Posts Tagged ‘quaker’




Excerpts from my journal

November 10, 2014, Monday, Detroit 

Cool, upper 30s, 80% cloudy with altocumulus, calm. 

Yesterday, Sunday [November 9, 2014], a day departing from my more usual Detroit days: attend Detroit Friends Meeting in the morning where I met a few people like Peter and Mike who provided photographic leads (later Peter very kindly toured around many parts of Detroit I’d not previously visited and Mike offered me possible use of an extra car), a discussion after meeting with a young woman and man who are part of the Friends of Jesus Quaker group, and generally a chance to exercise my tribal tendencies by linking with local Quakers and discover a home away from home.


Photo courtesy of Detroit Friends Meeting

Since the meeting site is, you might say, inner city, near the river, (West Fort St and Livernois Ave), in an industrial zone (and they hope to keep the meeting located in such a site, after they’ve been forced to move by new bridge construction), by bike I cruised the area and acceded to my strong desire to photograph industrial landscapes. Plenty of them here: a former commercial harbor area, now mostly abandoned; a building with all its window frames scrapped; a mysterious industrial structure about 4 stories tall; a long warehouse without variation; a tall wide building missing all its windows; each structure an icon of Detroit, each a source of beauty—and potential. This was my first experience on this particular trip of free wheeling, spontaneous photography, the type I love to practice best. From Old Fort Wayne to under the international but privately owned bridge.




Then thru Mexican Town thinking I might devour a steaming burrito in a small restaurant or café. Nothing. Only one large restaurant which probably had waiters and table cloths and whose burritos might be too expensive for my budget and needs. I found some new construction, small houses, ticky-tacky type, but housing none the less, perhaps in a neighborhood convenient to downtown and possible jobs. Also some gorgeous murals. One I made a panoramic photo of, a testimonial to indigenous people.


Home finally in the late afternoon, hungry, I feasted on my fish-chicken-lentil combo, beer, coffee, Arabic sweets, and accessories such as stuffed grape leaves from my favorite Dearborn bakery, New Yazmeen. After a nap, I phoned Rich F and when he called back (from Chicago) he was warm and helpful, promising many leads which I see in this morning’s email he’s provided. We have established a vital relationship. This type of photography relies on good contacts—to alert me to photographic possibilities, to inform me about underlying dynamics, to introduce me to otherwise wary communities, and in some cases for protection. Leads provide this and I give back photographs.

A few days ago I found lying along the sidewalk outside my house a notice about a crime:

Help solve this crime!

Cash reward up to $2,500


On Friday, August 4, 2013, Kenneth Peete III, a.k.a. Skip was found murdered in his home on Detroit’s west side. He was found during the early morning hours at West Outer Drive and Santa Barbara.

To submit a tip: …


Chilling for sure, especially because we shared first names, Skip, sad also. I find nothing on-line about consequences, expected none. Could be me, I suppose, killed by a robber or because of mistaken identity. Thus I run a risk.


Yesterday [November 9, 2014], bicycling home, a minor mishap. I was tired, I was hungry, I was cold, the light was beginning to fade, I was about 4 miles from home. And when I shifted, the bike chain jammed itself so tightly between the freewheel and the bike frame that it stuck. I was rendered powerless. What to do?

Free the chain of course. How do it? I had no tools. I was on Grand Blvd. West, apartment blocks nearby. I searched for something strong, maybe wooden, that I could use to pry the chain loose. Wood didn’t work. I wheeled the bike around a corner, into an alley, the area gasping with garbage. Maybe in one of these piles I could find something metal, a tool. First pile—no luck, just clothes, containers, old mobile phones, furniture. Second—none here either. Then finally, searching thru the debris behind one of the empty buildings—was anyone watching, prepared to jump me and steal my gear and bike?—I found a 1 foot length of metal, relatively thin. Would it be strong enough?

Yes—it worked. I finally freed my chain, vowing to either adjust the shifter so this doesn’t happen again when I suddenly shift to high gear, or remember to slowly shift into that cruising gear.


I had been close to panic. Who could I phone? I thought. Could my neighbor, Johnny, pick me up with his truck? But I don’t have his phone number. Maybe another neighbor, Gloria, could give it to me or get Johnny to the phone. (She doesn’t own a car.). Karen? Lives in Ann Arbor, too far from here. Wink, maybe. All not needed, thank god. Skip’s little adventure, another in a long string.

Down the street, Washburn near Wyoming and Grand River Ave, where I stay



“Detroit’s Staggering Murder And Violent Crime Rate Are ‘A Public Health Issue'” by Kate Abbey-Lambertz, November 14, 2014

“Detroit Crime Dropped In 2013, But City Had Same Number Of Murders As New York,” by Kate Abbey-Lambertz, January 3, 2014

Detroit Friends Meeting

How will the new International Trade Crossing affect the Detroit Friends Meeting? (from the meeting’s website)

The proposed International Trade Crossing between the United States and Canada will force the Detroit Friends Meeting to relocate.  The DFM is currently discussing ideas for a new meeting house and location.  The meeting is committed to remaining in the City, but an exact location has not been determined.

So why aren’t shovels in the ground? Well, the short answer is bureaucracy.

Because it is an international crossing, a presidential permit is needed. The Obama Administration has signaled it is strongly in favor, but getting a permit takes months. After that, there are needed site preparation measures. Building a billion-dollar bridge is a bit more complicated than adding a deck in your back yard. But Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, told me he expects to see actual work begin next year, or in 2015 at the absolute latest (Lessenberry, 2013).

Commentary: The latest on the bridge,  Lessenberry,  Jack, Retrieved from: http://buildthedricnow.com/,

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Gaza and the West Bank of Palestine and Israel

Brit Quakers 3

2014-08-04BathYMGBigTop-The Big Top at Yearly Meeting Gathering in Bath. | Photo- Photo- Trish Carn.

Epilogue, Monday 4th August Photo- Fran Lane


The scarf lining the route between Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston and Burghfield | Photo: Photo: Luke Massey.

“Several hundred protesters [from Britain Yearly Meeting] were on hand Saturday, 9 August 2014, for the unfurling of an enormous pink scarf along the seven miles of road between the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield. The protest was intended to show the scale of opposition to Trident replacement in the UK.”

Quaker queries

A letter to my Quaker monthly meeting (and beyond), Friends Meeting at Cambridge, dear Friends,

At this summer’s New England Yearly Meeting sessions with its theme of witness, during the height of violence in Gaza and Israel, numerous Friends expressed deep concern to me personally (who many of you know has been directly connected with that region thru the American Friends Service Committee and other agencies), and in plenaries and interest groups. Yet—a huge yet—not a word that I heard from business meetings. No minutes of concern, no suggested responses, no debate, not even discussion. One possible reason for this silence is the fear of taking sides, or offending people, or diverting attention from proper business, or stepping outside the mandate of “spirituality,” or fostering division. And in our own monthly meeting, Cambridge, speaking out often counters similar resistance.

