offer his drumming to accompany our march, and this was pivotal.

We entered thru the side door, near the tent. JV had rounded up casket bearers including Keith Harvey, executive secretary of the New England regional office of the American Friends Service Committee, and the outspoken, irascible, and highly creative John Rider. At first D wanted to drum from the dining hall balcony but at the last minute he switched to march with the casket. Smart move. As we entered, his drum attracted attention to that spot, thus, many noticed as we walked in.

A solemn procession. I photographed. People cheered, especially when JV asked who supported burying the N word? After a few transits thru the hall we parked the coffin in the small atrium near the entrance of the hall and put out our guest book and sheets of paper for folks to sign—commitments to either not themselves us the word or, more broadly, to advocate a total prohibition.

As might be true of any political action, it is small, miniscule even, and could appear trivial. What’s the point of banning the word? It’s a tiny step toward greater consciousness.

Elizabeth D later told me that her 8 year old daughter, K, asked when seeing the casket, what’s the N word? They had a discussion.

Of course there is the slight possibility that some might think the N word is nuclear. Several told us this. Maybe the cheering was for the end of nuclear power and weapons, and we were deluded. But considering the numbers of people, especially young folks, who enthusiastically signed the guest book and commitment sheets, this was not the case.

Our twice-yearly publication the Freedom and Justice Crier seemed well appreciated. We handed out about 200 copies at the keynote, and noticed the keynote theme and speaker related to the publication. I picked up discarded copies, they numbered only about 20. Not bad, a 10% refusal rate. We may never know how many people actually read the Crier.

Ernie from New York Yearly Meeting is Black. She mentioned landing on the last international flight into NYC on September 11, 2001, coming from South Africa where she’d attended a conference about racism. This confirmed a portion of her direction—her ministry to babies with HIV-AIDS. The speech, despite its prominent witness theme, did not seem to light many fires (I noticed relatively few signing up for a CD copy, which was also true for the keynote I gave a few years ago). At least she spoke to witness. And this is one of the main emphases of this issue of the Crier.

Her flawed keynote prompts me to wonder how to transcend platitudes while presenting insights and grand notions. Use examples, tell stories, minimize theories, use quotes, create images.

Click here for summer 2008 Freedom and Justice Crier

We learned because of NEYM’s budget deficit CRSEJ’s budget will be shaved, most likely, from $2200 to $1500. This might affect Crier production. Which might be to the good. I have so many extra copies lying about the house, what to do with them? How to circulate past copies of a journal?

Otherwise, our committee has few people and a promising clerk, Rachel.

This was the first year in some 3 that I’ve not led a workshop. 2 or 3 years about Israel-Palestine. This year’s witness was cancelled because of low enrollment. This may indicate a lack of interest in the topic—I titled it “Some Perils and Blessings of Bearing Witness to Social Injustice”—or it may have overlapped with similar workshops that did run. The cancellation gave me more free time, lessened my anxiety.

I interviewed JV in what may be the first of a series with folks around NEYM who might experience racism, either directed at them—JV claims others have called him n…, or he’s heard the word uttered in his presence—or witnessing such acts, possibly interrupting them. The point of this is to establish a claim that racism exists within the Society of Friends, notably in Yearly Meeting. More than that, the forms it takes. How to recognize it. What to do about it.

Preparing to meet JV for the interview, I discovered my recorder batteries were dead, I’d failed to notice when packing the gear, failed also to bring extra batteries. So I listened, asked questions, challenged JV on some points, especially about what constitutes racism, and took notes. Much as I did in the West Bank and Gaza when interviewing AFSC Popular Achievement coaches and writing their stories. I have now a growing list of folks to interview, including Shelby, Bonner’s daughter, Hal, others. Could be another life-long project. Maybe into the Freedom and Justice Crier. Could become a booklet.

Our August 6 vigil, occurring in rain and wind in a downtown Providence RI park, drew a reasonable number of Quakers, some 20. AFSC provided bright and captivating banners showing the equivalence of one day of war in Iraq with social services that could be provided otherwise. We stood across from the bus station so vehicle traffic was heavy, but sidewalk traffic was slim. A few walkers stopped to chat. A few drivers honked. Generally I think we were sporadically noticed, sometimes hailed, usually ignored.

A pity. On such a day, August 6, a sacred day. We hadn‘t emphasized the Hiroshima connection, concentrated instead on the current war. Too bad no local organizations joined us. Had it not been for Ian and his dedication and organizational skills even this might not have occurred. It is a definite improvement over the usual vigils on campus when only the mostly sympathetic see the vigil.

