Saturday, August 8, 2015

Through the Ocean of Light: On Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative, 2015

Every year, the members of Ohio Yearly Meeting descend on Barnesville like a flock of exotic--if plain--birds, a sudden migration of shin-length shirtwaist skirts, bonnets,  straw hats, whites shirts with black suspenders, beards. Even after seven years, the descent never ceases to startle me.

Last year, for the first time, I fully attended the Yearly Meeting sessions. Others years, Earlham School of Religion, vacations, and our first year here, the intense shock of arrival, kept me away. This year, balancing teaching and the other demands of life, I did what I could.

I sometimes wonder at my membership in this body. To say I am not a rural person, despite living in a rural area in a house surrounded by open fields, woods and lake, would be a complete understatement. When I first moved here, my brother used to to sing me the Green Acres theme song and wonder that I was living in "Petticoat Junction." Often then--and now--theses lyrics from the Green Acres song float through my mind: "Keep the country, just give me Park Avenue." Seven years into the rural experiment, I can definitely say I am not likely, barring a famine, to be gardening, baking, canning, sewing or in any other way performing rural femininity. The chances of my adopting plain dress also equal zero: I hate wearing skirts, and while the idea of simply stuffing my hair under a cap is appealing, I don't know that the look would go with makeup and hair color, quaffing a glass of swine or watching Orphan Black.

So, here I am, What could I possibly have in common with these people? I don't share a rural ethos, and I have not a drop of the ancestral blood of Smiths, Guindons, Rockwells, Tabers  or other old Quaker families.

And yet. As with Fanny Price in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, who suffered the pains of tyranny, ridicule and neglect, I also, beyond the former, encounter "something consolatory." This year, for example, compared to last, I felt more at home in my difference and more convinced the yearly meeting needs the difference I represent. I am very clear too that at this point my meeting role is a quiet one: to pray, to be present, to support. This is all to the good: the Quakers have a surfeit of chiefs.

Beyond the superficial differences, however--and in the end, who cares if our ethos is rural or urban?, -- I experienced the deeper kinship that unites us. Most of us are products of a transformed worldview, marked deeply by living in that "infinite ocean of light and love" that  flows over the world's ocean of darkness and death. In Ohio Yearly Meeting, we are not "of the world," at least not entirely.

One manifestation, for example, appeared during our discussion of a policy to screen for sex offenders and require criminal backgrounds checks for anyone working with children. Quakers are the only group I have ever known not to roll over and play dead, acquiesce in complete abjection, the moment the word "litigation" is used. We know there is something more important than whether we are sued. (Really? Can that be in US society? Can there be a group that doesn't immediately cave in as soon as the word lawsu ... starts to be articulated?)

Therefore,  although we decided to go ahead and screen for sex offenders and do criminal backgrounds checks on caretakers of youth, we made that decision based on love for our children, not fear of being sued. We did it because, as Quakers eloquently expressed it, predators look for easy prey, and our tendency to trust makes us vulnerable. We did this because we also know we can stand up for our principles against the threat of lawsuits if we need to do, because even were we to lose all our money and property, we would still exist. I felt deeply grateful to be part of a group that understands that its being roots in something deeper than the material and does not live in fear of losing its goods.

So I am in unity with this understanding of the universe that doesn't put its faith in chariots, in budgets, in programs, in worldly wealth. This gift  of perception is so great, and in such short supply, that it calls out to be nurtured and spread. I am glad, as older meetings perhaps fade, to see all the new growth witnessed to during the yearly meeting, small shoots of life growing up in England, Italy and Pennsylvania, new groupings arising.

Monday, July 27, 2015

On Quaker community: A dose of humility?

Micah Bales recently posted a blog on  the Quaker tendency to turn inward and focus on our own communities.

I agree that it can't stop there. The problem may be that we have confused the beginning with the end. We don't exist to be nurturing communities. But it helps to nurture people. People need love intrinsically. Love is the glue that holds the universe together.

That being said, Quakers need to keep examining the following:

Is the nurture we offer one another leading us back out to change the world?