Martin Luther King Jr stated that silence is betrayal, or, alternately, silence is complicity.

British Friends during their yearly meeting, 2000 people strong, raised its voice. are they not a model for us?

Here’s how they began their bold statement:

Amid faltering ceasefires and talks, Quakers in Britain are calling for urgent action on Gaza. They urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

The calls for action come in a statement made by the decision making body of Quakers in Britain, the Yearly Meeting, attended by 2,000 Quakers in Bath.  As part of their commitment to peacemaking, Quakers continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

  • The Yearly Meeting heard essential steps towards full and fair negotiations:
  • Palestine to be recognised as a nation state
  • An end to indiscriminate fire by all sides
  • A comprehensive arms embargo
  • An end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and blockade of Gaza
  • Freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners
  • The use of international law to hold all parties to account for their actions….

For the full statement.

And for general information from a reliable Quaker source: Quaker Palestine Israel Network, and Quakers with a Concern for Palestine and Israel.

And from the American Friends Service Committee.

FMC hs

Friends Meeting at Cambridge meeting house



Meeting for worship outside Textron Industries, manufacturer of war munitions like cluster bombs, held monthly for nearly 6 years by Friends Meeting at Cambridge

British Quakers [in 2012] call for end to use of force in Gaza

Hague court under western pressure not to open Gaza war crimes inquiry” by Julian Borger

Israel bars Amnesty, Human Rights Watch workers from Gaza” by Amira Hass

One Result of the Gaza Conflict: Iran and Hamas Are Back Together” by Kay Armin Serjoie

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2013 may be the big year of transitions for Quaker and Quaker-related institutions in Palestine-Israel. First the Friends International Center in Ramallah (FICR) is currently evolving, having been initially an experiment in connecting better with the local community. Its founding coordinator, Kathy Bergen, has retired. FICR had become a significant source of transformation in the West Bank thru its cultural, educational, and political programs. The FICR board and the Ramallah Friends Meeting are currently working toward clearness on what will come next. I am exceedingly grateful to have been in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel during spring 2013 while some of this transition emerged.


Ramallah Friends Meeting House, photo by Anarchopacifist

The American Friends Service Committee has ended its main project, Popular Achievement, after nearly 10 successful years and will turn over implementation of several new directions and funding to Palestinian organizations. While the Ramallah Friends Meeting continues to provide an invaluable spiritual base for residents of Palestine and international visitors, regularly hosting groups such as the Christian Peacemakers teams, when I attended, the majority of participants were internationals. The Ramallah Friends School and the main regional AFSC office continue, both as far as I can determine, with strength and stability.


Kathy Bergen, retiring FICR coordinator


Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting

A little more detail: FICR was affected from two directions. The bank that had been serving the Ramallah Friends Meeting and FICR was undergoing an international investigation for some possible irregularities. Because it was found that the Ramallah Friends Meeting account had been operating a sub account for FICR, the bank examiners determined that this presented a problem and closed the account.  At the same time, the Israeli authorities responsible for issuing long-term visas would not provide any response to questions about whether Kathy’s shortened visa was a sign of termination or if renewal might be a possibility. Such uncertainty made it impossible to plan for a future that required keeping a non-citizen as a Program Coordinator.


Jean Zaru with Saida Khader, West Bank AFSC staff person, in front of the Ramallah Friends Meeting annex

The FICR Steering Committee is presently in a period of expectant waiting and looking forward to the planning meeting with members of Ramallah Friends Meeting in October. Possibilities that have been suggested by the community would be short-­term Friends in Residence, Muslim/Christian conversations around specific subjects of direct concern to Palestinians, ongoing conflict reduction/Alternatives to Violence programs, and spiritual foundations of peace-­making. In general, requests from the community have been for going deep in a few specific things rather than going broadly in many. Most agree that the Meeting and FICR are one entity so another outcome is likely to be a name that reflects the unity going forward.


Deborah First, clerk of FICR’s board

At Kathy’s goodbye party in April 2013 (which I attended) when she was feted and lauded for her 7 years of devoted work, many of us felt that if the energy present at that party could be focused into leadership—preferably not an individual but some form of collective—FICR would continue. To further quote Deborah First in a recent email to me:

…We (the Meeting and FICR) have retained Hekmat [a local woman] …at least through the end of December [2013] and perhaps for much longer. Plans for ongoing spiritually connected workshops (that is a vital connection for the maintenance of our church status) will unfold this fall. Meanwhile, much repair work is happening on the Meetinghouse and the Annex ­roof tiles, leak, irrigation system, and so on ­ and the stream of visitors keeps coming. Hekmat has been arranging, and is present for, hospitality at the rise of Meeting each Sunday and is glad to do so. There is a sense of peace about the slow and steady work of the spirit….



Omar Barghouti, founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel 

As for the AFSC: since 2004 the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza and the West Bank has concentrated on training youth, college age and high school. In an interactive and playful manner its Popular Achievement Program taught leadership and community building skills to volunteers. Once the graduates (now termed coaches) had successfully completed this training, the program required they recruit a group of high school youth to train in the same manner. The coaches then helped the younger youth design and implement a community service project such as a library, landscaping, first aid workshop, and conversion of an abandoned Israeli military base into a football (soccer) field. The AFSC joined with 11 strategic partners including NGO’s and universities to train more than 6000 young people.


Gaza office of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program

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Israel Palestine-Gaza-Popular Achievement Program-4233

Israel Palestine-Gaza-Popular Achievement Program-4220

Israel Palestine-Gaza-Popular Achievement Program-4410


Popular Achievement programs in Gaza and the West Bank


Photography workshop students (and friends) in Gaza taught by Skip Schiel

The new direction has 4 main goals, all in my view characterized by enhanced political content: challenging and transforming militarized societies in Israel, Palestine, and the US; fostering cohesion of disparate Palestinian groups (West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the diaspora); supporting the boycott-divest-sanction (BDS) international campaign as called for in 2005 by Palestinian civil society; and supporting active nonviolence and social change movements to transform the occupation and inequality generally.


SodaStream (targeted by the BDS campaign) factory in an illegal settlement industrial park in the West Bank,

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Landfill illegally operated by Veolia (also targeted by the BDS campaign) in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank

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Sahar Vardi, AFSC staff, East Jerusalem, at a demonstration in Al Masara

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Palestine-Al Masara-8181

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Al Masara, near Bethlehem

To implement this new direction AFSC will close down its West Bank and Gaza offices (West Bank immediately and Gaza in 3 years, altho the Gaza office may transition into an NGO with AFSC support), devolve direction to local partners (such as Baladna and Pal Vision), and continue funding. It will maintain its East Jerusalem office. The new program, “Palestinian Youth: Together for Change,” is slated to run until 2016. Quoting the regional director, Patricia Sellick, directly:

This is the context in which we are working:

20 years after Oslo the Israeli military occupation is entrenched and conditions of Palestinians are deteriorating Israel remains a highly militarized society and is attempting to extend a militarized civilian service to its Palestinian citizens US continues to support Israel with military aid The vulnerability of Palestinian refugees across the region has been highlighted by the predicament of the stateless Palestinians living in Syria

Within this context, AFSC reviewed its plans for Israel and Palestine programming in June 2012 and identified the following priorities (explained further in the attached document):

Demilitarization Economic Activism Non-violence and social change Palestinian cohesion

These strategic priorities have led to the redesign of our Israel, Palestine and US programs. These three programs are coordinated but separate.