ALL THE REST

One potent dream: with friends, I went thru Israeli security. The main official had been a friend of mine; he measured my girth and that of another man passing thru. Something about our waist line prompted him to pull us aside, he made us strip and confiscated our clothing. Perhaps he thought we were carrying suicide bombs.

Then suddenly we were awakening from a night of sleeping. We were still nude, the two of us, but not our friends, clothed, who’d slept over with us. Someone, maybe me, had two thoughts for plans: those of us nude should wrap ourselves in our bedding and stand vigil, and all of us would design and wear signs that explained the injustice of our blockage. We did this, folks passing thru noticed us, I wondered when the official would return and how he’d deal with us.

That’s part of my life asleep. Luckily I still have sufficient faculties for recalling at least a snippet of my dream life. Had I Alzheimer’s, my brain would be absent of dreams. What a horror, among many, should I ever incur Alzheimer’s. One possible gain might be pure empty mind meditation.

The evening before the keynote, our first evening, we’d had the traditional greeting of all meetings, followed by a novel experiment. Going to small groups, then to triads, we grappled with 3 queries: our first experience with a Quaker meeting, a burden we’d like lifted, and an occasion when we acted as a peacemaker. All of us in the small group remarked that our first meeting was a surprise confirmation of the rightness of our choice of religious experience and community. We were home. My first experience with Friends was in 1980, the summer of my journey to Friends General Conference gathering in Ithaca and NEYM in southern Maine when I showed my newly edited film about my mother’s last year of life, Pearl Schiel. After meeting Quakers in those 2 contexts I decided to give a Sunday meeting a whirl. I recall feeling elated when I walked thru that first door—home.

Most burdens shared in my small group were interpersonal, sibling rivalry, problems with kids, etc. My first thought was sex and love, how I’d like to be free from this obsession. I demurred—too personal and I’m not sure I wish to have this burden lifted, if it is a burden. So I spoke about my proclivity to reach a decision quickly and surely, too quickly and too surely, with little hesitation. I should be more deliberative.

Peace making occasions were again mostly interpersonal, family oriented. Mine was about Cambodia, our workshops on the Thai-Cambodian border, me thinking I’d made the correct decision to continue, walk across Cambodia to Vietnam, next to mine fields and during artillery shelling. Then I was not able to sleep, rethinking, maybe I shouldn’t go. No, wait, I’m here to be a peacemaker, Cambodia needs me, I’ll go. And I then slept blissfully for the few remaining hours of the night.

Worship, what is it? We use the term loosely: “now let’s close with worship.” Or “after worship we’ll begin to…” Is it adoration of the divine, which is the classic meaning of the word? Is it silent meditation, which for those of us a-deists (as opposed to non-deists—i.e., for whom the term deity is irrelevant or unfathomable) is the modus operandi? Supplication and intercession for those of us who believe in prayer? Communication with the heavenly ones? Discernment of direction or leading—asking “what is god’s will for me?” which I believe is fallacious. Is uniformity of understanding and practice even necessary?

Here is relevant info from the dictionary:

noun
• the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity : the worship of God, ancestor worship.
• the acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity; a religious ceremony or ceremonies : the church was opened for public worship.
• adoration or devotion comparable to religious homage, shown toward a person or principle : Krushchev threw the worship of Stalin overboard.
• archaic honor given to someone in recognition of their merit.

verb
show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites : the Maya built jungle pyramids to worship their gods.
• treat (someone or something) with the reverence and adoration appropriate to a deity : she adores her sons and they worship her.
• take part in a religious ceremony : he went to the cathedral because he chose to worship in a spiritually inspiring building.

ORIGIN Old English weorthscipe [worthiness, acknowledgment of worth]

Thesaurus

1 the worship of idols: reverence, veneration, adoration, glorification, glory, exaltation; devotion, praise, thanksgiving, homage, honor; archaic magnification.
2 morning worship service, religious rite, prayer, praise, devotion, religious observance.
3 he contemplated her with worship: admiration, adulation, idolization, lionization, hero-worship.

verb
they worship pagan gods: revere, reverence, venerate, pay homage to, honor, adore, praise, pray to, glorify, exalt, extol; hold dear, cherish, treasure, esteem, adulate, idolize, deify, hero-worship, lionize; follow, look up to; informal put on a pedestal; formal laud; archaic magnify.

All of which suggests at least we should more carefully consider what we are connoting by this term.

This debate or question is related to “holding in the light.” What does that mean? Pray for? Think about? Ask blessing for? Praise?

