Tuesday, November 08, 2005


I came home yesterday. I won’t bore you with the three hour wait on the tarmac that resulted in missed connections, hotel in Phoenix, etc. Suffice it to say that I got home with about eight hours of sleep in forty-eight. I was exhausted, but not heart weary. Lisa picked me up at the bus stop in Grass Valley in her biodiesel burning Mercedez, took me by my cabin to drop my stuff, and down to the Ranch House for dinner.

We were a little late, and the community was assembled. There were exclamations and hugs and handshakes when I came in. The consensus was that I hadn’t gained weight, but I had more grey hairs than I did a month ago. I’m sure that it is just my Louisiana haircut that makes me look greyer.

We have a moment of silence, all standing around the big table in Doug and Dorothy’s house holding hands. There are sixteen of us or so. After a moment of worship, Mary, who is increasingly discombobulated by Alzhiemer’s disease, says, "I think that’s just the right amount of that." We giggle and agree. Dinner is introduced by the cooks, much of it harvested that day from our garden. Squash, carrots, garlic, onions, have come together. I am so grateful for this real food—I’ve eaten processed, commercial ly grown food for most meals over the last four weeks.

Naomi is concerned that Nora will be getting braces on her teeth. "They are just trying to make you perfect, instead of yourself!" she declares. She will be nine years old this Sunday. "I will still be myself, " Nora assures her. Nora just turned thirteen, and knows everything. "I’m going to try to keep my gap." She pushes her tongue against the back of her two front teeth, and a little bit of the tip sticks out between the gap between them.

Doug and Clayton are huddled with Eric at the card table that any other group of people would be where the kids were exiled to. They are discussing the installation of the new wood stove in the office. Doug and Clayton are tall men, both well over six feet with dark hair and square shoulders. In contrast, the students insist that Eric reminds them of a leprochaun-small, with bright red hair and an infectious grin. All three men are lean, with skin that has been burned by sun and wind, hands that know the feel of wood and steel and tools. The sense of regard and affection between the them is noticeable in the way they incline their heads towards whichever one is talking, nod seriously when discussing the importance of checking the floor joists below the stove before they install it.

Dorothy manages to be the hostess even though we have all been in this house eating dinner so many times that we know where the dishes go, where the balsamic vinegar is, where the Trader Joe’s chocolate treats are stashed in the top of the antique enamel stove that dominates the kitchen but isn’t used. Amy is at ease, more relaxed than I have seen her in a long time. While I was away she stepped out of the Executive Director job, and became our cook. Bob, whose wife Kathy is our admissions director, is taking over. Amy actually looks physically younger. When she says, "Why Mr. Magruder, we will have to figure out how to fit you back in around here," her husband Chamba corrects her, "Carl and Bob will have to figure that out, you mean." They laugh.

Having eaten, I am really feeling the lack of sleep and the long travel. I make my farewells and take up the manzanita stick that I carved when I first got here two and a half years ago. The night is warm, and I carry my heavy wool coat under one arm. My old stained fedora is on my head. The moon is hidden behind rain clouds, but the light gravel of the road picks up what light it throws. I know this road in the dark anyway. Rail fence on my right, the silhouette of old apple trees on my left as I walk past the orchard. "Good night, bees," I say softly to my bees in their boxes. "Good night, llamas," I call to the pasture on my right. Up past the barn I go, the walking stick springy in my hand as it taps the road. My muscles delight in the effort of climbing the steep hill, my breath comes easily. The air is mild, the night silent except the sound of running water in the ditch beside the road.

For two years my dream has been to create an intentional spiritual community here. The values of the sectarian world are so far from the values of the spirit, that it seemed to me we might go further in our efforts to live in Truth if we were a little bit separate from it. Quakers say, "Be in the world, but not of the world." Then we could go out into the world to work, and come back to the covenant community for spiritual sustenance. The housing group is meeting on Sunday. Will we make an intentional community here one day? The serendipity community we have has every aspect of an intentional community that I could want, except permanence. Might I live with a partner here, raise a family of some sort, study, learn, work, grow?

Instead, it seems that soon I will go forth from here. When I spoke to Jessica of Christian Peacemaker Teams in the sunny back yard of the CPT house in Douglas, AZ, she asked me if I had a home. "It is very difficult to do this work if you don’t have a home place to come back to," she told me. I have a home. I have more home than lots of folks will ever have in this crazy world. I just don’t know if it will always be there when I’m ready to return.

The air in my cabin is a little stale as I come in. I kindle the fire, and take off my hat, hang it on its peg. I tune my old violin with the tuning fork. It is very out of tune. I put a Richard Shindell CD on and play a couple of tunes with him. Put the fiddle up. Brush and floss. Bank the fire. Crawl under my sleepie bag. Turn out the night. Blow a good night kiss across the cosmos. It’s good to be home.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What Was Jim Corbett Talking About?

