Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Well hello there. It’s been a while. I’m still around, being anal about little things like jelly dishes and slacking off on important things like laundry. Despite working in a community that’s fecund with social justice study and discussion, I find that my loves are still the same: food and psychology. So I’ll write about my inauguration experience and hope that you’re not a DC native because this will likely be inaug-tale number 129 for you.

The day before Obama’s induction, once some financial duties were sloppily completed, I ran off into the cold to accomplish two things: 1) Get my inauguration ticket from my representaitive’s office and 2) see if I could get in to see Aretha Franklin at the Kennedy Center (after which I could die a happy, happy girl).

You’ve really got to pay attention to this Southeast, Northwest, etc. thing in DC. You might be looking forward to an evening of smooth jazz and instead find yourself at Frank’s Cubicle Storage in a squalid riverside community in Southeast. That day, in my haste, I failed to note that the representative’s office was a very quick, four-block walk from William Penn House rather than on some non-existent 2nd Street section downtown. “Funny, there isn’t supposed to be a tunnel here...” Toward the end of my search I was running through the crowds in a frenzy, upset and harried, before a kind cafĂ© owner told me that I was a good fifteen minute walk from my 3:00 deadline. It was 2:57.

Defeated, almost broken, I decided not to be a weenie and keep trying for my second goal. The office would be open again tomorrow morning, and calorie burning will justify almost any presumably useless trip.

The first train rumbled in. Full to the brim. The second train came in. Almost empty. Weird…but OK. I spent the rest of the afternoon (no tickets left for Aretha of course) wandering around in a peevish haze, people watching and trying not to think too hard about how much time I’d wasted.

The following morning I woke up at 6:00am to get the ticket, which was just as easy as walking into a country corner store and buying a Zagnut bar. A memory came rushing in: The day before, I walked past that very same building on my way to the imaginary rep’s office and thought, “Hm I wonder what all those people are waiting in line for?”

Now, as ex-boyfriends and family members will tell you, when I don’t get enough sleep, I am a grumpy, unpleasant human being. On inauguration day, I was downright unlikable. Stupid inauguration. Stupid ticket. Stupid crowds of people. Stupid moment in history. But I headed down. When I reached the inseparable, unorganized lines of ticket-holders down by the Capitol Building (a.k.a the “ticket-thicket”), a patient, neighbor-loving crowd swept me up in their mass and had me going in some direction that was neither planned nor desired. Thank God for the group of friends behind me who, equally disoriented, called out “School of fish! Change directions!”

Somewhere down by the freeway (where it appeared zombies had attacked the city and throngs were waiting in line to escape to the epidemic) I lost my ticket. Yes, yes, yes – rib me if you like, but there it is…and I almost turned around. Not because I was grieving the loss of my chance to stand in a dreary line of over 1,000 people, but because this crowd crap wasn’t my thing. I wandered a little further in a state of indecision, and down around 7th Street I saw something; a beautifully plump young black girl with short blonde hair, blue contacts and glossy, glossy lips. Unmistakably, she was one of the more conspicuous subjects of my people watching from the day before, all the way up at the Kennedy Center. “Alright God. Let’s do this then.”

The poor man’s section down by the Washington Monument turned out to be way more sunny, hot chocolate-filled fun than the ticketed Silver Section ever could have been, and the sight and feel of that day will be with me forever.

So here’s to mistakes, here’s to the absent mind that God gave me and here’s to a new president who is already ruling in a spirit of intelligence and tolerance. With any luck, he’ll stick to the running the country, and I’ll stick to folding laundry…sometimes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

But Who Is My Neighbor?

“And who is my neighbor?"
-Luke 10:29

A couple Saturdays ago a committee member bought up this passage from Luke during a discussion about the Washington Quaker Workcamps Program that I coordinate. Over the rest of the day I thought about this passage and how it related to my previous week.

In many ways, I had spent that week with my diverse neighbors without fully realizing it.

During the week, I started working on a Convergent Friends workcamp for high school age Friends that will take place here in July. The focus of the workcamp will be about living out the Friends Testimonies in the 21st Century, because through the past several years that has been a recurring theme in conversations I have had with Friends from all branches who are in high school and college.

