Category Archives: Quaker

Easter, redux

I tend to feel very reflective on Easter weekend.  Perhaps because it’s spring, or perhaps because every Easter seems to mark a milestone in my life.

The past two Easters I’ve been in the Bay area, and enjoyed that long drive across the state alone–giving me time for reflection (I do love me a roadtrip!).  But this year I’ll be with the kids again, which makes me pretty happy.  Gameboy is home from college and I never do seem to have enough time with Catgirl.  We’ll also be with a group of Friends–sitting in silence and eating wholesome food and enjoying the mountains.

I’ll be bringing along my good camera, to capture a few photos of daffodils as I wandel around in the woods (that’s dutch for “walk”–isn’t that a great word?), and will post photos of this year’s Pysanky eggs as soon as they are revealed.

What I wrote on Easter weekend in 2012:

Last Easter weekend was momentous for me–during my long drive to northern California I did a lot of important thinking, and made some significant decisions about what I wanted from my future.  To see the consequences of decisions made that weekend play out in the year since, is a remarkable thing.

Though I no longer celebrate a Christian holiday at this time of year, it remains an important time for renewal for me.  A time for daffodils and decision-making and peace.

Image above is of the Pysanky eggs that Catgirl creates each year while at the Quaker Easter retreat.  That she spends her Easter holiday among F/friends makes me happy, even if it’s a time that she spends with her father and not with me.

Occupy LA: needs Quakers & models for nonviolent resistance

I received this letter from a local Friend about the OccupyLA movement and felt it well-worth sharing:

Last night the mood at Occupy LA was tense. Thousands of protesters had converged in Oakland, closed down the harbor, and wrecked havoc at an building that had once sheltered homeless people, but now was shut down due to budget cuts. LA Occupiers staged a peaceful but edgy solidarity protest in front of the Police Station across from City Hall. Several hundred young people were there, along with a sizable contingent of police, mostly dressed in shorts and trying to look friendly. Cop cars lined the street, their lights flashing, adding a festive or ominous air, depending on your attitude towards the police. It was the Dias de los muertos, the day of the dead, and many young people were in costume, looking spectral and ghoulish. Young men with bull horns orated for an hour or more, and then the crowd dispersed back to the encampment in front of City Hall.

As I wandered about, I had flash backs to the 1960s. Long-haired, bearded young men and lovely young women camping out, talking earnestly, and the occasional scent of pot. A potpourri of LA’s amazing diversity: diverse races, ethnicities and social backgrounds getting together for an all-night party that was both social and political, and never boring.

The General Assembly was canceled because of the rally. In its place a group of ukulele players gathered and played lively Mexico music while a man did a rhythmic foot-stomping dance on a small wooden platform. A little Anglo girl with blond hair danced joyously. A group of African-Americans were having a political discussion nearby.

As I wondered around, I encountered Communists, socialists, vegetarians, hippies, seekers, and an earnest young Evangelical Christian who called out from his tent and asked passersby if they believed in God. When I responded “Yes,” he asked me if Jesus was my Lord and Savior. I bent down, looked him in the eye and replied, smiling, “Jesus is my Friend, my guide and my Savior.” The young man seemed relieved.

I kept thinking of the story that Jesus tells in Matthew 23 about how we are to respect the Law, but not those who profess the Law without practicing it. Jesus says: “Call no one your teacher, or father, or leader, for we are all brothers and sisters and only Christ/God is our leader.”

The Occupies get the “no-leader” part of Jesus’ teaching. They realize that you can’t trust the authorities; they are mostly liars and hypocrites. But many of the Occupiers haven’t yet connected with or submitted to their Inward Teacher. They have learned to resist unjust authority, but haven’t learned the spiritual discipline (and the inward peace) that comes from Holy Obedience. In the signs and art and conversations I sensed a deep yearning for a spiritual as well as political transformation.

There is no religious presence at Occupy LA, like the interfaith tent I saw at Occupy Philadelphia, but there is openness to the idea of having such a tent, as I discovered when I spoke to some of the Occupiers.

My guide was a young Quaker from Orange Grove Meeting named Sergei whom I ran into by “chance.” Sergei is in his early 30s and has a long, anarchic beard, a jovial, bear-like appearance and a thick accent. He is articulate and thoughtful, and has been coming to Occupy LA on a regular basis for several weeks. (In case you’re wondering, he has a job: he is self-employed and fixes restaurant equipment). Sergei sees his mission as helping to calm down people who are agitated. Some are mentally ill. Others are simply enraged by the system. Some are both, like the Mexican man named Juan who used to be a school teacher, and then lost everything, including his wits. Juan wanders around shirtless, making loud and sometimes inappropriate political commentary. Sergei treat him and others like him with great kindness. Sergei explained that he is part of a group of Occupies inspired by Gandhi’s Shanti Seva (Peace Army).