Civil Initiative

On beyond civil disobedience is civil initiative. I am going off of the work of Quaker theologian, activist, and goatherd, Jim Corbett here. His work on civil initiative is a True Thing, and I believe that it opens a way toward radical faithfulness in full communion. Problem is, it isn't easy to understand...

Basically, civil disobedience breaks the law, and civil initiative upholds the Law. (Corbett distinguishes between law as in statutes, and Law in a larger sense.) Let's look at civil disobedience as it is currently practiced:

Our classic civil disobedience scenario was acted out three years ago at Easter. There was a mass held at Lawrence Livermore Labratories, where weapons of mass destruction actually are being developed. The catholic church (in the non-brand name sense of catholic) came together that day. We did stations of the cross and the whole thing. Very radical, inclusive, political, diverse, etc. We worked our way from station to station until we were before the gate to the Lab.

Then we did the Elm Dance. Joanna and Fran Macy brought the Elm Dance back from their travels to be with the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. It is a Latvian song that became a song of the people affected by radiation poisoning. Joanna's website says, "...Especially in Novozybkov, the most contaminated of inhabited cities, the dance became an expression of the will to live." [Joanna Macy's work is another True Thing. Check it out. www.joannamacy.net]

The elm dance is also wonderfully centering. For my part, the ceremony leading up to the gate was causing me more and more nervousness and anxiety. Then, the elm dance utterly grounded me, put me in touch with the earth, and turned an eclectic group of activists into the body of Christ (or whatever metaphor works for you).

Then we lined up to be arrested. The police department brings out its new recruits for this annual ritual. The cadets need to have some exposure to "crowd control" tactics, etc., so they take them out to Livermore on Easter for the most calm, predictable, safe, choreographed mass arrest scenario to be found. The cadets are in full riot gear: helmet, baton, bullet proof vest, shin guards, elbow gaurds, polycarbonate sunglasses, mace, etc. Only the full-on cops had guns, though, because the cadets haven't been cleared to carry.

The activists form several rows. The ranking cop reads us a clear warning: If you step across the line, you will be arrested for trespassing, etc. The first row of folks steps right up to the line, pauses to pray or reflect, some on their knees before the gate, before the line of cops, like supplicants. Then they cross the line and are politely escorted to the waiting van, just as a diligent doorman would escort an old lady to a cab.

One of the old ladies in my Quaker meeting is two rows ahead of me. Little old Quaker ladies are made of iron and grace. She is a tall woman, thin to the point of gauntness. She stands straight as she approaches the gate. She is wearing a wide brimmed straw hat against the springtime sun, and it has a small sunflower in it. The sunflower being, of course, the symbol of nuclear disarmament. When she reaches the line, she is directly across from a police cadet who is a full head shorter than her, and easily twice as wide. The breeze stirs her gray hair. She is singing "I've got peace like a river..." The cop opposite her is sweating in a decidedly porcine manner, his baton held at the ready across his chest, plexiglass shield on his helmet pushed up. He looks like a beetle bug. I suddenly think, "Which of these people is afraid?" It isn't the tall old woman with the sunflower in her hat, singing as she steps across the line to be arrested. Its the man armed and armored so that his movements are awkward and his humanity virtually indiscernable. As the little man arrests the old Quaker lady, she puts her hand on his forearm, leans toward him, and says something that I don't hear. Very solicitously, he leads her over to the van, like the odd short boy with the most beautiful debutante at the cotillion...

I am near the front of the line now. My sweetheart stands to one side of me, and my stepmother on the other. Friends and friends are all around, singing, praising. At the line my stepmother kneels, but I cannot--it feels too much like an obiesance to the cops, or the military industrial building complex behind them. (HeHeHe. I never stop.) Then, as I step across the line in this totally predictable choreographed performance, the ballet suddenly turns into something more percussive--a samba perhaps, or capoeria even. A second cop comes up behind the guy I am across from, and instantly I am being frog marched off to be searched by these two cops--one has my right wrist (the one with the steel plate in it) in a pain hold, and the other has my left arm (the one where the shoulder got dislocated when the wrist got broken) twisted behind me. I am walking on my tiptoes. I am taken aside, my pockets gone through, jacket taken off, hat taken away, frisked thoroughly (wedding tackle included), and my ID checked all the way out. Remember now, that everyone else is getting the stroll to the van. Can you guess why Carl might be getting the VIP treatment?