Or does it cause us, especially the people in leadership, to have a false view of themselves?

Especially if we are leaders or insiders, how are we judging the people who want to enter our group? On the basis of how they fit in or, assuming they are not quite "right," on how "fixable" they are? Too often, Quakers are quick to TEACH but unwilling to learn. We are a tribe of chiefs. We want people to follow us. But what if we tried to learn from others? What would it take to actually listen and hear what another person said--not just use what they are saying as a a prelude to correcting them or as an echo chamber confirming what we already know? Or become completely defensive?

Who wants to be fixed?  Very few people: we crave love and acceptance. Yet often our unconscious thought towards others seems to be, "if only we could fix that person to be more like us, we could accept him." Thus we lose the opportunity to be transformed--and often the ability to transform other lives when people flee us.

Sometimes I have been literally jaw-droppingly astonished that people, often leaders, have sometimes become so insular, cosseted and protected, that, although  by the standards of the larger society they lack social skills, looks, etc (though often wonderful people!) they only want to be around the "beautiful people:" those highly socially adept and attractive. Sometimes I can only say to myself: Really? Really? Listen to yourself. Look in the mirror. Guess what? You (me) are not so great. Not as individuals. Not by ourselves.

On a like note,  coming from Lutheranism, I have never been able to get over the pride people often have in being Quaker. It's good to be proud of your tribe, but often this goes over the top, into what I will call the "we are the cat's pajamas--we are QUAKERS" mentality. Often, it seems, we expect people to be impressed, if not bowled over into speechless, rapt wonder,  if not to swoon and possibly have a near death experience, just because we are QUAKERS. In reality, the rest of the world doesn't care. How long do we have to wait for the masses NOT to come storming the gates, panting to be QUAKERS, before we get the memo?

Much of this, I would argue, roots in having lost our Christ center [and rather than start a firestorm, I ask you to interpret that as you will] rooted in the values Jesus espoused. Liberal Friends have often become a politically progressive action group and conservative Friends sometimes act like a plain- dressing antiquarian society, more interested in projecting an old-fashioned ethos than looking outward and walking humbly with the Lord.

That beings said, Quakerism retains so much behavior, so much action, so many people, so much, dare I say, theology, that is loving, kind, and also Christlike, that we have a great gift to offer the world--if only we could get over ourselves.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"Heaven is for real:" but maybe not a little boy's vision of it

   This falls under the auspices of a Quaker post: Stillwater Friends Meeting, of which I am a member, hosted a showing of the movie "Heaven is for Real." I was interested in seeing the film both as part of the committee that sponsors "movie night" and because it was outside of my comfort zone. To my surprise, I found it fit Roland Barthes's notion of a "writerly text:" open-ended and ambiguous--far more than I would have expected. It really was not quite what I expected.

Little Colby sees heaven--maybe.

The plot goes as follows: a little boy named Colby, aged four, needs an emergency appendectomy, and at some point in is in danger of death. According to the movie, he never actually stops breathing, his heart never stops, his brain function never flatlines--he never actually dies, even for a moment.

Little Colby fortunately survives his operation, but it does cost a bundle. While under anesthesia, he has a vision, a dream or literal experience of heaven. 

After the operation, the boy tells his father, Todd, a pastor, bits and pieces of what the youngster understands as a visit to heaven: He sat in Jesus' lap, Jesus rode a rainbow colored horse, a choir of angels sang. The father, not naive, is intrigued but at first interprets the boy as describing a dream or vision based on fragments of stories he has heard about Jesus, the Bible and heaven.  When the little boy announces that Jesus has blue-green eyes, the father is convinced his son has imagined heaven: the parents have blue and green eyes and, of course, the parents think, the child is projecting mom and dad as Jesus. 

Dad, actor Greg Kinnear, comes to believe--or almost believe--his son has been to heaven. Anyway, it gets him thinking hard about belief. 