Sergei introduced me to several of the young people who are helping to bring some measure of order to this colorful, vibrant but somewhat chaotic group. A young Latino named Anthony and an Anglo named Casey who help to convene the People’s Assembly (an unstructured alternative to the General Assembly) were very pleased that a Quaker had arrived.

“We need the Quakers!” they told me.

Casey had heard about the Quakers through Tolstoy’s book “The Kingdom of God is Within You.” He sensed that the Occupy movement needed Tolstoyan and Quaker wisdom.

Others I spoke to acknowledged the need for people who can teach and model nonviolent resistance and conflict resolution skills. When I spoke to them about ICUJP, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the interfaith community, they were eager for us to come down and share our experience and insights with them.

One of the important elements of Occupy LA is educational. On the north side of City Hall there is a “people’s university” where informal classes and workshops are being offered. On Saturday and Sunday this week, there will be a teach-in with notables such as Robert Reich, Ken Wong, William Black and David DeGraw.

Those I spoke to were also very receptive to the idea of having an interfaith tent, and an interfaith worship service like the one I attended at Occupy Philadelphia. Such a service, I suggested, could be held in the manner of Friends, with silence and opportunities for everyone to share messages and listen deeply. Such a service could include people of all faiths, as well as humanists and atheists.

Those I spoke to loved this idea. There is a deep need for opportunities to become “centered.”

I am proposing that we try to have such a gathering on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 13. I’d like to invite people from UDC, ICUJP, the Parliament, the Westside Interfaith Alliance and other interfaith groups to come and be a friendly presence. The important thing is to be open to listening.

It is also important to spend time at Occupy LA and get to know the people there. The more interaction we have with them and vice versa, the more likely it is that we will grow into a movement that can bring about the kind of change many of us dreamed about when Obama was elected.

Jesus was right: you should not expect our leaders to be our saviors. We have to re-build our fallen society from the ground up, guided by the Spirit and committed to peace, justice, and egalitarianism. This is the only way to stop the war machine and the Domination System.

You can see LA Occupy with live feeds at http://occupylosangeles.org/

Yours in peace and friendship,
Anthony Manousos
Blog: http://laquaker.blogspot.com/

occupation

I’m a huge fan of Quaker songwriter Jon Watt’s and his latest (above) resonated with me even though I haven’t been too active in the “Occupy” movement. For me, I’m occupying my life rather than participating in a protest. Being fully present to my own experiences and to the economic choices that I’m making is what I can do right now.

delight, fulfillment and celebration

Lately, many of my friends have been discussing sexuality, specifically how the LDS church approaches the topic (with many rules/strictures/punishments) or how feminists approach it (with openness, but concern about the subjectification of women). It’s a complicated topic, one that deserves a lot of thought and scrutiny. I’ve found that the guidelines offered by Friends (Quakers) are helpful to me in navigating this now that I’m no longer married, but would be curious what guiding principles you live by in your life, so your sexuality brings “delight, fulfillment and celebration” within the context of a respectful and responsible relationship.

Here’s the Advice & Query from the Pacific Yearly Meeting on this theme:

Friends celebrate any union that is dedicated to mutual love and respect, regardless of the unique make-up of the family. We strive to create homes where the Spirit of the Divine resides at the center and where the individual genius of each member is respected and nurtured.

Human sexuality is a divine gift, forming part of the complex union of body, mind and spirit that is our humanity. In a loving adult relationship in a context of mutual responsibility, sexuality brings delight, fulfillment and celebration.

Query:

Are my sexual practices consistent with my spiritual beliefs and free of manipulation and exploitation?

simplicity


pale pink camellia, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.
This morning in Quaker Meeting we considered the value of simplicity. I thought my readers might enjoy seeing the queries that go along with that value:

Simplicity

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center… a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time.
~ thomas r. kelly, testament of devotion, 1941

A life centered in God will be directed toward keeping communication with God open and unencumbered. Simplicity is best achieved through a right ordering of priorities, maintaining humility of spirit, avoiding self-indulgence, resisting the accumulation of unnecessary possessions, and avoiding over-busy lives.

