Tom Friedman, longtime NYTimes columnist, treats us to some snippets of diary entries from his first trip to Afghanistan, in early 2002, with then Senator Joe Biden. Friedman opens the piece in the posture of sadder-but-wiser sage:
“I was not surprised that Joe Biden decided to finally pull the plug on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Back in 2002 it was reasonable to hope that our invasion there to topple Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies could be extended to help make that country a more stable, tolerant and decent place for its citizens — and less likely to host jihadist groups.”
Was that really a “reasonable idea? In what is justly called the “graveyard of empires”, or more properly the graveyards of too many loyal troops sacrificed on the altars of hubris erected by heedless, foolish imperial “statesmen”?
My friend Patrick O’Neill is serving a year in a federal prison, for attacking a replica of a nuclear missile at a south Georgia navy base in April of 2018. (A post with more about that protest is here.) It’s part of his peace witness as a member of the Catholic Worker movement.
Most of us don’t think about the missiles a lot. But there are enough just at that one Georgia base to kill pretty much everyone in the world, on fifteen minutes’ notice.
Yeah, the risk of nuclear Armageddon did not disappear with the fall of Soviet communism.
Patrick and several others did think about the missiles, tho, and it led to Patrick reporting to the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio just about when Joe Biden was being inaugurated.
Doing time is tough. And nobody can do it for him. Patrick has a good deal of jail experience; and one lesson is that it doesn’t get much easier. There are a few ways to be supportive from outside. Mine is to send Patrick reading matter. Reading can dull some moments in the overwhelming tedium of confinement. So I have sent him a few of my books. (Hey — a captive audience; the best kind.)
It can help a little. Patrick said so, in a note that arrived this week:
‘Let all you do be done in love’— St. Paul
Good Friday [04/02/2021] Day 18 in the SHU (solitary)
Hi Chuck— My Lenten Journey will take me past Easter — I’ve done a lot of time (20+ jails, 6 prisons), but this has been the worst. Before the SHU [NOTE: SHU = Special Housing Unit] I spent 4 days in a hospital with 2 armed guards with me at all times who kept me in leg irons, and my left hand attached by chains to the bed, one chain attaching my leg irons to the bed . . . . I had to pee in a plastic bottle while chained.
When I asked one guard to use the bathroom he said, “Do you have to do Number Two?” He would not have unchained me otherwise. And the leg irons never came off except for 15 minutes when I took a stress test on a treadmill. And now I’m in the hole for Covid quarantine.
[Note: It’s no surprise that Patrick came down with Covid. Since March 2020, The New York Times has tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States. . . .
A year later, reporters found that one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project, The Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The Covid Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.
The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 people have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.
The deaths, and many of the more than 525,000 reported infections so far among the incarcerated, could have been prevented, public health and criminal justice experts say.] Back to Patrick:
“History doesn’t repeat,” Mark Twain supposedly said, “but sometimes it rhymes.”
Are the conflicts within so many American churches over LGBTQ and associated issues part of some cruel karmic sonnet?
The Separation Generation’s three volumes approach this question in prose, by chronicling disruptions among five American Yearly Meetings extending roughly from 2011 to 2018 (along with sketches of some precursor struggles). This wave of division was likely the most damaging to Quakerism since the “Great Separation” of 1827.
In a larger cultural/political context, this period roughly parallels the era of the Religious Right, the Tea Party ascendancy among Congressional Republicans, and then a successful insurgent presidential campaign followed by a highly disruptive administration, culminating in a violent insurrection at the Capitol in January 2021.
Also in the background is the 2015 landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-gender marriage nationwide, but did not end the conflicts over that or related issues.
It’s hard to draw direct connections from these notable outside events to the specific disagreements among Quakers. In Quaker worship, Quaker business process and other contexts, we’re supposed to be listening to God speaking through the Light of Christ in each of us. Thus one would (in theory) not necessarily expect to find direct influences from the broader culture, as Quakers seek to commune with and to learn from a God that presumably transcends culture.
That’s the theory. In practice, as we gain more distance from these momentous events, evidence of such broader influences becomes clearer. We eagerly await further insight from Quaker memoirs, scholarly research and blog posts from those who have been most involved in this often difficult and Quaker-world-changing series of events. Continue reading Broken Churches, Broken Nation (Again?)→
Besides his work and example, Friend David Zarembka also left a valuable and underestimated resource of writings for Friends and others. We’ll sample that legacy here, and point to where more can be found.
Also religious. The Quaker Meeting I attend is in the country between Burlington & Pittsboro NC. Those cities and my home town, Durham, is served by the contaminated Haw river. And I lived/worked in Fayetteville (near Fort Bragg) for more than a decade, where the Haw (called there the Cape Fear River) flows through the city, and water safety issues were continuous.
The Quaker Meeting is called Spring. That’s because a small spring runs across part of its property.