And yet. Some residue of the boy's story strikes the father as real. The story nags him, and he starts talking about it in the pulpit, to the alarm of the church's lay council. The father becomes so obsessed with the story that he starts having fights with his wife, Sonja, who will have none of it, and he goes to see a psychologist. This woman, clearly the classic castrating, dark haired, over-educated career woman and definitely not a "believer," pooh-poohs the pastor's thought that the heaven experience could be real.

Colby tells his Dad about heaven. 

Meanwhile, a local paper gets wind of the "boy who went to heaven" and sends out a reporter. The church council becomes even more alarmed after the story runs. Though previously a banker on the council had offered to take care of the pastor's high medical bills--more than $50,000 (apparently the church did not provide him with health insurance or anything near adequate health insurance, though this is never said, and the pastor refuses the offer of help), now the banker is part of the group that turns on the pastor and announces that he has only one more week in the pulpit. (His wife at one point wants to get a job to pay the bills, but the husband informs her that her job is to be a mother.)

So far the wife has been a doubter, just like the female psychologist and the woman on the church council leading the charge against the him. However, when the four year old tells  her he has seen his dead sister in heaven, the wife breaks down: she did lose a baby to a miscarriage, even though she never knew it was a girl. The child, she reasoned, could not possibly have heard about that, so his story must be true. 

Mom becomes a believer after Colby tells her about meeting the sister Mom lost in a miscarriage. Kelly Reilly, the mom, plays another devoted wife to much more twisted man in the current season of True Detective.

In the climatic scene of the film, the pastor, in his final sermon, gives an impassioned sermon in which he states that God is love and that what we believe is important. Heaven means different things to different people, he says. It may not be Jesus on a rainbow horse to everyone, but if we truly believed in sone sort of heaven, wouldn't it change how we lived, make us more loving and secure? Isn't the point to really act as if heaven is real? What he doesn't say is that his son's vision of heaven is literally real--the title of the book and movie are not My Son's Vision of Heaven is Real, but Heaven is for Real. What the pastor really wants people to think about is NOT the 4 year old's story of riding a rainbow horse with Jesus, but what it might mean if the concept of heaven--explicitly open ended as "whatever that means to you"--is real. Could it inspire us to behave less cruelly to one another in the here and now and instead (this is my interpretation) to build a better world.

In other words, this is Barthes's open-ended, ambiguous "writerly" narrative being mis-interpreted as a closed "readerly" narrative locating a literal heaven in a little boy's experience, devoid of ambiguity. 

The parishioners, led by the wife, are so moved that they come on stage in a group hug. Later, the pastor watches a show about a girl in Asia who paints her vision of heaven, and when his son sees her painting of Jesus on TV, amazingly a blue-green eyed man, he confirms it is the same Jesus he saw.

This is what Jesus looks like to little Colby during his trip to heaven.

The movie closes with the wife announcing she is pregnant.  We never see the pastor write the best-selling book, but clearly the wheels are turning--and he does have a huge debt load hanging over him. We might question him exploiting the naive statements of a four-year to make money, but we can also understand him needing to get bills paid--and it's not his fault he lives in a country that allows grossly inflated medical costs to be normal. Of course, it could be that Todd actually literally believed his son's story, but the tenor of the story suggests he does not. To give him his due, he seems to have sincerely wanted to get people thinking about their faith lives.

The movie is set in Nebraska, and the pastor lives in a big white frame house, apparently built very recently (not a 19th-century farmhouse) surrounding by open fields, reminiscent of Field of Dreams. The cast is almost all white, but I caught at least a glimpse of a black parishioner, and a black parishioner calls 9/11 at some point. The black-skinned person who calls 9/11 presents as extremely culturally white--very short hair, clean, crisp conservative clothes, an ultra-clean-cut look that does not threaten white sensibilities in any way. The real blacks, I would say, are a Latino couple with a baby to whom the pastor's wife gives a beautiful baby dress. When the Latino woman (who looks safely legal and as if she probably heads to a night job working at the Holiday Inn) exclaims it's too nice a gift to accept, the pastor's wife assures her: "Not for YOUR baby." This is apparently meant to exhibit lack of racial prejudice, but it comes across as very condescending: even a brown baby deserves a pretty dress! I am going with the idea that the movie makers meant well. 