Elise Boulding writes in My Part in the Quaker Adventure,
“ Simplicity, beauty, and happiness go together if they are a byproduct of a concern for something more important than ourselves.”

  • Do I center my life in an awareness of God’s presence so that all things take their rightful place?
  • Do I live simply, and promote the right sharing of the world’s bounty?
  • Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and light?
  • How do I maintain simplicity, moderation, and honesty in my speech, my manner of living, and my daily work?
  • Do I recognize when I have enough?
  • Is the life of our Meeting so ordered that it helps us to simplify our lives?

the Quakerly process of ‘One Week | One Tool’

One of the things I realized towards to end of my experience at “One Week | One Tool” was how very Quakerly it was.  This might have been why I felt so comfortable with the process.  Some of the main points of comparison:

  • The group came together on even footing, with no assertion of personal or institutional authority.  In that same vein, everyone was given the opportunity to give input on our process.  Ironically, it was some of the youngest of us who held the ‘lead’ positions.  And, each of the three sub-teams had female leaders (a rarity in the IT and DH world).
  • Though we had a defined goal (to create a tool), there was little sense of how exactly we would arrive at that goal.  Much of it was left to personal and group inspiration.
  • We worked together by seeing the best in each other–through identifying each others’ strengths and leveraging them.  
  • When we sat in meetings, it was often in a circle of chairs, facing each other.
  • People dressed comfortably (not to impress each other).  We ate simply (though well).  We were more focused on the task at hand than on our personal needs (including our needs for sleep).  We lived mostly communally–sharing each others’ space and company for the whole week (with the exception of those few hours we retreated to our individual hotel rooms).
  • Both documentation and code-writing were done collectively.

At the end of the process, we discussed whether a our “One Week” experiment was something that we could apply at our home institutions.  For the most part, we realized that the power structures of our workplaces would make it nearly impossible to replicate such an experience.  Likewise, within Quakerism it is an ongoing struggle to combat the tendencies toward hierarchies and to weigh everyone equally.  And there are times that this fails (especially when no one is willing to take responsibility for something that needs to get done).  Though I realize that a decentralized communal process is not appropriate to every project, it’s nice to see just how well it can work in the Digital Humanities. 

In general I find that the web-based world is a good space for challenging traditional notions of authority–especially when no one knows who really is behind that string of text that appears on a computer screen.  For this middle-aged, one-legged female, it’s an asset that my online presence often precedes peoples’ acquaintance with my ‘real’ self, because my ideas/writings/skills become more important than my non-normative body.  I’ve heard it suggested that the internet is a ‘democratizing’ force that has the potential to disrupt many of the structures of contemporary society.  I don’t know if I wholly agree that that’s the case (especially with the problems of the digital divide) but it’s satisfying to know that there’s now a solid workable model for decentralizing the work done by tech-minded humanists, and that the tool we created, Anthologize, will also create possibilities for those of us who do primarily online writing–to have an open-source method for refining and packaging our ideas.

retreat

sunrise in yellow

As happens in academia, March and April are  the season where you learn the results of all those grant applications you sent out in November and December.  The last time I applied for funding I received nearly every grant that I applied for–a rare thing in History, for sure.  But this past grant cycle has been nearly the opposite–the rejections far outweighing the acceptances.  Of course it’s to be expected.  Of course it doesn’t mean anything about my intrinsic worth as a scholar, but it is…wearying to keep finding all of those skinny envelopes.

So that’s just one reason that some news I received in Friday was extra-exciting, that I was selected as one of the twelve “barn-raisers” for the One Week | One Tool summer institute. I read and re-read that letter, just to make sure that it wasn’t another rejection.  And then stomped my feet with glee!

Just shortly after I received that news, we left town for our annual Spring retreat with our Quaker Meeting.  We gather in the mountains above Julian, CA, and spend three days strengthening our connections with each other and with our shared values.  The setting couldn’t be more idyllic.  We made blood-orange marmalade together, cheered the children’s Easter egg hunt, celebrated two friends’ engagement with some sweet champagne, played Eurogames, sipped tea, chased wild turkeys, took naps, wandered the forest dotted with wild daffodils, and ate apple pie.  It’s quite different from the Easter celebrations when our kids were younger–there were no pastel dresses or baskets filled with plastic grass. No church choir. No talk of resurrection.  After the egg hunt the children continued playing together while the adults sat in a silent circle. 

I realized, while I was there, how much I needed time to simply be with my family, my friends, and my self.  I needed the time to think and to imagine.  I needed to watch the firelight dance.  I needed to remember who I am and what I can be.