…The new project started July 2013 and like the previous project has funding from Bread for the World. I would like to emphasize that our overall funding for the Palestine Program has increased. Staff cuts do not mean budget cuts, they reflect the fact that the Middle East region will now be spending a greater proportion on our partners and a smaller proportion on AFSC staff.

I raise the question: how can AFSC effectively end control and influence while it maintains funding? What if a partner wishes to advocate or at least allow a more militant approach to resistance, one that contradicts AFSC’s non-violence principles? Another question: if the direction is more political, ie, toward ending the occupation and siege, will Israel allow the AFSC the latitude it’s experienced over its more than 60 years in Palestine-Israel? To compile this report I’ve spoken with most staff, including Patricia Sellick, and the general secretary, Shan Cretin. I’m in touch with key people for constant updates. AFSC has produced an exciting new newsletter specific to the region.

AFSC logo gif IMG_7771

Shan Cretin, General Secretary, AFSC


Patricia Sellick, Regional Director, AFSC


Amal Sabawi, director of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza


Ibrahem Shatali, program officer, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza


Islam Madhoun, Intelligence Technology office, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza


Firas Ramlawi, business officer, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

From most Palestinian staff I heard some hard feelings. Some claimed they’d not been consulted and of course they were not happy about losing their jobs (altho some may transition into new AFSC positions or be able to use their expertise with other organizations). To some it felt like a classic top down decision-making process. Ms. Sellick claimed all staff had been consulted and AFSC was responding to suggestions and requests made by Palestinian organizations. Furthermore she said the big picture is hard to view from a staff position. I am happy to wait and see, revise my thoughts as new programs unfold, and support them in any way possible with my photography. I am grateful to be a small part of a large process, one that dates back to 1869 when 2 Quakers from my region of New England, Eli and Sybil Jones, met a young Arab girl in Ramallah. They asked, what can we do? She answered, provide education for girls. From such a humble origin, great and worthy institutions formed. They will continue. Contact info for the AFSC: regional director Patricia Sellick (p.sellick@afsc.org) and her team in the Middle East Regional office. And for FICR, board clerk Deborah First, (deborahfirst@mac.com).


Early 20th century


AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) in Palestine-Israel

FICR (Friends International Center in Ramallah) Popular Achievement Program

AFSC position paper-2013 (also available in Arabic)

AFSC-BDS Campaign

Quakers in Israel & Palestine—Timeline by Skip Schiel

Notes on My Quaker Connections in Palestine 

Photos by Skip Schiel

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Those who have nothing they’re willing to die for are not fit to live.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

To give you a flavor of the life of one innocent abroad, a close call—for me and more vitally the Palestinians who experience this regularly.

The hour was late, the staff from the American Friends Service Committee and I were all tired, night was coming, we’d eaten very little all day. We’d passed 5 checkpoints on our way to Jenin and did not look forward to returning by that same route. We’d observed in the morning long lines of cars on their way south, which would have been our direction when returning. So we decided to drive thru Nablus, visit someone, have dinner, and return to Ramallah by an alternative route that would have minimum checkpoints. Part way there–a roadblock. Taxis waiting on the northern, Jenin side. We saw a few people walking over the earth mounds out of Nablus. We decided that Fida, Tahija and I would walk in while Thuqan drove around to meet us on the southern edge of Nablus. This would make possible a leisurely visit for at least 3 of us in Nablus.


Vehicles blocked by earth mounds

We soon discovered that this mound was only one of many, a series, stretching for at least 1 km, some 6 of them, dirt and stones heaped up, the road ditched. Fida had trouble walking up and down the mounds because she was recovering from a recent car accident and limped shakily. After 3 ascents we heard a gunshot, it echoed thru the canyon. The wadi scene was beautiful, the shot perplexing, we had no idea where it originated, where it was directed, and what it meant. Maybe hunters. We continued walking.

Then we heard shouting from high up in the hills, spotted 2 people, perhaps soldiers. Fida wasn’t sure what their message was. But she shouted in return, surprising Tahija and myself, in English, “I have a broken leg, I was in a car accident”–as if this might persuade soldiers to show some mercy. Instead: another shot. We ducked behind dirt mounds. We inched our way back and retreated, not sure the shot was fired at us or to warn us. Later Fida suggested they had shouted, “Go back or we will shoot you.” We chuckled about her choice of response–a broken leg, please have mercy.


Tahija & Fida

Later, discussing this with Neta Golan, co-founder of the International Solitary Movement, she confirmed a suspicion I had: “You are lucky, some soldiers would simply shoot and not shout. No one in the whole world would notice.”

Discussing why the blocks and why the firing later with Thuqan whom we’d phoned to meet us–it was now nearly dark and I suggested in jest that maybe if we waited another 30 minutes we could walk under the noses of the soldiers, forgetting they might have had night vision equipment–we came to the following interpretation: the Israelis had created the blocks after a martyrdom bombing  in Tel Aviv, stationed the soldiers, and sealed Nablus completely. Why Nablus when the bomber came from Jenin? Short-term punishment, recognized universally as collective punishment and illegal under international law. And long-term strategy to decimate the industrial and commercial center of Nablus. The 3 of us were mere blips on the radar screen. Nothing personal, you understand, just caught by circumstance.


While riding back to Ramallah I asked Tahija more about her years in Sarajevo–born and raised there, a Muslim, living thru the 3 year siege of the war. “For years after the siege had ended,” she told us, “I’d hit the ground when hearing loud and sharp sounds. Duck and cover. I’m over that now, and perhaps stronger for the experience. I can travel as I’m doing now (she just returned from 2 days in Gaza visiting AFSC programs), my husband worries about me, but I’m not afraid. Perhaps facing death does this to a person, makes me more able to take the big risk.”

I mentioned my pilgrimage experience in Cambodia in 1995 during the last days of the Khmer Rouge, hearing artillery fire each morning and evening, walking a narrow path thru the minefields. With an outcome similar to hers: I was strengthened by the experience of surviving fear, not immobilized by it. But I wondered aloud, what would I do now if coming under direct fire again? How might I have responded if in Jenin camp during the Israeli invasion of 2002? Will I be willing to enter Gaza next spring (2013) with the Israelis constantly attacking? As Art Gish from the Christian Peacemakers Teams said to me, free to die, free to live.