This movie interested me in particular because I am fascinated by the way people misread texts. I don't know how many times even top scholars in a field don't see what is right in front of them. I am even surprised at myself: as I go back to familiar texts I can come away with completely different takes at different times. (This is why I always tell my students to head back to primary sources.)  I am thus more and more in accord with Nietzsche's thought that people read or see what they have already decided is there, not what is really in front of them. 

 So I am interested that people seem to misread this movie as primarily about a boy's literal trip to heaven rather than as exploration of the power of belief. Why is the boy's story so important? Why are we all so prone to misread?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Back to the Zombies!

    I completely missed this comment about the Zombies post from March, as I so seldom get comments anymore that I stopped looking. In any case, I was delighted to hear from Hystery, who I have missed. Since the original blog post is so old, I decided simply to make this into its own post. Hystery is responding to a blog (that I try to push back against) saying the Zombie craze is really about younger people's dread of aging Boomers. I am in agreement with Hystery and wonder if others feel this same vague dread of Exploitation, Apathy and Despair? I also see that our story is not yet written, and am haunted by Germans who committed suicide during World War II because they became too hopeless, and yet a new, better time was coming soon.  I too am an adjunct these days, love the work, but am not crazy about the conditions ... :) I also wonder if the intergenerational family will become the new norm--or the new old norm, as it once was the norm. 
     From Hystery:
It is an interesting idea, though I hardly think it is consciously held by most of us Gen-Xers, that you Boomers are like Zombies. I think you are right that this attitude, conscious or not, is born of a divide and conquer propaganda that tells us there is not enough for all and that we must fight each other for the scraps.

I do live with my mother and father and 98 year old grandmother as well as with my husband and children. It is what it is- usually good. Sometimes quite difficult. And I work as an adjunct (dreadfully exploited if I'm being honest) and share an office with my Baby Boomer father. We're both history faculty. He holds the only full time history job at the college and when he retires (which will be soon) they will likely decide to replace his full time position with more adjunct faculty without insurance, without a union, without job security. Until then, he does his best to protect us with all the pull and power his years, experience, and union membership afford him.

But there is a strong sense that there is some shuffling undead monster tracking us- feeding off brains and drawing us into a living death. I think it is not our parents but Exploitation and Apathy and Despair that mindlessly lurches toward us. We are not, perhaps, a generation well-known for our capacity for hope. But we shall see. Our story is not yet fully written.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Patience not passivity

I recently read a children's book from 1946 called The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I am interested in children's literature, among other reasons, because of its influence on adults. In any case, in this story, a 13-year-old named Maria goes with her governess, Miss Heliotrope, to live with her uncle on his estate in the West Country. Early on, the village parson and several wise animals,  a dog (who turns out to be a lion--several years before Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and a cat, advise Maria to be patient and curb her troubling "feminine curiosity." This involves sitting and waiting quietly to be asked, for instance, to tour the estate's kitchens and other areas. Maria obeys, virtue is rewarded and Maria's curiosity satisfied--without annoying anyone in the process.

The book, which relies on the page-turning curiosity of its mostly female readers, and on Maria having the pluck to follow where her questions lead, soon drops the theme of cultivating passivity. However, I continued to ponder it, and the way passivity is often confused with patience.

Patience is not one of the fruits of the spirit contemporary Quakers emphasize. Our "p" is primarily for peace--more precisely peace-making, and we celebrate active virtues: cultivating simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality in how we live. Sitting patiently and waiting for other people to initiate change has not been part of our tradition.

It's important, however, I think, not to confuse patience with passivity. It seems to me Biblical patience has little to do with sitting quietly. The  patience of Job had everything to do with enduring suffering, not basking in beatific stillness as he laid on the dung heap, covered in sores.  Job actively cursed God, and God told the people criticizing Job for doing that that Job was right, that nobody deserved the kind of suffering he'd endured.

