The Messy Work Begins

One of the take­aways of this elec­tion this is that we’ve all siloed our­selves away in our self-selected Face­book feeds. We lis­ten to most our news and hang out pri­mar­i­ly with those who think and talk like us. One piece of any heal­ing will be open­ing up those feeds and doing the messy work of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with peo­ple who have strong­ly dif­fer­ent opin­ions. That means real­ly respect­ing the world­view peo­ple are shar­ing (and that’s as hard for me as for any­one) and lis­ten­ing through to emo­tions and life expe­ri­ences that have brought peo­ple into our lives. Basic lis­ten­ing tips apply: try not to judge or accuse or name call. If some­one with less priv­i­lege tells you they’re scared, con­sid­er they might have a valid con­cern and don’t inter­rupt or tell them they’re being alarmist. 

But all this also means apol­o­giz­ing and for­giv­ing each oth­er and being okay with a high lev­el of messi­ness. It’s not easy and it won’t always work. We will not always have our opin­ion pre­vail and that’s okay. We are all in this togeth­er.

Michelle Alexander on the black vote, the Clinton brand — and of course, mass incarceration

Michelle Alexan­der on the black vote, the Clin­ton brand — and of course, mass incar­cer­a­tion.

Alexan­der is one of the lead­ing voic­es on the rise of a lev­el of mass incar­cer­a­tion in this coun­try in the last 25 years. It’s hard to over­state just how dev­as­tat­ing our prison-industrial com­plex has become. The huge num­bers of African Amer­i­can men in jails for non­vi­o­lent crimes begs com­par­ison to the dark­est days of slav­ery. Bill Clin­ton esca­lat­ed mass incar­cer­a­tion and the “War on Drugs” as a way to prove his polit­i­cal tough­ness.

The love affair between black folks and the Clin­tons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clin­ton was run­ning for pres­i­dent. He threw on some shades and played the sax­o­phone on The Arse­nio Hall Show. It seems sil­ly in ret­ro­spect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a pop­u­lar slo­gan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t under­stand,” Bill Clin­ton seemed to get us. When Toni Mor­rison dubbed him our first black pres­i­dent, we nod­ded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

We tend to remem­ber the Clin­ton Admin­is­tra­tion through rose-colored glass­es but there were a lot of WTF moments we’ve for­got­ten – three strikes, the sanc­tions again­st Iraqi civil­ians, the way cruise mis­sile strikes seemed to mag­i­cal­ly coin­cide with admin­is­tra­tion scan­dals, Bill’s seri­al phi­lan­der­ing and Hillary’s slut-shaming respons­es. On paper, HRC is the most qual­i­fied can­di­date to ever run for the pres­i­den­cy. But if she’s run­ning on the Clin­ton brand, she needs to explain how her polit­i­cal choic­es dif­fer from her husband’s 20 years ago.

Spiritual Biodiversity and Religious Inevitability

Emi­grants from the Irish pota­to famine, via Wikipedia

Peo­ple some­times get pret­ty worked up about con­vinc­ing each oth­er of an mat­ter of press­ing impor­tance. We think we have The Answer about The Issue and that if we just repeat our­selves loud enough and often enough the obvi­ous­ness of our posi­tion will win out. It becomes our duty, in fact, to repeat it loud and often. If we hap­pen to wear down the oppo­si­tion so much that they with­draw from our com­pan­ion­ship or fel­low­ship, all the bet­ter, as we’ve achieved a pati­na of uni­ty. Reli­gious lib­er­als are just as prone to this as the con­ser­v­a­tives.

The­se are not the val­ues we hold when talk­ing about the nat­u­ral world. There we talk about bio­di­ver­si­ty. We don’t cheer when a species mal­adapt­ed to the human-driven Anthro­pocene dis­ap­pears into extinc­tion. Just because a plant or ani­mal from the oth­er side of the world has no nat­u­ral preda­tors doesn’t mean our local species should be super­seded.

Sci­en­tists tell us that bio­di­ver­si­ty is not just a kind of do-unto-others val­ue that sat­is­fies our sense of nos­tal­gia; hav­ing wide gene pools comes in handy when near-instant adap­ta­tion is need­ed in respon­se to mas­sive habi­tat stress. Monocrops are good for the annu­al har­vest but leave us espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble when phy­toph­tho­ra infes­tans comes ashore.

It’s a good thing for dif­fer­ent reli­gious groups to have dif­fer­ent val­ues, both from us us and from one anoth­er. There are pres­sures in today’s cul­ture to lev­el all of our dis­tinc­tives down so that we have no unique iden­ti­ty. Some cheer this monocrop­ping of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, but I’m not sure it’s healthy for human race. If our reli­gious val­ues are some­how truer or more valu­able than those of oth­er peo­ple, then they will even­tu­al­ly spread them­selves – not by push­ing oth­er bod­ies to be like us, but by attract­ing the mem­bers of the oth­er bod­ies to join with us.

God may have pur­pose in fel­low­ships that act dif­fer­ent­ly that ours. Let us not get too smug about our own inevitabil­i­ty that we for­get to share our­selves with those with whom we dif­fer.