AFSC in Palestine


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The city of Hiroshima Japan, August 1995

The Hiroshima Dome, one of the few buildings that survived the atomic attack on August 6, 1945 and the creation of the Peace Park

Peace Crane, in the tradition of the young Japanese girl, Sadako, irradiated, surviving the initial blast, folding cranes to protect children from death, finally succumbing to her injuries

Lotus blossom, Hiroshima Peace Park, August 6, 1995, the lotus is a Buddhist symbol of compassion and enlightenment

©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.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

…resistance as spectacle has cut loose from its origins in genuine civil disobedience and is becoming more symbolic than real. Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are fun and vital, but alone they are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircraft, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe.

—Arundhati Roy

Rosa Parks arrested during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on his way to the Birmingham Alabama jail, 1958. Photo by Charles Moore

Dorothy Day arrested and jailed at age 75  protesting with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers supporting grape workers in California. Age 20 she was arrested with a group of suffragists who were demonstrating at the White House in favor of giving women the right to vote. Photo by Bob Fitch

John Pendleton arrested at the Pentagon for blockading the doors, Slaughter of the Innocents action to end war, 1980 c.

Puppet of Oscar Romaro by Bread & Puppet Theater, 1992 c.

Now Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Then about Hiroshima, the conclusion of this series.

Now as He drew near, He saw the city (Jerusalem) and wept over it. Saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side. And level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it.

—Luke, 19: 41-45

One of the fathers of atomic weaponry, Robert Oppenheimer, said while watching the desert explosion of the first bomb, blasphemously named Trinity,

If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of worlds.

He was quoting the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text.

As most of us realize, today [August 6, 2005, the day I delivered this keynote] is the 60th anniversary of the United State bombing Hiroshima, killing some 140,000 people outright, mostly civilians, innocents, and another 40,000 or so in the following year. Three days later this nation dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing upwards of 70,000 people. More than one-third million cremated bodies are enshrined in the Hiroshima Peace Park sanctuary. This follows the vicious fire bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, and Dresden and other German cities. We must commemorate this particular atrocity—this series of horrific terroristic attacks on innocent people— and look deeply at its horror, grieve for the victims which include citizens of our own country who might persist in not only denying the reality of the event, but professing a willingness to develop and use weapons of mass destruction. We must understand their motivation, rationale, and actions and their consequences—and take appropriate action. Yearly Meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee and I invite you into this commemoration following my presentation. Which is very simple. Look deeply into your own hearts to disclose what happened, what you and we can learn from it, and what next steps we shall all take, individually and collectively to move toward a better world.

From Unforgettable Fire, Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors, Edited by Nippon Hoso Shuppan Kyokai, 1977

We are not helpless in the face of possible catastrophe, but we must all understand the picture, and move toward changing it. We could join the Mayors for Peace campaign initiated by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It now numbers some 60 US mayors, including the mayor of Cambridge. Or we could encourage our legislators to reverse the drift toward war, partly by demanding that the US join most of the enlightened global community by ratifying various treaties and agreements that work toward abolishing war. Or we could reflect on and retell the story of Sadako, five years old when bombed in Hiroshima, using the Japanese origami tradition of paper cranes to call for no more killing, no war, let children ripen into wise adults. Or we could remain a few more minutes together in a joint effort to remember some of our past and commit to move toward a better world.

Sadako Sasaki Memorial in the Peace Park, Hiroshima, August 6, 1995

This week at New England Yearly Meeting sessions our observance of the atomic bombing can take several forms: drawing shadows on the ground to mark the lives of those whose lives ended in shadows on pavement and walls, the intense light carving memory into concrete; a photo exhibit and videos and other materials; a petition; a candle light procession to the Bryant campus pond [the site of our sessions and this keynote], and finally that all important profound silence. Perhaps during the silence you can each commit to one action this coming year that will move our nation toward a higher civilization, one truly honoring the sacred in all beings by burying the weapons of war and living in peace based on justice.

Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist monks praying at the Hiroshima Dome, the end of a 9 month pilgrimage for peace and life, 1994-1995

This end image is from the first edition of John Hersey’s revealing book, Hiroshima, first published in 1948 in the New Yorker, then, with this illustration, two years later by Bantam. I quote from the book about the illustration:

When Geoffrey Biggs, a master of shadow and light technique in art, brought in his startling illustration for the cover of Hiroshima, everybody wanted to know: “Where’d you get those people…why those two?”

Biggs said he thought back to that August morning in a certain big industrial city and he imagined how universally terrifying that situation was, how it could strike fear into anybody’s bones. “And I just drew two perfectly ordinary people—like you and me—and had them portray alarm, anxiety, and yet wild hope for survival as they run from man-made disaster in a big city—a city like yours or mine.

So, let the quiet begin here and flow out thru the doors into the world, first the near world of Byrant College, then the larger world, not a silence of resignation, despair, heartlessness, but a powerful silence of resilience, fortitude, wisdom and compassion, out from our comfortable benches and into the needy world.



Sadako Sasaki

Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage, 1995

Hiroshima Peace Park

Flotilla to Gaza, May 2010

From the American Friends Service Committee:

Gaza in Crisis (PDF) – A fact sheet that includes a general overview of the conflict.

Gaza Resources (PDF) – A useful collection of films, blogs and other online resources.

Speaker Resources (PDF) – Listing of seakers knowledgeable on topics and issues surrounding Gaza.

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Dr Martin Luther King Jr

©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.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

—Theodore Roethke, from “In a Dark Time”

Early Christians

These early Quaker luminaries, Margaret Fell, George Fox, the Valiant Sixty, and Mary Dyer were carried by the strength of their beliefs, by the closeness of their community, and by their repeated use of the model of early Christians, who themselves, before Constantine institutionalized the budding Christian movement, were equally willing to witness. Indeed, the word martyr stems from the Greek word for witness. Those martyrs were numerous, numbering some 2000 who died during the persecution that arose around St Stephen’s time. Their suffering was legion, manifold, endlessly varied and often unspeakably horrific.

Beheading John the Baptist

Apparently this included all of the gospel writers: Matthew, slain with a halberd (like a long hatchet with a steel spike) in the city of Nadabah, CE 60; Mark, dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria; Luke, hanged on an olive tree in Greece; also John, the author of Revelations, boiled in oil only to survive; and Paul, once Saul, dying in the first persecution, under Nero, his neck severed by a sword. And finally Peter, to whom Jesus offered the lesson of “and you will be carried,” Peter apparently was crucified in Rome by Nero, choosing to hang upside down because he said, “I am unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus.” (History of Early Christian Martyrs, European Institute of Protestant Studies)

This is dedication. Not to the degree most of us might personally undertake, but worth considering. Can change occur, true witness be presented, without risk, without courage, without a testimony that says, here I stand, this is what I stand for, and I shall not be moved?

What carried these early martyrs? What was their direction?