Our practice is littered with ambiguity. Some may claim this is crucial for keeping us vital and open. Some may feel this is inherently weakening. I realize the group revising Faith and Practice, our guidebook, has grappled with the question of worship and has formulated a response. Which is largely quoting from different sources a variety of interpretations. And perhaps this is a core principle in Quakerism: ambiguity, multiplicity of belief. But perhaps what a fellow Friend once said is apt: those with vague beliefs have nothing to teach.

Peter Crystale’s bible half hours were stirring, entertaining, rich, and broad. He improvised, he was spirit-filled, he was zany, I’m not sure how much substance stuck with me, how elucidating he was about the bible or Christianity or the peace testimony. To ascertain this I’d have to read a transcript or take notes while listening to recordings. Perhaps he has something on-line.

The workshop I attended, Revolutionary Light with Jnana Hodson, was mixed. Day one was about light, day two about the use of metaphor by Quakers, and the last day dealt with the seed. It might have been better organized. I appreciated the range of insights and opinions offered by Jnana and the participants, I would have preferred more personal stories.

One slight insight from the Revolutionary Light workshop: the difference between light shining in, the inward light, and light emitted, shining out, the inner light. The first illuminates the hidden places within, reveals truth about the individual, shakes and disturbs, may also comfort and sustain. In contrast the inner light illumines others, the world, the universe, it is the light of Christ and Buddha shining out thru their teachings. This may be an important distinction, one worth mining further.

A second slight insight: logos. Meaning not only word but logic, point, perspective, insight, essence, meaning. In the beginning was the logos, the point.

Camping this year was more a drag than a delight. The tent leaked on the first night, as much from me forgetting to turn under the ground tarp to prevent trickling under the tent floor as from actual leaks. My heating coil for early morning hot coffee didn’t light the fire—cold morning coffee, no fun. I missed the hospitality camper that the Frechett’s traditionally provided. And there was little camaraderie among the campers, except perhaps with Paul and Martha who once again were my immediate neighbors.

2 dreams: I was watching a performance in 2 parts. After the first I was sure we were done, but no, something large and grand was coming, Bread and Puppet-like, with stilt walkers, chorus, masks, live music. I realized I was sitting to one side, not able to really see the play, altho it had been good seating for the first half. A girl was swinging at the end of a long rope or cable. I feared the cable might snap and she’d be killed. Others were with me, like Mary Hopkins.

In the 2nd dream my bike brake cable had snapped. Since I was near a bike repair shop I decided to drop it off for repair. A young man whom I knew attempted to pull the cable thru the insertion point, failed. I tried helping him, failed. Problem unresolved in the dream, as usual.

For photos I made: the funeral procession, kids a major concentration, especially in the child care unit, clouds and campus, the Iraq vigil, Ernie, peace crane folding, and a few other minor strands. Not much, but something.

One primary dream (during a stream of rich dreaming nights, thank god): I was preparing to conduct a fairly arduous photo field trip with adults. We needed to consider our water sources; some of the students seemed afraid we’d not survive, felt we should carry all our water. I retorted that for the long period we’d be gone this would be impossible. Trust me, I can find the water sources.

We also laid out our prints to examine before beginning. We had little space to do this, crammed into a sort of café or restaurant. I asked students to go on-line and research maps because mine were old. I don’t believe this generated much confidence. Because of the various dangers and trials, I suggested forming teams. Ramming into this preparation was time scarcity: we were to leave imminently and were clearly unprepared.

At sessions all week the sky transformed itself, from overcast to bulbous and back, with many stages in-between. This lent itself to photography, which I practiced when inspired. Tenting prodded me to look skyward since rain, with such a leaky tent, could mean disaster. The campus is relatively high so I could view a wide swath of sky, much like the site for Friends General Conference gathering earlier this year, ringed by mountains.


I snuck in walking whenever possible, another plus of avoiding business meetings. Once down from the camping area thru the parking lot and to the main access road, and once along the small road behind the Unistructure, my old haunt. Not quite as much as some years, or walking as far.

One accidental blessing this year, as occurred last year I believe, was the “Breakfast Club,” Patsy S, Sara Sue P, Bruce K, Fran B, Eleanor who led the aging workshop, and a few others. We headed for the dining tent (smaller than last year because of the dining hall expansion) and found ourselves gathering in the same place, at the same time. Most folks stayed indoors, which seems a lost opportunity for engaging with the earth. Our conversation ranged from business meeting (constant theme of many), aging (a natural since we’re all aged), Bruce’s sorrows (denied tenure, his physical problems), menopause (cut short perhaps out of deference to the 2 males present, tho I was tempted to raise the issue of enlarged prostate), and sundry matters. Very jolly and fun, a joy to have this little club to rely on for companionship.