Early Quakers like  Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers, who were imprisoned in Malta by the Inquisition for preaching up the Quaker word in a Catholic region, also don't fit a model of serene and saintly acceptance that we tend to associate with patience. They endured imprisonment--but they also fought back against it. Evans and Cheevers mounted a hunger strike in prison, complained vocally and resentfully about their abusive treatment and argued vigorously to refute both the theology and the threats of priests--but had the patience to resist trading freedom for, say, kissing the crucifix or recanting their Quaker testimony.

Malta cell of Evans and Cheevers

They had Biblical patience, a willingness to endure the consequences of following leadings, leadings that brought them into clashes with worldly authorities. Their patience was a fruit of activity, not passivity, and it was active in itself.

One of the earlier, lost meanings of being a "plain" people that the Quakers adopted as a label was "plaint" or complaint. The early Quakers were not simply plain because they had leveled their religion from the "airy" heights of the Anglicans or because they lived simply, but because they were people of the plaint--people with complaints--people who had suffered. They were patient but they weren't complaisant. Their patience in suffering was active and vocal, an incessant cry against the way they were treated. Their patience was accompanied by calls, again and again, for social justice.

This kind of patience,  a robust and even defiant willingness to endure the suffering brought on by following leadings, is a supernatural fruit of the spirit. The flesh shrinks from imprisonment, torture and want, the soul from the shame and censure that defying authority elicits in other people. This patience emerges not through passivity but through active immersion in the life of prayer and attention to spirit. Why does it well up during some periods and not others? Why do we seem to have so little of it today?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Eating violets: the Olney poetry slam

A month ago Olney had its poetry slam, and that might as well be an eon past in a wider culture structured to rush ceaselessly onward. We live in torrenting rapids, which threaten to smash to bits anything that can't keep pace. We hurtle into the latest event, temporal proximity lending to whatever is newest a heightened, if false importance. 

I say this as a way to note I am very late in writing about this slam. I recognize, however, that endless haste is the world speaking and will chose to live in the eternal Now, in which a poetry reading at a Quaker boarding school outweighs events much closer to us in time and (seeming) importance.

Olney students enjoy the poetry slam. 

At the poetry slam, I was impressed by Lee Tran's recitation of Brenna Twohy's  "In which I do not fear Harvey Dent." 

Lee Tran performs Brenna Twohy's  "In which I do not fear Harvey Dent" in the girl's dorm parlor. 

Lines from that poem, which likens coping with mental illness  to being a superhero,  still leap out at me: 

"you have never seen me out of costume,would not even recognize me outside of this armor

When you have mental illness, society tells you your only power is your invisibility.
Tells you that they would save you if only they could see you,
but of course they cannot see you,
of course they will not save you, no matter how bright you sew your cape.
Invisibility is not a superpower,
it is the best weapon of a broken system
desperate to make their streets look clean
I know what it is to fight monsters.I know how strong an ordinary human has to be." 
Senior Noah Howells wrote a moving original poem about his four years at Olney, friendship, community and "mango cakes at midnight." Senior Joe Kingery read a poem called "A New Addiction Please" by John Brehm, which spoke eloquently to how upside-down our society is, asking why, instead of oil, we can't become addicted to the sun and the wind. Lichen Yang recited William Blake's "To See a World,"  going beyond the often quoted opening: 
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour

to the darker condemnation of human cruelty:
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood 

to the observation

Joy & Woe are woven fine 
A Clothing for the soul divine 
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine 


Some to Misery are Born 
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to Endless Night 
to a Quakerly use of imagery:

God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

     Concerns over language in prior slams led to a more decorous approach this year, and the running monologue of the facilitators, seniors Amihan Tindongan and Joe Kingery, spoofed propriety. Joe and Amihan kept the audience laughing with mock British accents, pinkies in the air and lessons in proper manners and inflection. The British-themed intermission included homemade scones and the hanging gauzy drape was a mannerly white sprinkled with purple flowers. 