Also about the same time I started emailing with a youth leader from a programmed meeting about organizing a workcamp for her meeting's youth group about what it means to be Quaker and Christian in the US and the impact it has and can have. In our dialogue about the workcamp, we had to overcome both of our preconceived notions about each other's background to find out our similarities. I realized during our conversation is that the workcamp I am planning for July will be based more on our common Quaker beliefs and letting our life speak than on the differences that divide us as a religion. Once we can see our similarities in each other we can start to see how we can connect on a deeper level.

On Tuesday that week, I participated in a peace vigil with a friend to remind the incoming Congress about the lives that are still being lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We marched in silent around the Capitol bearing the names of the dead. Ironically I had to leave this vigil early, because I had to attend a meeting at a military hospital located in NW Washington. At the meeting I asked about ways that the workcamp program could be involved with the hospital and what groups could do for the wounded soldiers and their families.

The next day I went to a very small memorial vigil for a homeless man, who I met at the Friends Meeting of Washington once. On Christmas Eve, he was found beaten to death. This murder largely went unnoticed. No articles in the Post. A Friend saw an article about it and she thought the name sounded familiar, so she let the listserv know. Two vigils were immediately planned for this man that the meeting barely knew. At the vigil I went to, three of us gathered in the cold rain to remember this man who died on the streets from a senseless act of violence.

As I thought back, I realized that week consisted of spending time with my neighbors, whether in person, by email, or in memory, whether I agreed or disagreed with them or even if I knew them at all, because they are fellow human beings, children of the Light, like me.

The week also left me with some queries for fellow Friends:

Why do we attend other churches for interfaith events in our communities, but not another Friends meeting or church of another branch than us down the street?

Why do we show compassion for the injured victims of war, but not for the injured soldiers that are sent to fight? Aren't they themselves victims of this war industry?

Why did a man have to die on the cold December streets? If we could organize two vigils to remember him by, why couldn't we invite him into our homes for a warm place to rest?

Witness to an Inauguration

January 20, 2009 is a day that will long be remembered for changing the world. How much? Much of that depends on us, and some of the events of this day are perhaps windows to both our challenges and our opportunities.

Below are some random observations and musings along these lines:

• “Me” vs. “We”; there were lines everywhere to get into any part of the Capital Mall to see and hear the festivities and swearing-in. And there were incredible struggles among the crowd to make sure that we as individuals were a part of it, and to honor President Obama’s call for unity. The struggle was palpable, as people tried to balance the commitment to something bigger than ourselves with wanting to be so much a part of it. I think that this will be the monumental struggle for our society if we are going to do all we can to heed Obama’s leadings. He is going to call on us to be a community, but we are used to being individuals.
• Boos for Bush – as he was introduced, there were plenty of boos for Bush. I certainly understand the pent up frustration – this presidency will easily go down as the worst two-term ever, if not the worst ever. Outcomes, not effort, really are important here, and he has left an absolute mess. But he has had a lot of accomplices, and much as we might not like to admit it, one thing he was trying to do was maintain the American way of life. Instead, he exposed us for what we can be at our worst. The fact is we cannot change our world effectively for the better unless we can look honestly at who we are. He helped us to see much of the worst of ourselves – addicted to oil, potential for greed, arrogant, easily swayed by fear. Sometimes we only learn things by suffering from the consequences of them. So, as Obama calls us to a higher level (even a national maturation from our adolescence) we all have to look at what lessons are to be learned. I don’t think an Obama election would have been possible for another 12 years were it not for Bush showing us at our worst. We as a nation put him in power (I know, most of us didn’t vote for him, but it’s still our system), and many of our elected officials went along, and let’s face it, for decades we’ve all benefited from this way of life).
• There was a lot of Quakerism during the event, not that Quakers hold any license to these things. First there was the inaugural poem which spoke of light and love. And then, there was the musical performance of Simple Gifts, the unofficial Quaker anthem that is an old Shaker song. (The irony – a simple song, praising simple things, turned into a masterful musical piece – what I’m trying to say is a simple theme but not simple to play). I think in many ways, Obama may help Friends to see that of God in all things, as he reaches out across ideologies, parties and nations.
• Cameras, cell phones, and leaving early: It was interesting to observe people trying to capture moments, rather than being in the moments. The former involves cell phones and cameras – really distractions from being in the moment. From where I was standing, for example, the view was really not great. I could see the main stage, but no one was distinguishable. The jumbotron was barely visible, and far away. And I’m 6’2”. Most people could not even see that. But arms were raised, cameras clicking, cell phones going with messages (the system was overloaded). Then, there were people who just seemed to “be”. Listening meditatively, many with tears. It was a reminder to me of the importance of both. I chose to just be. It moved my heart.
• My favorite line of the inaugural speech: the old way of doing things will not serve. It’s not a matter of less or more government; it’s “does government work?” This is a paraphrased quote, but the essence is I think what Obama will be all about. Barack Obama is not an ideologue: I think he will challenge Democrats and Republicans to come together in ways that are going to be real hard for people. We are so used to being divided, and not talking to our adversaries. He’s going to talk to everyone.
• Last night, as I was waiting for an hour for a bus in the cold (traffic problems), I saw countless limousines, tuxes, and lines for balls. Funny thing in NW DC: so much celebration, but done with wealth, and crowds mostly white. I suspect that if Obamanation really takes root, this too may all have to change. Think about how many hungry people could have been fed last night with all that money going elsewhere.

