"And you will be carried
where you do not wish to go"
by Skip Schiel
for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions keynote on August 6, 2005
(revised January 5, 2007)
© All text copyright Skip Schiel, 2005 and earlier
(This version is expanded from what I spoke on August 6th at Bryant College in Smithfield RI. It may eventually be available on CD from NEYM as a PowerPoint digital slide show.)
My deepest thanks to those who invited me to give you this message. I am indebted and humbled and daunted. Thanks also to my clearness committee, and to Chris Jorgenson who introduced me and helped lead the song (with Donna McDaniel and Dwight Lopes), and to Dwight who is acting as my treasured elder tonight. I am especially grateful that providentially this presentation is on this particular date, August 6th, a date rendered momentous because of what happened exactly 60 years ago, at 8:15 am, on a hot morning in a Japanese city, mostly to civilians trapped by the insanity of war. Reference to and action about this date will be the conclusion of this presentation.
May I speak from an open heart and may you hear with a likewise open heart. May words and pictures lead to useful lives.
First political arrest
How odd, that recently for five months I explored the political, religious and cultural landscape of Palestine and Israel, and altho I had a few close calls, I was never arrested, never detained, never brought to trial, never even directly threatened, that I know of. And then, a few months after returning home, just a few blocks from my house, I earned my first political arrest. On June 14th, just two months ago, on the Cambridge Common, the US army arrived, ostensibly to honor veterans and the army for its accomplishments at home and abroad, but in truth, many of us feel, to bolster the ranks of the not so willing.
Hearing of the plans just one week before, many people were shocked and quickly assembled to speak out about what the US army is doing in Iraq and world wide (the proposed military budget for next year is nearly 1/2 trillion dollars, 500 billion). We arrived on the Common with signs, banners, chants, and other messages of resistance. I was there primarily to photograph, concentrating on the children regaled by the displays of weaponry and the re-enactors and soldiers with cannon, Humvees, field hospitals, and even four men parachuting from a helicopter in plumes of orange smoke. I resonated with the children, because as an impressionable boy I had wished desperately to join the Navy, more about this episode in my life later.
We insisted on exercising rights granted to us by the first amendment to the constitution, which reads in part—
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
We risked joining the ranks of people such as Mary Dyer, an early Quaker in the colonies, a founding mother of this nation, a martyr, who gave her life for freedom of religion and freedom of speech more than 100 years before this amendment was written. Or John Woolman, compassionately and dangerously visiting Indians on the then frontier to discover if he might learn from them, and going to slave owners to gently encourage them to free their enslaved people.
On June 14th, Flag Day, as I photographed the Tactical Police Force pushing the dissidents, someone, probably an officer, knocked me to the ground and I was arrested, I am now reluctantly but proudly one of the Cambridge 7, along with 2 AFSC staff who were in retreat at the Cambridge Friends meeting center just a few blocks away when they first heard about the event. In a phone message of support to me, Jonathan Vogel Borne termed me an "unwitting hero." At moments however, I have to wonder if I'm not a witless witness.
The American Civil Liberties Union is defending us and plans a civil suit against the city for curtailing our civil liberties. I've put my voluminous writing and photographing about this experience on my website, teeksaphoto.org. I mention all this as a prologue to my presentation, as one possible example of what I'm advocating—off our benches, out of our meeting houses, enough writing of minutes, into the streets, into the throbbing regions of this world that need our attention, to enact a more daring resistance to the ills and wrongs of our world. And with that resistance, acting from our testimonies of equality, peace and nonviolence, civic and community responsibility, and justice, finally hearing that still small voice, that greater call, creating, enacting a vision of a better world. Despite the risk.
Many are called, and many are the calls, ranging from calls for justice, human rights, respect for the environment, orienting to what American Indians call the seventh generation, all the way to calls for retribution, vengeance, wrath, occupation, and imperial dominance. Some feel grounded in scripture, some in personal contact with their deity. Perhaps I am wrong in my direction, as I feel the Christian Zionists are tragically mistaken. Perhaps I am at least partially correct in my path, grounded in not only my own conscience but in that of a greater force, a more universal gravitation toward justice and freedom. The belief that all beings, all of creation is sacred, all interconnect, Milquetoast, all my relations, as my friends, the Lakota Sioux express it. Or as Dr. King said, the arc of struggle is long but it bends toward justice.
Invitation from NEYM
The invitation from NEYM to offer the keynote came while I was in Palestine, at a particularly low time in my five months there. Not only were political conditions looking again hopeless to me, but my life was not unfolding as I'd hoped. My arrangements with sponsoring organizations—the Palestinian university, Birzeit, and its Right to Education Campaign and the Ecumenical Accompaniers for Peace in Palestine and Israel— had borne minimal fruit, and one ended painfully. It was late December 2004, I had one month left, and I wasn't sure who would accept my offer of volunteered photography. What's the point? Why do this? I am away from home, from family and friends, from my core communities, trying to practice and offer my craft, and few seem interested.