At the slam, facilitators Amihan Tindongan and Joe Kingery spoofed propriety.

Discouraging the f-word, the s-word and other transgressive expressions can't, however, suppress poetry's ability to speak truth to power. As I listened, I was moved by the poems the students chose, and I sank into poetry's spiritual power, which we experience in our bodies as well as our minds. Even the early Quakers, frown as they might on romances (early novels) and drama, couldn't resist the allure of poetry: I think of Elizabeth Bathhurst bursting seemingly spontaneously into ecstatic couplets to express her vision of heaven. 

"An infinite ocean of light and love."

I learned at almost the same time as the poetry slam that humans can eat violets and that the leaves are high in vitamins A and C. For weeks, the violets were interspersed with the grass, and I added the bright flowers to salads. They tasted mild, faintly sweet, and seemed a metaphor for the Kingdom of God: it's all around us but we don't always know we can have it, not just watch it from afar but let it become a part of us. 

Violets bloomed all over Barnesville for awhile: "Eat and drink, this is my body given for you."

Eating violets also seemed like a metaphor for the poetry slam. With the seemingly fragile and ephemeral, we are touched and fed by the eternal Now.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March 14th Barnesville

Hyacinths will bloom soon. The weather is warming. Most of the snow is melted, though the lake is still covered in ice.

I have a terrible cold. Hoping it will pass. I feel a little like Gandalf in the caves of Moria, when he thinks he has escaped the monster, only to be felled by a last whip of light. I thought I had gotten through the winter without a cold ... and now this. The only redeeming quality to a cold is it reminds me how much more vigorous I usually am.

It is late for the hyacinths to bloom but it has been a very cold winter. It seems to me in Maryland we would see them in February.

My father, if alive, would have turned 91 today, Pi Day. We never used to call it that. He died a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday, during a nap. Not a bad way to go, at home, in peace. Eighty good years are fine. I still remember the sense of peace that emanated from the bedroom after my brother called me and we got there. His father died the same way, just shy of 80, in his case simply not waking up one morning. I would not be sorry to have such an end. Of course, with spring coming, new life is on my mind as well.

I am also almost done with my Bonhoeffer MS and could be done if I would just get well. And I believe I will. :)

Roger is very kind to me in my fallen, miserable state. I sometimes think kindness is all the world needs more of.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March 11th, Barnesville

It was heavily foggy this morning when I left, but I didn't think to take a picture. The fog was so thick and white it was eery, especially hanging over the lake, and the sun was not quite up. It was dark, appropriate for doing "House of Usher" in class.

I am sick with a cold. My throat is sore, my eyes itchy, everything is slow-motion. I can't do real intellectual work and maybe that is a gift. I could clean and I did. Students are coming over tonight to watch Apocalypse Now. I can blog and I am.

I did take a mid-afternoon photo, below. It's still overcast and through the trees you can catch glimpses of what looks like fog but is ice on the lake. All the snow has melted after all these months, except for a few patches, that look like some sort of fungi. It's warm, springlike.

I took a second picture this afternoon. This one above is to the west. The one below is the south view.

How I see space has changed since moving here. I think for the first year or more I just didn't see how much space we had around us or how big our yard was. My eyes had adjusted to small, and just couldn't take in large. I notice the opposite effect when we are in York. Roger's parents' quarter-acre yard now seems tiny. My eyes jump over it and into the yard behind it, as if were a prelude. It's odd, because before, my eyes fell right on their backyard and I didn't notice much beyond it. There's a metaphor here, that we see what we're trained to see. How much do we miss?

I like the empty space here, the vistas.

I am grateful for how the head cold slows me down and for being able to be at home. I read today wise words: "hold fast what is good." (1 Thess. 5-21) Hold fast what is good or you will lose it. I thought about what is good, so much good around me.

It is so quiet right now that you can hear the stillness. I think the birds must be glad of the warmth.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Snow Fort at Olney Friends School

Olney snowfort. If you look hard, you can see the circa 1910 Hutton House in the background.