Jesus Christ

For some of us in the Religious Society of Friends and the wider United States community, Christ is bedrock, surely for early Friends and early Christians. We can interpret his life and its aftermath in many ways, most onerously—and I believe wrongly—as anti-Jewish and anti-Judaism. Read James Carroll’s massive book, Constantine’s Sword, for explication, or the seminal book by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, or from our own Alan Kohrman, his pithy booklet, Quakers and Jews. Christ died in part for challenging the authorities, the Roman authorities and the Jewish authorities. He spoke out. He acted, and like Martin and Malcolm, he had premonitions of his own death. He was not deterred, he might have been emboldened by this threat. He was free to die, therefore free to live. He knew what he stood for and what the costs would be. In my book, he is a hero and a role model and a guide, arguably divine or maybe not, but certainly courageous and sagacious and prophetic.

Jesus with the woman accused of adultery

Archbishop Oscar Romero

I believe in resurrection, in the idea of resurrection, not necessarily bodily resurrection, but pedagogical resurrection. The teachings live on, or can. Here’s an example: Oscar Romero, knowing what might happen if he continued to oppose the military government of El Salvador, said, If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.

This last part is crucial, in the Salvadoran people. Romero will not live again magically, but only with the participation of the people. That is you and me. What carried him? What carries me? What carries you?

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador

I dream of Martin Luther King

While working in South Africa in 1999, I dreamt of Martin Luther King coming to me. I was back on the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, we were in our stay place for the night, a church somewhere in the south of the US. We’d eaten, we pilgrims were sitting around on benches and at tables. In walked Martin, he sat down at an empty table and no one came to join or welcome him. So I did, nervously. I sat opposite him, said in a quavering voice, thank you for coming to visit with us Dr. King. Can I bring you some tea?

He nodded yes.

I returned with the tea, set it down in front of him, my hand shaking. I worried I’d spill the tea on his papers. He was to talk to us. And that is how the dream ended, but only the sleep part ended. I awoke as if from a nightmare, and horrifying it was in its implications. Like profound dreams generally, this one carried into semi-consciousness. I lay there, thinking, Martin has appeared to me, as if tapping me on the shoulder, and whispering in my ear, “Skip, my friend, I’m dead, but you’re alive, it’s your turn.”

My turn to walk the talk, do the deed, take the risk. Martin—remember I am a born again Kingian—both commands me and holds me. He directs me and he supports me.

He’s reported to have said, Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. And those with nothing they’re willing to die for are not fit to live.

Let’s look at the last year of his life. He was speaking and acting against the war on Vietnam, angering many of his supporters. He chose to stand with the sanitation workers in Memphis when he might have been concentrating on organizing the Poor People’s Campaign. The Campaign itself was an attempt to shut down the federal government until it changed the system that fostered suffering. He and Malcolm were hinting at collaboration, bringing together the militant and more moderate wings of the civil rights movement. He propounded an analysis that pinpointed the roles of militarism, materialism, and racism, the triplet of our anguish. He called for a revolution of values.

On the way to the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC in 1968

I believe his analysis was correct and continues to be applicable. I believe government hands killed him—the so-called, by former vice president Dick Cheney, dark side—knowing how threatening he was. Thank god the dream is not dead, thank god for people like Boston city councilor Chuck Turner who is organizing to fund the dream. And I continue to be thankful for how Martin carries and directs me.

Rev. Ralph Abernathy and others at the Poor People’s Campaign, Washington DC, summer 1968

My role is not to organize the resistance, but to motivate and inform it. My role is not to analyze the political and social picture but to visualize its manifestations. My role is primarily to wake myself up and awaken others. Awaken, rise up from the slumber of comfort, from the ease of security, from the balm of convenience. Awaken to a life that is free to live, because free to die. To a fuller life, a more robust and edgy life.

We do not need to look far for examples of living the good life: Martin, Malcolm, Lucretia Mott, John Woolman, George Fox, Margaret Fell, Mary Dyer, Frederick Douglass, Francis of Assisi, Nichirin of the Buddhist order, his student Nichadatsu Fuji , founder of Nipponzan Myohoji, Gandhi, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Rachel Corrie, the list is endless. We can each be, in the words of the South African author and activist, Alan Paton, humble apostolic successors, joining the cloud of witnesses, our lives teaching others how they might live.

Or closer to home we can look to the war tax resistance of people like Susan Furry and others in our New England yearly meeting. They see the folly of praying for peace while paying for war. They refuse to give their tax money to the government and instead usually put the money in an escrow fund the proceeds of which fund socially beneficent organizations. The agencies they and other dissidents and witnessers work for, such as Friends Meeting at Cambridge, New England Yearly Meeting, Cambridge Friends School, and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting all have to decide whether to accede to the demands of the Internal Revenue Service or live by the principle of our founder, the good Rabbi Yeshua: honor life, do to others what you wish them to do to you.

I honor political and social witness—sharing the suffering of the afflicted and fighting for justice and peace. As someone pithily put it: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This may not be for everyone but it is important and a prime example of what I’m trying to express: the need for courageous, possibly self sacrificial action to challenge and correct the onerous conditions smothering us.

What carries you? What is your direction? How will you—in community—rise up?


Christian martyrs

Oscar Romero

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, April 1967

The Poor People’s Campaign

War tax resistance/redirection

US Social Forum, June 22-26, 2010, Detroit Michigan

Allied Media Conference, June 17-20, Detroit Michigan

Free Gaza Movement, a flotilla leaving in May 2010 for Gaza with humanitarian supplies and personnel—to break the siege

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To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.

—Arundhati Roy

©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.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Mary Dyer

While exploring this idea of risky journeys, I discovered Mary Dyer, giving her life willingly for the right to practice Quakerism in the stultifying air of puritan New England. She insisted on the right of all to follow their inner lights. She rejected oaths of any kinds, taught that gender had no bearing on the gift of prophesy, and fought for equal rights for women and men in worship and church organization. Her statue in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston honors her witness, paradoxically as is often true, bringing truth to bear at the site of a great mistake.

Dyer’s words ring true today, even tho immersed in that period’s locutions, from her:

Once more the General Court, assembled in Boston, speaks Mary Dyar, even as before: My life is not accepted, neither availeth me, in comparison of the lives and liberty of the truth and servants of the living god, for which in the bowels of love and meekness I sought you; yet nevertheless, with wicked hands have you put two of them [other Quakers] to death, which makes me to feel, that the mercies of the wicked is cruelty.

From an early illustration

Early Friends—often labeled “blasphemous heretics”—suffered many punishments for practicing their faith: fines and jail time, ears cut off, tongues bored, whipping, and finally hanging.

A particularly vivid description from a contemporary student and admirer of Mary Dyer, Sam Behling:

Capt John Webb signaled to Edward Wanton, officer of the gallows, who adjusted the noose. Mary needed no assistance in mounting the scaffold and a small smile lighted her face. Pastor Wilson had his large handkerchief ready to place over her head so no one would have to see that look of rapture twisted to distortion—only the dangling body. As her neck snapped, the crowd stood paralyzed in the silence of death until a spring breeze lifted her limp skirt and set it to billowing. “She hangs there as a flag for others to take example by,” remarked an unsympathetic bystander. That was indeed Mary Dyer’s intention—to be an example, a “witness” in the Quaker sense, for freedom of conscience.