YM's invitation—which I resisted accepting too quickly, needing some discernment time—affirmed what I've been trying to do for many decades, witness with my body, with my camera, to various troubles worldwide.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to show you something of these images, and to try to put them into a context that might be useful to you. I'd state my life task this way: seeing with my own eyes, despite the risk, coming to an understanding, showing the results, then inviting you to see with your own eyes and take action you feel is appropriate.
Last year's session's theme was expressed by the parable of the Good Samaritan, asking the question, who is my neighbor? And applying this question to racism and our Quaker connections with slavery. Many of us hope to continue this theme this week. Donna McDaniel, who co-led our opening song, last year with her colleague Vanessa Julye graced us with portions of their research about racism and Quakers. We include her reflections on writing their book in this summer's issue of the Freedom and Justice Crier.
"Go and do likewise."
The story from Luke 10:37 ended like this: "Go and do likewise."
That's Jesus talking, highlighting the importance of helping others, when—and this is vital to the story as I see it—that act of charity, mercy, justice involves some risk. It's not merely a story of one person helping another, but of others who had the opportunity to aid the poor beaten traveler along the Jericho Road choosing not to stop. They did not take a chance, they refused to do the right thing. If they heard a call, they responded with something like, "sorry, too busy, got lots to do, another time perhaps." "Go and do likewise," he said.
The theme this year draws on that rich parable, its closing words, and a reference to another Jesus story, that of the sower and the seeds (Luke 8: 15): 'Go and do likewise …hear the word of God, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.'
The invitation also asked me to share some of my photographs from various journeys of discovery, so I will begin with several key journeys. In my witnessing with my camera, I hope to sow a few seeds of awareness and wisdom, and most importantly the seed of action, especially when that action entails risk. Light guides me, I seek the light, I am a slave of light. No photos without light, lousy photos when ignorant of the light. This little light of mine. Pass the light on. Awaken! As Thoreau so elliptically put it:
…but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.
These are the very last words of his book, Walden.
I am fortunate to be able to undertake these journeys. I've arranged my life to be relatively free and quiet, economically and socially. My two daughters, in their 30s, are launched. my economic needs are very slender and many people have aided me. This loving Quaker community is a mainstay, both locally and internationally—in Palestine Quakers were my primary lifeline. And my partner, Louise Dunlap, is one of the supreme gifts of my life. I have probably slipped in a few of her photos, they are often very good. I am carried by angels, I am directed by the still small voice, if I only give it the quiet it needs. And blessedly, I am aged, with fewer and fewer years before me, less and less reason to hold on to life.
The vehicle for many of my journeys is the Japanese Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji. Their practice is mostly building peace pagodas—they have two in the States, in Leverett Massachusetts and near Albany NY—and conducting pilgrimages and walks for peace and justice. They might be considered a Japanese incarnation of Mahatmas Gandhi.
From various journeys
Wounded Knee—how I learned compassion by passing thru stages of awareness
Chicago Fellowship of Friends—early fear of Cabrini, shock at hearing Quaker talk from Black people
Auschwitz—tearful while walking to the main gate at night for the first night of Chanuka, my birthday, the chant and the community and the monks, Martha as FMC partner
Cambodia—the night before, unsettled, then calm
Japan—city of peace, city of horror
Middle Passage Pilgrimage—the anguish of living with such different people, visiting such painful history, learning deep faith
South Africa—White's engraved image of miners, discovering the importance of being present, from partnering to examining our own racism
Prisons—from my Skip as bad boy beginnings, horrible conditions and racial injustice, Allah befriended and aided (with Dinah et al from FMC, growing prison ministry of others)
Pentagon with Plowshares people breaking the uncivil laws
Israel-Palestine—suffering of all people, Jews (suicide bombed, now a weapon of choice) and Palestinians (occupation, a method of choice), the light, physical and of wisdom, draws me, Christ's footsteps, perhaps searching for the "true cross," need to cry, shooting taxi driver, indirect trauma, 3 college students, Balal, Yousef 1 and Yousef 2.
I also include some of my series, Scent of Earth, here just trees and sky. Trees because they stem from a waking dream I had in 1982 while walking thru the wintry forest of the White Mts. I distinctly felt the trees calling to me. They presented me with a plea: we feel the great fire coming, we are rooted and strong, but have no power to move out of the way or quench the fire. We call on you for help. This led to some of my work in the peace movement as well as a continuing devotion to trees.As for sky, while traveling, in no matter what hemisphere, the sky was always above me. Virtually the same sky day and night anywhere on the globe. I was comforted by this uniformity and have concentrated on sky every since that realization.
One of the most profound and frightening scriptural teachings for me comes from the gospel of John, and this will set the overall context for my 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."
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 unsuccessfully fishing. What great guys, these apostles, always so human, so foible filled, so like me. He was speaking to the apostles, hinting to them what following Jesus meant: possible sacrifice.
The story might be apocryphal. For that matter, much of the gospels, much of holy scrip,t 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, the still small voicebut criticallyin the context of the times and the community.