The consignment store, once again, was mostly a bust for me. One panoramic photo sold, 3 Fellowship of Reconciliation booklets about Palestine/Israel , no Woolman pamphlets, and only 2 of Louise’s books. Dismal. Why do I bother? How can I better format my photos so they sell better?

After viewing numerous couples, a plethora of wedding bands, I feel one major insight I may have gained this year was the value of living a single life. There is much that is laudable about this form of existence—it is more than the absence of a partner. I reviewed the list of single historical figures: Christ, Buddha, Dorothy Day, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, W. Eugene Smith, Vincent Van Gogh, Albert Schweitzer, among them. They not only survived but did very well in their fields. Not that partnering prevents or impedes accomplishment, not that it has any significant effect, altho it can, depending on the relationship. Now I feel less saddened by my losses and disappointments, less envious of those in partnerships.

I appreciate the freedom I have to sleep alone, rise and bed down when I wish, fart and pee during the night, groan, turn over, rustle about without someone like L constantly annoyed with me. Same with eating habits. This level of minor benefits extends to tax redirection, living in relative poverty, traveling, engaging in dangerous projects, working late or early on my photos, enjoying a rich multitude of friendships, and joining or dropping from different communities. There are fewer obligations in the single life.

I miss companionship, I miss sex, deep throated sex that is a true love expression, and I miss commitment.

The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress…If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

—Frederick Douglass

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A major coup this week was meeting with Sam Bahour. A friend first told me about him, years ago, constantly sending me forwards from Sam. Finally I put myself on the list and have appreciated his original writing and his choice of forwards. I’ve used some of them in my work, for my list, such as his recent account of the targeted assassination near the Nazareth and Osama restaurants.

A big fellow, maybe 6-4, somewhat bulky, his mouth curves graciously into a middle peak. He throws himself into talking about his many projects, as a pitcher might wind up on the mound and let loose a stinging fastball. His current project is organizing a newspaper focused on local events, writing in Arabic, but translating selections with wider appeal and syndicating them to the international media. He claims his project would overlap and not conflict with This Week in Palestine because of his emphasis on local news written in Arabic. He’s working with partners, including Fred Schlomka who I met in 2003 when pondering how to first travel to the area. Fred was an Echoing Green fellow working on a mixed Arab-Jew housing project called Mosaic. We were startled, Sam and I, to realize we both know him. I was recommending Sam look into the Echoing Green fellowship for socially beneficial entrepreneurship when Fred’s name arose.

I queried Sam, “Isn’t working on projects with Israelis a form of normalization, institutionalizing relationships that might obviate the goal of ending the occupation?” He nodded, “This might be so, but when we’re clear that the ultimate goal is justice and peace with security for the entire region I think partnership is worth the risk.”

Sam’s history, as far as I recall it (I took no notes, did not audio record, but had I better audio recording technique and equipment I’d have used it to supplement my memory—I have checked with him about accuracy.):

Born and raised in Youngstown Ohio by a Palestinian father who was a grocer. Arrived here in 1994 at the height of Oslo, just one year before Rabin was assassinated and Oslo caved in. He was 30 in 1994 making him about 43 now. His background is in information technology and business development. He is married to a Palestinian woman and so the question of where to live was clear. His only hesitancy was last summer when Fatah and Hamas openly warred against each other. He said if civil war broke out he would seriously consider leaving. He believes the threat of that now is reduced.

With an MBA he has embarked on a serious of innovative entrepreneurial projects, most notably the Plaza Shopping Center in Ramallah. He took me to it. I’ve sought it for years, hearing it lauded, knowing it is somewhere north, off the road to Birzeit past the Muqata (Presidential Compound). I have to confess, partly because we were riding at night, partly because of conversational engagement, I still do not know how to find it. Except by wandering around that general area and asking—Plaza? Mall? Big shopping center?

The center now has 3 branches, one other in Ramallah which I’ve shopped at, the Bravo Supermarket near the Palestinian Hydrology Group, and in Hebron of all places. Both are supermarkets only, not the entire complex of shops. The main center looks like most smaller strip malls in the USA, with a 4 unit food court, kids’ play area with the theme of jungle, series of ground floor shops, main café, and the supermarket itself. I could write extensively about what I learned from Sam about this—deciding not to boycott all Israeli products but instead to foster Palestinian economic growth thru jobs and startups, orienting security to helping people rather than policing them, doing all the baking under one roof, exploring pricing and margins to reduce costs thereby antagonizing local marketers who Sam feels had been charging exploitative prices, etc—but I won’t. Sam promised the story had been fully covered by media, national, Israeli, international. One remarkable point in the story is that Sam decided to buy an Israeli computer checkout and inventory-keeping system. Cheaper, more realizable, more local, despite it coming from the adversary.