And her purported last words:

Nay, I came to keep bloodguiltiness from you, desireing you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust law made against the innocent servants of the Lord. Nay, man, I am not now to repent.

Defiant to the end, Mary Dyer died because she supported—and this is true support, going beyond mere words, more than that sometimes lame Quakerese phrase “hold you in the light” conveys—Ann Hutchinson who was excommunicated by the Puritan church for her Quakerly convictions. At the risk of her own death, Dyer  had reentered the Boston region, primarily to uphold other imprisoned Quakers and to oppose laws restricting freedom of religion.

As Quakers we have many examples of lives given willingly as evidence of conviction, of living fully the testimonies of our tradition.

Mary Dyer statue in front of Massachusetts State House, Boston

George Fox

Another example—many can be drawn from early Quakers, and this might be one of our problems, that we come to believe that once done, always done. We have our cloud of witnesses, that’s done and finished, now I can rest on their achievements, a peculiarly seductive attitude that might account for some of what I believe is contemporary Quaker quietism. Another example I’ll bring to you is one of our founders, George Fox. He was one of the Valiant Sixty, which included his wife. Here he writes about an incident in Tickhill:

When Friends were in the meeting, and fresh and full of the life and power of God, I was moved to go out of the meeting to the steeple house…So I went up to them and began to speak; but they immediately fell upon me; and the clerk up with his Bible, as I was speaking, and struck me on the face with it so that it gushed out with blood, and I bled exceedingly in the steeple house Then the people cried: ‘Let us have him out of the church!” and when they had got me out, they beat me sore with books, fists, and sticks, and threw me down and over a hedge into a close, and there beat me and threw me over again…After a while I got into the meeting again amongst Friends, and the priest and the people coming by the house, I went forth with Friends into the yard, and there I spake to the priest and people…My spirit was revived again by the power of God, for…I was almost mazed [bewildered] and my body sore bruised but by the power of the Lord I was refreshed again, to him be the glory.

Fox’s Journal, chapter 3, 1651-52

One view of how Fox may have appeared

Quoting The Missing Cross to Purity:

In the time of the restored King Charles II alone, 13,562 Quakers were imprisoned; 338 died from injuries inflicted in meetings or imprisonment, and 198 were sent into slavery over the seas. Under all the kings, Besse’s Sufferings counts 869 Quakers who died in prison. They were viciously persecuted by Independent Calvinist Puritans [Congregationalists], Presbyterians, Baptists, and Episcopalians. Per Fox’s Journal: “Friends never feared their acts, prisons, jails, houses of correction, banishment, nor seizure of personal property; no, nor the loss of life itself; nor was there ever any persecution that came, but we saw how it would result in good; nor were there ever any prisons that I was in, or sufferings, except it was for the bringing multitudes out of prison; though they who imprisoned the truth, and quenched the spirit in themselves, would imprison and quench it without them; so that there was a time when so many were in prison, that it became as a by-word, ‘truth is scarce any where to be found but in jails.'”

A more likely appearance

Bunhill Fields Quaker Burial Ground next to Bunhill Fields Meeting House, photo by Mark Barker

Margaret Fell

And his wife, Margaret Fell, writes to King Charles in 1666:

And now I may say unto thee, For which of these things hast thou kept me in Prison three long Winters, in a place not fit for People to lie in; sometime for Wind, and Storm, and Rain, and sometime for Smoke; so that it is much that I am alive, but that the Power and Goodness of God hat been with me. I was kept a Year and Seven Months in this Prison, before I was suffered to see the House that was mine, or Children or Family, except they came to me over two dangerous Sands in the Cold Winter, when they came with much danger of their Lives…And in all this I am very well satisfied; and praises the Lord, who counts me worthy to suffer for his sake.

—Hidden in Plain Sight, Quaker Women’s Writings, 1650-1700

A contemporary observer, Richard Baxter, no friend of the Friends, wrote:

Abundance of them died in prison, and yet they continued their assemblies still—yea many turned Quaker because the Quakers kept their meeting openly and went to prison for it cheerfully.

Home of Margaret Fell and George Fox and early meeting house of Friends

The Valiant Sixty

The Valiant Sixty—a small portion of the estimated one thousand—suffered many years in prison, loss of wealth, illness and death. To what was their witness, and what carried them? They believed in equality, truth, and nonviolence, and walked their talk by not doffing their hats to so called betters or addressing them with the language of deference of the time. If in business, they expected to receive the prices they asked for, not engaging in haggling. They were intensely concerned with the disadvantaged, including slaves, prisoners, and inmates of asylums. Later, they advocated for abolition of slavery and bettering prison conditions. In fact, we can credit them with solitary confinement, thought initially to be an opportunity to reflect on one’s life, to seek and find and offer penance, hence the word penitentiary.

They refused participation in the military, they did not pay tithes to established churches, in short, they lived what they believed was a life true to the teachings of their key mentor, Jesus Christ. For this they willingly, even joyfully at times, suffered.

They not only suffered, but they preached, they outreached, they went into the streets and proclaimed their truths. And they suffered, their suffering becoming part of their testimony. During the second half of the 17th century, over 3000 Quakers were incarcerated in English jails and prisons, many hundreds died there. Oh, where are the Valiant Sixty among us now?

And today?

All this historic heroism puts me in mind of Bil’in, a small village near Ramallah in Occupied Palestine. I’ve joined the villagers and others to defy the Israel occupation army. It protects the Separation Fence which denies farmers access to their land. At the risk of imprisonment or death, courageous Palestinians advocate for their basic human rights. May my Quaker colleagues (and others) join me and put to the lie a sometimes heard claim about contemporary Quakers: quick to stand to be counted, equally quick to sit down to not be noticed.



Bil’in, resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine

Mary Dyer

George Fox

Margaret Fell

The Valiant Sixty

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©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.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

John Woolman

An early friend I met at Cambridge meeting—a meeting known by some for being frequently frosty to newcomers—was John Woolman. I read Brother Woolman with relish, quickly discovered his account of nearly dying, how it provided the seed ground for his transformation. He put it this way:

In a time of sickness, a little more than two years and a half ago, I was brought so near the gates of death that I forgot my name. Being then desirous to know who I was, I saw a mass of matter of a dull gloomy color between the south and the east, and was informed that this mass was human beings in as great misery as they could be, and live, and that I was mixed with them, and that henceforth I might not consider myself as a distinct or separate being. In this state I remained several hours. I then heard a soft melodious voice, more pure and harmonious that any I had heard with my ears before; I believed it was the voice of an angel who spake to the other angels; the words were, “John Woolman is dead.”…

[Then carried in spirit to mines where people suffered because of Christians, awakening the next morning, he said:]

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in men. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Then the mystery was opened and I perceived there was joy in heaven over a sinner who had repented, and that the language “John Woolman is dead,” meant no more than the death of my own will.