I am now an older man, 64 to be precise, and my days of self-direction are over. I do not choose to go on long pilgrimages, exactly, I do not choose to wander into zones of conflict such as Cambodia, Bosnia, Indian country, Cabrini Green, or Israel, or Palestine, or right here at Bryant college, standing 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 home reading Kafka or watching Front Line or playing with my new about to be born grandson Cid. I would never say after giving you a piece of my life, go and do likewise, follow me.
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 and Martha themselves, and especially John Woolman. 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. But of fronting life directly, as Thoreau put it when explaining his excursion to Walden pond for two years, and not dying regretting never having lived.
I feel that the value of living fully is timeless, but especially so today with the global crisis 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, 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
He emphasized the Right of the People to alter or to abolish. In our age of galloping empire, have we indeed earned the right to significatly 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 here, the citizens assembled, living in its midst, benefiting from its continuance, and suffering from its egregiousness.
While in Palestine, photographing for the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron and the nearby south 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.
Last September Palestinians farmers and shepherds asked CPT to set up a monitoring site in the south 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, this sheep can not stand up 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 kids 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. So CPT, aided by an Italian Catholic nonviolence organization, Operation Dove, keep 24-hour vigil, at some risk. Art is one of the mainstays.
The construction is a new health clinic the hill people built, initially without building permits, 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 two years ago 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
In 1977 my father died, age 65. In one more year I'll have reached his age. 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 one year. I was with her, 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 coming to be fruitless to photography and my continuing witness with camera. That story is for another time.
The deathwatch lasted for 3 days. We 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 still. She was indeed dead, gone who knows where. But I soon discovered where I was directedinto 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 Hts. I felt for the first time in my life a full adult, with full 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 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.
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, tells me if I can survive that, 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.
Fruits? 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. We hope to plant the seed in good soil—But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance. (Luke 8: 15) We labor, we pray, and we persist.
Now let me try to apply this teaching from the gospel of John, and the lives of Martin, 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 in for a conference, often threatening to send me to reform school. I was directed toward a life of crime, sometimes petty, but in later years a bit more serious. In high school, the police put my on one year of probation for driving my mother's car without her permission and crashing it.
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.
I was directed and carried by something unsavory, but thanks to the college YMCA and YWCA programs that I joined at Iowa State University, I finally straightened 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.
Join the 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 ground breaking 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!
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 Y movement—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 Indian reservations on the Great Plains and my childhood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, a shift into photography, and the discovery of a litany of ancestral spirits including early Friends and early Christians, and most importantly, Quakerism.
I discovered Quakers
In searching for an audience for the film of my mother's last year, I discovered Quakers. Thanks to a suggestion from Marjorie Swann, then the executive secretary of the New England AFSC, an act of kindness on her part, I showed my film Pearl Schiel at Friends General Conference and New England Yearly Meeting in 1980. And that fall I found my way to Friends Meeting at Cambridge.
This wasn't my first contact with Friends. I'd been counseled for my conscientious objector application in 1965 by the AFSC. 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 tonight whether we are capable as a collective of organizing such a massive public event.
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."
Growing up, 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 blizzardy conditions. 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. Later I came back with over 300 native people to commemorate that massacre. Wounded Knee inspired 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.
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 13 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, overcoming my fears about entering my old neighborhood, having to share it with people of color. This led directly to my photo project with the Chicago Fellowship of Friends, 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 forth from this breakthru year, including serving on NEYM'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.
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 to death, which makes me to feel, that the mercies of the wicked is cruelty.
And as quoted on the statue:
My life not availeth me in comparison to the liberty of the truth.
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 intentionto be an example, a "witness" in the Quaker sense, for freedom of conscience.
Mary Dyer died because she supported—and this is true support, going beyond mere words, more than that sometimes lame phrase "hold you in the light" conveys—Mary stood with Ann Hutchinson who was excommunicated by the Puritan church for her Quakerly convictions. Dyer later 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.
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
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.
The Valiant Sixty
The Valiant Sixty 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 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?
They 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 notion of witness to Christ. Those martyrs were numerous, numbering some 2000 who died during the persecution that arose about St Stephen's time. Their suffering was legion, manifold, endlessly varied and often unspeakably horrific.
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 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, I shall not be moved?
What carried these early martyrs? What was their direction?
For some of us in the Religious Society of Friends and the wider US 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.
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: Monsignor 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?
I dreamt 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."
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.
I believe his analysis was correct and continues to be applicable. I believe government hands killed him, 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.
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 physical 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, Nicherin 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 yearly meeting. They see the folly of praying for peace while paying for war. 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 this witness. It 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 meet the onerous conditions we live under. What carries you? What is your direction? How will you—in community—rise up?
Now Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Then the conclusion about Hiroshima.
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...
—he was quoting the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text.
As most of us realize, today 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. 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.
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.
This week at 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 pond, 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.
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: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, but 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.
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."
…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.
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