If you said, "Carl probably asked for it," you have extra homework. If you said, "Because Carl is a Beautiful Brown Brother," go to the head of the class. Now, this is a side issue about the civil disobedience thing, but the fact that it is so consistently practiced by middle class white people in the peace movement, is not without its implications.

I was totally calm during all this, remember. I had done the Elm Dance, was in touch with my God, felt the Earth beneath my feet. The cop holding my huge black Amish hat says, "Without us, you'd all be speaking Russian." I didn't laugh out loud, though I was amazed that he hadn't changed his tape to the Osama Bin Laden remix. Instead I said, "I know that that is your belief. My belief is that a world without war is possible." (Otro mundo es posible!) They bundled me off to the van then, without the pain hold. My sweetheart and my stepmom, both middle class white ladies (God bless them!) had both tried to wait for me, keep me in sight, make sure that I was o.k. They were outraged at my special treatment.

So, then to the chainlink holding cells built at Lawrence Livermore Labs just for this sort of event. And it is old homeweek! Oh, Quakers and Lefties from all over are getting together! The ceremony has impeded normal casual social interaction up until now, so it's "How are you?" "Has Dennis finished at Dartmouth?" "We were in Costa Rica last year and couldn't be here." "How is the new AFSC regional director working out?"

When we are taken a few at a time to be processed, folks are very solicitous, "Oh it's hot out here, why don't you go?" "Well, we are having a picnic at Aquatic Park with Helen's work, so it would be good for us to get home and prepare the salad, if you don't mind waiting?"

Catch and release. A ticket of some kind that says that they will inform you if you need to stand trial or something, for trespassing. Nobody gets trial. All charges dropped. There was a little suspense about this because of its being a post 9-11 event, but it is business as usual at the Lab.

In the car, I take off my coat. What is that terrible smell? It is fear sweat. While I was feeling all spiritually grounded, and emotionally supported by my community, and ideologically resolved for nuclear disarmament in my mind, my body was in full panic! There is nothing cakewalk about encountering cops or arrest, as far as my body is concerned. The thin veneer of civility that covers the totalitarian regime that we live under in the U.S. is something that I started to experiment with in first grade. As a person of color, the idea that the cops are the good guys is spurious to me, and ought to be to everyone. Of course, the cops may sometimes behave in an ethical and helpful manner; they may even protect and serve. It could happen. (One of my best friends is a cop. Really.) But what is abundantly clear is that they perform the function of jackbooted thugs of the police state much of the time, and that accountability is very poor indeed.

So, four themes there, just to recap. It's a little messy. First, earth spirituality in the form of the elm dance creating a sacred space for action. Second, old Quaker lady not scared, cop the very incarnation of fear. Third, race making different stakes for different people in the civil disobedience context. The main point for purposes of continuing the discussion of civil disobedience and civil initiative being: CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE BEING TOTALLY SYMBOLIC.

Note: Gandhi's civil disobedience was NEVER just symbolic. It was usually also symbolic. The Salt March, for instance, really did provide tax-free salt to Indians, which is essential for life in any hot climate. It was also deeply symbolic, with a protracted walk to the sea, informing the British government ahead of time, etc. When they were busted, the admitted that they were breaking the law, rather than insisting that they were upholding the law. Gandhi often insisted on conviction and incarceration. Practitioners of civil initiative claim to be enforcing the law, and therefor never plead guilty.

I have nothing against civil disobedience as Gandhi practiced it, or even as the Lawrence Livermore Labs scenario practiced it, but I want to point out that the Lab thing was just about 99% symbolic (what would we do if we were allowed onto the lot?), and Gandhi's more a 50-50%. Civil initiative strives to be more like 100% just living into the kin-dom of God...

We were cited for trespassing. Nobody really wants to make a case that the Lawrence Livermore Lab should not be allowed to control who is or is not allowed on their property. This is not the point of law that we want to take a stand on, but it is the law that we broke. Our action was symbolic. In much the same way, when the U.S. started to bomb Iraq, the elders in my meeting, along with many members of the Nevada City community, sat down in the middle of Broad Street. They don't have a beef with Broad Street, traffic codes, Nevada City, Nevada City cops, the tourist industry, or Cathy Wilson, single mom, desperately trying to get her kid to daycare on time so that she won't be late to work and lose the only source of income she has, who has too may worries of her own to be overly concerned about some foreign war, and here downtown Nevada City is a total snarl because some folks are blocking the road on purpose!

CPT did an action in Douglas when I was there that involved painting crosses on the wall that the Border Patrol put up to keep "illegals" out of the U.S. I don't have any objection to this per se, but I don't really have an issue with the government's right to not have its property defaced either.