The ascent of Apple Pie Hill

Yes­ter­day the kids and I took a road trip to Apple Pie Hill, a sum­mit of loose grav­el that tow­ers over the South Jer­sey pinelands from a dizzy­ing height of 209 feet above sea lev­el. A fire watch tow­er on the sum­mit adds anoth­er few dozen feet, enough to get a vis­i­tor over the tree­tops. On a clear day it’s said you can see the sky­li­nes of Atlantic City and Philadel­phia. For­tu­nate­ly for me it was an quin­tes­sen­tial­ly beau­ti­ful­ly fall day – clear and crisp. It was easy to spot the cities, both thirty-two miles away (most­ly to the south and most­ly to the west respec­tive­ly) and here’s blowups of the two resul­tant pho­tos:
Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill
Sand road to Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill
More pic­tures, from left: Sand road to the hill, the fire tow­er, the view down through the steps of the tow­er (the kids were left in the car), two year old Fran­cis eager but thwart­ed attempt to repeat Papa’s climb up tow­er. Click indi­vid­u­al pho­tos for enlarged and geo­t­agged ver­sions. More pho­tos of this and out stopover at Atsion lat­er in the day on yesterday’s Flickr page.

For those inter­est­ed in repeat­ing our jour­ney, here’s a map show­ing our route up and back. I was most­ly wing­ing it, depend­ing on the­se direc­tions from NJPines​land​sand​Down​Jer​sey​.com start­ing from near­by Chatsworth NJ, self-styled “Cap­i­tal of the Pine Bar­rens.”

Oth­er map views: View Larg­er Map | Satel­lite with Route Map

Reading John Woolman 1: The Public Life of a Private Man

Read­ing John Wool­man: Parts 123, 4 (miss­ing)

I’ve final­ly done it. I’ve read John Woolman’s Jour­nal. Here I’ve been an activist among Quak­ers for almost two decades and I’ve read one of our Big Books.

I have tried before. Many’s the time over the years where I cracked open Moulton’s edi­tion to set­tle myself down. Chap­ter one read, chap­ter two read. Then to chap­ter three, open­ing with:

About this time, believ­ing it good for me to set­tle, and think­ing seri­ous­ly about a com­pan­ion, my heart was turned to the Lord with desires that He would give me wis­dom to pro­ceed there­in agree­ably to His will, and He was pleased to give me a well-inclined damsel, Sarah Ellis, to whom I was mar­ried the 18th of Eighth Mon­th, 1749.

And that’s it. One run-on sen­tence about court­ing and mar­ry­ing his wife. I always put the book down here. I tuck a book­mark in with all good inten­tions of con­tin­u­ing after din­ner. But the book sits on the cof­fee table till a week or so goes by, where­upon it’s moved to the library area for a mon­th or so until it’s final­ly reshelved. The book­marks stays put until a year or two pass­es and I re-start the Jour­nal with renewed deter­mi­na­tion.

I know why the sen­tence stops me. Through­out my twen­ties and ear­ly thir­ties a lot of my emo­tion­al ener­gy was drained in the (most­ly Quak­er) dat­ing scene. In the­o­ry I thought it a good time “for me to set­tle” and would have been quite con­tent with a well-inclined damsel. But the chaos of my per­son­al fam­i­ly his­to­ry com­bined with the casu­al dat­ing cul­ture I was part of com­bined to keep me dis­tract­ed with the largely-manufactured dra­ma of rela­tion­ship roller-coasters. For bet­ter or worse, if and when I ever write a jour­nal I will have to find a way to talk about the ways this dat­ing era both fed and stunt­ed my spir­i­tu­al growth.

One of the lesson I learned back in the ear­ly 90s when I was edi­tor at New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers was that I should pay atten­tion when I put a man­u­script or book down. The temp­ta­tion is to chalk it up to tired­ness or a busy life but I found there was usu­al­ly some­thing going on in the text itself that caused me to drop it. When I picked the man­u­script back up and re-read the pas­sages on either side of my aban­doned book­mark, I found some sort of shift of tone that weak­ened the book.

I appre­ci­ate that Quak­er jour­nals are not racy mem­oirs; they have a speci­fic reli­gious edu­ca­tion pur­pose. But I think it’s nat­u­ral to look to them for clues about how to live our lives. Samuel Bow­nas talks a bit about his engage­ment and David Fer­ris turns meet­ing his future wife into quite a humor­ous sto­ry. Per­haps Wool­man was such a saint­ly aes­thete that Sarah was sim­ply pre­sent­ed to him with no futher ques­tions. But still, there’s a lev­el of pri­va­cy in Woolman’s writ­ings that sep­a­rates him from us; I’ll return to this is part three.

Before I go: so how did I get through the jour­nal this time? Two things are dif­fer­ent now: first, my five year wed­ding anniver­sary is only a few weeks away; and sec­ond: Woolman’s Jour­nal is now always with me inside my Palm Pilot (cour­tesy the Chris­tian Clas­sics Ethe­ri­al Library). A few weeks ago I found myself on the train with­out read­ing mate­ri­al and start­ed read­ing!

Next Time: Wrap­ping our­selves in the flag of Wool­man