—Woolman’s journal, “John Woolman is dead,” 1769, p 214

This experience came relatively late in his life, in 1769. He was 49 years old, and had only 3 more years to live. But it is telling, one among many of his turns of heart that as I read them in the chilly Cambridge friends’ atmosphere, warmed my heart and penetrated my fog. I might not use his language, nor carry all of his beliefs, but the fundamental message of dying to one’s past and awakening to one’s reality is true for me.

Woolman’s travels to Indian country

Later I learned about his travels to Indian country, the frontier, not far from his home in New Jersey. Here’s what he wrote in his journal:

Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they lived in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leading of truth among them, and as it pleased the Lord to make way for my going at a time when the troubles of war were increasing, and when, by reason of much wet weather, traveling was more difficult than usual at that season, I looked upon it as a more favorable opportunity to season my mind, and to bring me into a nearer sympathy with them.

—Woolman’s journal, Love is the first motion, to the Wehaloosing Indians on the River Susquehanna, 1761, p 142

“Troubles of war were increasing…much wet weather…traveling more difficult that usual at that season…” His response: “I looked upon it as a more favorable opportunity to season my mind, and to bring me into a nearer sympathy with them.”

Wounded Knee

Growing up in Chicago, I had a dim awareness of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Being who I was, subject to societal pressures and inclining toward delinquency, whenever considering Indians I sided with the white guys. Playing cowboys and Indians, I chose the cowboy role. My parents liked to take long car trips during summer vacations; one brought us to the Badlands. I knew the Badlands were connected with Wounded Knee, and for the first time considered the hardships endured by the Lakota Sioux in 1890 just before being massacred. Some had fled to the Badlands and tried to survive there during the blizzard conditions.

Mr. Kills-in-Water, Rosebud reservation, South Dakota, 1984

Margery Jumping-Eagle, Rosebud reservation, 1983

Rosebud reservation, 1984

Badlands, South Dakota

Wounded Knee Valley, Pine Ridge reservation, South Dakota, December 1990

Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990

In high school, I read more about the events surrounding the Indian-white wars and slowly shifted my perspective. But it was only in 1983, going to the Great Plains myself, initially to be confronted with the flatness and intense light of that region—a challenge for my photography—that I suddenly discovered the depths of that suffering. I explored the Badlands, I was ineluctably drawn to the valley of Wounded Knee, I camped overnight nearby, unable to sleep in the valley itself because of what I sensed was the great evil perpetrated there less than one century earlier. In 1990, exactly one century after the massacre, I returned with over 300 Native people to commemorate that event: “wipe the tears” and “mend the sacred hoop,” in the words of the organizers, end the period of mourning and begin rebuilding the Lakota nation. Wounded Knee inspired and taught me to place myself in the body of another, to empathize, to exhibit compassion. And to attempt to depict thru photography some of that experience.

I could overcome my fear as I entered the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota, largely because of having faced my mother’s death just 5 years earlier. Another gift that even she could not anticipate. I was also learning from John Woolman.

The Southside of Chicago

This was part of my breakthru year, not only this trip to Wounded Knee which led to returns for photo projects, but thanks to my then 12 year old very daring daughter, Katy, returning to my childhood home on Chicago’s South Side. When we lived there it was all white. Black people were moving into what I regarded as “our” neighborhood. Gang fights and fire bombings ensued. My family, ignobly, was the first to flee, the first to engage in white flight. The year: 1955. Also the year of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, the year of the murder of the young Emmett Till, exactly my age and also from Chicago, and the year of the Freedom Charter in South Africa. A pivotal year, the import of which I’m slowly realizing. But in 1983, nearly 20 years after we’d fled to a Chicago suburb, I returned to my childhood home, overcoming my fears about entering my old neighborhood, required to share it with people of color. This led directly to my photo project with the Chicago Fellowship of Friends (CFF), who were located in one of the most notorious zones of Chicago, Cabrini Green. Not only CFF but my work on anti racism generally sprang from this breakthru year, including serving on New England Yearly Meeting’s Committee on Racial, Social, and Economic Justice, co-editing our publication The Freedom and Justice Crier, and my home meeting’s Friends for Racial Justice committee, which itself was also an outgrowth of my first trip to South Africa.

Cabrini Green, Chicago

Charlotte Thomas and daughter, members of the Chicago Fellowship of Friends, Cabrini Green

East 86th Street, Chicago’s Southside, 1990 c.

My home at 1648 East 86th Street, 1992 c.

In my old Southside neighborhood



The Journal of John Woolman

Wounded Knee

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©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.)


For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

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.

—Isaiah 24

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.

Pearl Schiel

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



“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

Read Full Post »

Dedicated to Rachel Corrie, the seven year anniversary of her killing by an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 tractor on March 16, 2003, her parents now (March 7, 2010) in Israel for the opening of a court trial (details below)

© 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.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to gird your loins and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your arms, and someone else will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

—John 21: 18

Now, what’s the context for this passage? Jesus has been crucified, he’s resurrected and appeared to the unseeing apostles along the shore of the Lake of Tiberius, also known as the Sea of Galilee. They were failing at fishing. What great guys, these apostles, always so human, so foible-filled, so like me. He was hinting to the apostles what following Jesus meant: possible sacrifice.

The story might be apocryphal. For that matter, much of the gospels, much of holy script might be apocryphal, but the teachings are so often true. What can we learn from this passage?

In my experience, is God what carries and directs me, do I seek to learn god’s will and follow it? I have misgivings about the notion of god, especially when used to justify attitudes and behavior. Seeking the will of god is something resolutely I do not do. I’m cautioned by the following statement and by who made it:

I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator…By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.

—Adolf Hitler, from Mein Kampf

There are too many instances of the notion of god’s will gone bad, that to use this or even seek this guidance seems a fatal miscalculation. Instead, for me, I seek the still small voice—critically understood—in the context of the times and the community.

I am now an older man, 69 to be precise, and my days of self-direction are over. I do not myself independently choose to go on long pilgrimages; I do not choose to wander into zones of conflict such as Cambodia, Bosnia, American Indian country, Cabrini Green, or Israel, or Palestine, or right here on this blog, naked in front of you trying to share my life. I do not choose this mission, nor do I resist it. I am often fearful, I am usually very unclear, I hesitate and demur and find excuses. I’d rather be in bed or the library reading Kafka or watching Front Line on TV or playing with one of my grand children. I would never say, after offering you a slice of my life, go and do likewise, follow me.

Kalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, 2003

What carries me, and what is my direction, perhaps my fate?

A lead comes from a person I feel might be a latter day saint, a contemporary incarnation of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, St Francis, St Nicherin of the Japanese Buddhist tradition, and George Fox and Martha Fell themselves, and especially John Woolman (the last 3 are key Quaker figures). I am speaking of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I confess, I am a born again Martin Luther Kingian. I’ll explain that in a moment, but first, for me, one of his most important and overlooked teachings:

He said, if a person hasn’t discovered something to die for, that person is not fit to live.