We have seen ourselves at our worst over the last 28 years (yes, 28!), as a nation. While Clinton was a bit of a respite, he did little to stem American hedonism (it’s not part of his nature – he is more of a “if it feels good, do it” kind of guy, and under his administration we saw the explosion of big cars, big houses, dot-com millionaires getting rich off of nothing, and far less done for AIDS, the environment and energy than could have been done, especially given the post-administration popularity for both him and Gore).

As Obama-nation sets in, I suspect it’s going to be like waking up with a hangover. We hold our heads, look around, and say “what the hell happened”. Then as the head clears, we are going to have some hard lessons – about greed and compassion. I think Obama can set the road map, but it is up to us to see it through, and that’s going to be a lot of change on our part. Many Democrats/liberals I know are already disappointed with his “moderate” actions so far (i.e. Rick Warren). I think Obama is operating on a whole different level – on a plane that is not liberal-moderate-conservative, but all of us. He can’t do this unless we are all willing to show up, and instead of “demand for me”, dialogue in a way that I am heard, you are heard, we all are heard, and then we can discern, together, a way that collectively meets basic needs first. We do need all hands on deck, not 51% beating 49% into submission. I’m optimistic that yesterday set us on that course.

Submitted by Brad

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Gay bishop...

"Gay bishop will kick of inauguration event" was the title of the e-mail that came in to my inbox from Human Rights Campaign.

Is that all that Bishop Robinson is?

There's not a whole lot to ponder about or to profoundly say about this. It is a sad commentary, I think, on the myopic vision of an organization as big as HRC that is supposedly out there representing all of us. It does speak to how I think the institutionalization of a cause ends up demeaning and dehumanizing the very people it is meant to serve (I've seen this in AIDS work as well).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I noticed on one of the DC buses recently an ad for Ikea. The message of the ad was “Embrace Change. Change begins at home”. I’ve also recently noticed both Coke and Pepsi are latching on to the “community” and “change” message. British Petroleum, the gas company, changed their logo a few years ago to look like some combination of sun and leaves, promoting a feeling of environmental awareness. Some other company had a “pay-it-forward” kind of ad (where a good deed comes around). All around us, the corporate world seems to be creating a feel-good message of change and community. Clearly, they are responding to something that is going on in our society and world. But we need to be careful. Yes, change is afoot, but the change that I think we are facing, is not just to feel good about drinking coke or shopping at Ikea. It’s got to be something much deeper, and I don’t know that I’ve seen much of that. Yet.

What I have seen is this: the same unfriendliness, impatience, and mean-spiritidness. Walking down the street and greeting people still garners no response. Bikers on the bike path still rarely announce their passing (except for the occasional bell-ring). Most amusing (and disappointing) is seeing the impatient, racing, horn-beeping driver with the “Yes We Can” and “Change” bumper sticker. It reminds me of the tail-gating Sunday morning driver in Wheaton IL who, when given the marginal opening to pass, displays a Christian fish on the back. Impatiently and rudely racing to church to be a good Christian.