When I saw a snow fort on the Olney campus, built by teacher and alum Jamie Zavitz and students, it captured my imagination, and I couldn't help but think of a book I read as a child:

That book really makes you want to build a snow fort. So I was delighted to see one at Olney. It made me wish I had gone to the school. 

According to the web, The Wonderful Winter Secret was published in 1931, but I remember it having a pre-World War I feeling. 

Whatever the date, there's a timeless quality to a snow fort, which seems to fit Olney. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Quakers, Zombies, Propaganda, Boomers

These Zombies have young bodies.

I saw this yesterday:
"Chances are, if you’re a zombie fan, you’re in your 30’s or 40’s. A Gen X-er.
You live in a zero sum world ... You worry more than any other age group about resources, money, retirement. You are anxious about your long term ability to obtain and then maintain enough to keep you and your family going. You’re no slacker, you’re a vigilante of vigilance. More than a little bit stressed most of the time and often flat out afraid.
So who’s coming to get you? Who is threatening your survival with their own survival, their astounding numbers, swelling yearly? Who is just too overwhelming?
The Boomers are the Zombies. I’m dreadfully sure of it.
It’s a grim picture: the Gen X-ers, making their desperate stand against those inexplicably superhuman yet rapidly decaying predators. Hoping without hope for a happy ending: that the voracious, determined and relentless creatures who are robbing them of their future might be magically disappeared. Poof! Zap! Gone."

In Star Trek's "A Taste of Armageddon," euthansia is a way of life--Poof! Zap! Gone!--until Captain Kirk decides he doesn't like it. 

As a Boomer (I was born in 1958) I never thought of Boomers as Zombies or vice versa. I have my own ideas of who the Zombies are ... and my own theories help me realize that, in fact, Zombies are the palimpsest on which we write our own script ... or do we? Or are they part of a propaganda machine?

The piece I quote from above saddened me because it revealed that some Gen Xers have fallen victim to the ceaseless propaganda put out by the forces of evil, propaganda meant to separate and put into competition groups whose interests actually align. Pitting Boomers against Gen-Xers sounds to me similar to the propaganda used  to separate poor whites from poor blacks: those blacks are taking the money from your pockets, the food from your mouths  and they are the Other... better keep 'em down.

The blog post thus mouths all the correct propaganda: greedy, self-centered Boomers are robbing the younger generation of their rightful legacy. 

These Zombies look young to me  ... hhhmmm.

It's true, isn't it?  Social Security and Medicare will take up a larger portion of federal budgets as Baby Boomers retire, and hence, Boomers are sucking tax dollars out of hardworking younger people who could be using that money for other things. At the same time, as fixed pension retirements decline and the ability to survive on Social Security diminishes, Boomers are, by necessity, staying in their jobs longer and longer--jobs that could and should, the logic follows, go to the younger generation.

From where I stand the above is a lie.

Let's say the "burden" of Social Security and Medicare went away: who is going to end up supporting now impoverished parents? Yes, you guessed it: You. Is this going to cost you LESS, financially and emotionally, than paying into the current system? Do you REALLY WANT Mom and Dad--decrepit Zombie Mom and Dad--moving in with you? Or, do you really want, alternatively, to be sending them $500 a month to keep them away? Really? What if your spouse's parents don't need the money and yours do and your spouse burns with resentment every month at sending off the check? Is this the route to marital harmony? Or do you let Mom and Dad go hungry? And what about those other Zombies who don't have children willing to support them? Do they starve? Hhmm. 

I can remember in the early 1970s reading article after article about the hit TV series The Waltons, the heart warming saga of an intergenerational family surviving during the Depression. For most of the critics,  The Waltons represented living memory, and  most fixated on the grandparents living with the family, something they all remembered vividly. They all marveled at that social organization having passed into oblivion. I, on the other hand, couldn't imagine my grandparents living with us ... nobody I knew had grandparents living in the same house ... or if I did imagine it, all I could picture was  an endless amount of sturm and drang.  I was glad those "good old" days were gone ... do we want those days back? Are we all likely, REALLY, to all be cosy  and prayerful together like the Waltons, everyone leaning into the old folks' wisdom? Do you want this Gen-Xers? Mom interfering in raising the kids, spending your money or  taking over your kitchen? Dad telling you what to do, how to take care of your car, or talking endlessly about Viet Nam protests? Maybe some do, but it's always nice to have the option to say no. 

