Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Quakers and accumulation

In her biography, Margaret Fell: Mother of Quakerism, Isabel Ross traces an 1826 Quaker advice on Keeping Clear Accounts back to the frugality of Fell and her daughters: 

“It is the duty of all to arrange their expenditure with due regard to their income; and clear and correct account-keeping is a means of avoiding reckless expenditure on the one hand or unjustifiable accumulation of wealth on the other.” (my italics)

When I wondered, did we as a larger society in the United States and the West lose sight of the idea that too great an accumulation of wealth is unethical? We certainly know these days that it is a severe problem.

Often the idea that we should limit wealth is ridiculed on the basis of it being impossible to determine where the "line" should be drawn. Do we condemn someone who feels they need three cars instead of two? How do we decide what "unjustifiable accumulation" is? 

These questions, in my experience, are raised to shut down conversation. They are rhetorical: implicitly the only answer is we must not engage in the question because we can't answer it. We have no choice but to leave the decision up to the individual, even if that person shows every sign of an uncontrolled money addiction.

But what if we took the 1826 query, which has its roots in early Quakerism, seriously? What if we tried to decided how much is too much: at least as a guideline? At what point can we no longer justify our accumulation? At what point do we start dispensing our material wealth outward? At what point do we internalize the dispersal of our wealth, so that it would seem as twisted and unnatural to hoard it when others were in need as it would to own a slave or watch someone in an arena torn apart by wild animals? What constitutes reckless expenditure?

These are questions to ponder, not to dismiss. What is a reasonable guideline? When we have our bills under control and a year's income in the bank (or two) do we then give away our excess savings? Are there other guidelines to use? If we have large sums of money do we hold on to the principal but give away the interest income? Clearly these guidelines would be meant to be just that and not clubs with which to beat people who don't adhere entirely to our ideas of reasonable expenditure and savings.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Beyond Good and Evil ... the Quaker way

“ Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.” 
Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers

The quote above seems to capture exactly what Quakers, whether universalist or Christian or of whatever stripe are at core about--or what I dream they are about.

Jesus and George Fox preached in fields (and both would have talked about wrongdoing and rightdoing) but I also imagine in both of them acceptance and love, a genuine listening, an encounter--and isn't forgiveness, reconciliation and love of your enemies on some level about meeting in a field?

The quote moved me because it doesn't say their is no wrong or right doing--it acknowledges we all have our own ideas of what these are--but yet there is a place where we can meet each other deeply.

We don't have to talk about right or wrong. We can just meet.

I thought of Ken and Katharine's question about where love is calling us today. Maybe to a field where we'll meet a stranger.

I saw this on my friend Elaine Pigeon's blog (https://pigeonfiles.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/city-of-refuge/) and immediately felt an emotional response to it, though I knew nothing of Mbue or Behold the Dreamers. 

A quick tour of Amazon yields the following about Mbue's 2016 novel:

A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award • New York Times Notable Book • Longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award • An ALA Notable Book
 The quote also reminded me of quote, written as grafitti on a wall in Havana: "We believe in dreams." I have long hung onto that--and feel the need more than ever to do so in these times.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Katharine Jacobsen's Memorial: Love and Gratitude

I was very grateful to have had the opportunity of attending the memorial service at Stillwater Meeting House in Barnesville this past Saturday for Katharine Jacobsen, who died in January.

Ken wrote a poem two days before Katharine's death that captures my sense of their loving relationship:

Oh my love, as I sit by you, breathing with you
as your body softly lays itself down like a prayer
I'm feeling our ten thousand days--
the gift of our ten thousand days
of traveling together this blue planet among the stars,
this living school for love called earth,
traveling together to find out what love is about.
I'm feeling our ten thousand days--
ten thousand mornings of prayer time in the quiet,
side by side, wherever we've found ourselves,
like here, like now, drinking in the dawn,
listening again, for what Love would have us do this day.
I'm feeling our ten thousands days--
ten thousand evenings of prayer time in the quiet,
side by side, drinking in the darkness
listening again, for what Love has taught us this day,
as we lay ourselves down to sleep.
Oh my love, I'm feeling in my grief
the joy of our ten thousand days,
how this school of love is just beginning,
our school of love is just beginning,
with you needing to leave your body now
and I given to stay in mine,
and we're just beginning to find out
what Love is all about.
Oh my love, I'm feeling in my grief
the joy of our ten thousand days,
on this sweet planet among stars,
thank you, my love, thank you.

"this living school for love called earth"

This poem moved me in its simplicity and sincerity. Roger and I recently celebrated 30 years or 10,000 days together, and if Ken feels as I do, it has all gone by in an eyeblink, and he feels he could step through a door back into 1986 as if no time has passed.

My main acquaintance with Ken and Katharine has been on a Quaker committee, where instead of seeing me as "difficult," they were able to understand and respond to me as a human being trying to be heard. That was healing for me. The committee members, knowing each other so well, inadvertently and with no malice, had turned into a clique over the years, where despite the Quaker equality testimony, some were more equal than others. I flapped my wings to avoid being overlooked, felt roundly condemned as a troublemaker, was patronized, and felt increasingly both frustrated and determined to speak my truth--for if I couldn't do that, why I was in this spiritual community? There was and is no secular reason for me to be here. Fortunately, Ken and Katharine were able to hear me: I felt I was alive to them as a person, not just as a problem that had to be dealt with. They didn't have to do this, but they did. Naturally, once I was heard and responded to with understanding and respect, everything began to settle down. Naturally, I felt and feel a great outflow of love to both of them: being treated as fully human generates love, and as I felt grateful for their response and the time they took with me, I began to see them in return as more fully fleshed and particularized humans. And such is what I understand the healing power of the Holy Spirt to be, how I believe Jesus interacted with the people who crossed his path, and I know that by following that path we can all see each other in our true humanity--and then love grows.

One other memory stays with me. At a Friends Center event, I was paired with Katharine and she told me about her childhood, when she would sail with her father on the lake at their summer home and how wonderful that was for her. Katharine radiated with joy at that memory, and so what stays with me is a mental image I have created of a teenaged Katharine on a sailboat.

I did not paint this but it corresponds to my imagination.

Further, with the state of public discourse as it, it is deeply solacing to know that there are people like Katharine in the world who are so formed--of such a character--that such words as we sometimes hear would never cross their lips.

Losing a loved one is the most painful experience ever, for no matter how assured we might be we will be reunited with them, our heart longs for them and them alone to be with us now. Ken wrote this poem after Katharine died:

In the end, my love,
in your final days with us,
I found you were made of nothing
but gratitude,
all you could say was
thank you, thank you, thank you.

He also added to the program words from the Rule of St. Benedict:

When we rise from sleep
Let us rise with the joy of the true Work
we will be about this day,
and considerately cheer one another on.
Life will always provide matters for concern
Each day, however, brings with it
reasons for joy.
Every day carries the potential
to bring the experience of heaven;
Have the courage to expect good from it.
Be gentle with this life,
and use the light of life
to live fully in your time.
Those words struck me powerfully.