A running spring is rich with quiet and reassuring spiritual symbolism (“living water”). But we don’t drink from it. The spring may be picturesque —and there’s a good chance it’s not safe.
Water issues are not daily headlines here, but water anxiety is widespread. Every time I’m at the big box market, I see folks pushing carts loaded with the smaller plastic water bottles that the cognoscenti so despise. I don’t judge them.
Drinking water for my house comes from the reverse osmosis purifier at our nearby co-op market, in recycled gallon jugs
If there’s ever a historic marker put up in Burr’s memory, the curious will have to search for it, and it will have plentiful blank space.
But despite all my “elite” blogger’s disdain, I have now been shown up as having grossly underestimated Burr’s legislative work ethic and its impact. The crushing exposé came in a report in the New York Times on March 22, 2021.
It turns out that Burr is quite capable of working like a dog, by golly a determined attack dog at that. The Times even has the paperwork covered with bite marks to prove it.
I apologize for the error.
Of course, it had to be just the right burning, moral, lives-are-at-stake issue to get Burr to jump the leash and put down the stock market reports.
Just about every day, Facebook pops up on my personal page a post & photo from this date some year in the past, as a memory.
The other day, a photo came up on FB of me, taking nap recliner, while mischievous granddaughter, seven, piling stuffed animals and stuff on my torso to see how much she could stack up on me before the weight woke me up.
This happened one year ago during a family reunion over an extended weekend in Las Vegas, where my daughter works as a nurse. It was silly scene, but showed we were having a fine time, so it was worth a passing remembrance.
Then I realized something else about it. That trip and gathering marked the end of the world.
Well, not the end of THE world, but surely the end of A world: the pre-pandemic world, the demise of what can be called the Good Old Days. And so that silly photo of me asleep with odds and ends piled on my belly in late February 2020, also marked the anniversary – better say the first anniversary — of the era of Covid.
After that family weekend, within just a few weeks, schools were closed, unemployment swept through us like a tornado, markets crashed, toilet paper disappeared and lockdowns were coming, and the last time I was able to worship in person at our meetinghouse until – when?
And on this unwelcome anniversary, I realized a couple other things: one is that it’s not over; far from it. The other is a strong suspicion, that even when it’s declared to be over, it may be impossible to go “back to normal.” At least not entirely.
I knew it would happen, and knew I wouldn’t like it, but I did it anyway.
The third “it” above was start a Facebook group called “Quakers,” about a month ago, after a previous one abruptly folded up: some internal hassle among the admins had spun out of control.
I wasn’t involved in the hassling, and didn’t like that there was suddenly no Facebook group called just “Quakers.” I wondered if Facebook (FB for short), in its ineffable internet majesty, would permit the name to be taken up again; surprisingly, it did.
I didn’t really want to start the group, because I knew I’d need to be the admin (aka Pope), and would have to take up “moderator” duties there (the second “it” above).
I’d been asked a couple times to join moderator teams on other FB groups, and had declined. Too lazy, but also it seemed like a big distraction, and I already had enough of those. But whatever.
And a couple days ago, that first “it” arrived, as the predictable, inevitable outcome of the other two. It was the social media syllogism in action:
Apropos of Dr. King’s birthday, and looking toward Black History Month, an email came In Monday telling me the New Yorker magazine had posted on its website an article from the April 10, 1965 issue called, “Letter from Selma,” about the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
And I was mentioned in it.
Sure enough; it’s the only time I have appeared in the magazine.
I barely remember what was in that “Letter,” though I can still see the writer, Renata Adler, appearing by the edge of U.S. Highway 80.
I do recall how strikingly out of place she seemed, on its rough and rocky shoulder, crowded with disheveled marchers, and lined with armed troops eyeing the nearby scrub forests for snipers.
Adler looked as if she had been plucked from a stroll on Fifth Avenue and teleported to Alabama, in a colorful and almost slinky sheath dress, with a broad voguish hat bending under the stray breezes, notebook in hand.
We talked for just a few minutes. It’s a good article. Only time my name ever appeared in the New Yorker, as far as I know.
I think you can read it for free.
And there’s more: on Jan. 18 I was asked to speak to the good people of Life’s Journey UCC Church in Burlington NC, and tell them the title story from my memoir, “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.”
Of course, I didn’t get to go to Burl-Ing ton, which is about 40 miles west of Durham. Instead, I ZOOMed in from home in Durham; that’s This American (Pandemic) Life, 2021.
and explain how for a long time after that year in Selma, it had a happy ending. But then, in 2013, that ending was erased, and the story of fighting for voting resumed.
Only this time, the wear and tear of age had me on the sidelines, but still connected, reminding the young that this continuing story is now theirs too, and it was their turn, not yet to tell it but to write the decisive next chapters with their lives.