In "Sanctuary on the Faultline" Corbett points out that, "When the state violates human rights, protest and petition usually substitute for civil initiative." It is the protest and petition that I am tired of. Note, that I do not say that I am ideologically opposed to them. I think that they are fine--writing letters to your congressperson asking them to do the right thing is a fine activity. Marching up and down at some ANSWER sponsored march for peace is a fine thing to do. Still, one has to grin wryly when one hears the Mother Jones quote, "If voting could change anything, it would be illegal."

It is in the word 'substitute' that I find my issue. Protest and petition are poor substitutes for civil initiative. It is the difference between asking and telling, if you will. If we are protesting and beseeching in conjunction with civil initiative, fine, but without the "being church" of civil initiative, we are firmly in the realm of the symbolic, the indirect, the hopeless rubric of expecting the government to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. There ain't no God in there, at least not the God I'm willing to worship. Are we called to remedial charity, or preventative justice?

If you answered, "Both," read on:

Where remedial charity and preventative justice come together is in civil initiative. When we give food and water, and maybe even transport to the desperate migrante in the Arizona desert, we are being church. Clearly, it is the simplest act of charity to share water in a desert--that is a form of communion that transcends all religious boundaries, and even species boundaries. (I love that scene in "The Lighthorsemen" movie where one soldier says "to hell with orders," and takes off his Aussie slouch hat, pours his canteen into it, and waters his horse, even though he knows that he is risking his own life to do it. Then the whole line follows suit--a communion of man and beast.)

Giving water in the desert is an act of charity, clearly. However, is also part of a movement towards preventative justice. Communion transcends the distinction, but the distinction is still worth consideration. In the dialogue between civil society and the legal statutes that uphold it, it is important to practice the Law. The law codifies social contracts, not the other way round. In the 1980's when Central American refugees were coming over the border from Mexico to the U.S., there was an agreement that our country would never send political refugees at risk of persecution back to their countries, but we did it all the time. The men and women, and religious communities that harbored these people were therefore UPHOLDING the Law. You dig? In the Arizona desert, where over 280 people died of hyperthermia (opposite of hypothermia, though that happens too) last year, those who provide respite and medical care to God's children in distress are upholding the Law. Here is a place to test the laws, to further the dialogue between civil society and the statutes that govern it. The magistrate does not bear his sword in vane, but perhaps the sword can be used as it is in Tibetan Buddhism, to slice through the bonds of ignorance, greed and delusion, instead of persecuting the poor.

There are two young activists who are engaged in this dialogue process. They were working with an organization called "No Mas Muertes" this summer. On July 9, 2005 two No More Deaths volunteers, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, were arrested by the United States Border Patrol while medically evacuating 3 people in distress from the desert near Arivaca, Arizona. Their trial date was set for December. You can find out more at www.nomoredeaths.org. You can help by writing:
U.S. Attorney Paul K. Chariton
District of Arizona
Two Renaissance Square
40 North Central, Ste. 1200
Phoenix, AZ 85004-4408

The activists are furthering the dialogue, but the dialogue itself is what is essential. In all likelihood the activists will be given a slap on the wrist if convicted, but, if these two are convicted for giving medical aid to God's children in distress, the implication will be that private citizens in AZ are supposed to be able to tell what a person's migration status is by looking at them (Big Brother is deputizing you), and the effect of that will be for people not to give aid to anyone. The very principle of communion is on trial. What sort of world do we want to live in?

So, this is my civil initiative exploration at the current time. It is pretty confusing to me, so if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to you, it's probably my fault. Go read Jim Corbett's book, Goatwalking, and see if you can explain it better. Meanwhile, what does civil initiative look like if we take it out of its native Arizona? Should we take it out of Arizona, or start the Quaker Worker House right in Douglas, where some border activists feel a hospitality house is needed, never ask for people's citizenship status, but just provide hospitality, washing sore, blistered feet, as Jesus taught us to do, until we get taken to jail, as Gandhi taught us to do? Of course, these things are only possible in the context of covenant community. For more on that, read Jim Corbett's "Leadings" or "The Sanctuary Church" or Lloyd Lee Wilson's "Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order," or Patricia Loring's second (someday third) books on "Listening Spirituality." [Disclaimer: if you are a Quaker because you like hanging out with like-minded individuals who vote like you do and because you think that Quakerism is an anything goes religion where nothing hard will be asked of you, don't read any of the books I mentioned. They will destroy your illusion. If, however, you like Quakerism, but wonder where the rigor is, the spiritual communion, and the radical witness that is our legacy, I am inviting you, as many elders, notably Bob Schmitt, invited me to do, to take this trip. It's a scarey conversion experience, however--you may embark on a journey strange and wonderful, difficult and rewarding beyond all expectation. Swell music.]

Lesson One: A solitary Quaker is an oxymoron.


by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."