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Food court at the Plaza Shopping Center in Ramallah

Sam is proud of the fact that the project persisted and succeeded—his role was project manager, then CEO then Chairman of the Board, not owner—thru the 2nd intifada. Many thought the project would fail. Sam was stalwart. It opened about 3 years later. Also in 2000 a competitor began building a similar complex across the road from the Sam’s. He showed it to me: incomplete. One person who ran out of money had financed it. A group financed Sam’s and they were able to continue the funding.

Stores are opening in the same neighborhood, some mall-like buildings are competing (United Colors of Benetton moved out of the first complex because of high rents and into the second complex which offered lower rents). And some are ancillary, such as a florist. This is much like what happens when light rail opens: development.

I asked Sam, “Isn’t this mall dangerously near consumerism?” He nodded in assent, and added, “To Americanization. Yes, true, but Palestinians wish to have what many in the developed world have. Who am I to deny them this? In addition it provides jobs, some 200 here, and it grows the economy.” Sam had told me earlier that Palestinians have found a way to not lose, but have not yet discovered how to win. A partial answer is thru the economy.

Many of the investors are international, a preponderance from the USA (reflecting the USA-Ramallah connection), franchises, none of which I’m familiar with.

Sam’s first project in Palestine was to help privatize the telecom industry, Paltel, which recently purchased Palnet. This was post Oslo, just as Arafat returned from Tunisia where the PLO had been in exile. Sam serves as a consultant to the Ramallah Friends School, helping them with the development of their football/soccer field and later with a complete renovation of the landscaping on both campuses. Currently a regional Arab company is organizing a new telecom company but is stymied by Israel’s refusal to relinquish more of the airwaves. Yet another aspect of the matrix of control, invisible to most people, unlike the Wall and checkpoints. How to make this visible and real to people? we pondered.

He is voluble, gracious, happy-looking (mubsut in Arabic), and worried about a number of issues, civil war the primary one, denied entry another. He told me, how do you think it feels, living for 13 years here and every 3 months needing to leave the country to renew your visa—and then you’re not assured of re entry? This impedes planning. The Israelis claim we don’t plan; we ask, how can we with so many uncertainties? Sam is part of the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry. He also maintains an electronic news mailing list which seems mostly forwards rather than original writing. He promised to send out something last night of his own.

Near the end of our visit I said, Sam, maybe your next project can be a public transit system, even light rail as the Israelis are running (illegally) thru East Jerusalem. He smiled, replied, it’s in the works. He told me about a new quasi-governmental entity that is planning projects such as a bus system for Ramallah. We agreed that the traffic problem here is tremendous, on roads, he noted, designed more for donkeys than for motorized vehicles.

I mentioned my observation that many shops, day and into the evening, seem to be occupied by one lone male, sitting there with nothing to do. At times a friend might accompany the shop tender. Yes, Sam said, and I believe this might dissuade customers, especially women who might not enter if they saw a single male figure. There is also the forlorn, lonely, abandoned feeling we might get when looking into such a shop. Where are the customers, we might ask, why is this place so empty?

We discovered a South African connection. He told me about a radio station apparently owned and operated by South Africans in this country, RAMFM 93.6. They broadcast from Ramallah, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Palestine, Israel, and South Africa, plus the entire world I assume. Each morning at 10 they do a talk show. So when I mentioned my connection with South Africa and my recent analysis of the situation in Israel-Palestine, and how I dove into a compare-contrast exploration of SA and Israel-Palestine, he lit up. Maybe they’ll have you on, he said with some excitement.

End notes: Sam’s consulting group is Applied Information Management, he’s the Managing partner, phone 02-298-1566, 0599-378-278, sbahour@palnet.com, http://www.aim-Palestine.com. And the company he shares with Fred and others is North Bridge Investments Limited, 059-937-8278, sam@northbridgeinvestments.com, http://www.northbridgeinvestments.com.

To join his list:

sbahour@palnet.com

Sam Bahour’s website

Writing by Sam Bahour:

“The IDF and my daughter’s hamburger” by Sam Bahour, January 10, 2007

Audio: “Crossing the Line interviews Ramallah activist Sam Bahour”
Podcast, Crossing the Line, 3 December 2007

“Another assassination in Ramallah’s city center,” 29 May 2007

Other links:

Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry

“Ramallah Friends School Hit by Denial of Entry Policy,” by Paul D. Pierce, Quaker International Affairs Representative- Jerusalem

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