The old Zombies are in our midst. The horrors of old age: Who would you rather have to dinner: Grandma and Grandpa Walton or those young Zombies above?

Of course, another solution is euthansia: we could just kill all the Zombies. But most people, in my experience, seem oddly revulsed by that idea of snuffing Mom and Dad. And then the X-ers themselves would become the next generation of Zombies ...

But what about jobs? Aren't Boomers really clogging up the job market? Well, yes and no. Yes, Boomers are retiring later. On the other hand, it has come to my attention that many of the plum jobs that Boomers have tend to vaporize after the Boomers in question retire.  I remember Newton Garver coming to Earlham School of Religion and telling us that the state university system of New York, where he worked as a philosophy professor, was  going to abolish his job once he retired. No hungry philosophy Phd would benefit from him leaving. So, although in his early 80s (he has since died), he planned to keep working until death, and as his expenses were low and salary high, he was funneling much of his money, as I understand it, to help Bolivian Quakers. In other words, rather than harming the younger generation, his staying in his job was helping the younger generation to get a start in life. And once he was gone, the job was gone. Gone, gone, gone. This is simply one example, but I could conjure up story after story after story of the person who retires only to have his or her good job either divvied between the remaining employees, vaporized or offered up at much lower pay and benefits and with much less security to a younger person. 

I'll try to cut this short, but what of the other side? What of all that Boomers DO and have done for the younger generations? Speaking for myself and the cohort I know, we have put or are putting our children through college at a level of sacrifice we never expected. Our lush salaries that you look at with such envy have flat-lined (if we're lucky enough not to have taken cuts) and college costs keep going up. And yet we keep finding the money ... somewhere. That's only the beginning  of what we do for you... but this isn't the point--we WANT to do it, and pointing it out only feeds the evil.

Because, despite the propaganda saying our generation is "stealing" from yours, the reality is, we're all in this together. WE, your parents and older friends, are NOT the ones stealing your future...SOMEONE is, but it's not US.

Since Leonard Nimoy just died, I have been thinking about the original Star Trek. In one episode, an alien entity that feeds on hate gets Earthlings and their enemies, the Klingons, together and fosters violent dissent between them through telling lies ... then sits back and grows stronger and stronger as they fight each other. In Star Trek, the rival groups figure it out and work together: THEY STOP FIGHTING and the power of evil diminishes before our eyes.

The Bible says something about this too. Who benefits when the generations are at each other throats? Who has told us the lie that it's a zero sum game? Why would we ever believe that we have to rob each other to have what we need? Why would we think any of us, or the government--which is us--is the Zombie? Isn't there a rival story, called feeding the 5,000? Do we believe that? I do. 

The other side of Zombie-ism: feeding each other, not feeding on each other.

What does this have to do with Quakers? Obviously, quite a number of Quakers are Boomers, products of an anti-war and pro-people movement that dovetailed with Quaker values. It can be hard being a younger Quaker, even for me, a younger Boomer Quaker, who missed  the "glory days" of the 1960s.  It can be hard to be "talked at," and I have done more than one eye roll when some aging male Friend in sandals tells me, as if I have never thought of that before, that maybe the resurrection was made up or that Buddha and Christ said many of the same things. What's revelation to one generation is a yawn to the next. And yet, at the same time, I have seldom found a group of people more generous and giving to the younger generation (even to people like me, who aren't so much younger) than the older Quakers. I learn from the example of older Quakers that love is better than war: "If I live in love, I live in God and God in me." 

And  I can't help but remember that, unless we die young, we all will wake up one day and discover we're the Zombies. 

Or maybe we're not. 

Maybe there are no Zombies.