See, the kind of change I think we need to be making is not a transactional change, but a transformational change. Transactional change is all externally-focused. It’s replacing a gas-guzzler with a hybrid. For someone like me, it’s taking HIV-medication to stay alive. For our society, it’s electing Barack Obama. For the above-mentioned corporations, it’s about buying their products.

Transformational change, however, is much more difficult, but is also much more lasting. For me, it includes:
• Being kinder, more loving.
• Not just driving a hybrid, but driving less and using alternative transportation more.
• Don’t just buy differently (paying attention to the social and environmental impact of the purchases), but perhaps consume less.
• Not just taking medication, but taking care of the spirit and soul, as well as doing exercise and attending to nutrition. And also increasingly being ok with the impermanence of life. Everything here could be a whole book.
In essence, transformational change really is an internal change, one that moves from being eternally dissatisfied to being eternally grateful, with a commitment to making all that we see in the world as kinder, better, less harmful, more peaceful. It is part existential – there is no “there” – and very spiritual.

It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out in the next two to four years. Clearly, the election of Obama creates an opportunity for change. But, are we going to look to him to be all the change we need, or are we going to look at this time as the opportunity to truly, fundamentally change the way we all live and work? Crisis is always a good time to look at these things, and we are certainly facing one of those, financially. Already, Obama has challenged us to be more open, more inclusive. He’s got Rick Warren and Bishop Gene Robinson (the “gay bishop”) participating in inaugural events. He’s going to call on us to make the change happen. Are we going to be there to make Obama a success? Or are we going to sit by, and watch with disappointment as we let him fail? As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Now is the time. If we want to see a more peaceful, more kind, more friendly, more just world, it’s going to be up to us to start living it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Who's going to save who?

In this week's New Yorker Magazine, there is an article called "Greening the Ghetto" (see http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/01/12/090112fa_fact_kolbert). It's about Van Jones, founder and president of a group called "Green for All".

Green, a forty year old African-American ("a youthful version of Barack Obama) is quoted in the article, while talking to a group of high school dropouts in New Bedford, MA, a depressed old whaling town as saying:
"I love Barack Obama. I'd pay money just to shine his shoes. But I'll tell you this. Do you hear me? One man is not going to save us. I don't care who that man is. He's not going to save us. And, in fact, if you want to be real about this - can y'all take it? I'm going to be real with y'all. Not only is Barack Obama not going to save you - you are going to have to save Barack Obama." He goes on to tell this gathering that they can be leaders in the green movement and the next wave of entrepeneurs, and at the same time make Obama a success.

For me, this is a powerful message that we can all take note of. Among Quakers and other like-minded people, I have had a sense that Obama is being looked at as a savior (this the presence of Obama signs at Friends gatherings?). Even at a recent pot-luck, the discussion was about what Obama needs to do to be inclusive of the poor outside the US in order to shift the flow of violence in the world. I think the reality is, as Jones says, we've got this wrong, and if we simply sit and observe how well Obama does, we are going to be horribly disappointed (many already are by some of his appointments).

The fact is, to date, Obama has actually been very true to his campaign pledges: he said he would bring in diverse people and he never said he was for gay marriage, so the Warren announcement is not necessarily flip-flopping. What Obama also said throughout the campaign is that the work ahead is going to require all of our best efforts, and he cannot do it alone.

I would like to think that the fundamental change that can happen - but it has to happen quickly - is that, rather than consider what opportunities does Obama have to change the world, let us consider what opportunities his election has created for all of us to change the world. We now have someone who will support changes in fuel and consumption patterns, and who will encourage greater inclusivity in our communities and in the world. So far, I don't think that "we" as a collective nation have responded well. Many have slammed Obama for his inclusiveness. More importantly, there has been a lot of chatter on the internet about telling Obama what he needs to do. Really, it's about, ok, now that we have elected him, what do we need to do to save him? If he asks us to be patient; if he asks us to make changes in our lives; if he asks us to reach out to others in our community to do it; if he asks us to stop being so angry and fearful, but instead loving; if he asks us to drive less and ride bikes or walk more, will we do all these things? If he asks all of us to get tested for HIV, will we line up (just think, if the whole nation did this in a year, we could dramatically stop the spread of HIV).

I think Jones has got it right: We need to save Obama. For each one of us, that means it's time to get busy not focusing so much on what others need to do, but on what we - or more importantly, I - need to do fundamentally different.