When I first heard or read this passage, I was incredulous, Martin, speaking this way, so harsh, so demanding, so critical? And I checked, yes, he’d said it, or at least he’s widely quoted as saying it.

His admonition teaches the importance of living a life that is pointed, vital, full, meaningful, direct, and at risk constantly of ending because of the course of that life. Not a life content to settle into the easy chair and read a book. Or watch a video. Or even attend a demonstration or sign or circulate a petition, as important as all these can be. Or writing a letter to a congressperson, or even visiting that person. The emphasis is on fronting life directly, as Thoreau put it when explaining his excursion to Walden Pond for two years, and not dying regretting one has not fully lived.

Israeli soldier, originally from Australia, with a Quaker grandmother,
Hebron Old City, 2003

I feel that the value of living fully is timeless, but especially so today with numerous global crises so looming and clear. As Howard Zinn put it recently in a talk referring to the United States Declaration of Independence, we live in hard times, as hard as anything he’s seen. In response to possible impending catastrophe, he actually quoted from memory portions of the Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (sic), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

—US Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Howard Zinn (L), member of Community Change Inc, and Tim Wise

He emphasized the right of the people to alter or to abolish their government if it is not securing the guaranteed rights. In our age of galloping empire—based on the triplet Martin Luther King taught, militarism, racism, and poverty, have we the people indeed earned the right to significantly transform our political system?

Some might argue that life is always tough, always harsh and violent and full of despots and tyrants and brutality and occupation and invasion and problems for the environment and immigration and poverty and racism. But several features stand out that define the contemporary era: nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the desecration of the environment, the rise of global corporatization, and the fact of empire. We, the citizens assembled, live in its midst, benefit from its continuance, and suffer from its egregiousness.

Art Gish, in the Hebron southern hills, living in At-Twani with the Christian Peacemakers Team

While in Palestine, photographing for the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron and the nearby southern hills of Hebron, I met another luminary, Art Gish. Art is in his 70s, as is his wife, Peg. Both have been frequently in Iraq and Palestine with the CPT, obviously risking their security to witness and tell their truths. Art encapsulated Martin’s words like this: free to die, then free to live. And he lives his truth, walks his talk.

In 2004 Palestinian farmers and shepherds asked CPT to set up a monitoring site in the southern Hebron hills, while their first site continued in the heart of Hebron’s Old City. Settlers neighboring the hill people—who are my neighbors?—threatened Palestinian school children as they walked past the rural settlements to and from school. The also spread poison over the land, many of their sheep and goats then could not stand and soon died. Within a few weeks, two CPT members, Chris Brown, originally from South Africa, and Kim Laherty were accompanying the children when masked settlers attacked and beat them both. The children ran away but the settlers, speaking American English, punctured Chris’ lung, broke Kim’s leg, and stole cell phones and wallets, The Israeli army then declared CPT could no longer accompany the kids, the army or police would. To this day CPT, aided by an Italian Catholic nonviolence organization, Operation Dove, keep 24-hour vigil, at some risk. Art is one of the mainstays.

Chris Brown (courtesy of Christian Peacemakers Team)

The Palestinians in At-Twani built a new health clinic, initially without building permits which are virtually impossible to acquire. At the last minute and despite threats of demolition, the Israeli authorities granted a permit—unprecedented. The people thanked CPT for their witness.

Rachel Corrie, a young woman from Washington state, tried to block a Caterpillar tractor driver from demolishing a home in Rafah, the Gaza Strip. The driver did not stop, despite Rachel wearing an orange glow vest and speaking thru a bullhorn. Her witness in 2003 and that of CPT and many other individuals and groups in Palestine and Israel inspire me. Once I am willing to die, knowing why I might die, not when and where and how—the exact conditions of one’s death can be hard to predict—I am free to live. How did I reach this state, if I am in this state?

My mother, Pearl, died

Fran and Pearl Schiel

In 1977 my father died, age 65. I’ve outlived him by 4 years. Upon retirement he assumed he had many miles to go before he slept. My mother, Pearl, died in 1978, age 63, exactly nine months after Fran. I’ve outlived her by nearly 7 years, I was with her when she died, making films at that time, and in fact making a film about her, never guessing she was about to die. My sister Elaine and I accompanied her during her dying. It was a painful death from ravaging cancer that commandeered her body. She did not die easily or peacefully. But she said to us in her last moments, Elaine, Skip, you won’t understand what I’m about to say for many years, but my death will be a gift to you both.

She never spoke like this before, as if an oracle, but she spoke true words. From her death sprang for me—as if a lotus springing up from the muck and mire of the pond—Buddhism, Quakerism, and my turning from filmmaking which was becoming fruitless to photography and my continuing witness with camera. That story of transition is for another time.

Into adulthood

The deathwatch for Pearl lasted 3 days. We then sat with her body. As she lived her last moments, I noticed her jugular vein throbbing, tried to show this in my movie. Now that she was dead, I looked at that jugular again, it was motionless. She was indeed dead, gone who knows where. But I soon discovered where I was directed—into adulthood. After the funeral home people came for her body—it was June 24th, a stormy night—I left the house and walked thru the dark wet streets of Arlington Heights Illinois. I felt for the first time in my life a full and complete adult, with all the responsibilities of adulthood, not only for my 2 young daughters, but for a wider community. Slowly, beginning with this moment when I was 38 years old, I had a daunting responsibility but I didn’t know then what it was or how to undertake it.

A second discovery from her death was that once I’d faced the reality of death it lost some of its sting. I find that fearsome matters at a distance are abstract, and my mind amplifies the threat, but when I face the trouble directly—in this case the loss of my mother, in many other cases going to places like Israel and Palestine during conflict—the fear lessens. It rarely evaporates, but it diminishes to become bearable.

Israeli bus bombed by Palestinian suicide militants (courtesy of the internet)

What doesn’t kill me strengths me

And a third discovery, first with my parents’ deaths, but recurring whenever I face danger. If I’m grounded in clarity and community support, I’m ultimately strengthened rather than weakened by adversity. Returning from the Holy Land in one piece nourishes me, builds my muscles, proves to me that if I can survive in Palestine/Israel, I can survive most any threat. As Napoleon put it, quoting Seneca, “What doesn’t kill me will strengthen me.” Witnessing is good medicine, it rejuvenates, it revitalizes, it clears the brain and body and spirit, pushes away sluggishness and prevarication, tans the body and makes it alive again, reborn and invincible. As for the individual so for the global community. The planetary body is healed, or can be, with the correct form of witness, done by enough people.

Palestinian men on their way to school, Jerusalem, 2003

Fruits of my photographic witness? As with teaching, as with making art, as with fostering children, no one knows what fruit will issue from the seed of witness. The seed never sees its own fruit. I hope to plant the seed in good soil—But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8: 15)

I and the witnessing community labor, pray, and persist.



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